Why Electric Cars Are Required to Make Noise – Review Geek

What’s that futuristic humming noise?

Front right side of the Tesla Model 3
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Without the loud noise of an internal combustion engine, EVs and hybrids are so quiet they must make noise at low speeds to alert nearby pedestrians.

Have you ever walked past an EV backing out of a parking spot and wondered, “What’s that humming noise?” Electric vehicles are much quieter than your typical gas-powered car, nearly silent at low speeds, but are required by law to make certain noises.

We’re all familiar with the sound of traffic or a gas-powered V8 engine roaring to life. On the flip side, electric vehicles are so quiet they can be dangerous to pedestrians, and here’s what you need to know about the sounds EVs emit.

Background & Road Noise

Back right profile of the 2023 Chevy Bolt EV while charging at an Electrify American power station
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Electric vehicles still make plenty of noises, whether that’s background sounds from fans and such, road noise from the tires, humming, and other things. On a freeway, EVs are loud as they fly down the road, which isn’t a concern.

Even while parked or at a stop light, you may hear fans from the air conditioning or cooling systems and heat pumps while they’re plugged in to charge. In fact, Tesla has an entire webpage dedicated to “normal operating sounds” that come from its vehicles.

Most people think EVs are silent, and for the most part, they are. That said, even if you don’t hear a loud combustion engine, you’ll still hear all sorts of sounds from that Model 3, F-150 Lightning, or any other electric vehicle.

Slow Speeds & Pedestrians

Bolt EV decal on the 2023 Chevy Bolt EV
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek

Where things start to change is at low speeds or while in reverse. With the near-silent operation of electric vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists (or those with visual impairments) won’t hear an EV in motion like they would a regular car. As a result, many vehicles come equipped with a “pedestrian warning system” to alert their surroundings.

In 2016, the NHTSA finalized the “Quiet Car” rule, which requires electric vehicles to make certain noises so pedestrians can hear and avoid them. The law requires a “minimum sound requirement for hybrids and electric vehicles.”

Any vehicle propelling forward without an internal combustion engine (ICE) operation noise must adhere to this rule. The idea is that while in motion at slow speeds, where wind and tire noise aren’t noticeable, an EV will still make some sound that people will hear. It’s also typically an obnoxious sound you’ll hear in reverse.

In April 2014, the European Parliament approved legislation requiring acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS), and most other regions have something similar.

That’s precisely why we hear some humming, whirling, or futuristic sounds coming from electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Even older models like the Prius make these sounds.

Can You Change or Turn Off Electric Car Noises?

R1T in front of a lake with the gear tunnel door open
Tyler Hayes / Review Geek

You may be wondering whether or not owners can change the sounds their EV makes or even turn off the noises completely. And while certain sounds inside a car are customizable, pedestrian warning noises or the “quiet car rule” are required by law, and you cannot turn them off on newer vehicles.

Remember that the rule only applies to vehicles manufactured in 2020 or newer, so some older models may be able to disable it, but that varies from brand to brand.

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 requires electric vehicles to produce a pedestrian alert sound when stationary, reversing, and in forward gear up to 18 mph. At one point, automakers proposed outfitting vehicles with multiple sounds and letting owners choose the tone, which is why early Tesla models could make farting noises and such.

However, in 2022, the NHTSA and regulators shut that down. In the same year, Tesla recalled over 500,000 vehicles over those pedestrian sounds, as owners used the external speakers to play music with its “boombox” feature, which is no longer available.

Technically, there are ways to disable these sounds, but that’s likely against the law. Sure,  older Nissan Leaf (and other) models had the option to change select noises, but it’s not recommended. Those sounds are there for a reason if you have a newer electric vehicle.

Future EV Sounds

Dodge Charger Daytona SRT electric concept

Last summer, the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT electric muscle car made headlines over the wild noises blasting from its external speaker system. However, this differs from the reverse “quiet car rule,” so we’re unsure how regulators will handle it. There’s a chance the eMuscle noise won’t be available on production models unless it’s in track mode or somewhere that doesn’t have street laws.

The laws will likely change and evolve since electric vehicles are still new. In the future, we could have a wide array of different noises coming from electric cars. For now, though, we’re likely stuck with the odd futuristic humming and beeping backup alerts.

Whether you buy a Tesla Model Y, a new Hyundai IONIQ 5, or the fancy Rivian R1T electric truck, it’ll make pedestrian noises in specific scenarios.

Thankfully, every automaker has a different design or styling, and the sounds it’ll make to alert nearby pedestrians will vary. Either way, if you buy a newer EV or hybrid, you’ll just have to get used to it.


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