An Enthusiast’s Guide to Loud Train Horns
In all my years on the road, I have seen nothing that brightens children’s faces and surprises the average driver than an extremely loud car train horn. Even the loudest choo-choos can entertain and invoke nostalgia in the young and old alike. If you are ready to make this your reality, then I have a few tips on what to consider before you ‘pull the chord.’
Several companies manufacture some of the best car train horns on the market. Hornblasters, Grand General, Wolo and 3-Trumpet Train lead the market in affordability, accessibility and downright loudness. The absolute loudest train horns you can buy are genuine train horns used on locomotives made by Nathan AirChime, Leslie, and formerly Wabco, Hancock and Prime.
Most horns can be bought easily online through the manufacturer or common online market places. Installation is relatively easy, and it can add so much more to your average commute. Anyone who knows a little about maintaining vehicles and following instructions on assembly can add the sweet sound of a locomotive to his or her repertoire.
Train horn kits are a fun option for modifying your vehicle. It’s a sound that commands attention. You can install train horns almost anywhere on your vehicle where you have the space. These kits can be installed pretty easily with some basic tools and a little knowledge of vehicle wiring. You only need to drill holes for the mounting brackets to support the air tank and compressor, put the horn where you want it, and make some noise. Here are three of the loudest horn kits you’ll find.
1. Nathan AirChime K3LA Model 540
The AirChime K3LA really was designed for use on diesel trains back in the 1950s. The kit version contains everything you’ll need to install it on your truck, including a variety of fittings. The horn is very solidly made from die cast aluminum over stainless steel parts. At just over 18 pounds in weight, and about 18″x16″x10″ dimensions, the horn will fit easily enough on most trucks while providing genuine train-sound blasts.
A Viair 400C compressor will provide you 150 PSI of force for powerful blasts of sound lasting up to 5 seconds in duration. At 4″ x 9″ x 7″ and only 8 pounds, the compressor is fairly compact for what it can do (2.54 cubic feet per minute). It will draw up to 26 amps on a 12-volt battery.
The five gallon tank is also easy to manage at 20″x9″x7″ size, but has a solid weight of 20 pounds. Altogether, this a ruggedly impressive system weighing about 50 pounds altogether. Right out of the box you get that locomotive look and feel in a product that seems like it’s meant to last a lifetime.
The kit also includes 17 feet of half-inch air line, solenoid electronic valve, a 110/150 PSI switch, the fittings kit, extra air filters, and detailed instructions for proper installation. The Nathan company also provides excellent phone support if you need further help.
Though definitely on the heavy duty end, it’s a very loud, durable piece of equipment that’s made to last. If you’re willing to invest in quality, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Kleinn Air Horns HK9
Officially the “Pro Blaster Triple Air Horn System”, the kit includes a Demon 730 model air horn, compressor, and 5 gallon tank. This system will also produce 150 PSI for some stunning sound levels of 150 decibels and even more. All mounting equipment and hardware are in the box. You can also purchase a Blast Master Valve Upgrade Kit separately to produce even more decibels of aggressive sound.
It comes with three separate trumpets of solid steel at 18″, 14″, and 10″ in length. All are detachable for easy cleaning. Product dimension are 23″ x 18″ x 21″, making it on the large side, but a flat profile makes it easier to mount where you want it. Some dealers will provide variations on the kit including different trumpet sizes and configurations.
The box includes the VX7004 high-performance air valve, brass fittings, complete wiring installation kit, and 12 feet of nylon air line. The HK9 includes a standard 3/8″ valve and a coiled 35 foot hose with storage bag for inflating tires or powering other air tools.
It only comes in one finish, plain black, and it does contain lead in the wiring. Neither of those is really a serious problem. Installation is reasonably easy and the HK9 comes with a solid one-year warranty. If you want a train horn on your truck or SUV that looks and sounds big and bad, Kleinn’s HK9 is for you.
3. HornBlasters Conductor’s Special 540
The 540 model from HornBlasters is priced a little lower-priced in part because it’s made primarily from plastics and fiberglass. It feels light at 13″ x 15″ x 16″ and a weight of only four pounds. But it’s more than loud enough. It can be heard over a four mile range and in honk durations of up to 14 seconds. It comes with a DOT-approved 5 gallon air tank. It also comes with the Viair 400C compressor.
You can upgrade the system to a Viair 480C compressor and a 200 PSI valve for some incredible sound, but the Shocker ABS plastic horns may not be able to handle much of that. The system is more than loud enough as it is, and the train horn sound it produces sounds very authentic. HornBlasters maintains that the 540 is hand-tuned to match the legally required train signal. They do sound great; the plastic materials don’t affect the quality of sound at all.
The kit includes a pressure switch so you can wire it straight into your steering wheel or existing horn wiring. You can even add a switch to alternate between your stock horn and the blast of the train horn. It also comes with a “snorkel” kit so you can move the air intake up to six feet away to avoid water or dust. Two air lines are included, at 17 feet of 1/2″ hose for the compressor and 10 feet of 5/16″ hose for air tools.
Brass fittings, wiring kit, mounting hardware, and instructions are included. You can also go online and download additional PDF instruction manuals. Earplugs are also included!
The Conductor’s Special 540 doesn’t seem to have the quality of construction some more expensive models do. While the horn itself seems lightweight, the tank and Viair compressor are as good as any. With plastic, on the other hand, you won’t have to worry about rust and corrosion as you would metal trumpets. You’ll find that for the price, the 540 is a very loud and satisfying toy. That’s the point, after all.
However, before purchasing a loud train horn, understand that some restrictions exist as to how loud is legally too loud. The code states in California, “Every motor vehicle, when operated upon a highway, shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of no less than 200 feet, but no horn shall emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound.”
The above-mentioned law leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The average car horn emits about 110 decibels (unit used to measure sound), so if you are in the market, be sure to check your state restrictions on dB level and codes before spending the cash. Although most horns sound similar in nature, each have variations in distance level from the vehicle. In the end, it could cost you more in tickets and fines then you were expecting, and the costs will soon outweigh the benefits.
Turn It Up
There are several ways to up the stakes of your current train horn in the comfort of your own parking space on a relatively low budget.
Your first and best bet is to buy a train horn that includes everything you need to install a louder horn in your car, truck, SUV or just about anything that has a 12-volt power source. They can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the quality and reliability of the horn’s components.
If you are ahead of the pack and own a train horn already but are not quite satisfied with its head-turn ability, the PSI (pounds per square inch) on your air compressor and the capacity of your air tank are what make the horn loud.
Creating more air pressure will make a horn louder, and this can best be achieved by purchasing and installing a larger, stronger air compressor. Most horn kits include the air compressor but stand-alone compressors are also easily available for purchase.
In the end, for a relatively small price and effort, the sweet sound of a train is accessible to everyone.