Buick’s Silent Horn May Not Be a Big Honking Problem

Dear Car Talk:

I drive a supercharged 1994 Buick Park Avenue Ultra with 123,000 miles. The horn quit working, and I took it to a Buick dealer who ran a diagnostic test.

Their test didn’t show why the horn had quit working. They thought it might possibly be a short circuit. They offered to do a more extensive test for $375 but would not guarantee that they could find the problem.

I did not take them up on their offer. They suggested that I try to find a Mom and Pop car shop that would do the diagnostic work more cheaply. No luck so far. Do you have any idea why the horn quit working? -- Jerry

I do, Jerry, but I’ll have to charge you $375 before I tell you.

Actually, no. I don’t know. I’m guessing the dealership ran the simplest tests. They probably started by checking the fuse and horn relay. Those take about two minutes each. Then they energized your horns (there are two of them, which is what creates that obnoxious, dissonant musical note) and found that the horns themselves worked fine when properly energized.

Then, they probably tested the wires that attach to the horns and discovered that there was no power arriving there. That means that the problem is somewhere between your palm and those final horn wires.

That’s how we would have started, too. And the truth is, at that point, the work starts getting a lot more time-consuming, which is why they quickly lost interest.

If I were working on your car, the next thing I’d check is the horn pad on your steering wheel, given the age of your Buick. Checking that requires removing the horn pad, which contains the driver’s airbag. Once you remove the horn pad, you can jump the horn wires and see if that makes the horn blow. If it does, then you need a new horn pad.

If jumping the wires doesn’t sound the horn, then you’ve got a wiring issue -- somewhere downstream of those two wires and upstream of the horns themselves -- and that could easily run into several hours of labor and, therefore, hundreds of dollars to track down.

Alternatively, if you’re ready to accept that this car has officially entered heapdom, you could bypass your current setup and have a shop install a new horn button somewhere that’s easy for you to reach on the dashboard.

For less than $100, someone could probably rig up a nice, big, red button that you can’t miss, that’s wired right to the horns. Sure, it’s not elegant. But elegance could easily cost you $300-$400.

Good luck, Jerry.

Todays Car-o-Scope

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