The bings, bongs, and dings of a car are things we subconsciously absorb, internalize, and love or hate. Car manufacturers all have warning chimes for ignition, or faults, or for just having the key in the ignition. Remember when cars had keys? Anyways, the coolest key chime of them all has always been the Honda key chime for one simple reason: it is actually spelling out the letter H in morse code. How much cooler can it get than that?
Honda has had the beep-beep-beep-beep “H” chime for as long as it’s had a key chime. There are two distinct chimes: the “key is in the ignition, door open” chime (which is the H chime), and “ignition on” is a different single, repeating tone. Honda used the H chime until 2018, but phased it out when push-button start was introduced. The ignition chime changed in 2012 to a different, softer tone in the Civic, and in 2013 for the Accord.
The softer ignition tone is fine but not really ideal and kind of jarring for the most hardcore Honda nerds (like myself). Clearly, Honda has done a lot of work refining the tone into something soothing and fresh-sounding, because it isn’t nearly as bad as some other chimes (see: Ford, BMW)
What really grinds my gears is that Honda sunsetted the legendary H chime. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are ignoring decades of brand equity and nostalgia. I’d even say that it’s just a tiny little bit of Honda that’s died. I’ll give Honda this: It had no choice. Keyless start cars don’t need a key chime anymore! I just wish that the company had figured out how to repurpose the H chime into something else.
Hondas have some of the most familiar and uniform ergonomics, sounds, and feelings across decades of production. Every Honda I’ve driven feels like a Honda, and sounds like one. Just think of that distinct starter sound on almost every four-cylinder Honda through 2005, or the obvious VTEC crossover sound.
Honda isn’t the only big OEM to change longstanding chime traditions. Most cars moving into keyless start have forced OEMs to change, and evolve their chimes into something “luxurious” sounding. All I hear, are committees deciding the tone with braces of focus groups, looking for parameters like calmness, or asking questions like “does this make you feel safe?”
At this point, I’m an old man shaking my fist. But I want my damn morse code chime back! It was the backdrop to every morning school run, to my formative driving experiences, and to some of the cars that I felt most connected to. If you really want buyers to feel familiar with your new car, while moving forward with technology, I think the small details make the biggest difference.
At least Honda has reversed some decision making. The facelifted 2021 Accord has adopted a new ignition tone that is highly reminiscent of the old single tone. Maybe, we’ll get our H chime back some day.