Man sitting inside a tesla with no cabin noise

What is Cabin Noise in a Car and Why is it Important?

Ever turn down the radio while you’re in the car? Perhaps you did so to take a call on speakerphone, or to look for where you’re supposed to go. Whatever you’re reasoning, as you drive along, you might hear a type of white noise known as cabin noise.

Cabin noise is what is referred to the combination of car sounds from your car’s inner mechanics, your tires, and the wind flowing along the aerodynamics of your vehicle. Assuming your car is in tip-top mechanical shape, the noises from the engine and other parts will be quite minimal and you’ll mostly be left with the sound from your tires or the wind (or both!). The faster you go, the more wind you might hear which also depends on which way any actual wind is blowing against or along your vehicle.

So why is cabin noise so important in your car? Keep reading and you’ll soon see!

Here’s why cabin silence is important

The term for minimizing those noises, vibrations, and overall harshness is called NVH, a common goal for all automakers. They put great focus in creating a quiet ride because that leads to a more enjoyable one. In fact, even on test drives, cars with a quieter interior are perceived as higher quality. It’s like your own personal bubble of luxury, a place of esteemed quiet that is reserved just for you.

The first step for automakers to minimize cabin noise is to focus on the body shape, adjusting it to cheat the wind. As an added bonus, this aerodynamic quality helps improve fuel economy. From there, they use mounts with your suspension and engine to help minimize the transfer of noise. Once these are in place, cracks are sealed though many methods are available for that. Depending on the manufacturer, they could use tape, spray, or even seals around the door (sometimes double and triple seals!). Tires are examined too to determine a tread design that both grips the road with precision without making too much noise.

That’s not all though. Fiber insulation and acoustic glass are also used. On some of the newer, higher-quality models, the audio system is employed to cancel out noise. It intuitively listens for unwanted noise and creates a similar sound to phase it out. Isn’t technology grand?

As you may have guessed, the more luxurious the car, the better reduction of cabin noise. That’s not always the case though as more economical versions are trying to keep up which is great news for those who aren’t in the market for a top-tier luxury vehicle.

How does cabin noise level influence the ride quality?

When was the last time you test-drove a new car? If it was more recently, you may have noticed the quietness of the ride. Perhaps the awkward silence between you and the salesperson hoping you’d buy the vehicle was extremely pronounced.

But it’s not just in road noises either. Our perception of cabin noise also begins when we open or close the doors, switch on the indicator, and other little factors like that. That’s where the cabin insulation comes into play. After all, the engineers for car manufacturers are busy at work on that NVH level to absorb sounds so you get an enhanced and smoother ride. The sound levels in the cabin also can make or break a conversation. On long road trips, it’s nice to talk to those traveling with you without shouting above the din from the road.

Understanding what creates cabin noise can be very helpful in reducing it for a quieter ride when you’re an engineer. When you’re shopping for a car though, understanding it can help you make the right choice when buying. Keep reading and you’ll soon get a handle on the things that make for a noisy ride.

What creates cabin noise in a vehicle?

Ready to discover what makes so much noise in your car’s cabin? Here’s the ultimate list.

– Occupants

Anyone that rides in your car is a source of noise. Granted, the noises they make aren’t generally constant, unless your kids won’t stop singing that “Baby Shark” song in the back, but they make noise all the same. It can be distracting when you have passengers in your vehicle. It could be your spouse, your best friend, your boss, your dog, 10 cats, or any other creature, but they can all be distracting.

In fact, if you’ve never been driving and asked anyone in your car to keep it down for a minute while you listen to your GPS for where to turn (or just because their singing is starting to wear on your nerves), you haven’t really lived!

– Conductive vibration

Every car consists of thousands of parts, big and small, all pieced together. Some are screwed in while others are glued. And over time, some of these parts may loosen up a bit which creates a vibration. On top of that, you also get noise that’s conducted through your car’s chassis that vibrates along with the other pieces inside your car, regardless of whether they are tight or loose.

All of these little things can make for big noise. When a car is built well for the NVH level, this noise is reduced significantly. If you ever test drove a budget vehicle and then hopped into a luxury one, you perhaps noted the difference in noise reduction. All cars will make some kind of vibration. It’s impossible for them not to, however, much can be done to buffer these sounds to create a quieter ride.

– Wind noise

It doesn’t need to be windy in the slightest for you to get wind noise when driving. The windier it is, there will be more noise, but even if the air is still, you’ll get wind from the speed you’re traveling as it glides along your side mirrors, past gaps in panels, along your door seals, or at any point where you have trim or parts that extend out.

A little science might be in order to understand better. When car manufacturers are tweaking and improving existing models or adding new ones to the product lineup, they are always trying to find better ways to streamline the vehicles they create. The use a coefficient of drag which basically means that the less drag you have, the less turbulence and wind resistance will occur, hence less noise.

And even as good as that sound dampening is in your car, if you like to drive with the windows down on a nice day, the wind noise is going to become louder and more distracting, especially if you’re flying down the highway.

– Windows

While we’re on the subject of car windows, you could have the best car on the market and you’ll still get tons of noise in the cabin if you drive with the windows down. Nothing can stop that. But if you want things to be pristinely quiet while driving with the windows up, laminated windows are the best option. These windows feature two layer of glass that sandwich in a plastic resin between them. This affords excellent sound deadening effects, especially when compared to non-laminated windows.

If a supremely quiet ride is a must on your list when buying a new car, definitely compare models that have laminated windows to get the best quality of silence.

– Engine noise

Engines, through no fault of their own, make noise. The larger the engine, the more noise potential. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving a sports car, you know just what we mean. If not, you can likely tell when your neighbors down the street are coming or going from the engine noise.

Inside the cabin though, the exhaust system moves that noise to the back of the car so your muffler can dampen the sound before it leaves the vehicle. Keeping your car properly cared for and serviced means you can find holes in your muffler and get it repaired. If not, you’ll experience much more sound inside the cabin of your car.

– Air conditioning

Air conditioning is a must in the summertime or in hot climates. Depending on the quality of your car though, your air conditioning might create too much white noise for your liking, especially if you have to crank it full-blast on a 100-degree day. The fans in your air conditioning system are noise makers plus the air whooshing from your air vents at a high rate when you turn it up adds to the cabin noise, making it just as annoying as loud laptop fan noise.

Most people are willing to overlook this sound in favor of keeping cool, though the more quality the car, the better control you’ll have on climate and thus sound coming from the air conditioning.

– Road noise

And finally, road noise is another contender for cabin noise, perhaps the most significant one. Sometimes the surface you’re driving on will cause more noise than a smooth pave. Fortunately, you can do something about it by making sure your tires are in good condition. The tread pattern is also extremely important. The wider your tire, the more noise it will make, but using the right pattern and a softer rubber can help balance the ratio out considerably.

What you should look out for in a quiet car

When buying a new car, if you want one that gives you a quieter ride, you should look out for a few things that will make all the difference.

– Manufacturer’s cabin noise figures

Most manufacturers make their cabin noise figures known. You can easily find this out for the vehicles you’re considering, but not always. And when you do find them, please remember that the figures they list are often recorded in idealized, controlled situations. They might not account for certain road surfaces.

You’ll want to look for the decibels listed for cabin noise when driven at a particular speed. This will give you an idea of how quiet (or not) the ride will be. Of course, if the roads you drive near you are recently paved, you may not have to worry much.

– Engine type

By far, the quietest type of engine will be that of an electric car. It doesn’t require those fuel explosions to fire up the engine. Modern-day hybrids also have engines that are less noisy, though if you went with an older model, it’s a bit noisier.

Interestingly enough, those new large-capacity diesel engines follow close behind electrics and hybrids. Next up, the lower capacity gas and diesel cars, and then sports cars. Large-capacity diesel utility vehicles aren’t even the slightest bit quiet. You can always hear them coming, and of course inside, it can be noisy too.

Much also has to do with the characteristics of the engine during acceleration. The differences in sound between different cylinder engines are also a point to contend with. There are 8-cylinder, 6-cylinder, inline 4-cylinders, and VTECs to name a few, each with its own sound. Even the 3-cylinder engine is out there and is surprisingly noisy because they’re usually a cheaper option for those needing a car.

– Soundproofing

As mentioned, soundproofing tends to be much better on more expensive models especially when compared to cheaper vehicles. The carpet used on the flooring of the vehicle is just one means of providing soundproofing. However, it all depends on the door seals and any padding underneath that carpet that can create a quieter ride.

If you’re up for doing it yourself, you can purchase sound deadening materials like this awesome sound deadening mat by Noico Solutions to add another layer of soundproofing, especially if you want to skip the expense of having a professional do it, no wonder it has hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon.

– Tires

And now, let us enter the complex world of tires. Your car’s tires and the condition they’re in are one of the things you have much control over for relegating sound. It all depends on whether you’ve got them inflated as per specified by the manufacturer, the depth of your tread, and the width, among other things. Comparing the tires available to fit your vehicle can help you find ones that will make for a quieter ride. The ones the manufacturer chooses all depend on how they look and perform, not to mention the cost, feel, and noise. Generally speaking, tires that have a small hub with a high sidewall are often the quieter option. You can find this by dividing tire height by tire width multiplied by 100.

– Subframe construction

Subframe vibrations can also be prevented from being fully absorbed by the body with the use of rubber bushings. So many cars are created with unitary construction which allows the vibration to go from the suspension and its components on through the chassis and into your cabin. When shopping for new cars, find out about the subframe to see if it is properly buffered from this type of effect.

– Type of car

From what you’ve read so far, you now understand that many factors contribute to cabin noise and what you should look for when choosing a car that is quieter in the cabin. Much of this also has to do with the general type of vehicle you choose.

If you have your heart set on a sports car, you’re going to have to compromise on the sound. Sports cars focus less on dampening the sounds and put more emphasis on being lightweight for a faster, sportier experience. If you’re choosing a luxury car though, the whole emphasis is on your utmost comfort. The focus for manufacturers of luxury vehicles is providing a quieter, smoother ride.

When you can only afford a budget car, you’ll have to understand that to keep prices low for you, they will be putting less emphasis on noise reduction. It’s not to say it won’t be a quality car you’ll be proud to drive, but you won’t have that soundproof quality that comes from a top-tier luxury model. And those super cheap cars will always sound harsh. The engines are smaller and have to push more to perform which leads to more noise.

Some of you may opt for a large SUV, a nice choice when you have a family to tote around. They offer more wind resistance and wider tires though which can make for a noisier cabin. Work and utility vehicles really put no emphasis on the sound deadening aspects. They’re not being bought for a quiet ride; they’re chosen for their capabilities to respond in a business capacity.

Considering a station wagon? It’s going to be noisier than a sedan. The noise from the back of the car can get into the cabin more easily because it gets trapped in there.

Sometimes, you just need to get the car that best suits your needs. We all buy cars to get us from Point A to Point B, but we have other considerations that make each of our needs different. If you’re single without kids, you may want a sports car. If you have kids, you may need that SUV. Whatever your needs, keep reading for some suggestions of the quietest cars on the market that might be right for you!

Top quietest car recommendations

Are you hoping to buy a new car? If you want the best of all worlds, the following models are among the top quietest cars on the road today!

– Tesla Model S

Tesla has made huge headlines as pioneering electric cars along with luxury. It shatters the notion of what electric cars are perceived as. The Model S is sensual in design, an ideal executive model with a shape so slippery that there’s little wind noise to contend with. Inside the cabin, it’s a quiet ride in this all-electric vehicle. The Model S has done a fine job with reducing noise from all over to deliver a quieter, more efficient ride.

– Audi Q5

Do you drive long distances? Do you drive those long distances with kids? Audi’s Q5 is a fantastic SUV that incorporates acoustic glazing on the windshield and front side windows for a noticeably quieter ride. You can also opt to select adaptive air suspension on your Q5 to make it even more blissfully hushed anywhere you go. Now your kids? We can’t promise they’ll be any quieter, but at least once you drop them off at school or they drift off to sleep on a road trip after playing the license plate game, you’ll reign in esteemed quiet.

– Mercedes-Benz S-Class

One of the most notable luxury vehicles of our time, the S-Class truly creates a world that is yours alone as you cruise along the road of life. There is very little noise intrusion from the wind or the road. Even the diesel version of this car is smooth and quiet. That’s impressive, though for the AMG S63, it’s important to note that you can still hear the V8 engine in the cabin, albeit a very muffled version of it.

– Audi A8

Audi’s A8 sedan is another impeccable offering from the manufacturer. The 50 TDI doesn’t vibrate and stays quite subdued even when you push it hard. It’s refined, elegant, and sublimely quiet. With 20-inch wheels, it gives you just a touch of road noise when you rumble over rougher surfaces, but your wind noise is spectacularly quiet even at 70mph. An option for double-glazed side windows can be added on for even more peace and quiet in the cabin.

– Audi Q7

And yes, we’ll end our list with yet another Audi SUV. The Q7 can be a bit clattery on the start with the diesel edition but once warmed up, you will forget there’s an engine until you accelerate hard. It’s a smooth and quiet ride which has the added bonus of sheltering your passengers from the vibrations of the engine. In the hybrid version, it is an even quieter ride when engaging the electric mode. Switch to the diesel mode and it glides in with little noise before smoothing out once again.

Conclusion

For a quieter ride on the road, you’ll have to look at all the factors we presented above when shopping for a new car. Manufacturers are always seeking for new and improved ways to enhance the cabin quality. You can also try a do-it-yourself addition of padding underneath your cabin carpets for a little more hush on the ride.

In general, the more luxurious the car, the more attention to detail will be given on creating a quieter ride. Understanding what components go into making a car quieter in the cabin can help you research the cars you’re interested in to see if they will give you all the cabin quiet while meeting your other needs.

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