Nothing ruins a nice, quiet Saturday morning quicker than the deafening noises of vehicles flying by your house. When you angrily pull back the blinds, there’s a good chance you’ll see a big pickup truck making all that noise. Why are pickup trucks so loud, and why don’t owners make them quieter? In this article, I’ll answer this question and explain some of the science behind pickups and their noises.
A stock pickup truck is typically pretty quiet. Some of the added noise comes from the higher ground clearance and larger engine, but the oversized muffler will block most of the noise. The big difference is pickups that go through modifications. Owners will alter their exhaust in order to maximize the noise their pickup makes, resulting in a loud truck.
Where Does Vehicle Noise Come from?
Have you ever taken a minute and thought about why vehicles are loud in the first place? It never really crossed my mind until a Prius snuck up on me and I was surprised that I didn’t hear it coming.
Vehicle noise will come from a few different locations. The underlying theme is that noise is generated when things come in contact with one another.
The loudest part of any vehicle is within the engine bay. It’s why there are so many noise dampening systems in the first place.
The engine is running due to a series of miniature and controlled explosions. Think of it as hundreds of bombs going off within your engine.
On top of that, every engine has dozens of parts that are constantly moving around at high rates of speed.
You’ll better understand how noisy an engine is if you pop the hood and take a listen. Even idling or revving, you’ll hear some loud noises.
The main purpose of a vehicle’s exhaust is to get rid of extra noise from the engine. The exhaust will start right on the engine itself and snake under the vehicle until the tailpipe, which is positioned at the vehicle’s rear.
Within the exhaust system, there’s something called a “muffler”. As the name suggests, this piece is designed to muffle outgoing sounds and reduce the overall noise of the vehicle.
If the exhaust has fewer turns in it and no muffler, it will be much noisier than a stock option. This idea will come in handy later.
One place is on the road itself. As tires rotate and move along the asphalt, you’ll actually hear it. Remember, this is the only part of your vehicle that should ever be in contact with the ground, so there’s a lot of force at play here.
Finally, maybe you’re concerned about the stereo booming from a neighborhood pickup. In this case, there’s not much science at play. The driver wants their music to be insanely loud, and you’re at the receiving end of that decision.
In my ultimate guide to buying the perfect car speakers, you’ll see how much variability there is when it comes to how loud a system can get. Still, it’s a matter of the driver respecting other people and turning the volume knob down.
Why Are Pickup Trucks So Loud?
Now, let me jump right to the point. There are a few potential reasons why pickup trucks are so loud, so I’ll walk through some of the major ones.
Higher From the Ground
From a pure science perspective, ground clearance is a huge deal when it comes to noise pollution. Sound waves are quieter and more muffled when they’re closer to the road.
Trucks are obviously a lot higher off the ground than a standard compact car is. That extra distance can make a huge difference when it comes to the overall noise.
The truck has more open-air underneath the engine bay. Instead of noise and vibrations getting absorbed by the road, they expand outwards. In other words, the noise is less muffled since a pickup truck is further from the ground.
The Engines are Bigger and More Powerful
Trucks have to be able to carry a lot of weight. In addition, the framework and bodywork are heavier since the vehicle is larger. As I mentioned in a previous article, weight is one of the key variables when it comes to how well your vehicle can perform.
With all this extra weight, trucks need to beef up their engine size. A more powerful engine will allow the truck to carry multiple tons in the bed, in the cab, and towed behind the pickup without losing out on the 0-60 time.
As you can probably guess, bigger and more powerful engines are also noisier. You’ll notice this difference if you idle a pickup next to a Camry or another small car.
More Room for More Speakers
Since trucks have more space inside, there’s more room for bigger and louder speakers. It’s possible that you’re just hearing a booming stereo system from the pickup that’s driving by.
I mentioned that tire noise can also be the culprit of a noisy vehicle. It’s one of the quieter nuisances, but it can still be obvious — especially on gravel or backroads.
Since trucks are bigger and their tires are supporting more weight, the noise produced is going to be a little louder. In addition, 4WD trucks come with extra-grippy tires. Of course, this added grip will also add road noise as they drive through the neighborhood.
One reason why trucks are so popular is that they’re highly customizable. For some drivers, this means customizing the exhaust system in an effort to boost the noise created.
You might see big exhaust stacks on a pickup. These are large-diameter, fluted exhaust pipes that appear at the start of the bed, close to the cab. They’re tied right into the exhaust system which means the noise and smoke come out of these pipes.
Since the pipes are closer to the ear level, the exhaust noise will be even louder.
Other customized exhaust systems include straight-piping the truck. A standard exhaust pipe might go through a few bends before getting to the muffler and tailpipe. In this customized option, all of the bends are removed, and the pipe is perfectly straight.
Doing this will maximize the noise generated by the truck. Every bend will take away some of the exhaust noise and dissipate it, so a straight shot is the loudest configuration.
Neither of these modifications serves any real purpose other than making the pickup truck louder.
They Removed the Muffler
Another modification that people commonly do to vehicles is removing the muffler. Removing a muffler is illegal in all 50 states, so I wouldn’t suggest doing it.
As you probably know, the muffler’s job is to make the engine noise quieter as the exhaust exits the vehicle. It’s made up of a few chambers that all specialize in dampening noise.
If you want the loudest vehicle possible, you’ll have to remove this noise-dampening muffler. Unfortunately, a lot of pickup owners will opt for this removal. Again, it’s an illegal mod, but that doesn’t stop people who want to maximize noisiness.
Any car lover can tell the difference between a car with and without a muffler. If you don’t appreciate the unfiltered engine noise, then it will just sound like a more annoying and louder vehicle.
This modification becomes even more annoying for vehicles that live in communities with houses nearby. No one wants to hear a loud truck revving at 6 in the morning.
In Reality, Stock Pickups are Quiet
After reading through some of my explanations, you’ll notice that a lot of culprits have to do with customization. In other words, the trucks get even louder because the owner decides to tweak the stereo, tires, or exhaust.
The truth is that a stock pickup is generally just as quiet as a stock compact car. Sure, the pickup has a larger engine, but it also has a muffler that works even harder to keep things quiet.
Pickup truck owners are a lot like people who own sportier cars — modification is hardwired into their history. Some truck owners just want to have the biggest, loudest, meanest truck on the street. The downside is that you’ll need to deal with all that extra noise as they drive by.
Why Aren’t Loud Trucks Illegal?
If your neighbor starts their loud truck every morning and lets it idle before work, there’s no doubt that you want to call the cops on them. The only question is, is it illegal to have a loud truck?
It’s definitely illegal to have a vehicle that’s overly loud. Most states will define this with a certain decibel level (which is the scientific way to measure sound). If a vehicle is too loud, it disturbs the peace of nearby people.
A police officer can cite and ticket any pickup owner whose vehicle is loud — especially if they did noise-altering modifications like removing the muffler.
You can call the authorities if you want to, but it’s probably better to start off with a conversation with the neighbor. No one wants to start a neighborhood beef over a loud pickup.
There you have it — pickups are so loud because owners like to make modifications in order to increase the noise their ride makes. If you’re noticing an annoyingly-loud pickup driving down the street, there’s a good chance they tweaked the exhaust and removed the muffler (which is an illegal process).