What it takes to tune up a car so it sounds just right

Engineering car sounds
Engineering car sounds 02:30

Last Updated Feb 8, 2017 12:19 PM EST

DEARBORN, Mich. -- It’s the symphony of the automobile; all those chirps and dings your car makes carefully in tune.

Sean DeGennaro is a Ford vehicle harmony engineer. He mixes art with science to find just the right sound.

Sean DeGennaro CBS News

“Should we do a medley, so something like our DNA chimer, ‘dah dah dah,’ or should it be a monotone, like just a single ‘ding?’” he said.

A decade ago cars only needed a handful of noises, like the ticks of a turn signal.

But as vehicles get smarter, the beeps, ticks and tocks number in the dozens and include new warnings.

“The forward collision warning we had to add a lot of harsh frequencies and knocking,” DeGennaro said. “We need your attention immediately.”

“Everything has an aesthetic, even things that are not visual,” said Alfonso Albaisa from Infiniti.

“The sound of the door is ‘thunk,’ this conveys that the body has a rigidity that the car itself is well engineered,” Albaisa said.

An engineer analyzes the sounds of a Lincoln sedan CBS News

GMC even worked with Hollywood sound engineers and, like making a movie, the ideal chime can take up to a year to produce.

“It’s going to be there forever,” DeGennaro said. “We want to make sure that it’s a positive experience and that you’re not walking away going ‘Ugh, I could never buy a Lincoln product again because they screwed up that chime that is so irritating.’”

The line between irritating and informing, now part of the sound of the open road.

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    Kris Van Cleave is a congressional correspondent for CBS News based in Washington, D.C.