A boom car is a vehicle equipped with an audio system that produces excessive sound pressure levels (SPL). The pounding bass noise can be heard and felt over a wide distance, rattle windows and travel through walls.
Aftermarket sound systems were originally marketed as a means to enjoy improved sound quality and convenience in a vehicle by replacing the factory stock sound system. Today, the car audio industry promotes thuggery and passive aggressive behavior in the use of their products.
The car audio industry promotes "booming" to males in their teens and twenties with some disposable income. The message is that it will attract women and improve their social standing among their peers.
Boom cars have given rise to an urban subculture. Sound pressure level (SPL) competitions (also known as dB drag racing) are held nationwide. Non-professional competitors spend thousands of the dollars on audio equipment for their vehicles. The expensive speakers frequently blow out in competition and need to be replaced. Manufacturers and installers promote the brand and their business respectively by sponsoring professional competitors.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 25 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by driver distraction. Drivers experience reduced reaction times when listening to loud music and adjusting the controls on their car stereo equipment.
MTX Audio Jackhammer Superwoofer
Advertised as the "biggest, baddest, boldest superwoofer". It is a 369 pound speaker with a 22" diameter and requires an extruded heatsink. The speaker can handle 12,000 watts.
The largest manufacturers of boom car equipment include Sony, Pioneer and JBL. Sony uses the brand name Xplod with the slogan "Disturb The Peace". Pioneer Electronics slogan is "Disturb, Defy, Disrupt, Ignite". JBL uses the slogan, "Either we love bass, or hate your neighbors."
Car audio companies advertise through magazines, internet viral and guerilla marketing campaigns. Because their marketing often falls under the radar of mainstream culture, they have been able to avoid public scrutiny. Below are their slogans and marketing messages.
- JBL: "Either we love BASS or hate your neighbors."
- JL Audio: "Be Very Afraid."
- Kicker: "You deserve a beating...Kicker's loudest, meanest subwoofer ever!"
- Concept: "When TOO loud...is just right!"
- Lightning Audio: "Sonic submission."
- Boss Audio System: "Turn it down? I don't think so."
- Cerwin-Vega Mobile Audio: "Shake the living, wake the dead."
- Crossfire: "We're louder...Deal with it!"
- Earthquake Sound: "The Meanest, Loudest, Most Powerful, Mother F--- Amplifiers Money Can Buy!"
- Viper Audio: "Cold Blooded. Violent Fury and Multi-Channel Mayhem."
- Orion High Performance Car Audio: "Be Loud. Be Obnoxious."
The Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA), represents automotive aftermarket retailers. They issued a position statement warning its member companies "not to use symbols, messages or suggest behavior that would adversely affect the industry. Irresponsible promotion could negatively impact the perception of our industry by the public at large and could be used against us by activists or government to regulate our products and activities".
The culture of booming is also promoted through cable television, notably MTV's Pimp My Ride (Viacom). The premise of the show takes a jalopy that is customized and outfitted with high end audio equipment. A rapper hosts the show and participants end up with a car designed to blast bass noise as a primary function of the retrofit. Car audio companies and the automotive aftermarket industry showcase their products through product placement.
These companies are members of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). Along with the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA) representing dealers and installers, they have lobbied against proposed noise-pollution ordinances in communities all over America. SEMA created the 'Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus' enlisting members of congress to support their agenda.
Boom Car Ads
Major cities have imposed stronger noise codes, but across the country, there is a patchwork of noise ordinances with varying levels of enforcement. In cases where communities have tried to strengthen the noise code against booming, the car audio industry have lobbied to defeat it.
Some municipalities require that a police officer measure the amount of noise with a decibel meter before issuing a summons. Officers must be trained to use the expensive equipment. Citations are often challenged in court because the meters must be certified and calibrated for its readings to be used as evidence.
A more effective enforcement measure is called 'plainly audible standard' that allows an officer to determine noise levels from a prescribed distance.
In Lorain, Ohio, the noise from loud car stereos was so bad that more than 2,000 city residents signed a petition demanding a new noise ordinance. The revised ordinance removed decibel requirements and prohibited noise that is plainly audible 50 feet from the source. Repeat offenders risk having their vehicle impounded and their stereo equipment destroyed.
In Gulfport, Mississippi, the police launched a public service campaign to raise awareness of the city's noise ordinance, which sets a penalty of up to $1,000 for disturbing the peace.
In 2005, Florida enacted its state noise code that made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the sound system is plainly audible at 25 feet. In 2008, Sarasota amended its local ordinance to allow police to fine motorists and additionally, seize and impound their vehicles.
Sarasota Police Chief Peter Abbott said, "If somebody goes down the street and has this car that's rattling the walls and waking up every child and every infant, every sick and elderly person and shift worker and drives through the neighborhood, and when they settle down they drive back an hour later, wake up the neighborhood again, that car will spend time in the impound lot."
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the ordinance, representing two plaintiffs who was fined for violating the noise ordinance. The ACLU claimed that the enforcement violated their First Amendment rights. A year later, the ACLU reached a $50,000 settlement after suing the city. The terms of the settlement also meant the city could no longer enforce its ordinance.
In 2012, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the state noise code as unconstitutional on the grounds it violated free speech rights.
Pioneer Electronics thug-marketing video titled, "Disturb". A young man talks about spending half of his inheritance money to purchase car audio equipment costing $30,000. Another brags about how his boom car sets off car alarms and once caused a little boy to cry in the middle of the street.