What Is NVH?Last Updated August 31, 2023 | Alison Smith
NVH is an acronym for noise, vibration, and harshness. In the automotive world, it pertains to the measurement and reduction of excess sound and vibration in vehicles. NVH is sometimes referred to as N&V, or just noise and vibration. Car manufacturers focus on reducing NVH to improve the driving experience.
What’s the Difference Between Noise & Vibration?
When talking about noise and vibration, they’re often described in relation to particular frequencies. Noise usually occurs in the frequency range of 30 to 4,000 Hz. It can be anything from squeaks and rattles to road noise.
Vibration is tactile, felt through humming, trembles, or other motions. Its frequency range is smaller, typically occurring between 30 to 200 Hz. If you’ve ever felt a steering wheel shake or a car idling heavy, then you’ve experienced vibration.
While noise and vibration are easily measured, harshness is a more relative term. Harshness is how noise and vibration are felt by occupants inside a vehicle’s cabin, like when you accidentally hit a pothole.
What Causes NVH?
All the components that help make a car operate are also what contribute to NVH. These include the engine, exhaust, drivetrain, and tires as well as the outside sound of air at high speeds. The main sources of NVH can be categorized into three different types: aerodynamic, electrical, and mechanical.
Aerodynamics NVH refers to the wind noise created when a vehicle is in motion. Disturbances in the path of the air can create vibrations of the air particles and transmit the sound. Side mirrors, roof racks, and other design elements can interrupt the airflow and create howling or whistling noises from the wind.
Electrical NVH is caused by a vehicle’s electrical components, such as the alternator or battery. Electrical noise is often heard as a humming or whining sound and is less pronounced than other forms of NVH.
Mechanical noise is produced by the engine, drivetrain, brakes, and other mechanical components. Suspension systems can be noisy, which is why some manufacturers use independent rear suspension (IRS) systems rather than solid axles. Both multi-link and IRS systems work to isolate both the chassis and steering column from road surfaces to reduce vibration.
Tires can also lead to a lot of road noise and vibration, which is why tire producers engineer tread patterns to be quieter and provide a smoother ride.
For many enthusiasts, modifying their vehicles is as essential to ownership as driving them. From adding more power with a cat-back exhaust, to overhauling the acoustics with a new speaker system, there are plenty of common modifications that can directly impact NVH on a vehicle.
The engineering on modern cars is meticulously designed to reduce noise and vibrations as much as possible. Modifying how a vehicle looks and performs can drastically alter the sounds it makes. Sometimes these sounds are international like with a louder exhaust note, but other times, NVH is an unfortunate byproduct of frequent modification.
Many enthusiasts who install mods view NVH differently. Some don’t mind the increased noise, while others go for a balanced approach that keeps cabin comfort in mind when tackling a new install. Whatever your approach, it’s important to be aware of the NVH increase that common vehicle mods produce and take it into account when planning your next project.
How Can You Lower Your NVH?
Car manufacturers and engineers work diligently to reduce NVH as much as possible. But there are a few ways to lower NVH yourself. You can reduce the strength at the source, or work on isolating and absorbing excess sound and vibration.
Reducing NVH at the Source
When it comes to reducing vibration, the suspension system plays a big part. As mentioned previously, using an IRS can reduce road noise. If you have a solid axle, you can upgrade to an IRS system to reduce NVH and improve handling.
If you’re experiencing a lot of wind noise, you can improve aerodynamics in a variety of ways. You can lower your car, add side skirts or a rear spoiler, use narrower tires, remove the roof rack, and limit cargo weight. If you have a truck, you can also install a tonneau cover over the bed to reduce drag.
Mufflers and resonators help reduce the sound level of your exhaust. If you’ve got a hole in your muffler or are experiencing drone at a certain RPM range, then a new muffler or resonator can reduce excess or annoying noises caused by the exhaust.
Isolation & Absorption
Isolating and absorbing sound are other ways to reduce NVH. Isolators interrupt the vibration path. Absorption materials, such as foam or dampers, help soak up noise and vibrations.
Another way multi-link and IRS systems reduce NVH is by isolating the suspension system from the chassis and steering column. This helps improve ride quality and handling when you drive over bumps and dips in the road. Steering dampers also go a long way to decrease vibration from uneven road surfaces.
Using rubber and polyurethane bushings instead of metal can also help isolate and reduce noise caused by the exhaust, suspension, and engine components. The soft materials will also absorb unwanted vibrations.
Sound-deadening material helps isolate the cabin from outside noise. For instance, Jeep Wranglers are notorious for being loud due to their boxy shape and open-air design. But there are ways to soundproof a Wrangler or whatever vehicle you may be driving. You can use rubber-like material or foam to provide more insulation as needed.
If your stock tires are too loud, you may find that switching tires can make a big difference. Tire manufacturers design tread patterns specifically to reduce noise and vibration.
Take Control of the NVH in Your Vehicle
If the NVH in your vehicle is out of control, there are steps you can take to get the noise back in line with what you’re comfortable with. Replacing a damaged muffler can go a long way to address excessive noise, while installing more aerodynamic exterior trim can help reduce wind noise.
NVH is not a problem for everyone though. If you’re an enthusiast who loves the sound of a loud aftermarket exhaust, then adding additional modifications to your ride will probably not change how you feel about the NVH they cause. Check out our Mustang and Bronco parts pages below and find the best parts to produce the ideal amount of NVH for your needs.