Last updated on September 15th, 2020 at 11:30 pm
In August, 2012, Consumer Reports wrote that the Ford MyTouch Sync system was so bad, the widely respected review company was lowering scores across the auto manufacturing company brand. That year, Consumer Reports did not have a single Ford or Lincoln model using the MyTouch Sync infotainment system on it’s list of recommended cars. J.D. Power dropped Ford from fifth in initial quality to twenty-sixth that year.
Consumer Reports drove six Ford and Lincoln models that year for a combined 20,000 miles, plenty of opportunity to adjust to the MyTouch Sync systems quirks. But the review of the system went beyond a simple finding that the system was difficult to learn, Consumer Reports found it to be dangerously distracting, frustrating to use, and noted that “There are various versions of the system, and they get worse as they get more advanced and more expensive.”
MyTouch – A Preview of the Future
Ford introduced the MyTouch Sync system in 2010 as the next generation of in-car controls. The system uses a touchscreen that provides digital and capacitive buttons for climate control, navigation, and audio. Ford’s primary goal in the original MyTouch system was to eliminate distractions by providing as many voice-activated controls as possible. The MyTouch Sync system was ground-breaking in it’s day, but new isn’t always better.
Countless Ford and Lincoln customers hate the Sync system so much, entire forums are dedicated to voicing complaints. Attorneys pressured Ford to settle a class-action law suit filed on behalf of some 360,000 Ford and Lincoln owners by the firm Hagens Berman.
Ford has announced $17 million in funds reserved to settle lemon law claims over the MyTouch system. The maximum payout will be $400 for owners that had three or more repairs made to Ford vehicles purchased before August 9, 2013. Customers who simply hated the system will get $45.
The problems with MyTouch are varied. Most customers complain that the navigation system is difficult to use, glitchy, and rarely works without crashing. Small font sizes, excessively complicated voice commands, and design defects like placing the touchscreen out of reach or recessed into the dash so that important controls cannot be seen by the driver led to many of the complaints.
Overall, MyTouch Sync 1&2 earned a reputation for unreliable performance, difficulty in use, and a significant source of irritation, particularly to those accustomed to turning a knob or pressing a physical button. Consumer Reports even said they wouldn’t wish the system on an adversary.
Solutions to the early MyTouch systems are limited. One significant issue with removing and replacing the original units is the level of integration the infotainment system has with other functions of the car.
Jesse, now the Master Ford Technician with Infotainment.com and the founder of OEM Audio Solutions was one of the early pioneers of aftermarket solutions to the plagued factory MyTouch Sync systems. He got his start producing youtube.com videos showing Ford owners solutions to OEM problems.
Jesse sat down with me recently and discussed the differences between Ford MyTouch with Sync (1&2) and the brand new Sync 3, and what owners of MyTouch systems may be able to upgrade with their class-action settlement. Jesse is an expert installer and fabricator and has personally performed hundreds of swaps and upgrades for Ford dealerships and private customers.
SYNC 3- The Evolution of a Good Idea
For model year 2016, Ford scrapped the MyTouch Sync 1&2 systems and reinvented the plagued infotainment system with a simpler, easier to use system called Sync 3. Ford dropped the MyTouch name largely because nobody called it that. Good thing, it sounds kind of creepy.
Sync 3 has received rave reviews. Connectivity to Android Auto and Apple Car Play, and significant improvements to navigation, voice-commands, and screen layout have earned the new system glowing comments from consumers and tech reviewers alike. The various controls are easy to see quickly because of the newly designed system. Gone are the tiny fonts, now replaced with big, clear buttons for all the important functions. The Sync 1&2 systems were noted for their particularly poor navigation systems. Even after updating maps, drivers would find major errors.
Navigation at it’s Worst
One of the more comical issues reported with early Sync systems concerned driving in San Francisco. Several years ago, the east span of the Bay Bridge was replaced with a new bridge, yet Ford MyTouch Sync 1&2 navigation systems continued to place the vehicle in the location of the old bridge, a few hundred feet north. This made it seem as though the car was driving on water. Cadillac’s CUE system, another hated infotainment system in its early days, suffered from similar failures.
While this error is amusing, it does not really affect anything, as clearly no one drives a Ford across the bay and you can’t get lost on a bridge, but when similar issues happen in serious situations, it isn’t funny at all. California is in the process of replacing many on-and-off ramp lanes on major freeways with modern and safe designs. In-car nav systems that do not recognize the changes either simply stop working, or get horribly confused and send you off in the totally wrong direction. Getting lost in an area that you are unfamiliar with because the high-dollar equipment you rely on is junk is a quick way to lose customers.
There is an inherent danger to using in-car navigation and sub-par systems have plagued many car companies over the years. The worst systems require extensive attention to operate, potentially taking a drivers eyes off the road for significant time. This issue becomes even more dangerous when navigation systems do not work correctly. Drivers end up spending more time paying attention to the screen than the windshield.
The American Automobile Association has been studying distracted driving for several years, and reports the advent of infotainment systems has exacerbated a bad situation. Fortunately, car manufacturers are listening, and are designing infotainment systems today that are less distracting and more functional. Ford’s Sync 3 is among the highest rated systems on the market. The introduction of new connectivity options promises to provide a less distracted driving environment.
Text messaging is one of the current leading causes of distracted driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that viewing a text message takes about 5 seconds. At 60 MPH, a vehicle will travel around the length of a football field. Imagine driving that far with your eyes closed. Scary stuff to say the least.
The new Sync 3 has optional built-in navigation that is simple to use, even when driving down the highway. It accepts voice-commands and uses a simplified information input system to reduce distraction. And yes, the Bay Bridge is in the right spot.
Do-It-Yourself and Aftermarket Solutions
Unfortunately, Sync 1&2 owners cannot simply upgrade to Sync 3. The old system was a Windows-based program whereas the new system is provided by Blackberry, and the two are not compatible. Everything from the touchscreen to the wiring pigtails is different from one system to the next. Sync 1 owners will have a more difficult time upgrading, as that system is now very antiquated and custom wiring a modern system is next to impossible.
Jesse explained that more than just being physically incompatible, each individual MyTouch system is originally intended for the specific vehicle it is installed in. Just because a Sync 3 system came from the same make and model vehicle does not mean it can be made to work in a different vehicle without significant time and money invested.
Take it Out and Throw it Away
In the old, pre-touchscreen head unit days, factory one and two-DIN radios were easily replaced. A quick call to Crutchfield and in minutes, a brand-new, high-powered car radio was in the mail, and at a reasonable cost. The consumer could install the new equipment easily and quickly in the driveway.
Drummer, a sales rep at Crutchfield -and the unfortunate owner of a Ford MyTouch Sync 2-equipped car- said that replacing the infotainment system with an aftermarket head unit is not directly possible. Any aftermarket solution would neither fit the dash opening nor readily connect to the remote steering wheel controls. Drummer said aftermarket options are limited because of the size of the screen and integrated factory options, such as climate control and navigation.
“It’s either what you have, or nothing,” Drummer said. Drummer drives a 2014 Ford Focus. He has personal experience with the frustrations of using Ford’s MyTouch Sync 2.
“The idea of [MyTouch Sync 1&2] is cool, but the execution is ‘Meh,” Drummer said. “It’s a pain in the neck. Trying to talk to this thing is a nightmare, and so if I could get rid of it, I would love to because I hate it.”
If there is one thing that a stereo should do, it should play music. Ford seems to have forgotten that listening to music is the primary reason a person wants a car stereo.
“At one point I tried to install a USB stick full of music and it took an hour to configure itself,” Drummer said. “After that it never worked, it was spotty and crashed all the time. It was annoying.”
While there is no stand-alone aftermarket plug-and-play solution, an imperfect solution is available through Crutchfield.
Many Ford vehicles have MyTouch Sync 1&2 systems that can be partially altered for a better experience, however most vehicles will be stuck with the hardware offered from the factory, including the flawed layout and complicated menus.
The trick here is to use a device by iDatalink called the Maestro RR. This device mimics the APIM and allows for advanced functionality including Android Auto and Apple Car Play functionality. Factory controls are retained on vehicles that are compatible with the iDatalink Maestro RR. A few Ford vehicles can even have the factory touchscreen removed completely and replaced with an aftermarket unit from companies like Kenwood that is iDatalink Maestro-compatible.
This solution is fantastic, but generally will leave a bit of advanced work for the DIYer to accomplish. The aftermarket screen size is generally either larger than or smaller than the factory unit, so expect to modify the dash and bezel at the least.
Cost is significant, too. The iDatalink Maestro sells for $150, but likely will require additional controllers and wiring pigtails to work. As a stand-alone, the Maestro promises to do away with some of the more dangerous aspects of the MyTouch system, like simplified voice-commands, but unless changing the head unit, owners will be stuck with the factory touchscreen hardware.
Jesse said the Maestro solution does work, but is an older solution more useful for owners who have MyTouch-equipped vehicles they intend to replace with an aftermarket radio. The Maestro unit was designed originally in cooperation with Kenwood, and many Kenwood head units include the correct plug-in on the rear of the unit.
“I have installed a few of those myself,” Jesse told me. “I was one of the guys who owned a shop trying to find solutions for dealers that had customers that wanted to add navigation to their truck they had just bought.”
A head unit from Kenwood that essentially replaces the Ford MyTouch head unit is available, but at a cost of $500, is not cheap. Add to that the Maestro RR, required to retain factory functions like climate controls, plus additional controllers and wiring pigtails, and the upgrade gets close to $1,000.
That is a chunk of change for a system that may not fit well without additional parts, and the option is limited to very specific Ford models.
Crutchfield does sell wiring harness adaptors for Ford MyTouch Sync 1&2 conversions to Sync 3, though, so maybe it’s possible to pull a Sync 3 out of a wrecked Ford and adapt wiring. Ford stuck with the same screen size when developing the Sync 3, so at least the dash won’t have to be radically altered.
Infotainment.com is also a great resource for OEM solutions to upgrade issues. The company can custom make wiring connectors and custom-programmed solutions.
It doesn’t take much internet research to run into problems with swapping the new system in. Beyond wiring differences, much of which requires cutting and soldering, small things like the USB plug have to be replaced as they are no longer compatible. Some owners will get lucky, and the new USB module will fit in the original spot. Most people will need to buy an adapter to fit the USB. Many of the features that make Sync 3 better simply don’t work on Sync 1&2 vehicles.
“The level of integration on these cars is incredible,” Jesse said. “In the old days, you had a bundle of wires running to the door switches. Now, you have one wire that controls all the window and door lock functions. Everything is run together.”
Then there is the cost of the system. Wiring pigtails and modules are not particularly expensive -probably in the neighborhood of $120 depending on supplier and the particular model year Ford. The connections are not all that difficult to make, either -provided the person doing the install is good at interpreting wiring diagrams and has experience properly connecting equipment for a long-term solution.
Where the big chunk of money comes in to play is replacing the touchscreen with a Sync 3-compatible unit. The screen and the Accessory Protocol Interface Module (APIM) are model-specific, so a unit from a Ford Fusion probably cannot be made to work in a Ford F250. Used screen and APIM packages run upwards of $500, with new units nearing $800. Most used electronic components will not carry a warranty, and it is certainly possible that a used unit will be defective, necessitating sourcing another unit.
Even when all the right components are assembled and ready, the really tricky part -and one of the more sketchy things I have seen recently- is configuring the various processes to work with the car. This is done with a free online app called FORScan.
“A Ford dealer absolutely will not reprogram a Sync 3 system for a vehicle that was originally equipped with a MyTouch,” Jesse said.
The reason is simple enough -the program the dealership uses to program vehicle APIM’s will not recognize a new system not factory installed.
“If you were to put a Sync 3 in a Ford F150 and drive it to the dealer, Oasis, the program Ford uses, would give a hardware error and lock the technician out,” Jesse explained.
FORScan is a Russian programing app that allows Ford owners to hack into the various settings and make adjustments, turn systems on and off, and generally customize settings for free. Unfortunately, users have reported that going into FORScan without understanding exactly what they are doing can be catastrophic. Deleting the wrong setting, or changing a setting incorrectly could lead to system failures far beyond the audio system.
“You still have to have the knowledge of what to program,” Jesse said. “The whole thing of programming a Sync three is that it is a custom programming each and every time. Can people get it to work -yeah, but there are things that are set-up and don’t work.”
Jesse said many people who program their APIM themselves end up with features that no longer work. Quite a few simply leave it that way.
Factory Original Upgrade Kits
Ultimately, the best option for owners of Ford or Lincoln vehicles equipped with MyTouch Sync 2 is to contact companies that provide factory-style upgrade kits. Infotainment.com started out in the mid-2000’s providing original equipment electronics upgrades to customers. As infotainment systems became more common, the company expanded to providing top-notch service from inquiry to installation. The company provides the most stress-free upgrade option to replace Sync 2 with Sync 3 systems, but the upgrade does not come cheap.
Not only does Infotainment.com provide direct-fit upgrades, they have the parts and expertise to put together a full swap upgrade for many vehicles. Infotainment can help owners replace basic factory radios with high dollar optional equipment that fits as originally intended. Infotainment.com is an industry leader in OEM solutions. The products they sell are entirely original parts, properly programmed and configured to work in a specific vehicle, and backed by a money-back warranty and never-ending customer support.
“Let’s say a Ford Explorer, like a smaller 4” display on the 2018 Ford Explorer, something that is boring, and the customer is like, ‘I wish I would have paid more and got the bigger radio,’ we give them the whole setup, the radio, the bezel, the controllers, but they have to have the wiring to make it happen,” John, a sales rep with Infotainment.com said by phone.
The real trick to what Infotainment provides is custom wiring specific to the particulars of a customers car. Using the vehicles VIN number, the pros at Infotainment.com are able to configure a custom wiring harness that plugs directly into the original factory wiring and powers the infotainment system as intended originally.
“To do a Sync 3, it requires an APIM, a screen, and a USB hub,” Jesse said. “There are three different USB hubs, and we know which one your vehicle will need and we also include the correct adapter. We also include the bezel so the hub installs seamlessly.”
While it may not sound like a real big deal to some, the wiring portion of installing an upgraded infotainment system is among the most challenging aspects, particularly considering that simply connecting wires is only part of the job. The real difficult part is the programming. Without the professional help provided by Infotainment.com, installers will need to use FORScan and risk causing serious damage to the vehicles computer operating systems.
“When you buy from us, yes it might be more expensive,” Jesse said. “One, we are sending you a ready to install, programed unit. It’s convenient. Two, it’s warrantied and we really take care of people in a very good fashion. Three, it’s all OEM parts.”
Infotainment kits ensure that customers receive the right parts that all function. Jesse tests each system that ships out personally. Many online forum posts comment on purchasing screens online and getting parts that are scratched or broken.
“I have personal experience with this,” Jesse said. “They send you a screen and it looks like it’s been thrown halfway across the Earth. Nobody wants a scratched screen.”
Jesse said that upgrading from a non-nav system to a nav system is one of the most sought-after upgrades Infotainment.com offers. A complete kit from Infotainment.com for a non-nav Sync 3 upgrade runs $1,499. The factory navigation is an additional $500.
“When you get a kit from Infotainment.com, and if you don’t like it, or if the screen is cracked or not the way you want it, call us, we ship you a new one,” Jesse said. “We don’t give people a hard time about this, we want people to be happy.”
A few years from now, most people won’t even remember how bad the MyTouch Sync 1&2 systems were, and technology already surpasses the limitations of those systems. The cost of upgrading to a modern, useful, and safer Sync 3 system is not a small amount of money, but a properly upgraded system will provide a superior driving experience, increase a vehicles worth, and may even inspire owners to keep their car a little longer.
It is possible to salvage components from junkyards, cobble together wiring, and custom-program the system. Online forums show some successes and lots of failures, with numerous issues that unexpectedly present themselves when cutting and replacing wiring, changing settings, and modifying the factory setup.
An aftermarket solution might be the best option for some owners, particularly those with the early MyTouch Sync 1 systems that are difficult, and in some cases impossible, to replace. It is certainly possible to create a custom aftermarket solution that far surpasses the abilities of the early MyTouch systems.
With some money in hand from the Ford Class-Action settlement, owners who want to keep their Ford or Lincoln cars a few more years but want a safer, better infotainment system should contact Infotainment.com and talk to the knowledgeable and helpful sales reps about the specific wants and desires. Infotainment.com will offer the best help and support to tackle a seemingly simple yet highly complex upgrade to the factory audio system.