So do the skills of the
drivers who use them

By DAVID THOME
Special to ADAMM

People who bought new vehicles in 2014 reported experiencing a record-low number of mechanical problems in their next three years of ownership, while at the same time having a record-high number of problems making their phones sync, voice commands understood and navigation systems get them where they wanted to go.

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But experts say the tech tide has turned as automakers have made their infotainment systems work better and drivers have become more familiar with how to work them.
“Teaching people how to use the tech is not an all-day event anymore,” said Matt Oberlander, sales and leasing associate for EWALD Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Franklin. “The tech is simpler now. You see a button, and it does what you think it’s going to do.”
Mike Bills, sales manager for UPTOWN Ford Lincoln of Wauwatosa, said that while a customer might forget how something is done, problems can usually be addressed in a few minutes.
In the most recent J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, vehicles from the 2014 model year averaged 24 mechanical problems over three years. Meanwhile, they averaged 35 tech problems — a whopping 22% of all problems reported.
Power spokeswoman Renee Stephens said syncing — or pairing — phones with infotainment systems was the No. 1 problem, voice recognition glitches were second and navigation glitches “were a source of many headaches.”
Some of those headaches, she said, were the result of software performing badly, but sometimes the reason was people not knowing what screen to look at or which buttons to press.
Improvements made since 2014 may bode well for the J.D. Power ratings for 2015, ’16 and ’17 models. Two cases in point: Fiat Chrysler and Ford.
After trying several times to upgrade MyFord Touch, the company hit the reset button in 2016 and replaced it with Sync 3, which uses a different — and well-vetted — operating system that employs processors that make it speedier and increases the size of the buttons and fonts.
While MyFord Touch cannot be upgraded to Sync 3 in cars made before 2016, Bills said patches and updates to the former make it work better.
“Syncing phones is the main issue with MyFord Touch,” Bills said, “but it’s 50/50 customer-vs.-software. If someone brings in a car that needs the updates, the service department can install them in a few minutes.”
According to Power, the updates helped Ford’s dependability rating improve more than almost every other automaker’s from 2013 to 2014.
Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect system was lauded by reviewers when introduced a few years ago, and remains one of the most highly praised systems.
“UConnect is so simple to use, it’s almost stupid,” Web2Carz.com’s editor-in-chief Amos Kwon writes in his list of five best infotainment systems of 2017. “The big graphics and flow of the paths work so well together that it’s a pleasure to use it. Version 8.4 is spectacular, and it pairs knobs and buttons for ease of use. The voice commands and Bluetooth also earn rave reviews.”
Oberlander said customers appreciate not only the simple-to-use screen, but also the step-by-step instructions.
“If a phone’s not connected, it’ll ask you if you want to connect it,” he explained. “You choose ‘yes,’ and it tells you to select UConnect on your phone and when the phone is paired, you hit accept. That’s it. All done.”

The other infotainment systems Kwon mentions are:
• Hyundai Blue Link with easy-to-read color icons; responsive touch screen; voice command that works “incredibly well;” easy-to-use knobs and buttons.
• Kia UVO with monochromatic graphics that are easy on the eyes; use of knobs and buttons instead of just touchscreen interaction a plus.
• Ford Sync 3 that is “the most responsive system in existence; with a unique light blue screen.
• Volvo Sensus, described as “nothing short of revolutionary; with a large vertical touchscreen that “is the ideal orientation for drivers;” infrared film senses your finger and allows you to select and move the tablet-like screens without making contact — allowing Wisconsinites to use it even while wearing gloves.