Just Work! Today’s Car Infotainment Systems are the scourge of your car’s reliability

Apple is working on IOS for your car
Apple is working on IOS for your car

Today’s modern cars are packed with enough electronics to control a small city. It is no wonder that many new car buyers are frustrated and beguiled by their vehicle ‘s seriously complicated infotainment system. In fact the latest Consumer Reports reliability survey points an accusing finger at a car’s infotainment system as being the least reliable and most frustrating aspect of new car ownership.

So why are car manufacturers struggling so much to figure out an easy, user-friendly, and intuitive car infotainment system that just works?

Part of the problem is that car companies are good at designing, engineering and building cars and not especially talented at writing code. Of course a few years ago Ford teamed up with Microsoft for their SYNC car infotainment system and the results were a disaster for Ford. So much so that Ford had to train their dealers to train their buyers on the many facets of a clunky and overly complicated system that brought an automotive version of the old MS blue screen of death to your new Ford Focus or Ford Explorer.


Perhaps the recently implemented Volvos, Mercedes-Benz,  Honda, Hyundai and Ferrari infotainment partnerships with Apple’s in car version of IOS will yield better results, but don’t hold your breath. Both Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have recently pushed back their release of the Apple designed car infotainment system.

For now that leaves new car buyers struggling to understand how to control the basic features of their new car like navigation, the radio (not mention pairing Bluetooth smart phones) or using Byzantium automotive voice commands. 

I spend a lot of time driving different new cars and all too often I’m reduced to tears and screaming at the car “JUST WORK” when I’m trying to figure out something simple like zeroing out the odometer that used to be just a push of a button.

Please take a look at the graph below. It represents this year’s best and worst Consumer Reports reliability winners and losers. Consumers reports says that we can draw a straight line between the car infotainment system and the reliability of that model. Most likely that’s because so much of a new car is now directly controlled by internal micro computer and code.

Consumer Reports 2014 Annual Auto Reliability Survey
Consumer Reports 2014 Annual Auto Reliability Survey

Of course the answer to this complicated problem is simple and commonplace. Manufacturers could automatically undated their car’s software when the car is parked overnight and connected to the owners home WiFi network. Tesla is the only domestic automotive manufacture that currently performs these software updates via the car’s internal internet connection. As new cars become more and more code based this seems like a simple solution to the current  technical scourge of your car’s reliability.

I’ve asked Ford and GM why they don’t update a car’s infotainment software using the vehicles internet connection and ironically both manufacturer’s said they are worried about reliability.

Questions such as, “how do we know when the car is parked for a long enough period to update the software” and “how do we keep hackers from adding malicious code to car” where just some of the reasons given for not automatically updating their car’s infotainment system. These are very legit concerns but ones that Apple and Microsoft both solved decades ago.

I worry that until new car manufactures  figure out how to write better and more user friendly code, and more importantly, how to update that code when it proves buggy in the crucible of consumer daily use, today’s cars will continue to leave many of us screaming “Just Work!”


Because today something that used to be so simple like changing the temperature or radio station can now be hidden behind 5 screens of configurable readouts.