The Ultimate Guide to Ford SYNC

The Ultimate Guide to Ford SYNC

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
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The Ford SYNC infotainment system allows users to make hands-free calls, stream music, and text while driving (safely of course). First designed by Microsoft, and sometimes called Microsoft SYNC, this system is mostly intuitive once you know the basics. When used effectively, SYNC makes your driving experience safer and more entertaining.

This guide will walk you through how to set up and use your SYNC system. It covers vehicles that have the SYNC, SYNC with MyFord, and SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation systems. We also have guides for SYNC with MyFord Touch, SYNC 3, and SYNC 4 and 4A. If you aren’t sure which system your car has, you can find out by using our SYNC versions guide.

SYNC Features

SYNC’s primary function is to make your phone accessible without creating a driving distraction. To that end, it makes things like calling someone as hands-free as possible. Additionally, SYNC helps you operate many non-phone features, like your radio.

There are several versions of the first SYNC generation. These include SYNC with MyFord and SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation. Each of these systems is a little bit different.

SYNC with MyFord has an upgraded screen. Instead of the standard two-line display, it features a 4.2” color display. You’ll also find a similar setup to this in new Ford vehicles with the base SYNC option. SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation includes an even better display and several premium features, like navigation and Sirius radio.

Regardless of which version you have, the first step to using SYNC is pairing it with your phone.

Feature Highlights:

  • Hands-Free Calling with Caller ID and Conference Calling
  • Bluetooth Media Streaming
  • 911 Assist

How to Pair Your Phone with Ford SYNC

Example of a cell phone being successfully paired with Ford SYNC via Bluetooth

To get started with SYNC, you need to pair your Bluetooth-enabled phone. You should only need to go through this process once per phone.

  1. Turn your phone on and start your vehicle.
  2. Enable Bluetooth in your phone settings and make sure the phone is discoverable.
  3. On the SYNC system, hit the phone button.
  4. Select “Add a device.”
  5. SYNC will prompt you to select “Okay” to begin pairing.
  6. Search for SYNC on your phone and enter the PIN SYNC provides. It will be a six-digit number.
  7. SYNC will then guide you through more set-up options for your phone preferences.

Once you exit, your phone and SYNC will be paired. Now, you can start exploring the features of SYNC.

Can You Use SYNC without a Phone?

Most of SYNC’s features rely on having a phone connected. Obviously, you can’t make calls or listen to texts without your phone.

But you can still control your radio with voice commands, and you can access media via USB or Bluetooth. So, if you happen to have an old-fashioned iPod housing your music, that will still work.

How to Control the SYNC System

SYNC operates through voice commands or buttons. It’s helpful to be familiar with both, so you’re prepared in all circumstances.

Ford SYNC controls in center console and on steering wheel

SYNC Buttons/Symbols

On your steering wheel, you’ll find buttons that allow you to control most of the SYNC functions. These are helpful for when you can’t remember the right voice command or aren’t able to speak for whatever reason.

Each of these buttons will be represented by either a word or an icon.

SYNC Steering Wheel Buttons
Button Icon Action
Voice Ford SYNC voice control activation button Activates voice recognition for voice commands.
Media Ford SYNC Media button Lets you select your audio source.
Seek Ford SYNC seek and arrow selection buttons Moves through menu options.
Volume Ford SYNC volume control buttons Adjusts the volume.
Phone Ford SYNC phone answer/end call button Brings up the phone menu. Can also be used to accept or end a call.
Ok Ford SYNC OK control button Confirms menu selections.

On your center console, you’ll have a couple more buttons. You already used your Phone button to pair your Bluetooth phone. It also can be used to download your contact list and adjust your Bluetooth and 911 Assist settings.

The Media button scrolls through music on your connected media source.

Voice Commands

You can also control your SYNC system with your voice. This is not only a convenient option but also a safer one. After all, two hands on the wheel is better than one. Most of the commands are fairly intuitive once you’ve grasped the general pattern.

We’ve included tables in the phone, music, and navigation sections below that contain the relevant voice commands for those features.

Skip Ahead To:

Phone Commands | Entertainment Commands | Navigation Commands

How to Use Hands-Free Calling and Texting

Hands-free calling and texting is one of the most important features of SYNC. It offers the convenience of being in constant contact without the distraction that goes along with it. To take advantage of this feature though, you’ll have to go through some setup first.

Transferring Your Contacts to SYNC

To use voice commands without memorizing anyone’s number, you’ll need to transfer your contacts from your phone to your SYNC system.

  1. Make sure your phone and SYNC are paired.
  2. Select the Phone button on SYNC to get to your phone menu.
  3. Scroll down until you see Phone Settings, then select it.
  4. In the Phone Settings menu, you’ll find an option for Phonebook Pref.
  5. Once you’ve selected that, there will be an option for auto-download.
  6. Select “Download Now” and wait while the phonebook downloads.

When it’s finished, SYNC will display “Phonebook Downloaded” across the screen.

Turning on Automatic Contact Downloads

Once you’ve paired your phone and transferred your phonebook, SYNC will ask if you want to turn on the automatic download feature. This will ensure your SYNC system stays up-to-date with any new numbers you add to your phone. If you want, go ahead and select “Yes.”

You can also access this option again from the Phonebook Preferences menu.

You can store up to 2,000 entries in your contacts, so there’s really no reason not to select automatic contact downloads. It’ll only save you time later.

How to Listen and Reply to Text Messages with SYNC

If you’re just interested in the text reading and reply features of SYNC, you don’t need to download your phonebook to use them. You can begin taking advantage of this feature as soon as your phone is paired.

  1. Make sure you have your text notifications on.
  2. When a text message comes in, you’ll hear an alert and a message will show on your center console.
  3. Press the voice button and say “Read Text Message.” SYNC will then read the message out loud.

Reply by selecting one of the preset messages on the center console screen. These include such favorites as “I’m on my way,” “Stuck in traffic,” and “lol.”

For more complex answers, you’ll need to park and use the radio controls to send a text. But at that point you may as well use your phone instead.

How to Enable 911 Assist

If you’re involved in an accident where airbags are deployed, it’s possible you won’t feel up to calling 911 right away. 911 assist uses your paired phone to place a call to the nearest 911. SYNC then shares details of the accident with the operator to get you the help you need as quickly as possible.

911 emergency assist menu setting on Ford SYNC display

911 Assist is set to “OFF” when you first get your vehicle. That means to take advantage of this service, you first need to turn it on. You can do that by pairing your phone and following these steps:

  1. Press the menu button.
  2. Select SYNC Apps.
  3. Find and select 911 Assist.
  4. Select “On” from this screen to enable 911 Assist. To disable it in the future, select “Off.”

If you choose to turn 911 Assist off, you’ll be prompted to turn on a voice reminder. This reminder will alert you that 911 Assist is off every time you power up your vehicle.

Phone Voice Commands

One important tip for using voice commands is to pause to give the system time to process your request. So, instead of saying, “CallJohn” really fast, you’ll want to say, “Call,” (pause) “John.”

SYNC Voice Commands for the Phone
Command Action
Call [Contact Name] Calls named contact
Phone > Dial [#] > Dial Calls number
Phonebook > [Name] Displays phonebook entry
Phone > Call History Displays full call history
Phone > Call History > Missed Displays missed call history
Phone > Connections Displays phone connections menu
Phone > Connections > Bluetooth [On/Off] Allows you to turn your phone’s Bluetooth feature on or off
Phone > Connections > Connect [Phone] Allows you to connect another named phone to SYNC
Phone > Connections > Delete [Phone] Allows you to delete the pairing to a phone
Phone Menu > Phone Name Displays phone name on SYNC display
Phone Menu > Setting Set Ringer Off Turns ringer off
Phone Menu > Setting Set Ringer On Turns ringer on
Phone Menu > Setting Set Ringer [1,2,3] Changes SYNC ringtone
Phone Menu > Battery Check battery level
Phone Menu > Signal Check signal strength
Mobile Applications Launch mobile applications via SYNC AppLink
Go to Privacy Switches audio from car speakers to phone
Hold Call [On/Off] Puts a call on hold or picks up the call
Mute Call On Mutes a phone call
Unmute Call Unmutes a phone call
Join Calls Allows incoming call to join a phone call already in progress
Phone Menu > Phone Setting Message Notification [On/Off] Lets you turn on or off notifications
Read Message Reads text message

How to Play Music and Other Audio with SYNC

Though SYNC has a lot of options related to productivity and safety, entertainment is also important. SYNC offers a few ways of accessing your favorite music, podcasts, and more.

  • AM/FM Radio
  • Bluetooth Streaming
  • USB-Connected Devices
  • SYNC AppLink
  • CD Player (Option)
  • SiriusXM Radio (Option)

Obviously, AM and FM radio is standard. Depending on your vehicle model, CDs may also be an option. With a Bluetooth-enabled phone, you can stream from your favorite app, whether that’s books on Audible or music and podcasts on Spotify. USB options include media players, like iPods, or flash drives loaded with your favorite tunes.

SYNC AppLink allows you to access select smartphone apps using voice commands. Some of these apps include Pandora, Spotify, Stitcher, and iHeartRadio, but new apps are being added continuously.

Selecting Spotify to play music on Ford SYNC

If you have SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation, you also have the option of listening to SiriusXM.

Voice Commands for SYNC Entertainment

To change your input for playing music or other media, select one of the following options. You can select manually by scrolling through the media options, use the media button on the steering wheel, or hit the voice button and state the source you’d like.

  • USB
  • USB 2
  • Bluetooth Audio
  • Line-In
  • CD
  • Radio
SYNC Voice Commands for Playing Audio
Command Action Input
Help Calls named contact Calls named contact
Play All Plays all songs from device USB
Play Track Plays a particular song USB
Play Artist Plays all tracks by an artist USB
Play Genre Plays all tracks in a genre USB
Play Album Plays all tracks from an album USB
Play Playlist Plays tracks from a playlist USB
Pause Pauses music USB/Bluetooth/CD
Play Resumes play USB/Bluetooth/CD
Play Previous/Next Track Skips to previous or next track USB/Bluetooth
Repeat On or Repeat Off Turns repeat on or off USB/Bluetooth
Shuffle On or Shuffle Off Turns shuffle on or off USB/Bluetooth
Similar Music Plays similar music USB/Bluetooth
What’s This? Hear the title and artist of the current track USB
AM Tune to AM frequency Radio
AM 1 Access AM 1 preset menu Radio
AM 2 Access AM 2 preset menu Radio
AM [530-1710] Direct tune to an AM station Radio
AM Preset [#] Tunes to an AM preset Radio
AM 2 Preset [#] Tunes to an AM 2 preset Radio
FM Tune to FM frequency Radio
FM [87.7-107.9] Direct-tune to FM station Radio
FM 1 Access FM 1 preset menu Radio
FM 2 Access FM 2 preset menu Radio
FM Preset [#] Tune to FM preset Radio
HD [1-7] Tune to HD channel Radio
Preset [#] Tune to preset selection Radio
Mobile Apps You’ll be prompted to say an app SYNC AppLink
List Mobile Apps Lists all available mobile apps SYNC AppLink
Name of App Starts the named app SYNC AppLink

SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation was a premium upgrade available on select vehicles. The base SYNC versions and SYNC with MyFord do not have built-in navigation. If your setup doesn't look similar to the one pictured below, you can skip ahead to the next section.

Map view of SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation

Adjusting the Navigation System’s Volume

If you want to turn turn the volume of the navigation system down, or mute the voice altogether, there are several ways to go about it.

Method 1: To adjust the volume of your SYNC navigation system, wait until the unit begins speaking. Then use the volume knob or controls to turn the volume up or down.

Method 2: To mute the navigation commands, you can press the voice button and then say “Navigation voice guidance off.” To turn voice guidance back on, just say “Navigation voice guidance on.”

Method 3: You can also adjust the volume through the touchscreen controls. From there, select navigation and then settings. In navigation preferences, you’ll find an option called “guidance mute.”

Updating SYNC Navigation Maps

Ford updates their navigation maps every year. Whether or not you need to update your maps that often is up to you.

In order to update your system’s maps, you’ll need to visit the Ford Map Update site. From there, select your vehicle from the drop-down menu and a list of available maps will show up.

While later SYNC versions have SD card maps available, SYNC with Voice-Activated Navigation systems use a series of discs. Thankfully, these discs come with an install guide to walk you through the whole process.

You will have to pay for the map updates, but the cost varies depending on your vehicle’s year and model.

As with the phone or music commands, be sure to pause to give SYNC time to process your request. The “>” symbols in the table below represent natural places to pause during each command.

SYNC Voice-Activated Navigation Commands
Command Action
Navigation > Voice Guidance On Turns voice guidance on
Navigation > Voice Guidance Off Turns voice guidance off
Destination Address > [Address] Plots directions to that address
Destination Intersection Gives you directions to an intersection
Destination P.O.I. > *Follow Prompts* > Name > [Name] Takes you to a point of interest (like a restaurant) when you know the name
Destination P.O.I. > *Follow Prompts* > Category > [Category] Takes you to a point of interest when you don’t know the name (like a fuel station)
Destination Nearest P.O.I [Category] > *Follow Prompts* Takes you the nearest point of interest within a category
I’m Hungry Gives you directions to restaurants
Destination Home Gives you directions to your home address from your current location
Destination Work Give you directions to your work address from your current location
Destination Favorites > *Follow Prompts* Get directions to a preset favorite destination
Destination [Name] Get directions to a named destination
Navigation > Play Nametags Hear all the available named destinations
Destination Previous Destination > *Follow Prompts* Get directions to a destination you went to previously
Navigation > Show Map Shows map on the touchscreen
Navigation > Show Heading Up Show current vehicle heading at top of map
Navigation > Show North Up Shows north at top of map
Navigation > Zoom In Zooms map in
Navigation > Zoom Out Zooms map out
Navigation > Zoom In Minimum Zooms map in as close as possible
Navigation > Zoom Out Maximum Zooms map out as far as possible
Navigation > Zoom Street Zoom to street level
Navigation > Zoom City Zoom to city level
Navigation > Zoom State Zoom to state level
Navigation > Zoom Country Zooms to country level
Navigation > Zoom to [Distance] Zooms to a specific elevation
Navigation > Show Destination Shows destination on the map
Navigation > Help Hear navigation commands
Navigation > List of Commands Display navigation commands
Navigation > Show Next Waypoint Shows the next waypoint on the map
Navigation > Cancel Next Waypoint Cancels the next waypoint
Navigation > Show Route Shows the entire route on the map
Navigation > Detour Changes the route
Navigation > Cancel Route Ends navigation
Navigation > Show Turn List Shows directions in a list on the touchscreen beside the map
Navigation > Voice Volume Decrease Lowers the volume of the navigation voice
Navigation > Voice Volume Increase Raises the volume of the navigation voice
Navigation > Repeat Instruction Plays the upcoming turn instruction again

Ford SYNC Updates

It’s a good idea to make sure your SYNC software is up to date. To check, you can go to Ford’s SYNC update page and plug in your VIN number. If you set up a Ford owner account, your VIN will be saved the next time you want to check.

If there’s a software update available, you’ll see a notification.

For SYNC systems, you have the option to take your ride into a dealer for the update or install it yourself using a USB drive. Most of the time, doing it yourself is easy.

How to Download SYNC Updates

Before you get started, make sure you have a USB drive with at least 2GB of free space for the update files. The drive should also be empty, so make sure you move any other files over to your computer and delete them from the USB.

  1. Download the update file from Ford’s SYNC update page.
  2. Extract or unzip the dowload file to your USB drive. You can also extract them on your computer and then drag the files onto your USB drive.
  3. Eject the drive from your computer.
  4. Turn on your vehicle and your radio.
  5. Make sure your phone is disconnected from the system. Then, plug the flash drive into your car’s USB port.
  6. Press the phone button.
  7. Select “Return.”
  8. On the next menu, select “Advanced.”
  9. Select the option to install the application. SYNC will detect the files on your USB drive and ask if you’d like to install it.
  10. Once you’ve hit okay, SYNC will let you know that your download is in progress. This step takes about ten minutes. SYNC won’t recognize your devices until the install is complete.
  11. 10 minutes after that, you’ll see a message that says “installation complete.” The system will then reboot.
  12. Once you see the “Installation complete” message, you can press “menu” to exit. Once that’s completed, remove your USB drive.
  13. Pair your phone again after the update.

How to Report a Successful SYNC Update

Once a new SYNC version has been installed, you should report the installation to Ford. This doesn’t really do a whole lot for you or your car, but it does show Ford that people are still using your SYNC system and still want updates for it.

  1. Plug your USB drive back into your computer.
  2. Go to Ford’s SYNC USB update page and scroll down to "Step Three: Confirm Update."
  3. Click on the button to "Browse for log file."
  4. Select the XML log file in the SyncMyRide folder on your USB drive.
  5. Confirm your file selection to finish reporting the update.

Troubleshooting SYNC

Over time, you may notice that your SYNC system and phone aren’t connecting quite as well as they used to. This can cause lagging and random disconnections. Here are a few things you can try if you’re having connection issues.

Re-Pair Your Phone with SYNC

The first thing to try is turning your car off and then on again. If that doesn’t work, try doing the same thing with your phone. If they still aren’t pairing correctly, then you may want to start fresh with a new pairing. To do this, you’ll need to delete your phone’s existing connection.

  1. Press the Phone button.
  2. Scroll to “System Settings” and hit “OK.”
  3. Select the option for “Delete Device.”
  4. Choose your phone from the list of devices to be deleted.
  5. Delete SYNC from your devices list In your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
  6. Pair your phone to SYNC once again like you did the first time.

Perform a Master Reset

Master reset option being displayed on Ford SYNC screen

If unpairing and pairing your phone does not fix the problem, it might be time for a SYNC master reset.

  1. Delete SYNC from your device’s list in your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
  2. In the SYNC system, use the arrows or seek buttons until “Return” appears on the screen.
  3. Select “Return” and then scroll through the options till you get to “Advanced.”
  4. In the Advanced menu, you’ll find the option for “Master Reset.”
  5. Select “Master Reset” to change the system back to its original factory settings.

Just be aware that everything you’ve saved in SYNC will be erased, including your contacts and recent navigation points.

Discontinued SYNC Services

If you’re looking through your owner’s manual, or reading about SYNC online, you may come across some additional features. Unfortunately, a few of these have been discontinued, and are no longer supported.

SYNC Services

For a short time, SYNC Services was available as a subscription service. It cost $60 a year and allowed you to ask your SYNC system for news updates or sports scores. It also offered turn-by-turn directions.

SYNC Services was discontinued in 2018.

Vehicle Health Report

SYNC also used to support vehicle health reports. These were provided on 2008-2016 Ford models that were equipped with SYNC. Basically, it offered a quick analysis of some of the more common aspects of vehicle upkeep. These included things like oil life, mileage, and engine status.

This service was discontinued in 2018. Ford now encourages owners to visit their Ford dealer for a Vehicle Health Report.

Getting the Most Out of Basic and Early SYNC Versions

Looking through Ford SYNC’s features can seem overwhelming at first. In reality, most people only use a handful of them. Once you’ve found the features you use the most, you’ll quickly become used to the controls.

Ford’s infotainment system is designed to make your vehicle feel custom-tailored to you. By making sure you set it up correctly and learning the voice commands, you’ll have an easier time getting the most out of your system.

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Source: 2018 Ford F-150 Owner's Manual, Ford

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.