What Is Ford SYNC?

What Is Ford SYNC?

Last Updated October 13, 2021 | Meghan Drummond

SYNC is the name of the factory communication and infotainment system installed in Ford vehicles. Like all infotainment systems, SYNC offers a blend of safety, information, and entertainment. SYNC is able to offer these features by pairing with your phone via Bluetooth.

What Does Ford SYNC Do?

The capabilities of Ford SYNC depend on which version you have. The first version of SYNC came out in 2007, and the fourth generation launched in 2021. Each version has added a few new features to distinguish it from the previous one.

What all SYNC generations have in common is that they use your phone to enhance your driving experience. Every version includes hands-free calling, text-reading capability, and voice-activated music and volume controls. They also have some safety features, like 911 assist, which calls 911 automatically if you’re in an accident.

Most SYNC versions also have some form of navigation software, or allow access to navigation apps from your phone.

Four side-by-side images showing four generations of Ford SYNC

Hands-Free Calling and Texting

Using your phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and illegal in most states. With hands-free calling, you can tell someone you’re on your way without taking your hands off the wheel.

SYNC can also read and respond to your text messages for you. In older SYNC versions, you can choose from a preset list of responses. Later versions that support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allow you to dictate your response using your phone’s hands-free text option.

Navigation

Navigation has been available for all but the very first version of SYNC. At first, you needed to use voice commands for navigation, but that has since been expanded. The newest SYNC systems have touchscreens that allow you to pinch, swipe, and perform all the actions you’d expect from your phone.

Navigation screen pulled up in SYNC 3

Despite native navigation software, many drivers opt to use navigation apps from their phone. With SYNC AppLink, this is possible.

Ford does charge for map updates, which in many peoples’ eyes makes them less desirable than phone apps. The major difference is that the Ford navigation system will continue to work if you’re in an area without cell service. This makes it more desirable for some.

Using Waze with SYNC

There are a couple of ways to use Waze, a popular third-party navigation app, with Sync. You can either use Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or the SYNC 3 and SYNC 4 AppLink function. SYNC 4 even allows you to use Waze through the built-in navigation. While standard map apps provide directions, Waze also provides updates on traffic jams, construction zones, and other obstacles.

Music and Podcasts

One of the top reasons people use infotainment systems is providing on-the-road entertainment. Whether you like catching up on the latest audiobook, podcast, or grooving to music, SYNC lets you pair your phone via Bluetooth or USB to listen to anything on your phone. You can also use any USB media player.

If you’ve got SYNC 3 or SYNC 4, you also have the option of using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to stream music. Using AppLink gives you access to a few more apps, like Pandora and iHeartRadio.

Interior view of a Mustang equipped with SYNC 3

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

In vehicles with SYNC 3 and SYNC 4, you can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to alter the SYNC display and control your phone.

The SYNC system doesn’t become an exact mirror of your phone. To discourage distracted driving, only some apps are available, and a lot of pop-up notifications are disabled. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make using navigation and music-streaming apps with the SYNC system even easier.

Unfortunately, you cannot use Sync AppLink with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto enabled. Depending on the apps you routinely use, one system will likely suit your needs better.

How to Use SYNC

SYNC is designed to be easy to use, but the exact user instructions will vary depending on which version you have.

The first step is pairing your phone via Bluetooth. How the system is controlled from there has slowly gravitated from buttons to touchscreens over the years. What started as a simple display, almost indistinguishable from a standard stereo, now sports screen sizes that rival a laptop’s.

Models Equipped with SYNC

All newer Ford vehicles have some version of SYNC, but that hasn’t always been the case. When SYNC debuted it was very much a “premium” feature. Now that backup cameras are legally required and everyone has a phone, infotainment is a given.

Most Ford vehicles come standard with basic SYNC and have SYNC 3 as a premium option. In 2021, select vehicles also started arriving with SYNC 4.

If you’re trying to find out if an older vehicle you’re considering buying has SYNC, you can switch your radio to aux. When you do, you’ll see a SYNC logo if the vehicle has it equipped. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to upgrade to SYNC if it doesn’t. But with an aftermarket head unit that pairs with your phone, you can replicate many of the features.

Other Ford Programs

SYNC gets confused with a few other Ford systems that also operate through the infotainment center. While SYNC is integrated and functional with these systems, it’s a separate thing.

Connect

Sometimes written as SYNC Connect or FordPass Connect, the “Connect” part refers to the ability to turn your vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot. Considering how many SYNC and FordPass features rely on the internet, this is pretty convenient.

You get a complimentary trial period when you buy a new Ford vehicle. Afterward, Connect requires a monthly subscription.

Co-Pilot360

Co-Pilot360 is the name for Ford’s suite of safety technology. Some of it does operate through your car’s infotainment system. There are many levels to Co-Pilot360, making it a quagmire of complex terminology on its own.

FordPass

FordPass is a subscription service, but many of its best features are free. While SYNC lets you use your car to control your smartphone, FordPass lets you use your smartphone to control your car. Remote-start, remote unlock, and maintenance scheduling are all free services.

Is Ford SYNC Good?

Close-up image of SYNC 3 screen

Probably the number one question people have about SYNC is whether or not it’s a good system. Like all infotainment systems, Ford SYNC has some pros and cons. We can all agree that it's best to drive with both hands on the wheel, and SYNC makes that possible.

On the other hand, when your car’s computer system crashes it can make for a rough morning.

Most people agree the original SYNC was good if dated. The SYNC’s second generation, MyFord Touch, gets less rave reviews. Most users found it clunky and cumbersome. Fortunately, the second generation wasn’t installed on many vehicles. Ford moved pretty quickly to SYNC 3, which most people agree is a solid system.

SYNC 4 is still very new. While it has an attractive display, new over-the-air updates and the lack of tactile controls make some people nervous. If you’re unsure about which version of SYNC you have, check out our guide.

While you can’t easily upgrade from one SYNC version to another, you can always uninstall your head unit in favor of an aftermarket one.

Meghan Author Photo

About the Author

Meghan is a Classic Mustang geek with a soft spot for four-eyed Foxes. She has over 300 in-depth articles to her credit that have been cited by some of the top news sites in the US. Read full bio →

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.

What Is Ford SYNC?

Ford SYNC is an infotainment system that offers entertainment, productivity, and safety features. Here’s a brief overview of Ford SYNC and what it can do for you.