By on July 31, 2017

Ford Sync 3, Image: Ford Motor Co.

Technology is a major component in what makes a modern-day automobile desirable. It’s so important, in fact, that numerous quality and customer satisfaction surveys have cited owner misunderstandings of a vehicle’s electronic interface as the primary reason for specific models losing marks.

MyFord Touch was among the worst offenders, thanks to unreliable connectivity features and lethargic software. While Sync3 is much improved, it isn’t a perfect system and can still perplex luddites — just like any modern vehicle’s interface.

With that in mind, a Lincoln dealership in Michigan is conducting monthly seminars to help older folks feel more comfortable with all the newfangled electronic gizmos the kids today seem so damn enthusiastic about. It’s the sort of behavior most dealers should have been engaging in from the start but, unfortunately, has been reserved primarily for premium automakers. 

According to Automotive News, the tech symposiums aren’t intended to exist exclusively for the aged — but those are the people Dearborn, Michigan’s Jack Demmer Lincoln has noticed getting the most out of it. Jim Stevenson, a former land developer, expressed concerns about Sync after switching to Lincoln after years of Mercedes-Benz ownership. “I’m still just trying to get used to it,” Stevenson said at Saturday’s seminar. “Sometimes, you get aggravated and it’s easier to pull over and pull out your phone.”

Martin Whitehead, a Ford Motor Company retiree, also complained that the buttons on the instrument panel of his MKX were too small. “We’re talking about tiny little buttons for old folks,” Whitehead explained. “We used to try to surprise and delight, and I’m not surprised nor delighted in the size of these buttons.”

However, as annoyed as customers may be at the start of these meetings, the business says they typically leave much happier. Bob Faust, general sales manager at Jack Demmer Ford, said the dealership has received “tons of positive feedback” about the sessions. “Customer satisfaction scores are certainly a bit higher, and our repeat business is a very large part of our business,” Faust said.

Held monthly at both Lincoln and Ford dealerships, the event begins with a question-and-answer session and ends with representatives sitting in customer cars to help them troubleshoot whatever issue they’re currently struggling with — alleviating confusion and adding a personal touch that shoppers will absolutely remember the next time they want to buy a car.

“There’s still as many questions, maybe more so with this new system,” said Eulah O’Connor, who oversees the business development center at Jack Demmer Ford. “We discovered that when a new car’s being delivered, they may not remember everything because there’s so much to absorb at one time.”

Whether or not customers remember everything, simply providing the service is something every dealership should attempt. J.D. Power claimed the audio-communication-entertainment-navigation category caused the most problems in its longterm “dependability” study — accounting for 22 percent of complaints.

J.D. Power also found consumers gave higher satisfaction scores when engaging with sales people or product specialists who help them understand unfamiliar vehicle technologies. Owners who worked with both a salesperson and product specialist tended to be more satisfied with the overall experience than those who dealt only with a salesperson. Every effort made to help familiarize someone with their in-car electronic suite can help diminish this, and people really remember when a business goes the extra mile.

Pat Montague-Wade, a retired Ford plant supervisor, swung by the seminar after her phone kept disconnecting from the 2017 Continental she had purchased two weeks prior. “My granddaughter keeps telling me to get a new phone, but I like my flip phone,” Montague-Wade said.

Sales representative Samer Awazem said her granddaughter may have a point as he unloaded the phone’s battery and re-synced it with the vehicle’s infotainment system. “That’s the first time somebody tried that,” Montague-Wade told Automotive News, noticeably impressed to see that it worked.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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46 Comments on “‘Tiny Little Buttons…’: Dealership Holds Seminars to Help Old People Understand Weird and Scary Technology...”

  • avatar

    My 2015 Golf R came with a 400-page owner’s manual — and that doesn’t include the additional book for the nav system, plus yet another package of stuff for Sirius. Even allowing for all the “don’t put beans up your nose” legal notices, the elimination of which would likely get rid of third of the bulk, that’s a lot of stuff to digest.

  • avatar

    Heck, forget these hand-holding classes; I’d settle for having a salesperson that knew more about the car they are selling than I do, or at least what’s in the brochure…

    • 0 avatar

      No kidding. My wife and I go look at autos and about 99% of the time the salesman needs to get the brochure to answer any questions. I usually end up telling them about the vehicle.

      In the flip side. When I’ve been looking at HD 3/4 to 1 ton pickups. I’ve met some very informed and knowledgeable salespeople.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    At 53, I’m passing into ‘old’ territory, I suppose.

    Challenge #1 with car gadgets is that they all work a little differently. The same old people are also using the tablets every day, posting Facebook updates of their grandchildren, and buying QVC stuff online.

    I’m convinced they *can* adapt to the technology, but perhaps not to *all* the technology.

    Challenge #2: It’s not always the user. Sometimes the technology is just terrible.

    • 0 avatar

      I feel your pain. We are immigrants to the land of technology. The kids are natives. The older folks never left the shore. My 85 yo fil has more problems with CUE than I can say. My first computer in school was in a bar review class. One person out of 200 had the very first mac. There was a
      Petition to banish him to the back of the room due to the clack of the keyboard. Fast fwd to now and
      Mom gives baby iphone in stroller. I miss toll quality calls and lunch hour the most

  • avatar

    My mom, who’s 77, drives a Kia Forte, which has a basic Bluetooth voice command interface for her phone and radio. She’s had the car for almost three years and never used it. Why? Because she couldn’t figure it out. I set it up for her and – voila! – she’s Bluetoothing like a champ.

    It’s like the old story about the girl who didn’t like flies until she opened one.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen any number of newer expensive car (and these days – any new car) where the driver still has the cellphone clamped to their ear. I mean setting up your phone to the bluetooth isn’t _that_ hard – I figured it out in a few minutes, even on MINI’s super crappy interface.

      • 0 avatar

        “where the driver still has the cellphone clamped to their ear.”

        I had to do that once. The phone went into energy saving mode and shut off the bluetooth. Didn’t automatically turn it back on when I plugged it into the car. Now, I check to make sure it’s on.

        I do see a lot of people with the phone in their hand in new BMWs and Mercedes etc, but I don’t think it’s because of the phone disabling bluetooth. Way too many of them.

  • avatar

    Dealerships giving tech seminars on their vehicles is not new.

    1971 Maxda Rotary RX2 purchased in 1973 during the gas crunch. Sales person went over the whole vehicle, including the dual horns. It took about 30 minutes.

    1995 Chrysler Sebring LXi purchased new. Dealership had seminars every month or so. Test car set up to allow you to feel the effect of the Anti-lock braking. Actual pulsing. Lasted two hours.

    2008 Honda Accord purchased new. Dealer was offering seminars. We took the quick course from the sales person. About 30 minutes.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “What about the Northstar System?”
    “I don’t even think we use it.”

  • avatar

    “Weird and Scary Technology”

    Try sh*tty technology. I used to think touchscreens were awesome when I first had access to hardware using them in 2007. Now that they are ubiquitous, I see they are just ****ing terrible for everyday use. Dirty screens, unable to easily type with, and rely too heavily on things like autocorrect to make up for their shortcomings. Not to mention what happens as the screen fades with time and eventually dies?

    When medication cabinet touchscreens went out (CRT and flat panel), a new VGA monitor was shipped as it was a separate part. When your Ipad dies, you just buy another $56 example for $600. But what happens when my fracking dashboard doesn’t work? My HVAC or my stereo?

    ToUcHsCrEeN! Because, stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      “But what happens when my fracking dashboard doesn’t work? My HVAC or my stereo?”

      It will probably end up totaling a lot of cars.

      I hear horror stories where someone say cracks a luxury car infotainment screen and its like $8,000.

      • 0 avatar


        Where is the Green Religion™ on the enormous amount of waste about to be created? So we got ManBearPig covered, and diesel is a crime against humanity, but we’re OK with the waste of REs and pollution created to build these soon to be obsolescent products?

        • 0 avatar

          The Green Religion™ is nowhere to be found because, unlike chitting on the men who like big cars (and red meat, single family homes, owning small businesses, etc), the iPad generation is the snowflakes themselves and they’re not going to gore their own ox.

          • 0 avatar

            Apox on those who feel such a way. I am no fan of them but I am anti-waste and anti-nuke.

      • 0 avatar

        Friend at work had an accident with his 2014 Genesis. The damage wasn’t severe. The body was repaired, but somehow either in the wreck or at the body shop, the touch screen system got damaged. Things like the AC and radio wouldn’t work anymore. The insurance company had to total the car.

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe insurance industry will start feeling the heat and pressure the automakers for less stupid in the future. I would imagine anything more than a 5 mph tap could potentially damage the seven dollar Chinese electronics being utilized.

  • avatar

    I’ve only had brief rental car experiences with infotainment. I like to bluetooth my phone for music, podcasts and calls. After that I don’t have much interest in it. Advantage of being a senior citizen is not really caring about all these new fangled toys.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    To be fair, the buttons on MyFord / MyLincoln Touch are markedly worse. They’re smaller *and* the system is unresponsive in general.

    I thought I could tolerate it, but I’m sick of it.

  • avatar

    My old man – in his 70s – rented a Ford Explorer for a week. He hated the touch screen since he could never figure out how to change the heat and stereo. But I’ve never heard him complain about the one his 2015 Buick Enclave.

    For my own use – all of cars, even the 2012 Countryman – have switches and knobs for everything. Given BMW’s penchant for electronic *wizardry I prefer it that way.


  • avatar

    If you have to hold seminars, you’ve already failed.

    I’m relatively tech savvy, but I hate endless screen menus for things that need to be done on the fly. Like say quickly adjust the AC temp or fan speed.

    The only thing I want accessed through the screen is stereo and navigation.

  • avatar

    Jeezo-Peexo ~

    Can’t I just buy some base model short bed 6 cylinder 1/2 ton pickup with all manual dash controls anymore ? .

    (& GET OFF MY LAWN !)

  • avatar

    While this article is talking about the customer, another angle to consider are car salespeople who are too old school to connect to new technologies being rolled out. Car salespeople need to understand and explain Bluetooth, android and apple phones, navigation systems, radar cruise controls, controlling radio and tuning via entertainment system, wifi connectivity and automatic systems like parking, reversing and auto pilots. If you can’t understand and explain and feel comfortable about those technologies, not to mention using social media and internet to interact, your days as a car sales person are numbered.

  • avatar

    I would pay extra to have actual buttons, switches and knobs for everything. Proper ones that don’t just send a signal to a computer, especially.

    • 0 avatar

      “I would pay extra to have actual buttons, switches and knobs for everything. Proper ones that don’t just send a signal to a computer, especially.”

      Maybe that is the automaker’s plan, get people so annoyed with tech that they become willing to pay for what used to be standard.

      Reminds of when Cable TV’s main selling point was no commercials since you paid for the service. Somehow, all these years later folks are paying and being flooded with commercials on almost all “paid for” channels.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The need for these courses demonstrates just how out of touch, butt backward and lousy auto interior/interface designers are at their jobs.

    These oldsters, who require ‘training’ have probably been driving for well over 3 decades. Many different types of vehicles from different manufacturers. Many probably drove manual vehicles and some with manual chokes.

    So why now do they need to be taught how to operate these ‘interfaces’? Because THE DESIGN STINKS!!!

    Can’t see many screens due to glare. Can’t read small printouts/LED’s etc due to glare/failing eyesight. Touch screens require you to take your eyes off the road. No tactile/intuitive functions.

    Give us rotary dials. Analogue dashboards. HVAC controls that you can operate by touch, while wearing winter gloves.

    Forget the lawyers, lets’ due away with all these adolescent designers who probably don’t even own a car!!!!!

  • avatar

    The car in the picture looks like my 2013 Ford C-Max SEL. It’s true that MyFordTouch had its share of problems, but Ford worked on them, and if you have a post-2013 or a 2013 with updates installed, you will find that it is a useful, valuable system. The voice recognition isn’t perfect but it is usable. The Bluetooth works well with our Android phones. In short, if you have a choice between getting a used Ford 2013-2016 with our without MFT,get one with MFT, especially with Navigation (not all MFT cars have Navigation). Make sure there is a map SD card installed. IF you don’t see the maps when you on the dealer lot, don’t buy the car until you do. (In my car, the map card wasn’t initially installed but I negotiated for the navigation to be functional and updated with the latest map card.)

    • 0 avatar

      I think it’s a 2017 Ford dash, like in my C-Max Energi. Note the black dash vents, instead of silver.

      Though I initially thought the current Ford dash was ugly and overstyled, I’ve found some merits. The dash screen is sharp and contrasty, and it’s well-shielded from sunlight. The shelf of controls below it provides a stable surface to anchor my hand while pushing buttons. Every other touchscreen implementation seems to assume smooth roads and a steady hand, but some of us might use the thing on real roads while in motion.

  • avatar

    Everyone is on their horse about “distracted driving” What is the difference between having both eyes on the control screen in my Honda Fit and having both eyes on the screen texting my Smartphone? Either way you’re distracted and your attention Is not on the road. Oh, and you’re using up one hand off the wheel too.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s the difference? When you hold your phone, other people can see how distracted you are. When you connect through dash screens and controls, you just look like you’re driving.

      I’ve driven with a hand-held phone, with the phone on a dash mount and now with a 2017 connected car with glass cockpit. Honestly, I think I was safest with the handheld phone, because it was awkward enough to encourage me to get the call over with. On the mount, the phone was easier to access, and it tempted me at every moment. With my new car, my favorite button is the “DISP” button, which turns off the screen completely, until I need it for something. Every car should have this (yes, it’s a Ford).

  • avatar

    As an IT coder and interface designer for 35+ years, I have to say car systems have to be the best example of lousy design in the industry. I have a physical button on my dash that says “CLOCK”. I press it, and it allows me to switch the time display between digital and old-timey clock face. That’s it. No touch screen options to set the time, change the time zone, etc. No, no, no, doing all THAT is under MENU->GENERAL->SETTINGS->DATE & TIME! All the virtual buttons are screwed up to the point that I can’t use the built-in GPS…keying in a street name, I press the letter ‘P’ and the system selects ‘R’ or some other random letter. If by some miracle I actually get the destination entered, the final touchscreen button named ‘SET AS DESTINATION’ causes the cursor to move on the map to a new random address instead, which then becomes the destination, losing what might have been 5 curse-filled minutes of hitting letters and then backspace…

    Don’t get me started on the voice recognition crap either…tried to use hands-free calling once, said ‘Call Home’ which was on the display as an option I’d set up. The system interpreted this to mean ‘Erase all radio presets and rescan/resave all found stations to random buttons’. That was the last time I tried to use that ‘feature’.

  • avatar

    The problem with tech is that it is designed by techies that eat and drink and sleep tech. What seems very complicated to a “normal” person is deemed super intuitive by the techies that design it. No automaker that wants to keep its customer satisfaction scores high should introduce any major tech without doing a whole lot of training of salespeople, putting “how to” and “trouble-shooting” videos on YouTube and their corporate/dealership websites, giving free seminars to customers and prospective customers, etc.

  • avatar

    The problem is not that the customers are old.

    The problem is that the user interface design SUCKS.

    The reason older people are primarily the ones complaining is because they are the people who remember when user interface design of automobiles didn’t SUCK.

    In a vehicle that you can drive at 100+ MPH, where you have only two hands, two feet, and one set of eyes; which has to sell for a rational cost (shall we say $20k for the cheapy version and $30k for the pretty nice but still fairly modest version); and which is supposed to be operable by a wide range of people with a wide range of training: any user command that is not both intuitive and capable of being operated at one shot with minimal distraction, is a BADLY DESIGNED COMMAND. This applies, for example, to 99% of menu-driven commands on a car. In my opinion, no command that can possibly be called while a vehicle is in motion should be menu-driven. Frankly, I think this ought to be mandated.

    The cure is not training “old people”, it’s fixing the abominable ergonomic design of the vast majority of cars.

    The “old people are technophobes” trope is getting pretty stale. Maybe some of the companies that are currently so busy writing us off, ought to consider why we don’t want to use their poorly designed products. After all, we are the ones that have all the money, or didn’t you notice?

  • avatar

    Man, no kidding. My mother-in-law had a 2017 Lexus ES350 as a free loaner car recently, while her ’08 ES was in to have the Takata front passenger airbag replaced (no one could ride in the front passenger seat for over a year, while waiting for the part to become available). I drove the 2017 a couple of times, including taking it back to the dealer to pick up her car after the repairs (she’s 83).

    I spent my time waiting at red lights and in a couple of drive-thrus, dinking with all the settings (using the haptic mouse), setting preferences and other crap. There’s no way she could have done all that.

  • avatar

    Speaking of old folks, here’s one for you :


  • avatar
    its me Dave

    If you want an old to adopt new tech – no matter how convoluted or complicated – just them that it’ll show them pictures of their grandchildren. They’ll do whatever it takes to master it.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Audi: let’s make a fabulous BT-enabled, Android compatible, HD radio with touch/type on the console.
    My mother: I just hit random buttons until I hear my 70s channel.

  • avatar

    I’ve yet to find a car infotainment system that’s difficult to use. The one in my Chevy truck is extremely easy to use and has physical controls for all HVAC function and for switching stations, volume, switching sources, cycling favorite stations, activating bluetooth pass-thru to google assistant etc. I never need to use the touchscreen while driving.

    My parents are “old people” but they manage to use new tech just fine. Why? They’re willing to learn new things. Many people just expect to intuit how it work and if they can’t do that then they “aren’t good with computers”. I don’t know why technology gets singled out as something especially older folks feel they’re under no obligation to put any effort into learning.

    Its basic tech competency, and even more than that the ability to find and use information. I’m in a new vehicle say a rental minivan. My goal is to pair my phone to bluetooth for wireless calling. Basic electronics competency says to look for an app that says “Config” or “Settings” or “Bluetooth”. If there’s a voice command button push it and say “Bluetooth”. Whip out the manual from the glove box and search the index for “Bluetooth”. I’ve yet to encounter a vehicle that this basic approach didn’t serve me well; this isn’t rocket science its using tech 101. Hell you can ask Siri or Google Assistant “How do I configure bluetooth on a 2017 Sedona minivan” and you’ll have the answer. I swear most of the old folks I know are like “well this is different than what I had before and I tried randomly mashing the touchscreen and I didn’t get what I want from that so I’m not good with computers”. You didn’t sit behind the wheel of a car for the first time and instantly know how to operate it; you had to LEARN. Another thing I stress to older folks is to not be afraid to experiment. Mess with stuff; see what it does. That’s how I learn; I experiment. The fear of doing something wrong or “breaking it” is crippling for many. I’ll get calls from family members “how do I change the background of my phone” and I’ll respond with “have you tried poking around settings?” and the response I always get is “no”. So I’ll tell them to just experiment and see if they can figure it out because they learn nothing if I do it for them.

    Or perhaps I’ve just encountered well designed systems (Chevy, GMC, Chrysler, Ram, Kia, Ford, Lincoln, Toyota).

  • avatar

    I’m a 63 year old retired blue collar guy. 6 years ago, my kids talked me out of my flip phone. With a little coaching I managed to figure it out my I phone.

    With the 15 Mustang, I could of easily had my I.T friend down the street set up my Blue Tooth. The same guy could of walked me through the HVAC, and the various modes that come with the EB Mustang premium package.

    Instead I sat in the driveway with the owners manual. I set my phone up, tried the “sport mode” and whatever else those toggle switches do.

    Yeah, it took me a little experimentation, and a fair bit of time. At the end of it all, I figured it out.

  • avatar

    Like folks here, I’ve been able to play with a bunch of systems. I like BMW i Drive the best, because you can by feel do most things. I “got” the first generation system that got complaints…the haptic response made perfect sense to me….the later versions with buttons are better, but the basic idea is the same. The basic idea is eyes NEVER leave the road.

    Acura does a million little buttons. OK in traffic, sucks at speed.

    I’m a ham radio guy, and if you want fiendish menus, that has it covered…so I’m scarred anyway.

    Back to my 85 yo FIL …. CUE in the XTS is clunky, and I can’t get him to understand the four way switches on the wheel, but he can touch screen, but there the system is slow-he’s getting a new touchscreen under warranty, a $1300 value, and I hope they upgrade the firmware somehow.

    Caddy makes it so you can do every function both on screen and on “switch”. I find it interesting that my second gen CTS Windows CE system is better set up than CUE. OK, there are some user interface ideas that make no sense, like the Windows guys and the GM guys held contentions meetings to determine jurisdiction, but it still works better than cue…and this was designed, when, 2006 for a 2008 roll out ? CUE would not stop me from a Caddy as I tend to use the multifunction wheel switches anyway.

  • avatar

    My 2000 Lexus would have been considered fairly ‘techy’ in its day. It’s a dinosaur compared to a new compact. I like dinosaurs, everybody likes dinosaurs.

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