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Can Your Old Infotainment System Be Updated?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2015

In modern cars, the infotainment system is key. It doesn't just control the radio; it also controls iPods, satellite radio and Internet music apps. It doesn't just change the temperature; it controls the climate zones, the fan speed and more. It doesn't just give you directions; it provides real-time traffic updates so you can know the best routes. But if you find that the infotainment technology in your car is growing older, can you update it? We have the answer.

Infotainment vs. Navigation

First, it's important to distinguish between a car's infotainment system and its navigation system. While the term infotainment has become commonplace in recent years, automakers formerly referred to this technology solely as a navigation system because other controls were operated by dedicated switches in the center control stack.

As more controls migrated to the touchscreen, however, the term "infotainment" has gained widespread use. A system that was previously dedicated to navigation now controls much of a car's information (the navigation system and other features), along with entertainment features such as Internet radio apps, iPod connectivity, satellite radio and more. As a result, updates to infotainment systems require more than new maps; they necessitate extra features, improved processor speed and better response to touch command.

Can You Update?

Can you update the system? If you have one of today's modern infotainment systems, then it depends. Much like with a computer, an automaker's infotainment technology usually uses a certain operating system, which might not support earlier versions. If you have an early version of Ford's SYNC system with MyFord Touch, for instance, you won't be able to upgrade to the latest version.

By the same token, you often can't upgrade a vehicle's infotainment system to include extra features, as most built-in content can only be added by springing for a more expensive trim level or opting for extra content when buying the vehicle. This is partially due to different hardware being used for different systems, such as a larger infotainment screen if you opt for a navigation system.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Automakers routinely release updates to their latest infotainment systems, offering additional features for drivers, usually in the form of extra apps or functions. Additionally, automakers sometimes debut new software that can solve problems and fix bugs present in earlier infotainment systems. If that's all you're after, you can certainly check with your dealer to see if there are any updates available for your car's infotainment system.

Other Options

Given that you won't be able to upgrade your aging infotainment technology to the latest and greatest features and technology, you might seek other options, and depending on the vehicle, you may have a lot of choices to consider.

While some models are only compatible with their manufacturer's infotainment systems, others can support aftermarket infotainment technology. You can remove your vehicle's old system and add a new one for items such as in-car apps, weather reports and live traffic information, even if your car never originally came with those features. The drawback? You'll have to spend extra money for a new system, and you'll have to be OK with a slightly different look on your center control stack. These are minor considerations, though, if you want the latest and greatest in infotainment technology.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Can Your Old Infotainment System Be Updated? - Autotrader