Can't Navigate Out of a Paper Bag
by Kit Cassingham
I recently bought a Mercury Mariner Hybrid. I selected the Mariner over Ford's Escape because Mercury is known for slightly higher luxury and more amenities. I opted for their $1,200 navigation system because I need help getting to emergency calls (I'm a first responder with the local EMS agency), especially in the middle of the night in my rural location. I thought if it's a Mercury, it's got to be good. Not!
I love my new car. Except for the navigation system.
When I bought the car I got an outdated navigation map disk -- a new one had been released a couple of months before, but my car came with an older one. But even with an updated map disk, the system can't navigate me down my rural county road (not a huge surprise, I guess), or even to the hospital in the next town. Oh, it knows about the roads, and the hospital, and it will show them to me, but the advertised "turn-by-turn voice guidance" doesn't work most of the time I've tried it. It can't even take me directly to the airport (the convoluted path of left turns, right turns, and circle-arounds -- rather than just going straight down the highway -- gave me quite a laugh. So much for its "shortest route" promise!)
Another laughable feature of this expensive navigation system is that I have to agree to the terms of the manufacturer every time I start my car, even if it's just a quick gas stop and it's already navigating me to a destination. Why can't I do that once and be done with it?
And once I agree to the terms it tells me the closest WalMart is in Colorado Springs, a five-hour drive; it doesn't know about the one 20 miles away, or the one 35 miles away, or the several 70 miles away. It can't find gas stations that have been in town for years, or the grocery stores either.
Am I expecting too much? I don't think so: my husband took a different route when he got his newest car: he bought a Garmin Nuvi, a portable, $300 box. And it does all of this without any trouble. It cost a quarter of what I paid, and actually gets the job done. Yes, it even has stores and gas stations in its memory. If it doesn't know the name of a road (it has our private road, but its name doesn't show), it can still say "turn right on road". Amazingly useful.
When I took the car back to the dealer for the new disk, there was one guy there -- a "support tech" type -- who was actually helpful. The salesman and sales manager just kind of shrugged, but Aaron, who got me the updated map disk, said that before the navigation system can work, someone has to "verify" the roads. That means, he said, that they drive the roads to confirm them before the voice prompts will work. The maps are there, but the system refuses to talk me through them unless they're "verified". Isn't it out-of-the-way, more rural areas that navigators are most needed? And least likely to be "verified"? If I'm driving alone in such a situation, it's not safe to take my eyes from the road to look at a map on my dashboard. That's why I got a navigation system that talked! Yet someone from the company has to drive all 4 million miles of roads (just in the U.S.) before the thing will work as advertised? Please.
Another thing that drives me nuts: you can't put in a destination while the car is moving. Obviously, it's not smart for the driver to fiddle around with entering an address while driving, but what about the passenger? The car's ventilation system (and air bags) "know" when there's a passenger in the front seat, but the navigation system doesn't: the driver must pull over and stop before it will accept a destination. So much for using it on emergency calls when I have a partner with me! (Naturally, my husband's Garmin works in that situation too.) Mercury advertises "There's no need to stop for directions when they're available at your fingertips." Except, um, you're required to stop to get directions from their system!
It seems this system is only good in a city, or places "verifiers" live and work. So why is Ford/Lincoln-Mercury selling this device in rural America? Why has Mercury endangered its reputation by hooking up with such a system when they could have hooked up with Garmin, or any of the other reputable GPS companies?
Mercury sent me a survey in which I told them all I liked and disliked about the car -- the navigation system being the biggest disappointment; not a word from them in reply. I called my salesman, but he never did anything. I lucked onto Aaron who listened, was empathetic and at least got me the most current disk, and turned me over to the sales manager. The sales manager hasn't responded to any of my numerous calls to talk to me about a resolution. I feel ripped off.
I have left messages asking that they refund my money since the system doesn't work, and due to the way it's designed apparently never will work in my area. I have asked that they at least buy me a Garmin Nuvi, like my husband's, so I can navigate my back roads. I've not had even one return phone call to tell me I'm a dreamer.
If you are thinking of buying a Ford/Lincoln-Mercury, don't even think twice about the navigation system. Not only will you most likely be dissatisfied with it, but you won't get any customer service in regards to your dissatisfaction. If you want a navigation system, look at your options for add-ons. They're cheaper, and far better.
I took the advice of one Commenter and that was to contact the company. I started locally, just to follow the chain of command, and then went straight to Ford Lincoln Mercury (FLM) Customer Service. The woman I spoke with felt bad for my situation but told me there was nothing she could do for me, and the implication was FLM wouldn't do anything for me.
But within days of my phone calls a Mark Schirmer, Lincoln Mercury Communications, emailed me saying he wanted to "reach out". He seemed to want to help resolve the issue. We chatted by email, he connected me with a head engineer for the navigation system -- Jason Johnson, the guy you see in the commercials -- so he could help. Jason's a nice guy, he knows the product, and he can't help because the system is designed to be stupid and bad. He promised to send me an updated disk, though it won't matter since nobody is going to be out this way to verify streets and roads in this area any time soon.
Well, it's been five months since I last heard from FLM about my navigation problem. No new disk has arrived, and I haven't gotten an email or phone call since mid-May.
At this point the people I've talked to are blaming the attorneys for this bad approach to Ford's navigation system. Too bad lawyers always get the bad rap when it comes to poor design and implementation. There are lots of technology steps that can be used to remedy the concerns lawyers have. For example, there is a sensor in the front passenger seat that alerts the car to whether there is a passenger in the seat so it knows if the air bag needs to be activated or not. That same sensor could inform the navigation system with the same information so the passenger could work the navigation device while the car is in motion.
But that's not the biggest problem that's being ignored in my post. The biggest problem is that the navigation system is worthless outside urban areas, big urban areas.
I've gone from saying don't even consider FLM's navigation system (and according to other Comments, don't buy any built-in navigation system) to saying I'm planning to never again buy a FLM product. I'm going to find a good car company to buy from next time.
Kit Cassingham is the founder of Sage Blossom Consulting, a "green" hospitality consulting firm.