Ears Pierced – No Extra Charge

What's the deal with the sound systems in Ford F-150 pickup trucks? You're driving along, minding your own business, when suddenly an ear-splitting noise erupts from your speakers. No, it's (probably) not a demon from hell. But whatever it is, something is very, very wrong with your truck.

Considering the nearly infinite number of F-150's on the road, the problem isn't widespread; according to Ford, only about 100 people have complained to the company. Still others have gone straight to the Feds – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – to register their vexations with their truck (some Ford Expedition SUVs have the same problem).

Some drivers described the sudden sonic onslaught as the loud sound of glass shattering followed by an “ear-piercing static,” while others liken it to a sonic boom. In some cases, the racket stopped when the vehicle's power was turned off but in other cases the noise persisted even after the car was turned off.

Some alert drivers used their phones to get a sound-pressure level reading, and recorded levels as high as 109 dB. Any sudden noise that loud could certainly startle a driver and could theoretically cause loss of vehicle control, leading to everyone in the truck having a very bad day. Sustained noises at that level could damage the occupants' hearing.

With all the digital signal processing in today's sound systems, it's impossible to provide a diagnosis at arm's length, but somewhere in those million lines of code an errant command is sending the system into a doom loop. Instead of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, you get The Full Monty. In a more perfect world, every audio system should be designed to detect meltdowns like this and mute itself, but apparently this system wasn't designed to do that.

Ford issued a Technical Service Bulletin to dealers as well as a software remedy. The patch can be installed by the dealer, and is also being rolled out via an over-the-air software update. Affected vehicles include the 2021-2023 F-150 (both the hybrid and gas versions), the 2022 F-150 Lightning, and the 2021-2023 Expedition.

The company says the problem doesn't constitute a recallable safety defect at this time. F-150 owners with pierced ears might beg to differ.

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