In-car What3Words maps: does it work?

Published: 30 December 2021

► CAR tests out What3Words map service
► You can use it in-car with Ford and Mercedes
► Is it a useful navigation alternative?

Ever tried to visit somewhere that has a huge acreage but only one postcode? Do you find using super-accurate coordinates to nail down a precise location far too fiddly? Mapping service What3Words might have the answer. What3Words claims that 70 per cent of addresses don’t take you to the front door, and 74 per cent of 3000 people surveyed across the UK, US and Germany admitted they struggled to find locations because of wonky addresses.

So What3Words has cut up the entire planet into 3m2 squares, each of which is given a name consisting of three random words. So the front door of 10 Downing Street is ‘indoor.myself.rather’; the front door of our office is ‘’. What3Words says it’s used by businesses that deliver and can help the emergency services locate you, especially in the wilderness.

There’s an app for iOS and Android devices that allows you to find these three words, but it requires a bit of a brain reset. It seems odd, but you can’t key in an address to find the appropriate three words on the app – instead you need to either use your current GPS location or trawl the map for it. Also, the app doesn’t provide its own direct navigation to that exact point, relying on third-party mapping like Google, Apple Maps or Waze to do it.

what3words diagram

What3Words is more user-friendly in those instances where it has teamed up with car manufacturers. Ford, for example, lets you use What3Words via its Sync AppLink catalogue, while Mercedes goes one step further by letting you type What3Words ‘addresses’ into the MBUX nav if it’s connected to online services. It can also be used via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but needs allowing on the What3Words app on Apple devices first – and, during our investigation on Android, refused to appear in the app menu even though we carefully followed the instructions.

While testing, we tried it with numerous locations including a fast food drive-thru via Ford’s AppLink system. After finding the three words on the app, that point then gets sent to the car’s in-built navigation system and we’re on our way. You can also use voice control to find a map point, provided you already know the words. It takes an extra few seconds to retrieve the words required, but could be of benefit if it reduces the number of U-turns in that journey’s last mile. It’s also far, far less clunky than memorising a 16-digit set of coordinates.

What3Words: how it works

To a fine point
What3Words has diced up the entire globe into 3m2 squares to hone vague addresses or location markers

what3words app

‘Appy searching
The mobile app is a requirement; either to find the words for the location or to connect to your car

Navigate yourself
The app only retrieves the words. Then you need to use another map service to give you a route

what3words ford

What3Words: does it work?

Sort of. It has very specific cases for personal use, and we found that integrating it into a car can be difficult. But it’s likely to be valuable for some businesses, and could be a life-saver when used by the emergency services in your time of need.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches