A Universal Media Interface (sometimes simply called a UMI) is an incredible bit of technology that is both simple to use and impactful to the overall driving experience. After all, simple but done well is one of the hallmarks of the Mercedes brand. Simple elegance.
When it comes to the universal media interface, many people are unsure about what it is precisely and that can therefore drum up some questions. This quick blog post is going to cover not only what the universal media interface is but why it’s so good and how you can get one set up for yourself.
What Is A Universal Media Interface?
A Universal Media Interface is a clever bit of technology that simplifies all media within your vehicle. Your first instinct is probably to assume this means your music and the stereo/radio, etc. But, it actually applies to your onboard navigation system as well as your inbound/outbound phone call interface. It is universal in the sense that it encompasses all forms of media in the car and simplifies them into one easy-to-use and condensed system.
In terms of physical looks and use the universal media interface sits in the center console of your car and allows you to control every facet of your onboard media. While this is a common feature in many cars today, it used to be quite the rarity with only select brands (like Mercedes) doing it. Your universal media interface can, for example, allow you to control songs and playlists on your connected phone, and even make and receive calls, right from your center console eliminating the need to touch your phone at all.
What Are The Benefits Of A Universal Media Interface?
Some of the benefits of a universal media interface are pretty obvious right from the get-go. Reducing the need to mess around with phones, iPods, etc. while you are driving is not only a genuine safety feature but eliminates the risk of getting stopped by a cop who sees you driving on your phone. It is important to cover the safety benefits first before moving on to the fun stuff.
A well-equipped universal media interface in your center console can vastly improve your driving experience. Everything from having the flexibility of use with music, podcasts, audiobooks, radio, etc. to having a consistent GPS map built into your vehicle. Rather than relying on catching glimpses of your phone from time to time hoping you don’t miss your exit.
Why Don’t All Models Come With A Universal Media Interface?
It isn’t super clear why Mercedes opted out of including the universal media interface on all of their vehicles. Up until 2010 C class models would instead come with an iPod integration kit that allowed you to control your iPod through the controls on your steering wheel. This was limited in the sense that you could only skip or adjust the volume. Naturally, there was no interface for selecting a new playlist, etc.
The likelihood is that Mercedes saw the trend of iPods becoming more mainstream and perhaps thought that they were providing a “trendy” service by highlighting their iPod compatibility. It’s strange, though, because the back-end electronics behind the iPod integration kits are exactly the same as the command equipment that is used on the 2010-2011 models that come with a universal media interface included. You can almost see the logic of what Mercedes was doing but, alas, it still feels like the wrong choice. For most people, anyway.
What Does Retrofit Mean?
To retrofit means to retroactively fit something into your car, meaning to add a component to your car that it wasn’t originally manufactured with, such as updating an old system with new technology.
You can think of it as an aftermarket adjustment which is not at all uncommon when we are talking about mechanical, or even aesthetic, aspects of a car. It is less common with Mercedes because they are unlikely to cheap out on parts that other brands might.
It isn’t even unusual for retrofitting to apply to the center console. If your first cars had cd-decks that could clip in and out, or in most people’s cases get stolen, the idea of switching up the center console computer isn’t all the new.
How To Retrofit A Universal Media Interface
While the universal media interface and the iPod integration system may share a lot of the same back-end stuff including the COMAND equipment, making the change is not necessarily super easy. Sorry. The center console for the 2008-2009 C-class models has room for a UMI if you perform a few small adjustments. And given that you aren’t technically supposed to be able to attach the universal media interface to a pre-2010 model there isn’t exactly a handy guide in the owner’s manual!
The route that the wiring harness and video cables take through the body of your car can be accessed via the back of your passenger-side glove compartment. The old connectors must be disconnected from the iPod integration kit and instead re-connected to the new UMI. You will also need to remove a small, orange, cable VERY carefully as it is the optics cable.
They are very fragile and a real pain to replace! The new connectors from the wiring harness will easily fit into the HU as will the carefully removed orange optics cable. Lastly, the thicker (and easily identified) video cables should be connected to the HU and the UMI main unit which fits nicely behind the passenger-side glove compartment.
It is important to remember that although it is possible to attach the UMI yourself there is not an allocated on the passenger’s side so you may need to do a little cowboy engineering to attach the UMI securely. Zip ties work great so long as you tie them in the right place.
If these instructions felt a little too hollow compared to what you might expect from other retrofits that’s because they are. It is unintended to fix to something Mercedes does not consider a problem. If you are certain you want to install a universal media interface you are probably much better off speaking to a mechanic and getting a quote (not necessarily a Mercedes mechanic).
How Much Will It Cost To Retrofit The Mercedes Universal Interface?
As with anything, when it comes to cars costs vary. To give you a good ballpark, you can find a secondhand UMI kit on eBay for a couple of hundred bucks. Closer to $300 or $400 depending on the condition it is in. A good tip is to remember that just because a universal media interface box is scratched and looks weather does not mean that is reflected in the internal wiring, etc. Use your best judgment call when negotiating with a private seller.
Many mechanics will be able to source you a UMI, especially if they deal with Mercedes regularly. However, they are obviously going to charge their markup and their markup can be ridiculous. If you get quoted close to $1500 for a brand-new UMI don’t be surprised. It could even reach $2k as many avid Merc drivers claim on forums and in social media groups. Will you be forced to pay this much for your universal media interface? Probably not. You have some decent negotiating room given how cheap you can find second-hand units in comparison.
Before you pull the trigger on buying a universal media interface kit from a private seller it’s best to check the model number with your mechanic to ensure that it is going to fit your car. Most do, but it’s best to be on the safe side. It also gives you a chance to sound out whether or not you feel like your mechanic is up to the task. In terms of labor costs, it can cost anywhere from $150 to $500 to install based on where you are and who you are talking to. The job can be done in about 2 hours (4 if they have to undo your attempt at self-installation first).
How much will it cost to retrofit the Mercedes universal interface all in? Anywhere from $500 – $2000. It is up to you whether or not you decide to go for a new UMI kit. If you plan to keep the car for a long time then you may choose to do so to extend the life of your UMI.
If you are looking for a quick fix for a temporary problem, you plan to sell the car soon, then it may be a bit cheeky but the buyer will likely be glad they have a universal media kit at all regardless of how new it is. No matter which UMI kit you go with it will be second-hand to the next buyer!
Final Thoughts On The Universal Media Interface
Hopefully, you now have a great idea about what a universal media interface is, why they are so great, and therefore why they are so darn popular that people are willing to pay so much money to install one! While it is absolutely possible to install one yourself it is far better to speak to a mechanic unless you happen to be an electrician.
Crossing wires and swapping cables is a surefire way to royally mess something up without the slightest clue until you next go to drive your car. Good luck with your quest to install a universal media interface!