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In Detail: OnStar

AOL Original Content Posted: Oct 25th 2013 at 11:20AM by Adam Morath
OnStar Command Center: TRANSLOGIC 140
When OnStar first launched in the mid-1990s, cell phones were few and far between. Now, nearly everyone has a GPS-enabled smartphone that can deliver directions, serve as a lifeline in an emergency, and even allow you to control some functions of your car with apps like Chevy MyLink or MyFord Mobile.

Locked your keys inside the car? There's an app for that.

So how does OnStar remain relevant today?

Blue Button Background

For over 17 years, OnStar has delivered safety, security and convenience features through the push of a button for drivers of General Motors vehicles. Service is provided through a dedicated wireless connection, GPS and 24/7 access to human operators. "Blue button presses" range from requests for directions to urgent calls for roadside assistance. In the event of a collision, the system can send an automatic crash response routed through an emergency advisor, as shown below.


These remain the pillar services upon which OnStar operates today, but a lot has changed over the past two decades.

OnStar Today

For starters, OnStar continues to do what they've always done. General Motors feels that the human element of the OnStar operator still differentiates them from the services provided by our smartphones. Further, automatic crash response could be a lifesaver in instances where the driver is incapacitated or can't reach their phone following a serious accident.

Newer features like stolen vehicle slowdown and remote ignition block are also indispensable in instances of vehicle theft. Not only can these services thwart an attempt to steal a car, they can keep bystanders and police safer in the event of a high speed chase by slowing down the car and ending the dangerous pursuit. The car's GPS connection can come in handy when trying to track down the stolen vehicle as well.

Additionally, OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics can help drivers stay on top of maintenance and repairs. Monthly emails provide OnStar subscribers with vehicle status reports, which are also available on demand with a push of the blue button.

Finally, forthcoming features such as in-vehicle WiFi will help GM vehicles equipped with OnStar stay competitive with rivals such as Ford and Audi, who already offer dedicated WiFi or WiFi hotspot capabilities in their vehicles.

Smartphone Era

OnStar hasn't left smartphones out of the equation either. Their RemoteLink mobile app allows the user to make hands-free calls from within the vehicle, as well as monitor gauges like tire pressure and fuel level remotely. And, yes, you can even lock and unlock your car from your phone.

In short, OnStar offers convenience features that can help out in a pinch and safety and security features that can assist in a worst-case scenario. Some of these features are redundant if you own a smartphone, while others will no doubt be replicated in the near future. For instance, if our phones can already control vehicle ignition remotely, why should something like remote ignition block require an OnStar subscription? Same goes for services like vehicle diagnostics.

With subscription plans ranging from $19.95 to $29.90 per month (discounts available for longer signups), you may be asking yourself, "is it worth it?" Typically, the services we subscribe to are used often, like internet, television or streaming music. OnStar is more like insurance: you hope you don't have to use features like automatic crash response or stolen vehicle assistance, but you might be glad to have them should the occasion arise.
AOL Autos accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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