What Is OnStar?

(General Motors)

OnStar is both a telematics system and a subsidiary of General Motors that owns the telematics system. The telematics technology is probably what comes to mind when most consumers hear the name, even if they still aren’t sure what that means. In short, it’s a vehicle communications system, the predecessor to today’s connected cars that come equipped with all manner of navigation, infotainment, hands-free phone, app integration, and automatic emergency notifications systems. That said, OnStar might have led the charge in what would eventually evolve into our modern-day communications systems, but that doesn’t mean it’s fallen behind.

History

General Motors introduced OnStar about 20 years ago. At the time, it was intended primarily for emergencies, especially since cell phones were few and far between. A car accident in a remote area left the driver with few options, and since drivers weren’t accustomed to feature-laden smartphones that could do everything, OnStar was designed more for safety than convenience. It was used mainly to alert an OnStar telephone operator in the event of an accident, remotely unlock the car doors if the keys were locked inside, and serve as a theft deterrent. Over the years, new benefits were added, such as navigation, vehicle maintenance management, and connectivity options. Let’s take a look at features offered in new GM vehicles with OnStar.

Services and Benefits

OnStar Command Center (General Motors)

OnStar’s menu has grown to incorporate modern infotainment system features to accompany the latest emergency services. Rather than navigating through the infotainment system, though, many OnStar features are still activated by pressing the blue or red buttons in the rearview mirror. Emergency features include automatic crash response (using sensors built into the vehicle), roadside assistance, or connection to an OnStar operator for other crisis or emergency situations. Security features alert the owner if the car alarm is triggered, allows them to remotely slow or block the ignition of a stolen vehicle, and track a stolen GM vehicle with GPS. A smartphone app runs diagnostic reports and allows remote access to the vehicle. Navigation, onboard communications (via 4G LTE and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot), and location tracking are also part of the system.

Requirements and Cost

OnStar is available in most new and late-model GM vehicles. New and certified pre-owned vehicles include a trial subscription. Then, OnStar’s costs depend on your vehicle’s age and your desired level of service. A basic plan is included for five years on GM vehicles from 2014 on, but includes just maintenance and diagnostics features. Three subscription plans are available: Protection at $19.99 a month or $199.90 a year, Security at $24.99 a month or $249.90 a year, and Guidance at $34.99 a month or $349.90 a year. Data plans for 4G LTE-equipped vehicles and location services are available as add-ons.

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