Star Power – How Many Stars Does Onstar Deserve?

Times are changing. Physical distances are no longer difficult to converse over due to the rise of more widespread communication tools. Exact locations can be pinpointed and narrowed down with a touch of a button. Online connectivity can run uninterrupted due to 24-7 mobile hotspots.

It’s really quite surprising how these technologies have evolved from mere ideas and concepts on paper, to actual running systems in the digital age.


Packing up all these advancements into one sweet bundle, Onstar has long reigned as one of the leading innovators in the automotive industry. They have merged luxurious mobility with life-changing functionality. However, are all the features offered by GM subsidiary highly beneficial, or are the add-ons in their grandiose vehicles just plain unnecessary?

With technology continuously picking up the pace in solving modern human’s increasing problems, Onstar is right in the thick of things. Then again, are these “life-saving” features totally worth it, or are they starting to lose their power over the techie car enthusiasts?

The Company

To know the value of Onstar, it’s imperative to know exactly what it is and what it offers.

Onstar is an auxiliary company of General Motors that provides navigational functionality, extended connectivity, and emergency assist to drivers and passengers while also allowing them to enjoy the comfort of their plush vehicles – like upgraded seat covers from Shear Comfort, or a purified air device from Phillips. Since the launch of the first OnStar units on a number of 1977 Cadillac models, the products and services have evolved into a multi-layered system that makes GM stand out among the crowd. Exclusive to GM vehicles (i.e. GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, and Buick, to name a few), Onstar’s innovative automotive capabilities are triggered with a push of a button from the customized rear view mirror.

In spite of the exclusivity of Onstar’s services to General Motors, the subsidiary corporation launched a stand-alone product that could similarly provide its basic practical services to other non-GM automotive brands. During the heyday of the stand-alone Onstar device, it was available in different local electronics shops and car accessories stores. It was a plug-and-play device that served as a mobile phone and emergency alert system to any vehicle it was attached to.

The Features

The company is currently expanding the overall functionality of their automotive add-on features in line with the growing demands of the target market. One of their first offerings that brought the company into the spotlight is their navigational capability.

The turn-by-turn navigation features of Onstar provides, as the name implies, directional assistance every “turn” of the way. The feature uses the GPS system integrated in the vehicle to know the location of the vehicle in relation to the rest of the world. To cut a long story short, it’s practically similar to Google Maps with the help of either an automated guide saying the next direction, or a live person giving instructions along the way.

parts of a car

In spite of the emergence of mobile phones, Onstar still offers the use of their hands-free calling system. This feature allows the driver to speak over the phone hands (and earphone) free. Though practically all mobile phones can be turned into a “hands-free” communication device, the Onstar calling system generates a more widespread connectivity as compared to local mobile service provider. Then again, in order to utilize this function, hands-free calling minutes must be purchased first. Otherwise, the built-in mobile service cannot be used.

GM vehicles can now be a mobile hotspot with Onstar’s 4G LTE Wifi. This add-on takes the mobile experience to a whole new level. Converting the car as a hotspot comes with a powerful 4G LTE connectivity. Since practically all engagements (personal and professional) are tied up with the internet, the ability to be online while on the go is great with keeping with the technological requirements of the century. Similar to any other mobile internet plan, connections are limited to the plan’s maximum capacity, unless the driver (and usually the passengers) need more data. Luckily, all you have to do is press the Onstar button to purchase more.

The vehicle diagnostics report is a nifty function for GM vehicles. It provides a comprehensive report about the car to make sure the vehicle is a well-oiled machine. Any systemic disruption, such as low tire pressure, busted lights, and horn malfunction, trigger a warning message to alert the driver that something needs to be checked before using the car. Also, any important car performance reading (such as mileage and oil consumption) can be determined for review and verification. To add more convenience, a comprehensive report can be requested from a live specialist who can be contacted over the Onstar system.

Among all features, the automatic crash response is one of the most sought after function of Onstar. It is a proprietary function that may very well be the one thing that could save lives. This function is triggered by pressing the red emergency button on the rear view mirror. This sets off an alarm for the Onstar emergency team to communicate to the driver, determine the exact assistance needed, and even help determine the car’s whereabouts (through GPS).

Onstar also offers roadside assistance. In case of a flat tire, empty tank or busted engine part, Onstar can send a roadside assistance team to provide what is needed. Towing service can also be arranged in case of a serious incident. Nonetheless, the support the company provides extends to whatever specific situation the driver gets into.

roadside assistance

Taking advantage of the GPS system of the vehicle, Onstar also has marked a milestone in car security technology with their partner vehicles. Their stolen vehicle assistance can lead to finding the location of any stolen Onstar-equipped vehicle. Since the system is wired in every part of the car, an emergency system shutdown can be triggered once an auto theft getaway is on the run. This unique feature may be used seldom, however, in dire situations, it can mean the apprehension of muggers and the retrieval of the vehicle.

The Pros

Without a doubt, Onstar’s safety and security features are invaluable to motorists, especially with the current road and traffic conditions. A lot of people would see the feature as a “nice to have” add-on. However, those who are given a second chance with life because of Onstar say that the features are must have in all of their vehicles. The bottom line is that the emergency features have an impacting effect to millions of subscribers, and it serves as one of the most powerful unique selling propositions of the company.

Also, the stolen vehicle assistance feature is a unique add-on to consider when purchasing a GM vehicle. It gives peace of mind the motorist as it almost always can guarantee the retrieval of any stolen vehicle (given that the car was not totaled or scrapped). The feature may even stop the theft of vehicles in the first place. It is one of the things that no other brand of cars can have, giving GMC, and its brand of automobile cohorts, a glaring advantage over other competitors.

vehicle diagnostics

Another feature worth having is the vehicle diagnostics report. For the type of car owner who treat their car like a child, it is important to them to know what’s going on with their “child” on a regular basis. The monthly report of the car’s external and internal status is the guardian angel of car enthusiasts. Also, an on-demand report can be very handy to those who need a quick check-up of the vehicle before hitting the road. This saves a lot of time and money as compared to going to car specialty shops and getting a comprehensive diagnostics on the car. This feature is a stand out feature of Onstar.

The Cons

Onstar’s track record of providing a helping hand during emergency situations is remarkable. However, some features seem unnecessary as compared to the other services.

The hands-free calling system and mobile hotspot functionality are services that are already available for everyone with their mobile phones. These features may be promising during the earlier years of the 21st century. However, mobile hotspot devices, tablets, and smartphones have been advancing almost every month. Their functions are increasing to the point of rendering the Onstar features unnecessary in comparison. Plus, hands-free calling minutes and data are more expensive than phone and internet time provided by mobile phone service providers. Furthermore, the minutes and data expire within a certain period. These concerns raise convenience and value for money issues from customers.

The turn by turn navigation system is starting (if not already) to become less and less convenient and reliable with the emergence of more powerful mobile applications. These applications can provide the same function offered by Onstar, and more. Plus, relying directions to third-party individuals who are not on the same road may cause a lot of discrepancies and inconvenience to all concerned. As compared to using a mobile app, there is less hassle and reaction time is faster since the driver is already seeing where he or she is. Add in the power of Google Maps, the navigation system of Onstar may just be kept a backup when everything else fails.

Overall, Onstar is a reliable add-on to a good car. The bulk of their offered services are worth having. On the other hand, some of the features may as well be left alone to lessen any unnecessary inconvenience and cost. At the end of the day, features are only as good as how the users utilize them to their advantage.