All General Motors vehicles, including Buicks, Chevrolets, Cadillacs, and GMCs, automatically come with OnStar. The service is activated in all new cars for between 6 and 12 months for free, and then a monthly fee applies thereafter to keep OnStar activated. Since the release of GM’s 1996 model year vehicles, OnStar has been a pioneer in providing emergency services, crash detection, roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, and live concierge-like services to drivers.
To speak with a live OnStar representative, a driver or passenger simply needs to press the OnStar button built into the GM vehicle. It’s then possible to ask for directions or receive other types of assistance. If the vehicle is involved in an accident, an OnStar representative immediately contacts the driver to determine what services are needed and then summons local emergency services as needed.
As part of its effort to create “connected cars,” GM has introduced the OnStar RemoteLink app, which is free with an active OnStar account. This easy-to-use app provides vehicle owners with remote access to their own car(s) from virtually anywhere, even if you travel abroad, but your car is parked at home in your driveway or at the airport.
Using the iPhone’s Internet connectivity, a secure wireless connection to a vehicle can be established, allowing the vehicle’s owner to remotely start the ignition, lock or unlock the vehicle’s doors, honk the horn and/or flash the lights, plus view real-time vehicle diagnostic information (which includes monitoring the gas gauge, oil, tire pressure, and odometer, as shown in Figure 1).
Figure 1 Check your vehicle's gas tank, oil, and odometer from a single screen of the OnStar RemoteLink app on your iPhone
One of the other extremely useful features of the OnStar RemoteLink app is that it links to other apps within your iPhone, including Contacts. Thus, if you’re planning a drive, you can look up any destination address or point of interest on the iPhone and then wirelessly send it to your vehicle’s in-car navigation system. So, when you turn on your vehicle, your destination is preloaded, with no additional data entry required.
The OnStar RemoteLink app also makes contacting an OnStar representative or your local dealership via telephone just a screen tap away. Thus, the same live concierge-like services available from within the vehicle are also now available through your iPhone via the app.
OnStar also offers a Bluetooth-enabled, hands-free calling feature for the iPhone. This allows calls to be initiated from the iPhone or from the vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system, and for the microphone and speakers built into the car itself to be used during a call. An optional OnStar feature allows vehicle owners to prepurchase airtime minutes and utilize the OnStar system to initiate hands-free calls without a smartphone.
Most or all OnStar RemoteLink app features work with 2010 or later model year Buicks, Chevrolets, Cadillacs, and GMC trucks that have OnStar activated. The remote ignition starter, for example, requires a vehicle to have an optional, factory installed and enabled remote starter.
If you already have an active OnStar account for your vehicle, simply download and install the OnStar RemoteLink app from the App Store. When you launch the app for the first time, enter your existing OnStar username and password or your OnStar account number and ZIP code. A connection between your vehicle and iPhone will be established, and connection details will remain saved within your phone. If you own multiple GM cars, the app can manage up to four separate vehicles simultaneously, and each can have its own nickname for easy reference.
When the link between the iPhone and vehicle (through OnStar) has been established, all the app’s functionality, in terms of managing the vehicle, is done by tapping on one of the menu icons displayed along the bottom of the app’s screen. These buttons include Dashboard, Remote, Nav, Assist, and More.
Tap the Dashboard button to access vehicle diagnostics, such as the car’s tire pressure. This information displays graphically on the iPhone’s screen (see Figure 2). To remotely lock or unlock the car’s doors, or turn on the ignition, tap the Remote button, and then tap the Lock, Unlock, Remote Start, Cancel Start, Horn & Lights, or Stop Horn & Light button (see Figure 3).
Figure 2 From your iPhone, you can check your vehicle's tire pressure remotely
Figure 3 Lock or unlock your vehicle's doors, turn on or off the ignition, or sound the horn and flash the headlights remotely from the OnStar RemoteLink app
When the Remote Start feature is activated, the vehicle’s doors will lock and the car will idol for 10 minutes before shutting off automatically, unless the driver enters the vehicle or retaps the Remote Start button on the iPhone.
Depending on which GM vehicle make and model the OnStar RemoteLink app is used with, how the app integrates with the in-car navigation system varies. However, from the iPhone, you can look up points of interest or addresses by tapping on the Nav button and then entering what you’re looking for into the Bing search field (see Figure 4). You can also import an address from the Contacts app and then have the app wirelessly forward this information from the iPhone directly to the vehicle’s built-in infotainment system.
Figure 4 Look up an address or point of interest from the Bing search field within the OnStar RemoteLink app, and then wirelessly send it to your vehicle's navigation system
Upon tapping on the app’s Assist button, an OnStar Advisor can be reached 24-hours-per-day, 365-days-per year. You can also contact OnStar Roadside Assistance with a single on-screen tap or contact your preferred local GM dealership.
Managing the app and pairing a vehicle with OnStar to the app are among the options available by tapping the More button. This screen also displays your Vehicle Identification Number, the nickname you’ve assigned to your car, and your OnStar account number.
The OnStar service is available throughout almost the entire United States and Canada. After the initial trial period with a new car purchase, OnStar has a monthly fee based on which services you want access to. OnStar can also be activated with the purchase of a used GM vehicle.
For 2006 or later model year cars, the monthly OnStar fee starts at $18.95 per month for the Safe & Sound plan, which includes automatic crash response, emergency services, hands-free calling, unlimited use of the RemoteLink app, stolen vehicle assistance, roadside assistance, remote services, and vehicle diagnostics. For $28.90 per month, turn-by-turn navigation is also included. Money-saving annual contracts for between 1 and 3 years are available.
GM’s goal to create “connected cars” has become a reality, and with each model year, new technological advancements are introduced that include innovative ways for drivers to interact with their vehicles, at times using their iPhone and the Internet connectivity it provides.