What is OnStar?

Like most other markets, the auto industry is filled with its own unique assortment of complex technologies and related jargon. In an attempt to help explain some of the terms and technology in the auto industry, I’ve decided to launch a new category of content on Driveline Blog that tries to do exactly that. Each blog entry prefaced with the “What is” text is meant to describe some term, trend, or technology as unambiguously as possible. We’ll kick off the series with an entry about General Motors’ OnStar service.

Introduced in 1996, GM’s OnStar vehicle communications, security, and safety system has been installed in millions of GM vehicles. OnStar is a complex service with long list of standard features, but I’ll highlight three capabilities of the system that stand out the most: OnStar hands-free calling, 24-hour access to OnStar Advisors, and emergency calling features. Note: Some OnStar features are only available as part of specific subscription packages that require a monthly fee.

OnStar Logo

OnStar Hands-Free Communication
Thanks to a partnership between GM and Verizon, the OnStar system integrates wireless communication that allows drivers to make and receive phone calls while in their vehicles. This communication ability is a key component to several other important OnStar safety features, including stolen vehicle slowdown, stolen vehicle tracking, and remote ignition lock, and crash assistance.

OnStar Advisors
Given that a central feature of the OnStar system is wireless communication, OnStar uses that capability to provide another service to OnStar customers: OnStar Advisors. By pushing a OnStar button inside the vehicle, subscribers are connected to OnStar advisors that can answer questions the driver may have about their vehicle, get turn-by-turn directions, and even perform remote vehicle diagnostics. OnStar Advisor call centers are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

OnStar Emergency Assistance
Arguably the most important OnStar system feature is OnStar Emergency System. When the button for this OnStar feature is pressed, the driver is connected with the nearest emergency services provider. This feature is primarily used to report to nearby emergency services that the driver has been in an accident, or that the driver has witnessed an accident that needs to be reported. GM touts this aspect of OnStar heavily in their advertising efforts for OnStar, and is credited with helping thousands of drivers who needed emergency assistance.

OnStar Mirror Controls

Extending OnStar: The MyLink Mobile App
The OnStar system also has a companion OnStar MyLink mobile app, available for Apple iPone and Google Android phones. Once downloaded and installed on your favorite mobile device, you can use the MyLink app to contact OnStar Advisors, start an OnStar-equipped vehicle remotely, view real-time vehicle diagnostic information, and perform a host of other OnStar-related tasks.

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