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How OnStar Works

OnStar Controversy

The majority of OnStar users are happy with the service, and the many real-life customer stories on OnStar's Web site seem to confirm this. But not all reviews of OnStar are positive. Some users call the service "Big Brother" and say that the service can lead to an invasion of privacy.

In addition to airbag deployment and impact severity, the Vehicle Comm and Interface Module can also record whether you're wearing your seatbelt or how fast you're driving. It keeps data related to events immediately before, during and after a crash for about 45 days. The Call Center retains received information for over a year so that it can maintain quality and follow-up on customer complaints.

OnStar says that it passes this information on to auto manufacturers to improve vehicle safety. However, critics speculate that it could also be used to:

  • clear auto manufacturers of wrongdoing
  • deny warranty repairs
  • find you at fault in an accident
  • increase your car insurance premiums or change your coverage
According to OnStar's Privacy Policy, it will share personal information to "comply with legal requirements, valid court orders and exigent circumstances" [ref]. It also shares information with subsidiaries, including GMAC, which provides vehicle insurance. Although it did not mention OnStar by name, a United States Appeals Court ruled in 2003 that the government may be able to use the on-board cell phone to eavesdrop on drivers.

For lots more information on OnStar, telematics and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

OnStar Hacks & Mods and The Competition

Some users dislike that they have to call the OnStar center to use the GPS receiver in their car, so they've found ways to "hack" into the system and obtain GPS data in real-time. One Web site gives step-by-step instructions for doing so. GM does not advocate any tampering with the system. If hacking attempts or modifications render the service inoperable, OnStar is not obligated to repair it.

Although OnStar may be the most popular vehicle telematic service, it's not the only one out there. Other car manufacturers offer similar systems:

  • Ford RESCU (remote emergency satellite cellular unit) and VEMS (vehicle emergency messaging system)
  • Volvo OnCall
  • BMW Assist
  • Mercedes-Benz TeleAid and Command

Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda licensed OnStar technology in previous years, but both companies dropped it in favor of developing their own systems, called G-book and Internavi, respectively. Nissan also has its own telematics service, called CarWings. All three are only available in Japan.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Allan, Roger. "OnStar System Puts Telematics on The Map." Electronic Design, March 31, 2003.
  • "America News: 100,000 sign up for OnStar's Vehicle Diagnostics in first month." Telematics Update, October 24, 2005.
  • Boycott OnStar
  • Davis, Mike. "Electronic Data Recorders: Liars Beware?" The Car Connection, August 16, 2004.
  • Event Data Recorder Research History, NHTSA.
  • GMability Safety: OnStar
  • Kerr, Jim. "The technology behind OnStar." Canadian Driver, August 17, 2005.
  • Liptak, Adam. "Court Leaves the Door Open For Safety System Wiretaps." New York Times, December 21, 2003. 21SNOOP.html?ex=1072935671&ei=1&en=2b26059b086c61e8
  • "magicTalk Voice Gateway."
  • Mateja, Jim. "OnStar navigation may help GM find path to new buyers." Chicago Tribune, February 7, 2006.,1,4004260.story?coll=chi-business-hed
  • "OnStar Service Issues." GM Tech Link, May 2001.
  • Reid, Hal. "Telematics Detroit 2005." Directions, May 22, 2005.
  • "Remote Possibility.", July 27, 2004.
  • Servatius, Tara. "Big Brother in your car." Creative Loafing, September 24, 2004.
  • Shea, Josh. "OnStar: hot and high-tech option.", December 9, 2003.
  • Silwa, Carol. "OnStar takes Voice XML for drive." ComputerWorld, May 22, 2000.,11280,45115,00.html
  • Tap Into OnStar
  • Verizon Wireless with OnStar