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Star of the Open Road 

by Clint Burgess


For as long as there have been cars, there have been lockouts, flat tires and fender benders. Yet as technology has advanced, so has the opportunity to nullify the crippling effects of these pesky problems. In the 21st century, such conveniences as unlocking a vehicle from a remote location, arranging towing for a disabled vehicle or notifying emergency crews of a collision involving an injury can be as easy as the push of a button.


Because there are many more drivers on the road today, more and more can go wrong. The majority of drivers don't have all the tech-toys that come standard on most new vehicles, but there are a number of problems that these systems can address. In the case of Onstar, the industry's leading concept for getting drivers out of trouble when they get into it, the one place to find it is in post 1997 GM vehicles. The disadvantage is that you can't get it installed into your non-GM vehicle.


Now that the playing field has been established, do the Onstar goods deliver? A few of the specifications include but are not limited to: A one-year free subscription to Onstar when you purchase a new vehicle equipped with the system. (After your subscription expires, it will cost $17 a month for the basic service.) For your money, a few of the more useful features of Onstar include stolen vehicle tracking, remote engine diagnostics and troubleshooting of the error messages on your vehicle's instrument panel. There are also a number of hospitality features that make road trips a breeze.


The layout of Onstar is exceptionally functional and allows for a minimum amount of distraction from driving. Three buttons make up the entire interface. The first white dot or phone button connects you to what is basically a cell phone but with better range and service. The second, a blue Onstar button, is used to connect to an advisor -- if he or she can't help you, there isn't a whole lot more they can do for you. The third button, a red cross, is used to connect as a priority signal to advisors in case of an accident so they can notify emergency response crews. General Motors has announced that the Onstar service and systems will be implemented as a standard option in all of the company's vehicles by 2007. To put this in perspective, that includes all makes and models in the Chevy, Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Cadillac, Hummer, Saab, and Saturn lines.


It may seem that Onstar is just an organized way to get a few major tasks done at the push of three buttons. While this is the simplified version of the system, it does streamline what can be done with a standard GPS unit and a cell phone. And Onstar offers outstanding advantages during emergencies. In the event of a debilitating accident, Onstar can detect airbag deployment; even in a less severe situation, it's much easier to push a button for help than to use a cell phone. In addition, Onstar can pinpoint vehicle locations with a GPS locator, reducing response time for emergency crews. While uncertainty is sometimes an exhilarating part of the driving experience, it is better to know you can get out of a jam than to leave it to chance.





Publication date: 2/10/05

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