GM has been offering OnStar’s emergency services to new car owners for almost 20 years, but now the company has a new app that can give you information about your car and allow you to control it remotely.
It’s called OnStar RemoteLink, a service that – according to the company – boasts more than 1 million users. OnStar RemoteLink is available on several GM vehicles including the Cadillac ELR that I used to test the system first hand.
Every new GM vehicle comes with a limited, no-charge OnStar plan and includes a five-year trial for OnStar RemoteLink. OnStar spokesman Stuart Fowle said that the company hasn’t announced the specifics of that because there are still four model years until it will affect the first round of customers.
Five (or even more) years is a longer time than most people keep a smartphone, but thankfully RemoteLink is compatible with Android, Windows, BlackBerry and iOS powered devices. We tested the app on an iPhone, but also found the app in the Google Play Store for Android devices.
Enter your OnStar login information and the RemoteLink app will show you a list of the cars associated with your account. GM doesn’t limit the number of cars that one account can connect. That could be especially useful for someone managing a fleet of cars, or even a family with multiple GM products. The demo account General Motors provided for our test was tied to a long list of cars, underscoring how important that open-ended capacity is.
Once you’ve chosen your vehicle, you can view vital information about the car. For example, we could see the total remaining range of our ELR. That screen also included a breakdown of all-electric range and gasoline range, allowing you to understand how far you can go without refueling or recharging.
In electric cars like the Chevrolet Spark EV, Volt and Cadillac ELR, you can schedule recharge times to replenish your car while rates are low. Electric vehicles also show how much range they have left in their battery. Finally, users get a text message or email notification if their car is unplugged unexpectedly while charging. In gas-powered vehicles you can check the remaining range and fuel level, as well as oil life.
Some may find that information redundant, as you already see your fuel level as soon as you turn on your car. On the other hand, I can recall a number of times where I was rushing, or late to an appointment because I forgot that I had to refuel during my journey. Knowing, or even better yet, getting a reminder that your car is low on fuel before you set out would have made me leave earlier in order to avoid rushing impatiently through traffic. Perhaps GM should consider adding a notification or alert when your car is parked with only a little fuel left in the tank. That could make this app far more important to car owners lives.
The app also shows you tire pressure so if you’re going to stop by the gas station to top up your fuel tank or oil level, you could also take some time to pump some air into the tires. Again, I think it would be a huge advantage if the app reminded you to take care of your car before you head out, maybe even pointing out that improperly inflated tires could impact your fuel economy or safety. With smart-phone apps giving us notifications of practically everything, it’d be nice to see some useful information about one of our most expensive purchases pushed to the forefront of the screens in our mobile devices.
The app also offers the ability to control limited features in your car remotely. You can lock or unlock the doors, honk the horns, blink the lights and even remotely start the vehicle.
The features are protected by a PIN, so if someone gets your phone and doesn’t know the code, they won’t be able to access into your car.
Tapping on any of these icons in the Remote portion of the app, shows a dialogue that lets you know what’s going on between your car and OnStar RemoteLink. First the app will say “sending request to car” with a little progress icon to show you that the function is working. In a few seconds the app will tell you that the operation is complete, for example “Your car doors are now locked.”
This process took no longer than 30 seconds, but a GM representative pointed out that the time it takes to complete the action depends on your location and signal strength between OnStar. They mentioned in some cases it could take up to a minute for the process to complete.
Fortunately with newer GM vehicles getting upgraded communications equipment thanks to OnStar 4G LTE, these functions will be more responsive in the future. The major advantage of RemoteLink’s remote functionality is that they aren’t limited in range, like your keyfob is.
Another feature of the RemoteLink app is the ability to see where your car is on a map, a handy feature for parking lots, or parents who want to monitor their kids drive. Additionally, the app allows you to send navigation instructions from your phone to your car so that they are pre-loaded when you get into the car.
Overall, the OnStar Remotelink is a handy companion app, but it also isn’t a game changer when it comes to enhancing the car ownership experience. There’s a ton of potential and with OnStar RemoteLink available for every new GM customer, hopefully the company can push towards true connected-car territory.