Why I check for OnStar in my rental cars

I’ve been a fan of OnStar since before owning a car equipped with it.

New General Motors cars with OnStar (that is nearly all of them now), come with a free three-month trial subscription to the service. I discovered that this also apparently applies to rental car fleets at the major rental companies. So far, I’ve found active OnStar service in newer GM cars I have rented from Avis and National. Now I seek it out whenever possible.

Having OnStar turn-by-turn navigation at the touch of a button is a very nice perk to have in a rental car. The problem is… if your rental car is older than three months, the OnStar trial subscription has probably ended. To make sure this doesn’t happen to me, I’ve been known to check out several cars for active OnStar service before driving one out of the lot. I’ll get in, switch on the key, push the blue OnStar button, and if I get a live advisor, I’ll ask for confirmation that the service subscription is active. You don’t have to be coy about this. I just tell the advisor, “This is a rental car, and I’m calling to make sure the OnStar service is active before I leave the lot.” It’s as easy as that. If you get a recorded message instead of a live advisor, the service is inactive. Move on to the next GM car on the lot.

OnStar gets you to your destination

I’ve found OnStar incredibly easy to use. Just press the blue button, and you’ll be connected to a live OnStar advisor via the handsfree phone system built into the car. I tell the advisor where I want to go, and she will download driving directions to the car. Then, I just follow the voice prompts to drive to my destination. The advisor can also give you current weather and/or traffic information in most areas. Other OnStar capabilities vary from one car model to the next.

When you call OnStar, your car’s exact location is transmitted to the call center, so the advisor knows where you are, and can actually follow your car on a map. I once had trouble finding the rental car return facility, and the helpful OnStar advisor stayed on the line with me to help me find my way. There are anecdotal reports that OnStar advisors have even stayed on the line for long periods of time in the middle of the night to keep tired drivers from falling asleep!

There is also an emergency assistance button (which is red and labeled “SOS” on newer cars). Press that, and you’ll be connected to a specially-trained advisor who can summon police or medical assistance. And if you are involved in an accident that deploys the car’s airbag system, OnStar is automatically activated to summon aid.

OnStar in a rental would be worth paying for… if you could

Which got me to thinking… I wonder if OnStar has ever considered allowing temporary activation for travelers like me, who have an active OnStar subscription in their personal vehicle. Some security would be necessary to limit usage (so owners wouldn’t share their credentials like a Netflix password) but I’m sure a solution could be found. Maybe a short-term activation could be provided through the rental company, the way some offer SiriusXM radio activation for renters.

It’s not as if the rental companies don’t know OnStar is there. In the standard Avis rental agreement, it advises that Avis can use OnStar to locate their vehicle if necessary!

I’ve decided that OnStar is worth paying for in my personal car, and so it would be an easy decision for me to pay a reasonable charge to have it available in my rental car. Win-win-win for me, the rental company and for OnStar.

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