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 apparently this also 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. 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 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.

2 thoughts on “Why I check for OnStar in my rental cars”

  1. I’m sorry but this is… bordering on absurd. I just got a rental car and was very surprised you have to call a *live agent* to get turn-by-turn navigation. Hah! Why not just enable apple car play? Or use TomTom (which doesn’t require you to call a service center for them to send you directions)? I’m coming from a Tesla which bundles it’s own nav, and it’s glorious, but this whole “must contact onstar for any route you’re interested in” is nuts.

    This is 2019, there is NO REASON a live person should need to be involved in putting nav in your car (well, besides the obvious of that $$ subscription fee).


  2. I totally disagree with Nathan. I too am a big fan of On-Star and me and my husband both have it in our vehicles. It’s not that a live agent tells you turn by turn directions, the directions are sent to your vehicle. It’s perfect for traveling. My husband also has the ability to use Google Maps in his new Chevrolet Impala in conjunction with his phone but still prefers OnStar when out of town. Not only is OnStar good for navigation, but we have had to use many of the other perks as well. My husband once broke his key in his car and OnStar was able to remote start it without a key. He has also forgotten where he has parked in a huge parking deck and OnStar enable the car horn so that he could find it. We also traveled to a remote area once and had no cellphone signal and was able to use OnStar to make calls to our family to let them know that we were okay. I pay $25 a month for two vehicles and it is well worth the price for all of the perks that you may think you would ever need. I really wish OnStar would consider a limited subscription for rentals. Maybe charge a flat daily rate of $5-10 bucks.

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