Aug 10 2009

Things OnStar® can’t do for you

Announce upcoming interstate rest stops, ignore U-turns, avoid congested city zones...
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I like OnStar®, don’t get me wrong. Their “Directions & Connections” plan does a lot of great things when you hit the road as often as I do. Every time I hit the blue button I remind them “I’m the stupidist GMC owner on the planet.” I’ve got only the kindest words to say for the voices that talk to me inside my rearview mirror.

But let’s face facts: the OnStar product itself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Indeed, it lacks some “vital” features in my humble opinion. Consider the following:

  • You can’t program OnStar for interim destinations. Say you want to hit two specific truck stops on your way to Boston. Any GPS device will take interim destinations, but not OnStar. First you ask an OnStar rep to point you to the first truck stop. Once you get there, you ask an OnStar rep to point you to the next truck stop. Once you get there, you ask an OnStar rep to point you to the hotel in Boston…
  • You can’t program OnStar for a GPS coordinate. Say your friend tells you about his favorite fishing hole 100 yards west of a tiny bridge on a lonely road in South Carolina. Any GPS device can route you to it if you know the latitude & longitude, but not OnStar. (This forces me to ask the kind of philosophical question OnStar can only answer “wrong.” If OnStar can’t route you to the site where you crashed in the middle of nowhere, then how can OnStar route the ambulance to you?)
  • You can’t program OnStar to announce upcoming interstate rest stops. Quite a few GPS devices offer this useful tidbit of knowledge, but not OnStar. Let’s say an incompetent Air Force doctor misdiagnosed your severe gastroenteritis in the early 1980s and a TSgt in the Inspector General’s office took you behind a closed door to say “the wing vice commander ordered me to tell you to drop your complaint against his golf buddy or you’ll be picking up trash on base for the rest of your tour and you won’t get a CJR when it comes time to reenlist despite the fact your career field has the highest SRB and you just snagged an AoQ award.” So you give up your health to save your budding career and as a result you’ve lived for more than a quarter-century with a bowel condition that sometimes proves disastrous if you don’t know the location of every interstate rest stop in America. Ah, but enough military nostalgia. What I’m trying to say is, OnStar can tell you exactly which direction to turn for exactly which ramp you need to take when you enter/exit an interstate highway … but it doesn’t know squat about the places where you can go squat. The OnStar computer voice won’t interrupt your favorite CD to say “you will approach an interstate rest stop in five miles.” If you want to know where the next rest stop is on your travels, you need to ask an OnStar rep to find it on their maps.
  • You can’t program OnStar to ignore U-turns. Say you tow a 37′ long RV and you miss the on-ramp in the heart of a congested city. Suddenly the OnStar computer voice butts in to say “make a legal and safe U-turn…”
  • You can’t program OnStar to avoid congested city zones. See above.
  • You can’t program OnStar for bridge restrictions based on height or weight. Say you drive a 13′ tall RV and you tip the scale at 11 tons. Suddenly you’re slamming on the brakes because your route includes a 12’6″ overpass. Or you’re slamming on the brakes because your route includes an 8-ton bridge…
  • You can’t program OnStar to avoid propane restrictions. See above.
  • You can’t do a simple query for details about the five OnStar eNav locations you can program from your home computer. Say you program OnStar eNav to route to you a trendy bar you labeled as “Eric’s Pub.” You’re talking on a cell phone with a friend in Boston who says “Sure, I’ll meet up with you & Eric, what’s the address?” You can’t tell OnStar eNav to “say the address” and then reply “Eric’s Bar” when prompted. First you need to go through a time-consuming process to tell OnStar eNav to re-route you to “Eric’s Pub.” Only then can then ask OnStar eNav to “get my destination…”