OnStar is likely the first telematics system of which drivers became aware. Now offered by most manufacturers, the availability of instant help in case of an emergency is common. Cellular connectivity makes voice communication practical in support of the feature. However, in-car communications go beyond emergencies. GPS navigation systems and remote door unlocking are two such features. Smart phone applications are now entering the automotive telematics world, expanding what you can do and expect from your car’s ability to connect you with the world outside your car.

Security Features

Vehicle collision notification is a basic application with great value. When an airbag releases or other on-board sensors indicate a collision, an alert is sent to the telematics service centre. Emergency responders are sent by the service centre if the driver confirms an accident or if there is no response. The car’s internal GPS pinpoints the location of the accident.

The driver can also activate a panic button in case of a medical emergency or severe weather conditions. Roadside and other assistance can be requested from the service centre operator. If your car is stolen, not only can the telematics provider track its location, some can even slow and disable your car remotely.

Convenience Applications

Concierge services can recommend nearby amenities and, in some cases, provide turn-by-turn directions, even if your car has no navigation system. Current road and traffic conditions are at the ready to help you plan a commute and avoid trouble.

Text message-reading features connect through Bluetooth to your smart phone to permit hands-free texting with text-to-speech apps, while you can respond using speech-to-text technology.

Fuel economy can be tracked and monitored, as can maintenance and diagnostic information. Telematics systems can even aid you in scheduling service with your dealer.

Internet Services


Telematics systems either duplicate or connect with your smart phone, so many of the applications used on your phone can be accessed through your car’s touch screen. If you’ve forgotten to lock your car, for example, instead of heading back out to the parking lot, you can dial it in, and without calling a service operator. Remote starting, remote climate control and remote uploading of nav destinations are all possible.

Accessing Telematics

Many manufacturers include a trial period for telematics features, counting on you being hooked at the end of the trial period, priming you to pay for subscription services. Ford, for example, includes a reduced-feature telematics service for three years on cars equipped with its Sync system. Most companies offer a year of the complete service with a new car purchase.

Not all telematics systems offer the same functionality, since each manufacturer offers its own take on attractive features. If certain telematics features are important to you, check with dealers to be sure these are available through their proprietary systems.