Visit a car dealership – they’re listed on the DexKnows site – and the salesperson will probably want to talk about telematics. He or she won’t use that word though. What you’ll hear instead will be OnStar at a GM dealership, Mbrace2 if you’re with Mercedes, Enform in the Lexus showroom, and Safety Connect at Toyota. In fact, pretty much every car manufacturer now offers some kind of telematics system.
For more than a decade, GPS technology has enabled drivers to know where they are and how to get to their destination. Cellphones have been around longer, providing communication on the move. Telematics is the convergence of the two, enabling a direct, two-way, wireless connection to a central control center that knows the vehicle’s location. That communication can be initiated by people in the car, or increasingly, by the car itself.
Safety and convenience
If the airbags are triggered a telematics system will alert operators in the control center. They’ll try to contact the vehicle’s occupants to ask if help is needed. If necessary, they’ll be able to dispatch emergency services to the vehicle’s location. Or if a driver is experiencing a mechanical problem, he or she can touch a button to request roadside assistance.
Other services can include remote unlocking of doors, turn-by-turn directions and vehicle tracking in the case of theft. Modern systems will also monitor the health of the vehicle, advising when tire pressure needs attention or when an oil change is due.
Beyond those basics, the latest trend is smartphone integration. Most vehicle manufacturers offer apps that allow remote unlocking and enable access to websites like OpenTable and Pandora from the car. The Mbrace2 smartphone app even lets a Mercedes owner know where the car is parked.
Mbrace2 provides a good example of other capabilities to look for. For instance, there’s a driving journal that lets an owner know where the car is and where it’s been (useful when loaning the car out or entrusting it to the valet). There is also geofencing, which is the ability to set up a cellphone alert if the car enters a particular geographic area, like an undesirable neighborhood. Likewise, it’s possible to set an alert if a certain speed is exceeded.
An initial free period is usually included with a new car. Mercedes provides six months, Lexus and Toyota offer a year, and BMW enables their “Safety Plan” free for four years as part of their Ultimate Service package. At the end of the free period, a monthly charge takes effect. That ranges from $12 to around $23, depending on the manufacturer.
If you’re buying a used rather than a new vehicle, it’s usually possible to reactivate the telematics system. Contact the vehicle manufacturer for details.
Decide for yourself
If you’re ready to hit the car dealerships – use DexKnows to track them down – be prepared for a conversation about telematics. It’s a technology with a lot of benefits, so listen to the offer.