Report: #187846

Complaint Review: Onstar

  • Submitted: Fri, April 21, 2006
  • Updated: Tue, May 02, 2006
  • Reported By: South Berwick Maine
  • Onstar
    PO Box 017
    Troy, Michigan

Show customers why they should trust your business over your competitors...

On Apr 10, 2006 my son was involved in a single car crash with my car. He had fallen asleep at the wheel and went off the road into a ditch and through a telephone pole before the car stopped.

By the Grace of God, he wasn't seriously injured and called us from his cell phone. We went to the crash site immediately. The police told us they were notified of the crash by people passing by calling from their cell phones. The car was a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP equipped with Onstar. We had the service since we purchased the car new and had only used it twice to unlock the car doors. When we arrived, after making sure our son was ok, we realized that Onstar had not contacted my son or emergency personnel. We then went to the car (which was still in the same place), hit the emergency button and Onstar came on immediately. When asked what the emergency was, we replied Other than the fact that the air bags deployed in the car? They knew what car we were in and exactly where we were; the road we were on and the closest intersections. The person from Onstar also informed us that the emergency activation had not happened. They had no idea that the air bags had deployed. Discussions then ensued as to why this didn't happen. They told us one reason Onstar will not work is if the battery is damaged or if there is no cell phone coverage in the area and that it was obvious that this was not the reason since we were talking to them from the car. And we were able to turn on the key and have what was left of the lights on the car and the radio come on. They were not able to provide an explanation.

The next day, I called to cancel the service and told the representative about what had happened. He put the supervisor on and they the transferred me to Executive Relations to let them know what happened. I then talked to Michelle 877-248-2079 and told her what had happened and asked her why the service did not work when we so desperately needed it. She took down the information and told me they were going to research it with GM and would get back to me.

I called back on Apr 21, 2006 to see if they had found out why the system failed. She said that a letter was going out to me explaining the limitations of Onstar. She told me that the emergency activation would not work if the battery was damaged or there was no wireless coverage. I reiterated the story again, reminding her that neither situation applied since we were able to contact them (which is on record). I got the same response. Again, I reminded her that that was not the case. Her solution was to give a free year of Onstar if we purchased another vehicle with the service. My reply was Why would I want something that I cannot count on?. I asked about a refund and was told No.

At this point, I pulled out the Terms and Conditions paperwork. This agreement is 42 paragraphs long.

Paragraph 8 states that the service can't work unless the car is in a place where they have an agreement with a wireless service provider for service in the area (They must have since we were able to contact them). It also states that GPS satellite signals must be unobstructed (again we were able to contact them and they knew where we were). The car must also have a working electrical system (it did). Then it states that there are other problems they can't control that may prevent them from providing the service. Some examples are damage to important parts of the car, hills, tall building, tunnels, weather, electrical system design, and architecture of your car or wireless phone network congestion. Again no problem for us to contact them but a pretty good out for them.

Then the clincher:

Paragraph 32 NO WARRANTIES ON EQUIPMENT, INFORMATION, OR SERVICES FROM ONSTAR.. WE DON'T MAKE ANY WARRANTIES, EXPRESS, OR IMPLIED, ABOUT OnStar equipment or any other equipment used with OnStar service. . This means, among other things, no warranties of quality, accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. All such warranties are expressly excluded by this agreement.


9 subparagraphs follow ensuring they are not liable for anything.

We have to waive IMPORTANT RIGHTS??????

If we had not been able to contact the emergency service from the car after the crash, I would have been inclined to believe that there may have been damage preventing the notification. Our ability to contact them proved it wrong and they were not able to give a reasonable explanation of the failure. They just provided that standard caveat form letter and we had already proven that the situations they described did not apply to our situation.

So, for all you people out there who believe, like I did, that you can feel secure in the knowledge that if an emergency happens that Onstar will be there for you, take heed. It's a crapshoot if it will work and you have no recourse if it fails. After paying $16.95 a month for 4 years, it was a total waste of money and an extreme disappointment.

So, regarding those wonderful, warm fuzzy commercials about Onstar being there: Our new name for OnStar NonStar!

South Berwick, Maine
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This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 04/21/2006 09:36 AM and is a permanent record located here: The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year. Ripoff Report has an exclusive license to this report. It may not be copied without the written permission of Ripoff Report. READ: Foreign websites steal our content

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#1 Consumer Comment

Analog to Digital

AUTHOR: Happy - (U.S.A.)

I see that you mentioned the analog to digital change that will be occuring soon. They will be offering the upgrade equipment for free with a service commitment. All the vehicles that have analog will not become obsolete, they will just need to spend a day in a GM service department.
Maybe they are making the switch nessesary to help better the service so that things like this dont happen.

There is always the possibility that your son may have been in a low service area where service fades in and out. That happens to cell phones all the time. You cant make a call so you shake your phone a little and "magically" it has service and your call goes through. I know this doesnt change the fact that the system failed you this time, but perhaps it offers some sort possible explanation.
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#2 Author of original report

I agree about the refund

AUTHOR: Jean - (U.S.A.)

Believe it or not, I agree that I'm not entitled to a refund. I asked only because they couldn't explain the failure. And there must be something to it since they offered me a free year's subscription if I purchase another car with the system. That offer still stands. Would I take them up on it - probably. Would I continue to pay for the service after? Right now, I'm not sure. The only thing I honestly wanted was an explanation. Just tell me what caused it to fail; that's all I want. Then they can see if they can prevent it from happening again. I don't agree that Onstar is like insurance. Onstar is a convenience that you pay for. Insurance is just that - insurance. The car insurance company was there the next day and cut me a check on the spot. That's not a gamble. I pay for full coverage expecting just that. And we all know that you never get your money back on insurance premiums because it's just that you're paying for the possibility of a disaster and to receive payment the premiums everyone pays goes into the pot to cover the incidents (along with the company's use of your money for investing, etc). That's how they pay the claims. And even car/house insurance has exclusions but not to the extent this service has (Can you say additional flood insurance?). Onstar does not have any responsibility to pay out to the consumer, insurance does, thus premiums. Onstar provides a service, insurance is there to pay you for a claim. You don't expect money from Onstar, you do from insurance.

If the car insurance company decided they didn't want to pay, it's more than a problem. It's a legal issue. It's a violation of the contract.

I knew that Onstar wouldn't work in every situation and had no problem paying for the service. If a car catches on fire, I wouldn't expect it to work. If the battery had been damaged, I wouldn't expect it to work. If the car was a completely mangled mess, I wouldn't expect it to work. If the car went into the water, I wouldn't expect it to work. I'm not that nave. But when you get there and the battery is intact, the electrical system and radio work, the antenna is in place and it still fails to work, I start to think it's a design issue and that it would never have worked. Yes, is worked great when the car doors were locked. It saved me from having to go out and bring the keys to my husband (who both times was only a few miles away). That's a convenience. But when there's damage to a vehicle, the system should be designed to be protected and able to communicate. It appears that this is the case for us since we were able to contact them. But yet there's no reasonable explanation as to why it didn't work. The service is called Safety and Security. That's my issue.

Like I said before, I was a great fan of Onstar. I was very disappointed when I bought my Nissan Maxima and couldn't get the service. It really made me hesitate before finally deciding to make the purchase. I've only had the car for a short time and still keep looking at GM vehicles, mainly because I still love the Pontiac line and the Onstar service. I didn't use Onstar for travel advisories, hands free calling, directions or concierge. I only wanted it in case of door locks and accident. It proved itself worthwhile for the door lock issue.

Put yourself in my position. You've receive a phone call from your son saying he's been in a bad accident and didn't know what to do. He was dazed, confused and scared. We jump in the car and drive over as quickly as we can. We discussed calling 911 from the cell phone, but like the post from Cory, we had no idea who we'd get, so we just went as quickly as possible. Plus, we were calling our son's cell phone continuously since he wasn't answering (he was outside the car with the police waiting for the EMT's can you say panic?). Luckily it was only about 10 miles away. When we arrived, the police were there and the ambulance was pulling up. The fire department showed up about 5 minutes later. The police department was only a few miles away and people driving by notified them. While the paramedics were checking out our son, we went to the car and pushed the emergency button. Onstar can we help you? This was a fully operational system that failed. If they had come online at the time of the accident, they could have contacted emergency and kept him calm. He was shaking so badly when the police arrived he could hardly stand.

I work for an organization that manages the maintenance of billions of dollars of equipment. Failure is not an option many lives could be lost. Perhaps that makes me overly critical, but when you're dealing with peoples lives, you should be doing the best you can to ensure the safety of these people and the equipment. I bring work home with me to ensure that I've done the best I can. And this is free labor. I've had many nights I've laid in bed with my head spinning to ensure that I did the best I could for a particular situation. When something unexpected happens, we spend an excruciating amount of time analyzing the problem and rectifying it. Even if it happened just once. We put ourselves on report and establish a team to analyze. Is Onstar doing the best they can, or doing the minimum to get by? Are they looking into why it failed? It appears not. The service isn't cheap. Also, the change in 2008 is because they are eliminating the analog service. Are they making any improvements or just saving money by not providing service anymore to the thousands of cars out there that don't have the digital built in? And yes, I realize that analog is becoming a thing of the past is there any way they can make modifications to help these people out? These people will no longer have an option to use the service. GM touts the fact that they have Onstar on their vehicles are the two working together to ensure that they are providing the best service possible? The battery issue makes me think not.

I really wish we hadn't pushed that button. Then I wouldn't be so conflicted about the service and could just move on. This is one instance where "Ignorance is bliss" applies.

I know many people won't agree with me and that's ok. That's the freedom we have. Just like the choice to use Onstar. My only hope is that this doesn't happen to anyone else. It clouds the issue for me so that I can't objectively analyze it anymore. I'll get over it someday.
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#3 Consumer Comment

You are not entitled to a refund

AUTHOR: Peter - (U.S.A.)

Asking for a refund for the entire service when it did not work in this one isolated incident is ridiculous, especially when you DID say that you successfully used the service TWO previous times. Requesting a refund now is about as ridiculous as someone who never had a single incident want to refund their service because they never had to use it. Paying for ONSTAR is like "insurance." It's there if you need it, and will sometimes help you out and othertimes not. It's a gamble. You should have known that before purchasing the service.
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#4 Author of original report

Paying for the possiblity of help...

AUTHOR: Jean - (U.S.A.)

I am happy to hear that you know that there are no guarantees with OnStar. My concern is that many people out there do not know that. I also agree that OnStar has saved many, many lives. What I don't agree with is that they are not completely up front with the fact that it may not work and that they had absolutely no explanation for why our system failed. They told me they were going to investigate with GM and get back to me. When I finally called them back, all they said was I had a letter coming explaining the limitations. If they had contacted GM, I would have felt a little better but I got no indication that they did.

In our situation, everything that Onstar said was needed for the system to work, did work. We talked to them from the car at the accident site. Their web site says OnStar services require vehicle electrical system (including battery), wireless service and GPS satellite signals to be available and operating for features to function properly. We did but it still failed. And on a side note, one thing I don't quite understand is that knowing that batteries can easily be damaged in an accident, why couldn't they have a small auxiliary power system that charges off the battery until the battery fails? Just enough juice to send an emergency message. More money, yes. Less chance of failure, yes. Wouldn't that be the goal? How many more lives could be saved? You pay quite a bit of money for a system that may or may not work. I was one of those people willing to pay that. But when they say that hills, tall buildings and electrical system design (among other things) can cause the system to fail, it makes me think. Especially the electrical system design these cars are built with Onstar equipped. Does that mean that there are certain cars out there that will never work because of the electrical system design? If so, why is it installed? Just totally unproven speculation on my side. Probably wrong, but having that in the limitations just made me wonder.

What if you had a car that was equipped with air bags, was properly maintained and they failed in a front end collision? Not expected, correct? The car makers would be sued in an instant! (Yes, I know that air bags are federally regulated). My disappointment with Onstar is the fact that there is no explanation for why our system failed. The car was meticulously maintained and had low mileage with no abuse. Like I said in my first post, if we hadn't hit the emergency button and immediately contacted Onstar, I wouldn't have had a problem. I would have assumed a failure due to the accident and moved on. But the fact that we were able to contact them and then find out that they never received the air bag deployment signal distressed me. If this happened to us, I find it hard to believe that we were the first.

I also hope that people realize that on Jan 1, 2008, any vehicles that don't have both digital and analog technology will no longer work. This covers a lot of vehicles from 2004 and back.

As far as continuing my coverage, the car was declared a total loss so I don't have to worry about that.

All I want to do is help in making sure people are informed. I'm not saying to cancel, just be aware. They don't have the federal regulations like air bags and seat belts; it's a convenience. As it's often stated For peace of mind. Maybe.

I truly, truly hope you never have to find out if the service works. I was an avid supporter of Onstar before, just like you. I refused to cancel my subscription because of the hope that they would be there when they were needed. If you're willing to pay $200 a year for the possibility of help, great! I'm sorry, but having a child in distress, in a ditch, alone and in a panic in the dark tends to change your perspective. For us, the police, ambulance, fire department and people passing by were there, Onstar wasn't.
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#5 Consumer Comment

Nothing is guaranteed

AUTHOR: Happy - (U.S.A.)

Let me start by saying that I do not work for OnStar.

OnStar has never to my knowledge made any guarantees as to the abilities of its equipment. Everything fails every once in a while, even for no reason. Nothing is perfect.

Onstar is designed as a saftey feature, just like seatbelts, airbags, traction control, etc.
Do you think those have never failed? Of course they have.

Just because you are wearing your seatbelt or have airbags does not mean that you can not be seriously or mortally wounded in an accident. They are designed to minimize that risk.

OnStar is there for you just as much as any other saftey feature in any vehicle, but instead of minimizing the risk of injury, it is designed to maximize the efficiency of help. Maximize is no way means guarantee.

Before you go trashing something or someone, that by the way has saved thousands of lives, you should look at the entire picture.

I am very upset to here about what happened and glad that no one what badly injured. I also hope that you think about your decision to cancel service before doing it. While you had no guarantee before, you do have one now. The guarantee now is that they wont be there for you.
I pay my OnStar subscription every year knowing that there are no guarantees, but its nice to know that the possibility of help is there if I might need it.
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#6 Author of original report

Cory, I totally agree with you

AUTHOR: Jean - (U.S.A.)

I agree. I find it extremely disturbing over what is happening these days. I also have no issue with the fact that the accident was my son's fault it definitely was. My concern with Onstar is the fact that they bury the disclaimers in a document that consists of 10 pages, 76 paragraphs, 485 lines, 6,463 words. How many people read it? How many people out there think that this is a service they can truly count on? They can claim that a hill prevented them from getting the emergency notification. Give me a break! Or the architecture of car? Excuse me, these cars were designed with Onstar! They constantly advertise how they are there for you and even have a link on their website so you can tell your wonderful story about how they helped you. Their advertisements make it sound like it's the perfect solution.

A leading consumer magazine even had an article about it and said that although OnStar is expensive, you get added peace of mind, especially if you lock your keys in the car or want the reassurance of immediate help after an accident. I'm really surprised that this reputable magazine didn't investigate the failure rate, if anyone bothers to keep track of it. Another fallacy in our world of false promises. This entire web site proves that. It's sad that it takes something bad to happen to realize that you can only count on yourself. In today's world, most of our lives are so full and busy that we don't have time to read the fine print. Lesson learned for me.

And then there's the reality of things you do hear about. When the passenger air bag deployed it smashed the windshield and blew the sunroof open. I hear they've reduced the power some I sincerely hope so. REMINDER TO EVERYONE: DO NOT PUT CHILDREN IN THE FRONT SEAT!!!!!!! I've seen what it can do.

I didn't know about the 911 or the airbag issue. And like you said, both of these issues can endanger someone's life. I'm already wondering if my car gets repaired and resold (under the so-called salvage title). The front end was destroyed but from the front doors back there was no damage. And since there was only 44,000 miles on it, I can picture someone snagging it to resell. Especially since it was a Special Edition made for one year only. And we all know that once totaled, they should stay totaled. I've seen a show about how unscrupulous people will go to states that don't require the title listing it as a salvage and selling it without informing the buyer. If they don't check Carfax they're screwed. But, how well does Carfax work? I have no idea. I've always purchased new vehicles.

Many of these things are beyond our control, with the exception of letting as many people as possible know about the reality of these things. Can I say the OnStar scammed me? No. The novel of disclaimers took care of that. Did I believe that OnStar would be there if there was an accident? Yes. Call me stupid.

My goal of this report is to try to make people more aware that what we hear may not be the whole story. We need to slow down and stop believing everything we are told. We hear this over and over but never take it upon ourselves to ensure that what we are getting is really the truth. Caveat Emptor Let the buyer beware.
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#7 Consumer Comment

Interesting Post

AUTHOR: Cory - (U.S.A.)

What you say is true. No system is 100% failsafe. The US taxpayers spent billions on the two space shuttles that blew/burned up. Having such a system in your vehicle can help in case of an accident IF it works, but there's no way to tell it will work until that moment arriives. Saw a 20/20 a while back about the thousands of vehicles that have been involved in accidents, been repaired and either don't have airbags or have non-functioning airbags in them. Many have been resold to unknowing buyers. Thank God your son wasn't injured. He is the primary cause of the accident. Another side note, many locations were required by law to have systems in place, where a person making a 911 cell phone call could be located. Years later many places still haven't put into place, those systems EVEN THOUGH they have been collecting the money for those systems, for years. A number of people have died because they have pissed the collected money away on other things. If I remember correctly, a couple of kids drowned in NY, who had cell phones and who had called 911, because they couldn't be located. All these electronic toys are fine but don't rely on them to save your life. Look what happened to many Katrina people.
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