Review and images by Mark Stevenson

As a former IT guy, I find gadgetry in all forms a bit fascinating, especially when said gadget can pull data from a car in your driveway or even in another province.

RemoteLink – a mobile app for iOS and Android – let’s you do just that. The app is part of GM’s OnStar service and allows some OnStar-equipped vehicle owners to connect to their cars and receive vital (and not so vital) information whether the car is close by or at the other end of the country.

Auto Tech: OnStar RemoteLink in the Chevrolet Volt chevrolet auto tech
Auto Tech: OnStar RemoteLink in the Chevrolet Volt chevrolet auto tech
Auto Tech: OnStar RemoteLink in the Chevrolet Volt chevrolet auto tech
GM OnStar RemoteLink. Click image to enlarge

OnStar, introduced in 1995, doesn’t just find directions anymore. It offers a full suite of features, including the ability to: call emergency services after an accident (in case you aren’t able to do it yourself); track down your car if a miscreant decides you no longer deserve it; and find you a decent four-star Italian eatery if you so wish. In the US, you don’t even need a GM vehicle to get connected anymore. You can go to a local electronics retailer and pick up ‘OnStar For My Vehicle’ (or FMV), which is basically an aftermarket mirror with buttons, to retrofit your current ride. Unfortunately, it isn’t available in Canada – at least not yet.

Safety, security, and convenience aside, I’m an absolute nerd when it comes to diagnostics. I want to know everything there is to know about my car and I want to know it now, especially if that car is 1,500 km away with someone else and I feel like spying a bit. Fortunately, when I drove a Volt during the latter half of winter, I downloaded the RemoteLink app to my Android phone and saved the credentials. I apologize in advance to whomever I’m spying on.

Exploring RemoteLink

Most vehicles with OnStar support the functionality provided by RemoteLink. But, with the Chevrolet Volt, you get some additional features due to its electrified nature.

When you first launch the app (and after you do the initial login rigmarole), you are presented with the ‘Dashboard’. It consists of four pages – electric charge status, fuel level and oil life, tire pressure, and OnStar status.

The electric status page is the focal point of the app, though not the part that provides the most functionality. It shows exactly what you would expect. A battery graphic displays the current charge level, the car’s potential range at its current charge level, and – if the car is plugged in –when the car will be fully charged. If anything, this can be used to tell you when you should be able to unplug the car if you have a fear of chargers catching fire during use.

Fuel status, again, is exactly what you’d expect; a fuel gauge, fuel range, and a bonus “oil life remaining” icon.

The next page, which displays tire pressure, would be an excellent feature if it were live when the car isn’t running. Instead, it only shows data collected during the last drive, which makes it somewhat useless even if it is cool to look at.

However, the OnStar status page is actually useful, showing three very important pieces of information. Each OnStar system activated is given a phone number. It relies on the terrestrial cellular network, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But, this number is quite hard to find, especially for OnStar cars without some kind of infotainment screen installed. This page also gives you the lowdown on your remaining OnStar pre-paid minutes (which are brutally expensive, anywhere between 39¢ and 60¢ per minute, depending on how many you purchase) and the date your subscription is set to expire. Good information to have if you plan on maintaining the service.

[Note: See that pre-paid minute pricing information above? I got that by calling OnStar. The person on the other end of the line, no matter how many times I told her I didn’t actually own a GM vehicle nor did I have an OnStar account, wanted my last name to “look up the account.” After about 15 minutes of trying to persuade the operator there are people who write about cars for a living, she finally relented and gave me the pricing info. Common sense is a finite resource, folks.]




About Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson is a former IT professional turned freelance automotive writer and news editor for Autos.ca. He's a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and former member of the Texas Automotive Writers Association (TAWA). Mark spends an inordinate amount of time on motorcycles and resides in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his two dogs - Nismo and Maloo. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.