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Hidden costs of new car 'infotainment' systems

Hidden costs of new car 'infotainment' systems
photo courtesy of shutterstock

If you haven't bought a new vehicle in years, you might be surprised at all of the new technology that some are equipped with. Some of the more interesting features are trunks that automatically open when your hands are full, cameras that show you everything around your car while you're driving, and built-in Wi-Fi hotspots. Self-driving cars are even on the way.

One of the more common innovations found in new vehicles is a touch-screen computer displayed on the center console. These are known as "infotainment" systems and deliver information and entertainment content. Most infotainment systems integrate stereo, phone, navigation and many connected services.

It's those connected services that could end up costing you an unexpected amount of money. Many new vehicles come with free trial periods for services like in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspots, Sirius XM satellite radio and live traffic data. The free trials last anywhere from three to 12 months.

When the free trial period expires, subscription fees will kick in. You even have to pay a fee for the navigational system to receive periodic map updates. So before you leave the dealership with your shiny new car, you need to have a conversation with the salesperson to find out if you have to cancel any subscriptions with the manufacturer.

There are ways to keep enjoying your infotainment system without having to pay a fee. Here are some options:

Android Auto

Android Auto was designed with safety in mind. It has a simple and intuitive interface, integrated steering wheel controls and voice actions. It's designed to minimize distraction so you can stay focused on the road.

Android Auto isn't actually a standalone unit; it's mostly a touch screen built into the car's dashboard. You have to link up an Android gadget with a USB cable to make it work. This is also how Apple's CarPlay works.

That's a little annoying, but it does have a privacy advantage. There's no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection for passing hackers to snoop on. Plus, if your car is broken into or stolen, the thieves won't get a full Android system with your information in it. Everything is stored in your phone that you'll probably take with you.

Once your gadget is plugged in, you can control it via the touch screen, dashboard and steering wheel buttons and voice commands. The screen displays a driver-friendly version of the Android apps you want to use while driving. Even the GPS on your phone works with Android Auto and you don't have to pay a fee for updated maps.

Android Auto disables apps it feels might be unsafe to use while driving. You mostly get access to navigation, radio or select music apps and voice calling. It does let you interact with Google Now as well for personal assistant features.

While those limitations might annoy some people, they can easily get around them by unplugging their phone, it will hopefully help people drive safer.

Next page: Apple CarPlay
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