Just about any new car today is truly a computer on four wheels. And like a computer gets more powerful by adding paid apps and free operating system updates, cars are moving in that direction too.
Your car may be older. You don’t have to go without all the bells and whistles. Tap or click for high-tech upgrades you can make on an older model.
Optional extras have been around since the dawn of automobile sales, but subscription-based services are relatively new. At least the popular GPS apps are still free. Here are five Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze tips and tricks you’ll use all the time.
Charging a subscription for heated seats or to go faster is one thing, but doing the same for an important safety feature? That’s one shady move by carmakers. Here’s what you need to know.
It could save your life
Automatic crash notification, or ACN, uses a car’s communication tools or your paired phone to notify emergency services in case of a crash — it brings them right to you so you’ll get the help you need. If you’re knocked unconscious or unable to make the call yourself, this is truly a lifesaving feature.
Some carmakers include ACN for free, while others charge as much as $100 per year. If you don’t pay the bill, you lose it.
Consumer Reports looked into how ACN is doled out by major car companies. The safety feature is mostly packed in with encompassing services, which I’ve named below.
Car brands that offer ACN for free:
- Acura: ACN is provided on some AcuraLink Assist-compatible vehicles as long as a phone is paired via Bluetooth.
- Audi: Audi Connect CARE includes free ACN, and is available on select models.
- BMW: Your Beemer will call for help if you have the Live Cockpit Plus or Pro packages, or BMW Assist eCall.
- Ford/Lincoln: All new Ford and Lincoln vehicles with 911 Assist have ACN as long as it’s activated and your phone is paired through Bluetooth.
- Genesis: All 2023 and newer model year vehicles have free ACN via Genesis Connected Services.
- Honda: ACN is free on some vehicles equipped with HondaLink Assist as long as a phone is paired via Bluetooth.
- Hyundai: ACN comes packed in Hyundai Bluelink+, which is available on 2024 model year vehicles and later.
- Jaguar/Land Rover: Here’s a mouthful: InControl Protect SOS Emergency Services, which available on all new Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.
- Mazda: Automatic 911 Dialing is available on all new Mazda vehicles, as long as your phone is paired through Bluetooth.
- Polestar: All you need is Polestar Connect, which is available on all new Polestar cars.
- Porsche: Porsche Connect Care is available on the 2022 and later 911, Taycan, Panamera and Cayenne.
- Volvo: Volvo’s OnCall comes on all new cars.
Car brands that offer ACN as a 5-year (or more) free trial:
- Jeep: On select vehicles not equipped with SiriusXM Guardian, you get a 10-year trial of Jeep Connect.
- Kia: Kia UVO/Kia Connect is free for five years for select Kia models.
- Lexus: You get 10 years of Enform Safety Connect for free on the 2023 Lexus ES, NX, LS, LX, RX, RZ and UX.
- Mercedes: All new Mercedes models have Mercedes Me Connect, which includes 10 years of free ACN.
- Ram: Select vehicles not equipped with SiriusXM Guardian have Ram Connect, which includes 10 years of ACN.
- Toyota: The bZ4X, Corolla, Corolla Cross, Crown, Highlander, RAV4, Prius, Sequoia, Tundra and Venza come with Toyota Safety Connect, which includes 10 years of ACN for free.
- Volkswagen: June 1, 2023, a 5-year free trial of Volkswagen Car-Net will be available on most 2020 and newer VW cars.
Car brands that charge for ACN before 5 years:
- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC: You get one month or three years of OnStar for free depending on the model.
- Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram: SiriusXM Guardian is free for a year on all new Chrysler and Dodge vehicles, some Jeep and Ram vehicles.
- Infiniti: All new models come with a year of free Infiniti InTouch.
- Mitsubishi: The 2023 and later Outlander comes with two free years of Mitsubishi Connect.
- Nissan: Select vehicles and trim levels have six months of free Nissan Connect.
- Subaru: Select vehicles and trim levels come with three years of Subaru Starlink.
- Toyota: The Camry, GR86, Tacoma, Sienna and 4Runner get a year trial with Toyota Safety Connect.
Paying extra for some features when you buy a car is nothing new, but let’s take a look at companies charging subscriptions for the most ridiculous things. If you’re in the market for a new car, you must do homework on subscription costs before signing a purchase contract.
Automakers want to charge us for more performance or even the most basic features. Case in point, Mercedes Benz is charging its electric car owners $1,200 a year to drive a little bit faster.
The pricey software upgrade, “Acceleration Increase,” gets you zero to 60 mph one second faster. It’s available for the Mercedes-EQ line of EVs.
The German luxury car brand also charges German buyers $576 per year for rear-wheel steering on the EQS. This feature reduces the car’s turning arc, helping in tight corners and parking. While this comes standard to EQS vehicles sold stateside, it could be a sign of things to come.
Stay safe: Over 5 million cars have been recalled in the last six months. Check to see if yours is on the list.
Audi’s “functions on demand” system lets drivers purchase subscriptions to new features like smartphone functionality via the car’s display, parking assistance, and dynamic exterior lighting.
The extra functions can be paid for by the month or year and are available for the e-tron, A4, A5, A6, A7, Q5, Q7 and Q8 models. You can choose what you want. Navigation, for example, is $849 per year. The dynamic lighting package is $260 per year. Plans are currently rolling out in Europe, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reach the U.S.
In the meantime, Audi’s Connect Prime and Connect Plus are available here in the U.S., starting at $36 per month or $365 per year, offering improved navigation, voice recognition, and Wi-Fi.
Stop paying too much at the pump: Best hidden map feature that will save you money on gas.
BMW made waves when it announced an $18 per month charge for heated seats in other countries. There’s also a High Beam Assistant upgrade, which brightens or dims headlights automatically for $8 per month.
The carmaker previously tried to charge buyers $80 per year to access Apple CarPlay. They scrapped the plan after lots of negative feedback.
In the U.S., BMW ConnectedDrive Upgrades offers premium features through software uploads. You can get a dash cam function for $19 per month or $430 for the life of the vehicle.
Cadillac offers a hands-free driving system for the highway called Super Cruise for $25 per month. With this, you get hands-free driving across 200,000 miles of compatible roads throughout the U.S. and Canada. It’s offered as a free trial when you buy the vehicle, but you’ll pay up if you want to keep it afterward.
The following models offer Super Cruise: 2018-2020 CT6, 2021 and 2023 CT4, 2021 and 2023 CT5, 2021-2023 Escalade, 2022-2023 XT6, and the 2023 Lyriq.
For the 2023 Corvette Z06 or Stingray, you’ll have to cough up $300 for a three-year subscription to GM’s OnStar service, which includes remote start and vehicle diagnostics, among other features.
GM is making its OnStar and Connected Services Premium Plan services mandatory on all new Buick, Cadillac, and GMC models for a whopping $1,500. This includes three years of automatic crash response, roadside assistance, turn-by-turn navigation, a remote key fob, vehicle diagnostics, Wi-Fi hotspot, and more.
Porsche Connect offers subscription services for various features, such as a Wi-Fi hotspot ($20 per month), theft detection system ($280 per year), and navigation and infotainment ($205 per year).
Availability varies depending on the model, and you can activate many functions on the fly via the Porsche Connect app. The upgrades are available for the 718, 911, Taycan, Panamera, Macan, and Cayenne.
Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” beta mode, or FSD, was once only available to drivers with a passing score determined by their car’s driver monitoring system. Now, the feature is rolling out to the masses — or anyone willing to pay for it.
You can request FSD from your driver’s screen or the app, but the price may make you do a double take:
- FSD is available for $15,000 when you purchase a new vehicle.
- Already own a Tesla? You can also pay a subscription fee of $99 if you have Basic Autopilot and want to add FSD capability.
- If you have Enhanced Autopilot and want to add FSD capability, it’ll set you back $199 per month.
Full disclosure: Tesla’s FSD has placed the carmaker in the federal government’s sights. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and others by making false claims about its self-driving tech. Tap or click here for my take.
If you live in an area where the winters are cold or the summers are hot, remote start lets you get your car’s interior to a comfortable temperature before you enter it. If you’ve enjoyed the feature in your 2018 or later Toyota, get ready for a surprise.
You’ll have to subscribe to Toyota’s Remote Connect service to keep using your key fob to start the car. The service runs through an app on your phone. It includes other features such as vehicle status alerts, limiting performance for guest drivers, last parked location, and the ability to lock or unlock your doors from your phone.
Remote Connect costs $8 per month or $80 per year.
Bottom line: Ask about monthly or yearly subscription fees when buying a car. They could cost you a lot more than you were budgeting for.
Bonus: Protect your investment
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Keep your tech-know going
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