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OnStar's MyLink app steers car monitoring from afar Add to ...

When I heard about MyLink, a new app for Android and Apple iOS handsets that allows General Motors vehicle owners remote access to OnStar, I knew I wanted to spend a little hands-on time with it. Problem was, I didn't have a compatible vehicle on which to test it. Happily, GM Technology Planning Manager Fred Dixon was willing to bring one to me and take me through the app's paces.

OnStar is GM's CDMA and GPS-enabled subscription service that secures and tracks the location of cars, monitors vehicle diagnostics, provides dynamic turn-by-turn navigation on command, facilitates hands-free calling, and automatically calls in the cavalry should you happen to get into an accident. It can be pricey - up to $440 per year, depending on the plan you select - but the benefits are clear.

MyLink is part of the system's next evolution. Launched last fall in the U.S. and coming to Canada on Monday, this clean and simple app allows GM owners to use OnStar to interact with their vehicles from any location with a cell phone signal.

Imagine you're on vacation and suddenly remember you forgot to lock your car's doors after parking in the long term airport lot. Most people would spend the rest of their trip stressed about their vehicle's security. With MyLink, you need simply log into your account and send a command to lock the doors. You'll receive confirmation that the task was completed.

Now think about coming home on the commuter train on a cold Canadian winter evening. Usually you'd need to wait until you were within sight of your car to engage the remote start, and you'd be stuck freezing your bottom off as you waited for it to warm up. With MyLink you can ping your car with a remote start command while you're still on the train, ensuring your vehicle is toasty warm when you arrive.

It crossed my mind that controlling your car from a phone might open up a big can of security worms, but Dixon played down these concerns.

"To register your car on MyLink you'll need your account information, your vehicle identification number, and a personal pass code that you create," he said. "Plus, you still need the key to drive away." Even if a thief does manage to get past all of these security hurdles he must still contend with OnStar's Stolen Vehicle Assistance program, which can be used to track your car's location, slow it down and block the engine from starting.

"It's safe," said Dixon with a confident smile.

MyLink provides other benefits, as well, such as access to a wide range of up-to-date diagnostic information, from tire pressure and odometer readings to fuel and oil levels, all gathered from the last time your car was running. This data is handy for personal use, but could be even more valuable for small businesses managing fleets of vehicles. No more trudging the lot from one car to the next.

What's more, drivers who obsess over fuel consumption rates will likely appreciate how MyLink provides instant access not only to their car's lifetime fuel economy, but also that of their most recent trip. Now you can definitively determine whether your gentle and considered driving style really is more fuel efficient than that of your more aggressive, lead-footed spouse.

My demonstration also included a look some special features for drivers who happen to own a Chevrolet Volt, GM's new hybrid electric vehicle. We interfaced with a Volt sitting in a garage in another city and were able to view not just its current charge level but also its projected range. You can also set up automatic e-mails and text messages stating when the car has finished charging or been unplugged, and even set the car's charging schedule, ensuring, say, that it only draws power during non-peak hours - beneficial for folks contending with smart meters.

Keep in mind the app is free to use and can connect with as many GM vehicles as you like. If you have an OnStar subscription, a compatible 2011 GM model with OnStar Generation 9 hardware, and an Apple or Android phone, downloading MyLink would appear to be a no-brainer.

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