What are Connected Services in a Car?

Regardless of who you are or what stage of life you're in, ever-advancing technology likely plays a significant role in your daily life. From smartphones to voice-controlled virtual assistants, our ability to multi-task and stay connected is seemingly limitless.

NissanConnect Services Smartphone App

In recent years, that same technology has made its way into our vehicles, intending to make life easier, more productive, and safer.

What are Connected Services in a Car? - Find the best car deals!

We're all familiar with the capabilities of a modern smartphone and its cousin, the smartwatch. These portable pocket and wrist computers respond to voice commands, allow us to send and receive text messages, and host countless downloadable applications (apps) designed to stream music, direct us away from traffic congestion, and much more.

Similar functionality comes from in-home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Among other tasks, users can turn on lights in their home or adjust the thermostat with a simple voice command from in the house or miles away using an app on their smartphone.

With connected services in a car, automakers take the next step by bundling all of that capability and integrating it with their vehicles. Every car company offers some level of connectivity, which can range from free Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration to subscription-based live concierge assistance. Availability of these services will vary depending on the model year, vehicle, trim level, and sometimes selected option packages.

As examples for this article, we'll be looking at the General Motors OnStar, NissanConnect, and Toyota Connected Services systems. But remember, all car companies now offer some form of connected services, and they typically work similarly to the GM, Nissan, and Toyota platforms.

Activating Connected Services - Find the best car deals!

To enjoy many of your car's connected services, you first need to set up your owner account by downloading the appropriate app to your smartphone. 

Once you've downloaded the app, create an account with your name and the vehicle identification number (VIN), and then follow the prompts. To activate services, you may need to close and reopen the app.

Nissan and Toyota provide a range of connected services packages that we will detail below, all of which come with a free trial period starting with the original purchase date. After that, you'll need to pay a monthly or annual subscription.

If you currently own or are considering purchasing a used vehicle, connected services may also be available to you, albeit without the free trial period. Download the app and create an account with your VIN, and you'll learn which features – if any – are available.

Remote Vehicle Services - Find the best car deals!

Remote engine starting is a popular connected services feature, allowing you to start the vehicle from inside your home or office and pre-condition the interior with heat or air conditioning before you get into it and drive. Additional remote vehicle services include access to the horn, lights, door locks, fuel level, and other data and functions.

Toyota provides these features in its Remote Connect plan, offered many of its models with a complimentary one-year trial that you can renew for $8 per month.

Nissan makes accessing remote features a little more complicated. For example, if you opt for a mid- or high-level trim, you'll get remote door locks as part of the standard NissanConnect Services plan, which is free for five years. Remote engine starting is part of the NissanConnect Services Convenience plan, with only a six-month complimentary trial period.

Top-of-the-line Nissan models go one step farther with NissanConnect Premium, included as a free six-month trial and then by subscription. When you link this plan to a smart device within your home, you can instruct Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to start your car without whipping out your smartphone and using the app.

Vehicle Locator Service - Find the best car deals!

If you've ever left a shopping mall or a large event like a concert, you understand how challenging it can be to find your car. The old trick of hitting the key fob's panic button to flash the lights and sound the horn doesn't necessarily work amongst hundreds or thousands of cars. 

That's when it's helpful to have an app-based car-finder feature on your smartphone that will avoid all of the hassles. Nissan offers this as part of NissanConnect Services Convenience, and Toyota includes it with Remote Connect.

Unfortunately, cars can sometimes be hard to find because they've been stolen. A stolen vehicle locator feature is part of NissanConnect Security or Toyota Safety Connect. General Motors, among others, also offers this technology and with the added benefit of slowing and stopping the vehicle if you discover the stolen vehicle is in motion.

Emergency Services - Find the best car deals!

We don't like to think about it, but there are times when the daily commute or even a quick trip to the store for some milk doesn't go off without a hitch. Whether it's a flat tire or an accident, we need immediate assistance.

GM was one of the first automakers to offer services such as automatic collision notification and emergency SOS calling as part of its OnStar connected services system. Now, every automaker provides a similar service, either free for the life of the vehicle (Mercedes-Benz) or as part of a plan with a short free trial period followed by an owner-paid subscription to services. 

Ironically, GM offers one of the shortest complimentary plans for these essential safety features.

Teen Driver Settings - Find the best car deals!

Anyone with a new or inexperienced driver in the family will appreciate teen or guest driver settings. General Motors thinks this technology is important enough to equip its vehicles with free Teen Driver technology that produces a report card for parents after one of the household's younger members has used the vehicle. 

With NissanConnect Security and Toyota Remote Connect, vehicle owners dictate where someone may operate the vehicle via geo-fencing, during which hours, and at what speed. If the driver operates outside of those boundaries, you receive a notification on your smartphone.

These features also frequently include a valet mode. When handing the keys to the attendant outside the restaurant, it's nice to know you'll be alerted if your vehicle isn't driven as you're expecting.

Wi-Fi Hotspot - Find the best car deals!

Just like at home, staying connected inside our vehicles has become increasingly important. If you use your vehicle as an office on wheels or have kids with multiple devices, you understand the need for the internet on the go, in the form of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

General Motors bundles Wi-Fi access into its Connected Service ($24.99 per month) or Premium ($49.99 per month or $549.90 annually) plans. The free trial period is a month long with limited data use.

Nissan offers Wi-Fi as a separate feature that requires the NissanConnect Services package. It comes with a 30-day free trial, after which subscribers will pay $20 per month for unlimited data.

Toyota also offers a Wi-Fi Connect free trial that includes up to 2GB of data or three months of usage, whichever comes first. A variety of subscriptions, ranging from $10-25 per month, are available based on data needs and budget.

Summary - Find the best car deals!

Detailed here are just a few of the many connected-services features available to modern car buyers. The specifics differ between makes and models, but all aim to make travel and vehicle ownership safer, more convenient, and maybe a little less stressful.