If you haven't bought a new car for a few years, you may be surprised to see a touch-screen computer on the center console of many new models where the stereo head-unit used to be. Known in the industry as "infotainment" systems, these optional control systems often integrate stereo, navigation, and climate controls with highly detailed car data, along with a host of connected services. And some of those services can present new car buyers with a surprising bill a few months into the ownership of a vehicle.

Most new cars offer a free trial period for services such as Sirius XM satellite radio, in-vehicle WiFi hotspots, personal "concierge" services, live traffic data, or remote car monitoring services that allow you to check in on your car through a smartphone app. These trials can last anywhere from 3 to 12 months, but after that time, subscription fees kick in. Similarly, many new cars can be equipped with an optional navigation system that requires periodic map updates—for a fee.

While these features are often enjoyable and useful, the fees that arrive after the free trial is over can be an unexpected hit to your monthly car budget. In fact, the point of these trial periods is to get new car owners hooked on these features, then sell them on hundreds of dollars per year worth of service.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to these expensive services that can save you money without depriving yourself of the benefits they offer.

“Most of these infotainment functions can be handled through your phone, without having to pay for factory-installed systems,” says Consumer Reports Senior Automotive Engineer Tom Mutchler. Plus, Mutchler points out, some cars are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—phone-integration platforms launched on many new cars in the past year—effectively eliminating the need to buy a pricey factory navigation system, because CarPlay and Auto bring car-related smartphone functionality right into the dash.

Cars with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility can display apps from your phone on the screen in your car. Because these systems allow you to control functions of your phone using the controls of your car, they are much safer to use when driving.

Plus, unlike built-in infotainment systems, which charge a fee for periodic map updating, Apple and Android maps are constantly updated on your phone's system for free. (The downside is streamed maps consume data, potentially impacting your monthly cell bill.) We’ve also found that Apple’s Siri and Android’s voice controls have far more accurate responses to questions than most automakers’ in-car query systems.

While not all cars are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Mutchler says most ultimately will be, as manufacturers this smart phone integration as vital to be competitive.

Even if a car doesn't have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, most new cars allow you to connect your phone through Bluetooth streaming or a USB connection.

If you liked the trial offer of SiriusXM's satellite radio service, but you're not willing to pay between $11 and $20 per month to sustain the subscription, there are other music options that cost less. Internet-based streaming music services, such as Pandora or Spotify, let you stream tunes via your phone. Pandora costs $4 per month, or $36 for a one-year subscription, while Spotify Premium is $5 per month for students, $10 for individuals, and $15 for families. This is especially appealing if you have unlimited data on your phone plan, but there are ways to bring your own tunes on the road without breaking the budget. Some music services, including Pandora and Spotify, also have a free version, albeit with advertising, and some allow the music to be downloaded in advance. (Read "How to Keep Streaming Audio From Chewing Through Your Data Plan.")

The built-in telematics system has some clear advantages, including better cell-phone reception. Plus, a mobile phone cannot replicate a car’s emergency telematics service feature that can sense an accident and request services, advising them if there has been an airbag deployment. Still, some brands offer these features free for as long as you own your vehicle, while others charge a premium to extend coverage after the trial period ends.

If you're going to invest in infotainment services, it's best to make sure the system in the car works well. Consumer Reports has found that some infotainment systems are much better than others, with Chrysler's UConnect 8.4 with its large eight-inch screen and intuitive interface being among the best.

But Mutchler says that shouldn’t be a primary factor in choosing a car. Despite their standout infotainment systems, Chrysler vehicles often have below-average predicted reliability, and some have not fared well in our tests.  

To make sure you're not stuck with steep fees after the trial period is over, read the fine print before you sign up for something that's subscription based. When you buy your car, have a discussion with your dealer about what's covered in the trial period, when the trial period ends, and whether you need to notify the manufacturer that you will not continue the service after the trial is over.

And don't feel compelled to rush the decision when you're making a car purchase. Take your time. Look at the car-brand website. Review the literature the dealership provides.

Below, we present a rundown of the infotainment features provided by each automaker, the duration of the free trial period, and the ultimate cost of the features.


Hidden Costs of New Car 'Infotainment'

Acura

Certain 2017 Acura ILX, 2016 TLX, 2016 RLX, 2017 RDX, 2017 MDX, and 2017 NSX models

Free Trial: AcuraLink Standard package is free for the first three years.  

Free Forever: Pandora or Aha compatibility, HD radio and Song by Voice, Siri Eyes Free and email reading technologies available on select trims.

Fee After Trial Period: Fees for the Standard package at the end of the trial are $49 for a one year renewal and $98 for a two-year renewal. Customers can also upgrade to the AcuraLink Connect package for $159 for a one-year commitment, $259 for a two-year commitment and $359 for a three-year commitment.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: 2017 NSX all trims is compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto.

 

2016 Acura RLX, TLX, and MDX

Free Trial: 90 day free trial of AcuraLink Premium. Three-month trial of SiriusXM.

Fee After Trial Period: Premium package is $249 for a one-year commitment, $397 for a two year commitment, and $566 for a three-year commitment . SiriusXM radio subscription fees determined by the provider.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No


2017 Audi A4 & Q7

Free Trial: Six-month trial for Connect PRIME and WiFi.

Free Forever:  Connect CARE (includes SOS Call, online roadside assistance, stolen vehicle locator, and Audi Service Request).

Fee After Trial Period: Connect PRIME: $199 for six months and $750 for 30 months. Monthly plans available for Connect PLUS, a WiFi hotspot service, ranging from $20 for 1GB to $499 for 30 months with 30 GB limit.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Yes.


BMW

2016 BMW vehicles without navigation

Free Trial: BMW Assist eCall and BMW TeleService included at no additional cost for four years.

Fee After Trial Period: BMW Assist eCall is $50 for 1 year. Renewing this service will automatically renew BMW TeleService at $50 for one year. Similarly, renewing BMW TeleService will automatically renew Assist eCall.  

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.

 

2016 BMW vehicles with navigation

Free Trial: A four-year term at no additional cost includes BMW Assist eCall, TeleService, Remote Services, eDrive Services (on applicable vehicles), BMW Online, BMW Apps, and Advanced Real-Time Traffic Information (except Z4). BMW i8 vehicles include BMW Internet at no additional charge; for all other vehicles it is available as an option. BMW Concierge Services is included as standard on i8 vehicles and 7 Series vehicles; for all other models, it is available as an option.

Fee After Trial Period: After the trial, customers can renew by year. BMW Assist eCall and TeleService prices are same as above when purchased as standalone, or are included at no additional charge when any other service is renewed. Remote Services is included at no additional charge when any other service is renewed and not available as a standalone renewal. eDrive Services, renewal price not yet available. For Advanced Real-Time Traffic Information or BMW Online and Apps, the price is $50 for one year. BMW Internet or Concierge Services are available for $100 for a one-year term. The Z4 is not available with BMW Internet.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Chrysler / Fiat

Free Trial: All cars come with a version of Uconnect. The connected services application, Uconnect Access, includes a six-month trial for the 8.4A system, while a 12-month is available for the 8.4AN system, which has built-in navigation. A 12-month trial of SiriusXM Satellite radio is available with properly equipped vehicles.

Fee After Trial Period: Following the Uconnect Access trial, customers can continue their connected services with Uconnect Access for $14.99 monthly. Or WiFi can be purchased separately on an as-needed basis. Rates range from $9.99 a day to $34.99 a month.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Ford / Lincoln

Free Trial: Ford vehicles equipped with satellite radio come with a six month trial for Sirius All Access. Ford vehicles equipped with the optional Navigation System gain access to a five-year subscription of SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, while Lincoln vehicles gain access to a six-year subscription. Ford SYNC Connect is offered for free for five years with AT&T 4G LTE network service.

MyFord Mobile, a feature that allows plug-in electric vehicle owners to monitor the location and charge status of their vehicles, is available for free for five years. 

Free Forever: 911 Assist is a standard feature of SYNC that does not require a subscription. SYNC Vehicle Health Report is a standard feature of SYNC. Free membership to FordPass App.

Fee After Trial Period: Sirius All Access costs $19.99/month or an introductory price of $199 for a one-year subscription. Sirius Traffic costs $3.99/month and Travel Link costs $1.99/month

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Android Auto and Apple Carplay are standard features of SYNC 3 beginning with 2017 models.


General Motors

New Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC models equipped with SiriusXM

Free Trial: SiriusXM all access package for three months; if vehicle is equipped with navigation system, three months of NavTraffic and SXM Travel Link are free. OnStar Basic plan for five years. Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC vehicles come with a six-month trial of OnStar Guidance. Cadillac vehicles get a 12-month trial.

Fee After Trial Period: If you stay with the All Access and the travel and traffic data services that come free for three months, it's $25.97 per month after the trial. SiriusXM has other plans and pricing available.

OnStar Protection Plan is $19.99 per month. Security Plan is $24.99 per month (includes Protection Plan services) and the Guidance Plan is $34.99 per month (includes Security and Protection Plan services). Discounted annual plans are available.

Monthly OnStar 4G LTE data plans range from $10‐40 for 1‐10GB per month, and one‐time data passes range from $5 for 250MB/day to $150 for 20GB/12 mos. Monthly and pre‐paid hands‐free calling minutes packages are available starting at $5 per month for 30 minutes.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Most GM vehicles.


Honda

Free Trial: Satellite-equipped Honda vehicles have a three-month trial to Sirius XM All Access. All certified pre-owned satellite radio-equipped vehicles are also eligible for a three-month trial.

Free Forever: Quarterly Gracenote update for Honda Audio System.

Fee After Trial Period: After the three-month trial of All Access, prices are set by XM fees. The HondaLink Navigation NA app is a one-time purchase of $60. It's available on 2015-2016 Fit EX and above and 2016 HR-V EX and above. Honda Navigation Update Center, annually, $99 - $150. The HondaLink app is also available on more vehicles.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Only on 2016 Accord, 2016 Civic, 2017 Ridgeline, and 2017 Accord Hybrid.


Hyundai

Free Trial: All 2016 models that have Blue Link capability can be equipped with a choice of three Blue Link packages: Connected Care, Remote and Guidance. Connected care has a free one-year trial; Remote is three months; Guidance is three months.

Fee After Trial Period: Each package is $99 a year after the trial period ends. The cost is $297 for all three packages.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Some 2016 and 2017 models.


Infiniti

Free Trial: Six-month trial included for Infiniti Connection and Infiniti InTouch Services with Convenience, Concierge, Safety and Security features on equipped vehicles. Included three-month trial of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, SiriusXM Traffic, SiriusXM Travel Link, SiriusXM NavTraffic and SiriusXM Nav Weather. (The Q50 does not offer NavTraffic and NavWeather, but it does offer SiriusXM Traffic and SiriusXM Travel Link on so-equipped vehicles.)

Fee After Trial Period: Infiniti Connection/InTouch Services are $14.92 per month or $179 a year. Infiniti Connection Plus/Infiniti InTouch Services Premier costs $25.67 per month or $308 a year. SiriusXM All Access package is $19.99 per month. Sirius XM Travel Link is $1.99 per month after trial expires. SiriusXM Traffic is $3.99 per month when trial expires.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Kia

Free Trial: SiriusXM Satellite radio is available on all 2016 Kia models for a three-month trial. Sirius live traffic is free for three months. 2016 Kia vehicles equipped with the top stereo/nav screen get UVO eServices telematics free for 10 years/100,000 miles. 

Free Forever: SOS emergency links. Feature is free for life of vehicle equipped with UVO eServices.

Fee After Trial Period: Subscription fee varies depending on plan the owner selects, including telematics services.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: 2017 Sorento is compatible with Apple CarPlay. 2017 Sportage and 2016 Optima, when equipped with a compatible navigation system3 or UVO34, Kia's telematics system, has Apple CarPlay compatibility. Android Auto is available on the Optima, Sportage, and Sorento.


Lexus

Free Trial: Lexus provides a suite of five services under its Enform package, allowing a free subscription for one year for Safety Connect, ServiceConnect, Enform Remote, Enform Destinations, and App Suite.

Fee After Trial Period: It costs $139.95 a year for Safety Connect, Service Connect, and the App Suite; $219.95 a year for Safety Connect, Service Connect, App Suite, and Enform Remote; $264.95 a year for Safety Connect, Service Connect, App Suite, and Enform Destinations. All five elements are $349.95 a year.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Mazda

Free Trial: Satellite radio is offered for free for four months in all vehicles.

Free Forever: HD radio is standard on all models except the MX-5 Sport.

Fee After Trial Period: Once the trial is up, customers can opt for paying for satellite radio. Prices vary based on the package. Mazda offers Mazda Mobile Start for $500 plus $65 annually to keep it on service. It's not standard on any vehicle but is available on all cars with automatic transmissions.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Mercedes-Benz

Free Trial: mbrace Connect has free five years of service. mbrace Secure is free for six months. mbrace Concierge is free for three months. Free three-month trial for mbrace Entertain.

Fee After Trial Period: Pricing hasn't been announced for mbrace Connect. mbrace Secure is $199 a year after the trial. embrace Concierge is $20 per month after the trial. mbrace Entertain costs $18 per month after the trial.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Apple CarPlay will be automatically included with the E-Class Coupe & Cabriolet, CLS, GLE, and GLE Coupe. For CLA, GLA, and B-Class, you can order Apple CarPlay as a stand-alone Package for $350 or as part of a revised Multimedia Package, costing $2,480.


Nissan

Free Trial: Customers who buy or lease a Nissan equipped with SiriusXM Satellite Radio are eligible for a three-month trial subscription to the XM All Access package. There is a 36-month trial of NissanConnect with Mobile Apps integrated audio, navigation, and communication system that connects with your smartphone. Six months of NissanConnect Services Premium Plus package on equipped vehicles. NissanConnect Services offers a suite of digital alerts and remote access features, available across three packages.

Fee After Trial Period: SiriusXM Satellite Radio prices after the trial expires range from $10.99 a month for the Mostly Music package to $19.99 a month for the All Access.  NissanConnect Services is $11.99 per month, NissanConnect Services Premium is $19.99 per month, and NissanConnect Services Premium Plus is $24.99 per month.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: 2016 Nissan Altima, Maxima, Rogue, Sentra, and Titan on certain trim levels. The 2017 Nissan Maxima will have Apple CarPlay as a standard feature.


Porsche

Free Trial: Sirius (music only) for first three months. Car connectivity for three months or 3G, whichever comes first. Porsche Connect, for one year. Remote services for one year for non-hybrid models; five years for hybrid models.

Fee After Trial Period: Safety services for $13/month and security service $18/month. Sirius $18 a month after trial period ends. Car data connectivity starting at $10/month, depending on plan. Recurring costs of Porsche Connect to be determined. Remote services are $9.00/month for both hybrid and non-hybrid models.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: None are compatible with Android Auto. Several 2017 models will have Apple CarPlay available with Connect or Connect plus options.


Subaru

Free Trial: Subaru vehicles equipped with 6.2-inch Starlink Multimedia System receive a four-month free subscription to SiriusXM radio and SiriusXM Travel (excludes Forester, Impreza, Legacy, Outback). All Subaru vehicles equipped with 7-inch Starlink Multimedia Plus System receive a four-month free subscription to SiriusXM radio and SiriusXM Travel. Available Starlink Safety+ is free for one year (excludes Crosstrek). All Subaru vehicles equipped with 7-inch Starlink Multimedia Navigation System receive a four-month free subscription to SiriusXM radio, a three-year free subscription to SiriusXM Traffic and Travel, and three years of free map updates. Available Starlink Safety+ is free for one year (excludes WRX/STI).

Fee After Trial Period: Starlink Safety & Security+ costs $49 for the first year; renewal is $149 per year. Just the safety feature is $99 per year. Sirius XM subscription prices vary. An additional three years of map updates cost $119. 

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.


Toyota

Free Trial: One-year trial for 2016 models of Safety Connect, excluding the Mirai. The 2016 Mirai offers a three-year Safety Connect trial that includes two apps: H2 Fuel Stations and Vehicle Finder. Three-month trial of SiriusXM All Access.

Free Forever: HD Radio Traffic/Weather and subscription to Entune App Suite. Scout GPS Turn by Turn Navigation, free until December 31, 2023, fees after that time not yet determined.

Fee After Trial Period: $139.95/year for Safety Connect. Use of Pandora and Slacker Radio for Toyota does not require a subscription. However, Pandora and Slacker Radio offer premium service packages and the majority of those features will be accessible in the vehicle when subscribed. Several SiriusXM service packages offered when trial expires, ranging from Mostly Music at $10.99 a month to All Access at $19.99 a month. For Mirai, after the three-year trial you may purchase Safety Connect for $139.95 a year, which includes H2 Fuel Stations and Vehicle Finder apps.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: No.         


Volkswagen

Free Trial: Six-month trial of Car-Net’s Security & Service features, three-month trial of SiriusXM Travel Link, and four-year trial of SiriusXM Traffic

Free Forever: App-Connect, which is included under the Car-Net umbrella of services, is always free.

Fee After Trial Period: Car-Net’s Security & Service features cost $17.99 a month. Ongoing subscriptions are available: $199 for one year, $378 for two years, and $540 for three years. Pricing for SiriusXM services is $1.99 a month for Travel Link and $3.99 for Traffic.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: VW Car-Net App-Connect, offered on all vehicles except Touareg, is compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto.


Volvo

Free Trial: Six-month trial for new cars and three month trial for certified pre-owned cars of SiriusXM Audio. SiriusXM Traffic & Weather free for four years. Sirius Travel Link available in the XC90, S90 and V90, free for four years. Emergency calling (SOS)/Automatic crash notification for all models) free for 10 years. Roadside Service offered for four years.

Free Forever: In-vehicle apps such as Pandora, Yelp, and Tune-In—but these will need a data plan via the car or your smart phone.

Fee After Trial Period: Pricing thereafter at discretion of SXM.

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Compatible: Apple Carplay available in XC90, S90 & V90. An upgrade for Android Auto is coming, and it will be included on the 2017 XC90 and S90, and the 2018 V90.