OnStar is feeling generous. Or more likely, their marketing team is being clever. Either way, starting now, OnStar is offering three free years of OnStar basic services to those consumers who have cars equipped with OnStar, but don’t have the service activated.

OnStar Advisor-based programs—such as turn-by-turn navigation, emergency, and security services—are not available with the free "Three Years on Us" offer, but they will be included at no charge for a three-month trial period once the basic service is activated.

A recurring theme we see in Consumer Reports owner satisfaction surveys about infotainment and telematic systems is comments from OnStar owners that can be summed up: “OnStar is excellent except for the cost.”

Among the benefits of this offer is the peace of mind having vehicle diagnostics, dealer maintenance notifications, and additional services, all for free.

The real cream on top of the offer is the RemoteLink cell phone app. The app is available for both Apple iPhone and Android users. It enables the car to be remotely locked/unlocked and started (if equipped with a remote starter), and send limited travel and diagnostic data from the car to a cell phone. More detailed diagnostic data can be received via email, alerting you to potential problems. All told, OnStar removes the excuse to miss an oil change or drive with underinflated tires again. The app will even allow directions to be sent from the cell phone to cars equipped with in-car navigation. 

OnStar RemoteLink app for our Chevrolet Colorado test truck.
OnStar RemoteLink app for our Chevrolet Colorado test truck.

But wait, there’s more! Accompanying the free OnStar basic service is the Smart Driver feature. Once signed up, the program gives feedback on driving performance and makes discounts available on auto insurance with OnStar partners. Currently, the program includes Progressive and Liberty Mutual, with more insurance companies expected to be added.

Customers can also activate their 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot on cars from 2015 model year and newer, but there would be data charges.

Currently, OnStar has about 7 million paid subscribers worldwide. Making the basic features free, while also offering a free trial period of paid services, looks to be shifting the company from being a safety and security service to a global, data-driven solutions provider offering a range of standard and subscription services. What does this mean for owners of GM vehicles? Think of it like your grocery store discount card. OnStar provides services that make car ownership easier to manage and provides GM data on how their customers live. From that, expect some in-car marketing to be targeted based on behavior and in support of business partners, such as a request for a restaurant may see the results reflect partnerships.

That said, free is a small price to pay when you can start your car remotely with your cell phone to warm your car up on a cold, wintery day.