OnStar to Stop Cars Remotely

I’m not sure this is a good idea:

Starting with about 20 models for 2009, the service will be able to slowly halt a car that is reported stolen, and the radio may even speak up and tell the thief to pull over because police are watching.


Then, if officers see the car in motion and judge it can be stopped safely, they can tell OnStar operators, who will send the car a signal via cell phone to slow it to a halt.

“This technology will basically remove the control of the horsepower from the thief,” Huber said. “Everything else in the vehicle works. The steering works. The brakes work.”

GM is still exploring the possibility of having the car give a recorded verbal warning before it stops moving. A voice would tell the driver through the radio speakers that police will stop the car, Huber said, and the car’s emergency flashers would go on.

Anyone want to take a guess on how soon this system will be hacked?

At least, for now, you can opt out:

Those who want OnStar but don’t like police having the ability to slow down their car can opt out of the service, Huber said. But he said their research shows that 95 percent of subscribers would like that feature.

This is a tough trade-off. Giving the good guys the ability to disable a car, as long as it can be done safely, is a good idea. But giving the bad guys the same ability is a really bad idea. Can we do the former without also doing the latter?

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 1:56 PM71 Comments


David October 11, 2007 2:20 PM

Don’t worry, it will work itself out. GM will advertise the system to be perfectly safe. Eventually someone will hack it and cause all sorts of problems. It’s possible someone will get seriously hurt or killed by the system, whether by hacker or OnStar doesn’t really matter, and GM will be sued for big bucks. And they’ll withdraw the offering. Simple.

bzelbob October 11, 2007 2:23 PM

Some Questions:

  • What if they try to stop the wrong car because of simple human error by OnStar operators? Someone who doesn’t know what’s going on finds their vehicle suddenly losing partial power…Hope they’re not on a slippery snow-covered mountain road… 🙁
  • What kind of appeals process is set up for people who have their cars wrongly stopped?
  • What happens when police get a hold of this and decide to stop you for speeding? Or just for a “checkpoint”?
  • What happens when it gets hacked? (and used by criminals)
  • What happens when all cars are mandated to have this technology and anyone in any position of authority gets to stop your car? (Maybe you didn’t pay the toll for the toll road because you didn’t have money today.)

I for one, will NEVER buy or use a vehicle with OnStar technology. I trust myself far more than some remote, anonymous “guardian” who I have no control over and no relationship with whatsoever.

++Don October 11, 2007 2:28 PM

As has been pointed out elsewhere, you can also opt out by removing the fuse out that powers the OnStar system. If GM or the government ever wants to make this mandatory, then I foresee an arms race very similar to the one we’re seeing now with DRM, including the possibility of legislation which would make “circumventing an effective vehicle disabling mechanism” a federal felony.

anderer gregor October 11, 2007 2:35 PM

  • What happens when police get a hold of this and decide to stop you for speeding?

Speeding? Why should you be able to do speeding any longer? Or, in other words, what would prevent V2.0 from allowing law enforcement officers to impose a maximum speed on your car?

[Warning: May contain traces of cynism.]

Daryll Strauss October 11, 2007 2:36 PM

I’d also wonder how “opt-out” is actually implemented. Does that mean the hardware in the car won’t respond to the signal or does that mean OnStar won’t send the signal?

I’d almost bet on the later. In which case you have a whole set of other failure modes.

1) What if OnStar doesn’t process the opt-out correctly?
2) What if a hacker ignores, disables, or changes the OptOut flag?
3) What if police ask OnStar to do it anyway?

It would be less vulnerable if it’s implemented in the car, but even then it could be broken or hacked especially if I have physical access to the car.

am October 11, 2007 2:38 PM

It’s sort of the reverse of the OnStar social engineering hack featured in “Live Free or Die Hard”: Justin Long’s character and John McClane needed to steal a car, so (as I recall) they set off the airbags, waited for OnStar operators to contact them through the system, and then pretended that they needed to get to a nearby hospital right away. The operator complied, remotely started the vehicle, and off they went in their stolen car.

FNORD October 11, 2007 2:39 PM

I’m fairly sure this COULD be made secure (at least, secure for a given vehicle until it’s used on a given vehicle, or the vehicle is closely examined by a potential hacker). I’m not sure it will, though.

SteveJ October 11, 2007 2:40 PM

Am I missing something? Why is really bad if this gets hacked?

OK, so some attacker can stop my car. If he’s that desperate to stop my car, and is willing to pull out the technology, can’t he just EMP me, and shut down my computerised fuel injection? Or, like, run me off the road?

The reason the police don’t do that is because (a) it writes off the car, and (b) it affects other cars in the vicinity. I suspect bad guys don’t care so much about that. The fact that they aren’t doing it already suggests to me that they have no particular interest in disabling cars.

If I was going to have it, I’d want to be the one who owns the disable code, though. If I report the car stolen, only then can it be disabled. Prevents accidental disablement because some fool in the control centre keys in the code for the wrong car.

I wouldn’t pay $199 a year for it, though, unless it took that much off my insurance.

SteveJ October 11, 2007 2:44 PM

To answer my own question, I guess this would be a novel means of carjacking – disable someone’s car, throw them out of it, re-enable it, drive away. But it sounds like a very complicated way of stopping a car, when you could just lurk near stop lights.

Tanuki October 11, 2007 2:49 PM

If this does get hacked, I can see it could make life easy for rapists and seriously worrying for lone female drivers….

David October 11, 2007 3:00 PM

OnStar has way too many tentacles into my life already, if I accept a car that has it.

Bottom line on this is, no matter how hard the keys are to spoof, the ability to perform the operation is in SO many hands (every Tier 1 rep at OnStar) that it might as well be a SourceForge project for all the secrecy you can assume.

I will not buy any car with OnStar hardware installed. Even if it’s not activated… it’s activated.

Rick Auricchio October 11, 2007 3:04 PM

I knew this would be fun when I sent the link to Bruce a couple days ago.

@SteveJ: Someone who wants to steal your car wouldn’t damage it via EMP, even if they knew how. The car wouldn’t be worth as much, because it’d have to be chopped for parts. Also, an EMP could disable lots of nearby vehicles, which would make for a crowd.

If, however, a bad guy could disable your car, then hop in and re-enable it, it’s another car-theft tool.

I’m more concerned that law enforcement will misuse the capability. They’ve already tried using the voice capability to bug conversations inside the car.

Jamie Flournoy October 11, 2007 3:11 PM

OK, so some attacker can stop my car. If he’s that desperate to stop my car, and is willing to pull out the technology,
can’t he just EMP me, and shut down my computerised fuel injection? Or, like, run me off the road?

I could install a firewall and a spam filter and pick a good password, but why bother? An attacker could just walk to my house and leave a flaming bag of dog poop on my doorstep. A spammer could just walk to a hundred million houses and slide a flyer under each door.

g October 11, 2007 3:16 PM

“…who will send the car a signal via cell phone to slow it to a halt.”

When you go to steal a car, take a cell phone jammer with you.

Michele October 11, 2007 3:24 PM

Ummm, SteveJ, suppose some hacker gets in OnStar’s system and remotely stops ALL vehicles with the capability. Or perhaps the hacker picks people at random and slows/stops their vehicles. Think of the potential for accidents or traffic disruptions from randomly slowing or stopping one or more vehicles during rush hour. Think of the havoc this would cause if you did this to vehicles all across the US at one time.

Vincent Gable October 11, 2007 3:32 PM

Something to consider is that law enforcement stop many many cars every day, and high speed chances kill hundreds annually, while criminals don’t have much incentive to stop a car — remember they still have to deal with the driver and passengers.

Stopping a car to rob the occupant is a mugging, but with extra variables added, which makes it less attractive to the mugger. Car jacking is a dangerous and violent crime — it’s far safer to steal a parked car. It’s easy to come up with movie plot scenarios where bad guys would want to stop some cars. But for criminals who aren’t movie-villains, it’s not that attractive.

Letting police stop thousands of cars every day, while not letting criminals stop a single car is a very hard problem. But if the system is reasonably well implemented, the tradeoffs make sense to me.

Joe October 11, 2007 3:34 PM

Schneier- You’ve already been hacked.

You think the police are the “good guys”. Talk about social engineering. Every additional bit of power the government has been given (including the very existance of police forces- a reprehensible concept in this country) has been abused.

Before too long, cops will be using this to stop people whenever they want, for random inspections, to plant evidence, or to harrang people for having the wrong bumper sticker.

They already misuses wiretap provisions, the already misues every bit of power they have.

The good guys are not the police.

Fred X. Quinby October 11, 2007 3:43 PM

“Can we do the former without also doing the latter?”

Dammit Bruce, I pay YOU to come up with those answers! Well? Hmmm?

neil October 11, 2007 3:50 PM

This feature hardly seems to be exploitable to me, especially when compared to OnStar’s already-existing features such as allowing them to unlock your car remotely.

The idea of a command being sent to the wrong car is more problematic. OnStar works on cellphone networks and I’ve had cellphone calls misrouted before (no idea how). So it could happen.

Roxanne October 11, 2007 3:53 PM

This is why the current van is our last GM vehicle. It’s pretty clear that the 2010 model will not be ours, but GM’s, and they’re going to be “cooperating fully” with authorities. It already appears that current generation cars can tell Authorities what they’ve been up to.

Another current advertising system has your car email you – and your dealer – with maintenance memos. I don’t think this is good, either. They’re realizing that a lot of money is lost in people servicing their own vehicles – they want that money! It’s likely that future warranties will expire if there isn’t a viable maintenance record.

Your car will no longer be your car.

Jojo October 11, 2007 4:02 PM

“If it spreads, the technology could make dangerous police chases a thing of the past. Last year, 404 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving police pursuits, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In California, for example, there were 7,633 police pursuits in 2006, leading to 27 deaths and 771 injuries, according to data from the California Highway Patrol. Those figures represented a decline from 2005, when California authorities were involved in 7,950 pursuits, which were linked to 32 deaths and 1,201 injuries.”

Why didn’t you also quote the above information Bruce? With 404 people killed last year in police chases and who knows how many more injured, it seems like this would be a good idea.

As with computer technology, there would probably be relatively few who would disable this functionality, worry about the police misusing it or that it would be hacked.

If your car gets stolen, it’s a real pain. You’ll almost always get less money for it than it costs to replace it, you have to go find a new car and you have to drive around in a sub compact 3 cylinder rental for 30 days or more. Plus you’ll probably lose whatever was in your car (CD’s, golf clubs, etc.)

Overall, it seems like a good idea. We need to stop being so cynical and fearing the boogeyman at every turn.

Isaac October 11, 2007 4:13 PM

@anderer. The police would never set this to ‘govern’ the speed of your car, they would lose all that speeding ticket revenue, which means there wouldn’t be money for so many cops. Why endorse a technology that means you or your buddies will get fired? Cities in the US won’t support the tax increase to maintain all these officers.

Realist October 11, 2007 4:26 PM

What if ONSTAR issues the command against the wrong car being tailgated by a semi-tractor on the highway? Or causes the car to stop on a set of railway tracks?

It’s only a car — a chunk of metal, so who cares if someone steals it. Letting ONSTAR control things could mean more than a mere chunk of metal is lost…

tjvm October 11, 2007 4:37 PM

“If it spreads, the technology could make dangerous police chases a thing of the past.”

As far as I can tell, this will only be helpful in ending a high-speed chase if (a) the car has been stolen, and (b) the theft has been reported by the owner. The system, as I understand it, doesn’t allow the police to stop any car equipped with OnStar at their discretion (and if it did, I think many people would be wary of it).

Herb October 11, 2007 4:42 PM

neil (and others) have brought up an insightful point – if hacking this system is so desirable and useful, why hasn’t OnStar’s existing capability to remotely unlock cars been hacked? It’s a lot easier to steal a car when there’s no one around.

Yeah, I’m sure it’s a possibility, but I’m more concerned about the carjacker with a gun than some script kiddy working his magicks.

All the same tho’, I won’t be buying this system.

bellaj October 11, 2007 4:43 PM

I agree with you about the “It’s only a car” part, I would be overjoyed if I never heard another car alarm, but the part about eliminating police chases… that I like, the clips of police chasing stolen cars through city streets crashing other vehicles, shooting thieves… not justifying the theft but I keep thinking about the clip of the police chasing two teenagers down and killing them both in the process as well as the semi truck driver that broadsided them, I don’t think a stolen car is worth that either

Blair October 11, 2007 4:44 PM

If you could load you own password into it, then it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

When you report it stolen to ONSTAR, then you hand them the password so they can disable it.

I think there is a number of things that could go wrong with that model, but the basic idea is sound.

Walker October 11, 2007 4:55 PM

Sorry Bruce, can you please stick to more important worries? Steve has the right idea, I don’t think anyone even really wants to exploit this. OnStar only really appeals to soccermoms anyways, so it’s not even a worrying traffic attack.

n0_j0 October 11, 2007 5:06 PM

Joe said “… including the very existance [sic] of police forces- a reprehensible concept in this country….”

Joe, can you elaborate on how the very existence of police forces is ” a reprehensible concept”?

MikeM October 11, 2007 5:07 PM

Never underestimate the entertainment value to the bored hacker. The current OnStar feature-set isn’t as attractive to hack. Making your annoying neighbor, or everyone in a 2-block radius, slow down and stop is a lot more amusing.

Matt from CT October 11, 2007 5:12 PM

An easy safety check to build into the system is the GPS coordinates.

What is the chances of:
a) An operator at OnStar mis-keying which vehicle to stop;
b) That the vehicle accidentally told to stop is within 100 meters or so of the target vehicle?

With the rolling out of 3G quality systems to public safety in the next decade, it will become pretty darn easy to integrate a police pursuit unit making the request and confirming it’s GPS location is in close proximity to the GPS of the OnStar equipped vehicle they have requested to stop.

With such location-based feedback, the chances of an accidental disabling causing a dangerous situation is improbably low.

Peter October 11, 2007 5:22 PM

Oh, I can see the snopes stories about this already. Where lots of panic emails go out about “some guy used an onstar jammer to carjack this woman’s car and drive off with it!” A modern day Susan Smith.

Rick Auricchio October 11, 2007 5:47 PM

OnStar doesn’t prevent car theft, though they can determine the car’s location—assuming it’s receiving satellites and has power.

All a car thief has to do is park the car in a metal building, disconnect the battery (does OnStar have a backup battery?), and shield the GPS antenna.

The car then can’t be located by OnStar—and they might not even be able to connect via the cell network.

As for shutting down the car, that’s only useful when the police are actively involved in a chase. What are the chances they’ll be chasing a stolen car?

Analog Guy October 11, 2007 6:09 PM

Remember Bruce’s link to a cell-phone jammer a couple of days ago?

Well, Onstar runs on the cellphone networks (AMPS and CDMA for the most part). For $150, that cell phone jammer makes it feasible to steal any OnStar vehicle without concern that it could be tracked down via GPS or disabled by the cops using this new system.

If you are already a car-thief, a short-range FCC violation ain’t no big deal.

Moz October 11, 2007 6:25 PM

There is one obvious way to completely avoid the problem – use a bicycle. No electronics to go wrong, no way for the government or other criminals to hack it, no fuss about needing a permit to own or use one.

Erin October 11, 2007 6:27 PM

This summer I was traveling with my husband in Utah, and one morning in SLC, our rental car (Advantage/US-Rent-a-Car) failed to start. The customer service person on the other end surmised that it must have been turned off remotely. She did something at her computer, and we went out and checked the car; sure enough, it started. This charade happened twice more in the next 24 hours before we decided to walk away from the rental and go with a competitor — nobody wants to be stuck with a dead car in the middle of the desert in 100-degree weather. We’d not done anything in violation of the rental agreement: it just happened, for no apparent reason, and nobody at customer service could or would explain.

So, I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that failures of remote-disabling systems really do happen, and given the wrong weather or geography, they could put people in a bad spot. I don’t know that this was OnStar per se (I’ve no idea what it was, actually) but I do know that it was both maddening and frightening.

SteveJ October 11, 2007 6:40 PM

@Analog Guy

If you are already a well-equipped car thief, someone else has already suggested that you can just unplug the OnStar thingummy. This is for stopping thieves who don’t know what they’re doing.

@Jar Jar Binks: “where could I get an EMP blaster”.

I have no idea where to get an EMP blaster off the shelf, but then I also have no idea where to get a device to hack OnStar.

I do have a vague idea how to make an EMP blaster (although not a directional one), and I’m pretty confident that if you know a guy who knows a guy, it’s not a big problem. But the fact that it’s already fairly easy to disable a modern vehicle isn’t my whole point: it’s already very easy to stop a vehicle, other than by disabling it.

So, I still don’t see OnStar as a serious weakness in the “security” of a car. Folks worried about this might as well be panicking because their tailpipe is a serious flaw by which “hackers” can stop their cars — by sticking a potato in it.

I do see the possibility for pranking. But if you want to play pranks on traffic, you can already just stick a few LEDs up a tree in Boston or something. If you want to prank one person’s car, the colleagues of a friend of mine once shrink-wrapped their boss’s car in the factory car park. Now that’s temporarily disabling a vehicle.

SteveJ October 11, 2007 6:46 PM


Sounds right to me – the risk of malfunction is far greater than the risk of enemy action.

Mind you, I’m sure the “it’ll malfunction” argument has been true at one time or another of engine immobilisers, door locks, and for that matter living in houses instead of tents. The first version of any technology is going to go wrong as often as not…

skate October 11, 2007 7:24 PM

“@anderer. The police would never set this to ‘govern’ the speed of your car, they would lose all that speeding ticket revenue, which means there wouldn’t be money for so many cops. Why endorse a technology that means you or your buddies will get fired? Cities in the US won’t support the tax increase to maintain all these officers.
Posted by: Isaac”

No need to pick just one! You can have governing and data that shows attempts to speed up cars, then you can just pass laws against attempted speeding 🙂

Jess October 11, 2007 8:32 PM

It might not be a single fuse, but it would be extremely poor design for OnStar not to be isolated from the rest of the vehicle’s electrics in some fashion. As soon as you start building in “fail-safes” like having one of the engine computers check for an OnStar heartbeat, the vehicle becomes much less reliable. The fact that somebody figured out how to root-and-branch this thing doesn’t mean that’s the only way to disable it.

TravisD October 11, 2007 8:38 PM

This is nothing new. People have been paying extra to have LoJack installed in their car for years now as a premium anti-theft option. Safe feature – they can remotely disable the car.

If someone wants to either disable a vehicle, or steal it, there are a hundred different ways to do it — this would just be one, and in theory it’s at least somewhat auditable and reversable. No idea if LoJack has that or not — they seem to rely much more on a beacon broadcast and local radio connectivity than OnStar’s GPS and cell-based approach. LoJack also seems to put things directly in the hands of law enforcement as well.

Yy October 11, 2007 8:56 PM

EMP Blaster: What you are looking for is called a HERF gun. High Energy Radio Frequency. Google around. They’re not hard to build. And lots of fun during rush hour.

OnStar Halting cars: You stop me on the wrong section of a major road, in a construction area, 75mph traffic, with no shoulder. I’m dead. And so is the guy behind me. And probably the guy behind him.

You stop me out in the desert, I could die of exposure. Or in severe winter conditions, I could freeze. There’s a lot of places that are really bad to be stranded in. Harlem springs to mind.

Cars are expensive. I can’t afford to use one for a few years and then throw it away. So I drive them for as long as I can. Right into the ground.

At one time or another, I’ve seen everything fail. Driveshaft, crankshaft, every belt imaginable, radiator system, exhaust system, electrical system, brake system (always fun), steering (makes brake failures look easy), wheels detaching (while in motion), floorboards, hoods, windows, doors, etc. You name it, it’s died, broken, fallen off, or rusted through.

There’s a reason I don’t buy american anymore…

This OnStar thing will fail too. Only now its failure mode(s) will be so much more “interesting”. Ranking right up there with the engine falling out.

Eventually people will die. Lawyers will get rich. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

DigitalCommando October 11, 2007 11:27 PM

Right now, a sophisticated person could figure out how to disable Onstar without effecting the operation of other electronic modules required for vehicle operation. Onstar won’t accept this for long, especially when a large scale workaround appears on the internet. When Onstar begins to combine multiple engine control modules onto a single source power supplied integrated unit, which the removal of power would cause the vehicle to become inoperable, that is the day that we may view Onstar as the perfect, uninterruptable spying platform for the government and law enforcement. Oh and by the way, it’s a safety device also…

Dom De Vitto October 12, 2007 12:38 AM

I’ve though for a long time that such a system would be highly effective at ‘hurding’ the crime to cars without the technology – but ultimately eliminating car theft.
However, the risks of abuse are significant, like using the system to stop a car illegally (e.g. to murder/kidnap the occupant).

However the risks, which are all very movie-plot seems a LOT less than the benifits – IF it means the police can stop a car, preventing a dangerous high-speed chase. In the UK such cases are usually resolved by throwing out a ‘stinger’ by a cop brave enough to stand in front of the car. (The stinger slowly punctures the tyres)

Of course, if (…when) you can hack the system, it would be great for causing traffic jams like in ‘The Italian Job’ (the original one!)

Wyle_E October 12, 2007 1:35 AM

Never mind hacking. How do they authenticate stolen-car reports? Suppose I maliciously report a car stolen. I’ve looked through the windshield in a parking lot and noted the VIN. I have the car’s tag number and description. After a little simulated fumbling, I give the VIN, ostensibly from the insurance card in my wallet. I also have a description of the “thief.” I could do this without OnStar, but my victim would probably be home before the police spotted the car.

Aside: Americans have been hearing the demand “Your papers, please” for decades, but in the United States it’s usually pronounced “Awright, lesseesomeID!” The only really acceptable ID being a driver’s license or the equivalent state ID issued to people who can’t drive. A US military ID usually works, but I suspect that if you came to the attention of the police and all you could produce was a passport, you would take an unscheduled trip to the nearest police station.

Giacomo October 12, 2007 3:15 AM

Police can be “bad guys” too. They might be ex-husbands/ex-wives with an axe to grind, they might want to send “messages” to noisy neighbours, they might might want to “get even” with someone… this is another tool ready to be abused. Even if they set procedures to identify the cop responsible for asking that the car be stopped, people will get around bureaucracy because that’s what always happens… insider-jobs are much more likely than car-thiefs scenarios.

greg October 12, 2007 5:15 AM

So thief’s already get around a whole host of imobilizers etc. this is just one more system to get around.

Running man October 12, 2007 5:25 AM

So if the police are bad guys, what do you currently do when they ask you to pull over?

CB October 12, 2007 6:30 AM

Darn, just when Caddilac and Pontiac were starting to look competitive to BMW/Infiniti/Audi/Mercedes, this will keep me away from GM.

paul October 12, 2007 8:56 AM

One important thing to remember here is that the benefits pretty much occur only if most of the cars on the road are equipped with the remote kill switch. Otherwise criminals just know to avoid recent-model GM cars (which is good for GM owners’ insurance rates and might eventually convince other manufacturers to follow suit, with unpredictable results, but doesn’t reduce the number of car chases).

The risks of this thing, movie-plot though they might seem, occur as soon as any significant number of remote-kill cars are on the road.

In addition to the hack value of being able to stop a few thousand cars in the middle of rush hour in every major city in a given time zone, there’s also a fairly serious financial incentive modeled on web-DoS blackmail schemes. Losing the use of your car indefinitely is an expensive proposition, either for the owner or the dealer.

Ed T. October 12, 2007 9:26 AM

“I don’t think anyone even really wants to exploit this.”

Well, it happens to come with some of the vehicles I rent while on business trips, so you might be using it without knowing it.

Besides, just think what a movie-plot terror threat this would make: the evil Islandofascists shutting down every Onstar-equipped vehicle at the same time, on a key day – for example, during one of the busy shopping days, or during an evacuation from an area bracing for a hurricane. Enough to cause real panic, for sure.


Matt from CT October 12, 2007 10:20 AM

If we want to continue on the movie-plot scenarios of evil islamic terrorists, or just your common Italian Job style criminals…

Who cares about getting traffic in a major city all stuffed up.

Just turn off the police cars.

vedaal October 12, 2007 10:51 AM

this capability introduces far more problems than advantages,

aren’t Hummers and other military vehicles made by GM

imagine if an enemy hacking unit could just cause the military vehicles to dysfunction,

(or as Matt pointed out,
disable all GM law-enforcement vehicles)

derf October 12, 2007 11:03 AM

Whee – kiddos with laptops and WiMax will have field days in the backseat of the family SUVs heading to their vacation spots of choice. “Hey Billy, I bet you can’t stop that green one.”

Lets hope this is included on cop cars so those technogeeks running from the law can safely disable them without having to resort to all of that nasty speeding and shooting.

bob!! October 12, 2007 7:52 PM

@Analog Guy
“Well, for one, it isn’t a single dedicated fuse. For another its kind of a lot of work to disable the unit, not something that lends itself to the “Gone in 60 seconds” approach of car thieves. See this description:”

From that description, it looks to me like it wouldn’t take long for the “Gone in 60 seconds” guys to slash a hole in the side panel and unfasten the cables (or if they really want to be quick, cut the cables).

Anonymous October 12, 2007 9:36 PM

So if the police are bad guys, what do you
currently do when they ask you to pull over?

What do you do when a mugger pulls a knife and demands your wallet?

Is there a difference?

bob October 15, 2007 7:22 AM

Its a dilemma of the individual vs the group. How many times does someone need to lose a child due to the car dying on the trip to the hospital before its not worth it? If its YOU and YOURS, probably less than once. Even if the odds are infinitesimal, multiply that times millions of people taking thousands of trips and now its guaranteed to happen to someone.

I will not pay for a car with this much power over me. Im the human, “it” is inanimate. “It” works for me, not the other way around (similar to the way it used to be with government). Im in charge of the vehicle, not “it”. If I cant short out the antenna line, pull the fuse or put a jamming transmitter in place to fake it out, I will buy progressivley older used cars or start building my own engine controller circuitry. After all, it only needs air, spark and gas. And diesel doesnt even need the spark.

I drive manual shift cars because I want the car to go in the gear I want when I want it to and have it stay there til I think its time to shift (not to mention I certainly dont want to pay MORE for it and get WORSE mileage in order for it to shift at the wrong time). The car companies are already annoying me with the inability of the HVAC to allow recirculate without the #$%@! compressor coming on, this idea is completely out of the question.

markm October 15, 2007 1:59 PM

“As far as I can tell, this will only be helpful in ending a high-speed chase if (a) the car has been stolen, and (b) the theft has been reported by the owner. ”
And (c) the thief couldn’t disable the OnStar transmitter/receiver.

“As has been pointed out elsewhere, you can also opt out by removing the fuse out that powers the OnStar system.” Can anyone confirm this? I’ve never looked under the hood on an OnStar equipped car, but as a EE it seems fairly obvious to me that the system will need power and antenna leads, and the power lead must be fused. Remove the fuse, snip the wire, or short the wire after the fuse to blow it, any of these should kill the system.

Alan October 16, 2007 10:00 AM

Does OnStar have a kill switch? What’s to prevent someone from just ripping out the OnStar wires?

I’ll never get OnStar–too much $$

bob October 17, 2007 8:20 AM

Essentially the problem is that OnStar is/can become just like DRM in Vista – be integrated into the same componentry that fires the sparkplugs and shifts the gears. So you can short it out or pull the plug – but then the car cant move.

mainsqueezer November 30, 2007 11:33 AM

“If you came to the attention of the police and all you could produce was a passport you would take an unscheduled trip to the nearest police station”

Say what ?? A passport is ALWAYS acceptable as a form of identification. Banks take ’em, bars take ’em..I’ve never heard of a cop-stupid as most of them are-refusing to accept one as positive ID. Granted if you’re stopped for a driving violation, you best have some form of motor vehicle license, or risk getting ticketed/towed for vehicle code violations. But taken into custody for lack of ID with a valid passport ? No way.

internationalguy December 3, 2007 3:49 PM


I have been stopped by police (walking), shown a US passport (while in US) and have been severely hassled because I did not have an “ID”. The cop wanted to see an address, which a passport usually does not have. Most cops (hell, most Americans) outside of major mets are really provincial, and don’t recognize passports

Likewise, most rural cops do not understand international passports, either. Outside of the US (that’s over 60 countries for me), I have only once had local authorities not understand a passport. (Ugandan soldiers during Idi Amin’s dictatorship).

LL22102 February 5, 2008 11:21 AM

You know, this entire debate is retarded. If you don’t like it, just disable Onstar much like you would your passenger airbag.

Dealers will probably not remove the stuff due to liability, but you, as the owner and operator of the equipment have every right to do with your car, what you want to do. They can never pass a federal law preventing it.

Much like the debate when Airbags came standard on cars, I was one of the people that didn’t want them. I use a seat belt and feel that the airbags are something I dont want exploding in my face if I get into a less-than-serious accident.

Nobody was willing to disable them back then, but the rules state that because it is MY car I can do with it what I want with respect to Airbags.

I did my research and disabled them myself and installed Key Bypass Switch’s. I turn them on when I will be on the highway or otherwise driving in the more dangerous areas. They go off in traffic and local driving. This is all 100% legal much like if you wanted to do something similar with Onstar.

So, the next time you have a problem with “standard equipment??? being included in your vehicle, take all the time you spend whining and blogging about it and invest it in research. More than likely someone like me has already done all the hard work for you to get around the problem, and it’s just a matter of following instructions…

meowmeow February 7, 2008 11:40 AM

So, is the fuse for onstar is removed the car will continue to work or not?
Please advise as I am ready to be rid of onstar even though I had to pay 200 for their stupid digital upgrade!

nancy September 3, 2014 1:34 PM

This system has been going on for years. Anyone with a vicious intent can , simply call and have them do this to you, a peace office that doesn’t know you but doexsn’t like you decides to turn on the slw down on your vehicle….Not to mention the gasoline your are wasting because you have know idea this is or has been going on. I had recently bought a 2010 brand new nissian verssa which was completely destroyed (BRAND NEW) with no one taking responsibility for the action out a whole lot of money and the car.

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