Diagnostics tools for cars are hot right now, and Verizon wants a piece of the action. That's why the telecom giant launched Verizon Vehicle, which takes aim at a number of factory-installed and aftermarket products, including General Motors' popular OnStar.
Verizon Vehicle is a plug-and-play service that bears some similarity to OnStar FMV. Physically, it consists of two parts: a dongle that plugs into your car's onboard diagnostic port (aka the OBD-II port, found beneath the dashboards of all contemporary cars), and another gadget that clips onto your sunvisor.
The OBD-II piece reads data from your vehicle, noting problems with the engine, brakes, or any other issues that might appear as warning lights on your dash. The visor device then uses Verizon's cellular network (which may raise red flags for some of you) to transmit that data to the Verizon Vehicle headquarters for analysis. Should a problem arise, you can access vehicle data via an agent, or through the Verizon Vehicle smartphone app.
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Verizon Vehicle can also send text messages to remind you about regular maintenance. And in certain situations, it can text you regarding serious problems with your car.
One of Verizon Vehicle's best features is roadside assistance. Thanks to the two devices mentioned above, Verizon Vehicle can pinpoint your car's location and call for help if you need it. It can also locate your vehicle if it's ever stolen (or if you've lost it in a parking lot at Disney World).
As you might expect, the service requires a subscription -- and a two-year contract -- billed at $14.99 per month, plus tax. (You can add more cars for an additional $12.99 per month each.) There's no word yet on how much the equipment itself will cost, but Verizon says that it's valued at $120, which is slightly more than OnStar FMV's $99 price.
The service is expected to launch this spring, but you can pre-order at VerizonVehicle.com. If you pre-order, it looks as if Verizon will waive the cost of the hardware.
Once upon a time, aftermarket devices were the province of serious gearheads -- tuners who spent weekends huddled in the garage, tweaking their engine's performance or making the lights work just so. Now, it's anyone's game.
That's in part because the barrier to entry is lower. You don't have to rewire jack squat to install something like Verizon Vehicle, you just have to plug a gadget into your OBD-II port and clip another something to your sunvisor. Even our most mechanically challenged cousin can pull that off. Probably.
But tools like this aren't just hot property because they're easy to install and use, they're also popular because cars themselves are much more complicated than they once were. Thanks to onboard computers, proprietary technology systems, and the like, the days of shade-tree mechanics are numbered. Tools like this cut through all the high-tech mumbo-jumbo and tell you what's really wrong with your ride.
Of course, Verizon Vehicle, OnStar, and other services won't fix your car, they simply analyze all the warning lights -- or occasionally, identify problems before they happen -- so that you can take your vehicle to a professional for repairs. However, you'll head to the shop a more informed consumer who's far less likely to get shafted.