OnStar stops us from stealing its car

OnStar demonstrates its Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service.

Chevy Tahoe
The Chevy Tahoe is trying to make a getaway. CNET Networks

Our short life of crime ended abruptly as we tried to speed away in an OnStar-equipped Chevy Tahoe. The gas pedal went loose, the engine slowed to an idle, and we rolled to a stop. Fortunately, police didn't pounce on us as we stepped out of the car, we were merely greeted by OnStar representatives who wanted us to see how the system worked. We experienced this new OnStar service, called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, in the parking lot of Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., at a special demonstration. With the service, OnStar can cut engine power to a vehicle. An OnStar engineer described the technical end as the system setting the cruise control to 0 mph. From inside the car, a thief might first notice the hazard lights flashing. If the thief doesn't notice that part, the engine speed dropping down to an idle will be the next sign that something is wrong. A message on the speedometer also lights up, displaying "Engine power reduced", while the gas pedal loses all pressure. The power steering and brakes still work, though, allowing the now baffled thief to safely bring the car to a stop.

Chevy Tahoe instrument cluster
A message displaying Engine Power Reduced shows up. CNET Networks

OnStar implements many procedures to prevent abuse, and reassure we privacy-minded people that the system is safe. First, of course, you have to report your OnStar-equipped vehicle stolen. At that point, OnStar will start working with the police, letting them know the location of the vehicle through its GPS signal. Once the police have the car in sight, OnStar flashes the hazards, which confirms for the police that they have the right car. Then the OnStar operator cuts engine power so the police can converge on the car safely. Stolen Vehicle Slowdown will be available on a select number of 2009 GM models.

About the author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.

 

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