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Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi review: Track your car's location and health

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The Good The Vehicle Diagnostics system keeps track of your car's location and fuel level, and sends alerts about maintenance issues. Users can access data on the Web or through a smartphone app.

The Bad Without an existing Verizon data plan, it costs $35 per month to run the Vehicle Diagnostics system. It does not track fuel economy.

The Bottom Line Delphi's Vehicle Diagnostics system works best as a tool for parents who let their kids drive the family car, as it shows the car location and will trigger an alert if the car leaves a proscribed area.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.7 Overall

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GM brands such as Chevrolet and Buick, along with most luxury automakers, offer their customers telematics services enabling connected features such as maintenance alerts, vehicle tracking, and even remote door unlocking. If you want these features, you don't have to buy a whole new car -- Delphi and Verizon have partnered to offer Vehicle Diagnostics, a plug-in module for adding advanced telematics to existing cars.

The Vehicle Diagnostics module, a little black box about 4 inches long, plugs into a car's OBD-II port, and comes packed with a GPS chip, a wireless data connection, and the ability to read your car's trouble codes and other information.

If your car was manufactured before 1996, then it won't have an OBD-II port, and won't work with Delphi's Vehicle Diagnostics system. Likewise, the system isn't compatible with every vehicle made after 1996. Check Delphi's Car Fitment Guide site to see if it will work in yours.

Setup and compatibility
To test out the module, I checked to see if it would work in my own 1999 BMW Z3 Coupe. No such luck. However, I happen to be a car reviewer, so I looked to see if it would work with the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman I had in this week. Voila -- success!

Before plugging the module into the car, I loaded the associated app on my phone and created an account at Delphi's My Connected Car site. Delphi makes it easy to find the exact location of the OBD-II port, which is usually under a vehicle's dashboard, with its online OBD-II port locator. Conveniently, Delphi includes an OBD-II port extension cable, as in some cars it will be awkward to have the module sticking out into the footwell.

Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi
The Vehicle Diagnostics module plugs into a car's OBD-II port, usually located under the dashboard. Josh Miller/CNET

I plugged the Vehicle Diagnostics module into the Mini's port, saw that its blue LED was lit, then went for a drive. Checking the app, I found none of the promised data filling its Alerts, Recent Trips, or Location screens. It wasn't even showing the current fuel level.

Going to the manual, I found the module is not quite as plug-and-play as it says on Delphi's site. Setting up the system required parking the car where it could get a Verizon signal, turning the engine off but leaving the car on, then plugging in the module. A series of blinking lights indicated it was establishing its wireless connection through Verizon and communicating with the car. After about 5 minutes, this process was complete and I was ready to go.

Data logger
Left plugged in, the module quietly collected data, sending it to the Delphi Web site and making it available through my phone's app. After a series of trips, the Recent Trips screen filled with details about every time I drove the car. Each entry showed the start and end time, start and end location, and miles covered.

I could even look at a map with the start and end locations, although it didn't show the actual path the car had taken.

Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi
The Vehicle Diagnostics app showed where I had last parked my car. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

As the car was in good working order, the Health screen remained empty, but I triggered a number of Alerts in my travels, all having to do with the engine revving above 4,000rpm. Vehicle Diagnostics will also send an alert if the car is driven over 75 mph, and I assume there are other issues of car abuse that will trigger an alert. However, Delphi offers only one customizable driving alert, geofencing, so you couldn't set a lower maximum speed, for example.

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