Tuesday, August 02, 2005

OnStar earns its keep

The minivan we bought a couple of months ago came with OnStar included, and although I was excited to have it at first, it's seemed to me in recent weeks like some fancy gewgaw we'll never use. But this morning, I began to see what an absolutely nifty device it can be. Whether it's worth the money we'll have to pay to keep it going after the first year remains to be seen. But I sure was glad to have it today.

And why was that, you ask? Did I run out of gas? Drive into a ditch? Have serious engine trouble? Get hopelessly lost? See my car stolen and recovered thanks to the tracking system? Use the included phone service in an emergency? No, no, no. Nothing like that. Nothing dramatic or important or exciting. It's just ... it's just ... there was this ding. It started when we got in the car after a brief errand on the way to take my daughter to day camp, and it continued ringing as we dropped her off, and continued as we drove home, and continued and continued and continued. Not loud enough to be the car alarm, not soft enough to be ignored, it hounded us as we made our way across town. This car has one of those fancy dashboards with computerized messages that tell you when something's open or unlocked or mislatched, not to mention the outside temperature and the amount of gas and your compass heading and pretty much everything short of your biorhythms and horoscope. But about the ding, it was mum. What could it be? And how would I ever find out?

The owner's manual was unhelpful. But then I remembered that OnStar was supposed to be able to diagnose car problems. I hit the button, and suddenly a guy with a friendly twangy voice was listening to the ding too and asking me questions about it. He finally said the ding wasn't the sort of thing he could diagnose, but he did remember hearing something like it once before and it turned out to be a bad door-closing. I hit the buttons that automatically open and shut the side doors, and -- blessed silence! The ding departed.

Maybe I would have figured it out myself, whether by design or by chance when we got out of the car. But how nice, how really nice, to have somebody right there, at the touch of a button, to listen in and give advice. And to refrain from saying, "You dingbat! Why didn't you check the doors in the first place!"

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