As the proud owner of a 2011 Chevy Malibu I have maintained an active subscription with OnStar. I've never had a problem with them thus far, nor have I needed them in an emergency...until today.
At approximately 5:15pm EST I was on my way home from work when another driver drove through an intersection in front of me. The area that I was in consisted of one lane splitting into two, and I was proceeding to move into the right lane at that time. About 100 yards ahead is a stop light, and I was going to be in that lane to turn right. Traffic was backed up to the preceding intersection waiting for the light to turn green.
As I approached the intersection and moved into the right lane I was passing a vehicle who was stopped in the left lane. The driver that I hit was crossing the intersection in between the stopped cars, and did not stop or look before proceeding through into my lane. There was no time to react, so I slammed on the brakes but ended up T-Boning the car in the center of the passenger side door. The speed limit through that area is 25mph, but with the traffic I was doing 15-20mph at most. However, it was enough to cave the side of the car in about 6-8 inches and to actually push the car into another vehicle that was sitting at the stop sign on the other side of the intersection (to my right). As a result we now have a 3 car pile up.
I immediately got out of my car to see if everyone was ok, and reached for my phone to call 911. I didn't even realize that the 3rd car was involved until I was on the phone with the 911 operator. As I reported the accident I asked the driver if she was ok. She was obviously shaken up, crying, and her hand was shaken tremendously. I answered the 911 operator's questions, and gave as best of a description as I could give considering the events that just took place.
After I hung up the phone the driver of the 3rd car got out and walked around her vehicle. She looked quite distraught, so I asked if she was ok again. She said she lived down the street and needed to contact her husband. I gave her my phone and told her to call him and let him know what happened. A couple minutes later the police arrived to assess the damage and make out the report.
I didn't realize that all this time my car was still running. So I opened the passenger side door and turned off the key, but the stereo continue to play since I opened and closed the driver side door with the ignition still turned on. Despite the damage to the front end of the car (as you can see from the pictures below) the electrical system was still in full functioning order. In fact I later moved the car into a nearby parking lot once the police took pictures of the scene.
When my wife came to pick me up we were discussing the accident and I realized something...OnStar never called the car's phone system to check on the incident. This could only mean one of two things. Either there was some type of problem with the phone system in the car, or OnStar was never notified of the crash.
I later went to the hospital to get checked out, and when I returned home I searched the internet for reports of OnStar not responding to an accident. At first I thought that maybe it was because the airbags didn't deploy, but then I found other stories of the same type of crash and the person also stated that OnStar never called, nor had any record of a crash. This peaked my interest, so I dug in a little more and found more than one story resulting in the same scenario.
I then called OnStar's customer support line at 1-866-466-7827. I decided to record the call so that I could have it on record in case I would need it in the future. After listening to their voicemail tree, I finally got through to a customer representative. The next part of this post is the full 15 minute audio recording of the call with my phone number bleeped out.
Recorded call to OnStar customer support
As you can clearly see from the recording I notified her that I was recording the message (according to Pennsylvania law), and proceeded to ask her about the service, how the sensors worked, what the response team would do in the event of an accident, if the system in my vehicle reported any abnormalities, and if there were any software/hardware updates that my particular system needed. She stated that everything was in order and that there were no reports of any defects, and more importantly no accidents detected by the system. When I asked about the sensors, she clearly stated that there were enough sensors on the car to detect a crash from multiple angles of impact. This indicates that in the type of crash that I was in there should be no reason why the sensors should not have detected the impact, and even more an impact with resulting in the extent of damage that my car received. The accident occurred at approximately 5:15pm and I called OnStar at 11:18pm the same day. According to the customer service representative my vehicle was in perfect working order, even though at that exact time it was sitting in a secured area with the front end completely damaged, with parts falling off as it was towed..
This brings to light a severe discrepancy in the OnStar service, and what OnStar claims in their advertisements and promotional material. When we bought the car the dealer touted the features, and made specific note of the OnStar system. Since this was my first vehicle with OnStar, I was interested in the features that they offer. After further research the particular system in my vehicle is OnStar version 9 which was a new model for the 2011 class, and is supposed to the the latest version available. All of the advertisements that I have seen indicated (or imply) that if you are in an accident an OnStar representative will contact you through the internal phone system to inquire as to the severity of the accident, if you are alert, what type of emergency assistance you need, to dispatch emergency personnel etc. None of this happened in 30 minutes that I was on the scene of my accident.
I couldn't understand why the system didn't work as it is so plainly advertised. After calling OnStar I realized why this was...the system never notified the response team that I was in an accident. None of the variables that could cause a notification not to be sent were applicable. I was in an area that had enough cellular signal to make a call (proven by my call to 911), the vehicle was in perfect view of the sky (for GPS functionality), the electrical system was fully functional (my stereo and the fact that I moved the vehicle after the fact proves this), and according to OnStar the system reported no faults or irregular activity during any diagnostics sessions since the service was activated in May of 2011. Quite simply the OnStar system in my car failed to perform as it was advertised to me when I purchased the vehicle, and in every discussion that I had with OnStar since purchasing my subscription. In effect I have been paying for a service that does not work as it is advertised, or how it is designed to work, and apparently I'm not the only person that this has happened to.
I'm not sure of any recourse that I may have at this point, but I am going to seek legal advice regarding this. Clearly (at least in my understanding of the law) this is at least a misrepresentation of a product and/or possibly false advertising since the product did not work as it was explained to me when I purchased it. I was led to believe that I would receive a certain level of service, specifically if an accident should occur, yet when it did I did not receive the service indicated. Effectively I've been paying a company for a service that failed to deliver.
I'll update this as the details come in, but for now here's the pictures of the accident scene.
Update #1 - 2/21/13 @ 9:57am
I received the call from OnStar executive team, and explained the situation and my concern. Soco (the name of the representative) proceeded to explain that not every crash would be detected by the system, and that my crash most likely fell into that category. I expected this answer, so informed her of the conversation that I had with the previous representative, and the detailed questions that I asked leading up to me divulging that I was in an accident. She maintained that there are a limitations to the system that would cause a crash to not be detected and reported. She then asked if I read the Terms and Conditions of my OnStar service (a copy of which can be viewed here). Again, I expected this answer as well. I stated that I had read them, and that the limitations stated in the T&C did not apply to my situation. After going over the stated limitations, and explaining how they did not apply to my accident, she stated that there are some limitations that are not outlined in the T&C, but then changed the topic. This raises a concern over the disclosure that OnStar is providing in their contracts, as well as their T&C.
In the end she indicated that if I had any out-of-pocket expenses for towing that I would be reimbursed by OnStar since part of the service is roadside assistance. She also indicated that once the vehicle is back on the road that she would like to give me 3 months of service for free. My first thought was "Wow..a whole 3 months or a service that obviously does not work", but I did not say this to her since I do appreciate the attempt and did not feel that a smart answer would be appropriate. She stated that she would be performing and investigation into the accident, and we ended the call.
On a different note, I just received an email from OnStar as I was typing this edit stating that my hands-free calling minutes are about to expire, wanted me to refill. I really don't think that I'll be doing that anytime soon.
Update #2 - 2/21/13 @ 3:58pm
The insurance adjuster completed the damage estimate and sent me a copy. According to them there is $7335 worth of damage. They stated that the entire front end of the car needs replaced, including frame damage on the left front area of the crash zone. Afterwards I called Soco at OnStar to get my case number, and informed her of the findings. She continued with her line of "there are limitations to the system" as well as "our terms and conditions".
On a side note she is sending me a reimbursement check for $150.00 to cover any out-of-pocket towing expenses. I'm supposed to receive the check sometime within the next 30 days. She also gave me 3 free months of service now that she knows that the car is going to be repaired. I'm not supposed to be charged the normal $12.95/month fee that I've been paying until June. And she said that she is continuing the investigation and will contact be with more information.
Update #3 - 2/26/13 @ 6:10pm
I went to Sterling Auto Body on Rodi Rd where my car is being repaired to use the OnStar system inside the car to run a diagnostics. In doing so the representative stated that the 5 codes that came back were related to the transmission, a drivetrain malfunction, and various air sensors. I specifically asked about the OnStar system and she stated that there were no codes related to it, and the system was reporting 100% functionality. Again, I recorded this portion of the conversation for my records.
I then called the executive review team (with recording) to speak with Soco. She was unavailable to I spoke with another representative. After detailing the case again she added a few additional notes to the case and stated that she would have Soco return my call the next day. I also informed her of the statement that Soco made regarding the limitations not outlined in the T&C, and that I had recorded the conversation. I explained the concerns that I had about this statement, and that I have a real problem with this type of behavior from a company. She said that she would make a note of it in the case and bring it to Soco's attention.
Update #4 - 2/27/13 @ 1:47pm
Sterling Auto Body just called me and gave me the final estimate of the damage to my car. They explained that they dismantled the entire front end and cataloged and inventoried all of the damaged parts. As it stands the total is now up to $8800, but they won't have the final estimate complete until the repairs are completed (misc. bolts, clips, etc.). He stated that the left frame rail would need to be cut out and replaced, the upper right rail has 3 or 4 kinks in it, and the rest of the components in the front (steel bumper rail, radiator, a/c condensor, plastic body parts etc.) would all be replaced. Thankfully there's no mechanical damage to the engine or transmission, but rather structural parts around the engine compartment. Taking into consideration the extent of the repairs he gave me an estimated completion and delivery for my car of March 20...a full month after the accident.
I asked about their knowledge and experience with OnStar systems, and if they could tell me why the system did not detect the crash. He said that he had no idea, and suggested that I take the car back to the dealer after the repairs are completed and have them run a full diagnostics. Once again no one can tell me why the system failed, including OnStar themselves, considering the significant amount of damage ($8800 worth) that was done to this vehicle.
Earlier I was able to speak with Soco and I informed her that I would like a refund for the total cost of services that I have paid over the last 18 month (minus any complimentary time periods). She sated that she would see what the total amount that I have been charged is to date, and would get back to me this afternoon with a decision. She also stated, in regards to her statement about the limitations not covered in the T&C, that she misspoke and that everything is indeed outlined in the T&C. I confronted her on this, reciting and quoting her from the recorded phone call, and she said that she apologized but that was not what she meant.