Some Acura Owners Stuck With Useless OnStar Units

Reader Charlie writes in with a complaint about Acura and OnStar. Charlie has a 2003 Acura TL that came equipped with OnStar. Usually he renews for 2 years at a time, but this time something was wrong. OnStar wouldn’t let him renew because his Acura had an analog OnStar system, and due to a FCC ruling, the wireless carriers that provide service to OnStar will no longer be required to maintain analog networks.

“I was told that all of the carriers are switching over to all digital system, and that after next year, my OnStar system will be useless,” Charlie writes. OnStar’s website confirms the accusation.

    If your vehicle has analog-only equipment, you will not be able to upgrade the equipment nor will your vehicle be able to receive OnStar service as of January 1, 2008.

We found this a little hard to believe, so we called OnStar, asking them to confirm that Charlie’s 2003 Acura could not be upgraded, or a new unit installed. After all, a 2003 Acura isn’t exactly an old car. OnStar’s CSR confirmed that Acura owners could not install a new unit, because Acura has decided not to participate in the upgrade program—choosing instead to push their own AcuraLink unit. So, can Charlie get an AcuraLink installed? Nope. Not according to Acura. In effect, Charlie is stuck with an useless unit, which is not only annoying, but will effect the resale value of the car. Shame on Acura for not standing by the products they install in their vehicles. —MEGHANN MARCO

Analog to Digital Update [OnStar]
Helpful Info [OnStar]

Charlie’s email inside.

Charlie writes:


    Here’s the story in a nutshell. I have 2003 Acura TL. It came with an OnStar system. Usually I renew my OnStar service online for 2 years at a time because of some savings. Recently I went to renew as usual, but the system wasn’t taking my 2 year renewal. I called OnStar to find out what was going on. I was told that all of the carriers are switching over to all digital system, and that after next year, my OnStar system will be useless. I called the President of OnStar, Chet Huber (313-665-2786) in Detroit, to complain. His assistant (Rhonda) passed me off to Christy Bailey (313-667-6901), who agreed this was unfair and would check into it. She got back to me after a week and a half and said I should call Acura. I called the office of Jeffrey Smith, Assistant VP, Corporate Affairs and Communications of Acura, in Torrance, California (310-783-2000), and his assistant told me someone would get back to me. I received a phone call this morning from someone named Joseph, who would not give his last name, and using corporate-speak, basically told me, “too bad for you, but we’re not going to do anything about it.” I think this is unfair. When you sign on to a service like OnStar and a prestigious car company like Acura, it is with the expectation I will have it for the life of my vehicle. What they are doing isn’t right and Acura, and OnStar, as well as all of the other car companies that put OnStar in their vehicles should do the right thing for everyone who has a car that’s only 3 years old, and provide free-of-charge upgrades to so it can be continued to be used. Infact I recently received a letter from OnStar squarely laying the blame with Acura because it’s Acura’s hardware that needs to be upgraded. As more and more people try to renew their OnStar service, this problem is going to become worse and worse. Now, as it turns out, Acura is abandoning OnStar altogether and substituting AcuraLink which is neither compatible with OnStar, or usable on slightly older Acuras. This just isn’t right.




Edit Your Comment

  1. Magister says:

    Example of a good story to post. Pretty interesting.

  2. homerjay says:

    I smell a class action suit!

  3. Yeah, this has class-action written all over it.

    This is definately a chain of blame problem. The FCC causes OnStar to change it’s technology. OnStar requires new equipment for it’s users. Acura, decides that rather than foot the bill for revamping everyone to digital because OnStar changed the rules on them, they market their own system.

    The FCC is an ass for changing the rules after the product was released.

    OnStar is an ass for not providing a means to facilitate the change free of charge.

    Acura is an ass for abandoning customers…the least they could do is offer to upgrade them to the Acuralink free of charge.

    Somebody should pay for this, the FCC won’t(even though ultimately it’s their fault), but the customer shouldn’t have to either.

    Then again, that’s what you get for buying a rebranded Honda.

  4. bluegus32 says:

    Homerjay: Actually, I question if there is a viable lawsuit. In 2003, Acura installed the OnStar into their vehicle. At that time, Acura presumably did not know that the FCC would make the installed OnStar obsolete.

    In essence, this problem was caused by the FCC, not Acura. You can’t sue the FCC for something like this.

    I agree that this situation absolutely sucks but I really don’t know that a valid lawsuit could be entertained.

  5. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Analog is being phased out, both on satellite and terrestrial systems. For the few Acura automobiles that have the analog On-Star units, I think Acura could and should give him an AcuraLink unit.

    It’s not Charlie’s fault that Acura chose not to renew with On-Star because they could make more profit with their own proprietary system.

    Acura…shame on you. Somebody drops $40,000 for one of your overpriced cars, and THEN pays yet-again for the rarely used and purely profit-making in-car communications system, and you can’t even give them an upgrade?

    (And fire Joseph, while you’re at it. The world doesn’t need any more rude customer service people who won’t give out their names).

  6. Just to put things in a bit of perspective, OnStar wasn’t the only group of people who were caught by the Analog network shutdown in ’08.

    ADT Security is currently lobbying for a two year extension because they argue much of their analog security equipment which uses the same network that OnStar Analog does will be up the creek. Many users in Rural parts of the country don’t have a digital alternative to switch to.

    You can read more, here:

  7. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Sadly, there’s nothing wrong with analog equipment except that the carrier can cram 10 digital calls down the same pipeline which could only take 1 before.

    Again, companies boosting profits by maximizing efficiency (which is not only fine but to be expected)..but in both cases..ADT and OnStar, the process almost always results in a little-guy getting screwed over. All the FCC does all day is rake in $$$ by selling off frequency spectrum and taking money from lobbyists.

    In terms of the big picture, it’s the logical progression of technology (which again, is to be expected). However, when big corporations give customers the finger and are completely unhelpful (or disrespectful), that’s when I get irate.

    In the case of ADT, they’re caught between a rock and hard place because the technology in their niche market hasn’t evolved sufficiently yet to be reliable or cost-effective. Unfortunately, I suspect ADT will react in the same way and just say “Sorry, no can do.”

  8. Kornkob says:

    “(And fire Joseph, while you’re at it. The world doesn’t need any more rude customer service people who won’t give out their names).”

    Frankly, given the original poster’s comments that Joseph ‘used corporate speak’ and ‘basically told me’ I’d guess that Joseph was polite and firm but made clear that there was sothing he could do. Odds are Joseph did nothing at all wrong and did his job as it should be done.

    In the 5 call centers I worked at (as a manager in 2 of them) our agents were specifically told that release of their last names was optional and not encouraged. Call record numbers were more accurate than someone ‘getting the name’ of our people anyway. In my experience in dealing with follow up calls, all to often irate callers fail to correctly annotate the agent’s name anyway.

    “the least they could do is offer to upgrade them to the Acuralink free of charge.”

    Actually I think the least they could do is offer a retrofit of their service at cost. Acura should at least help people ‘buy into’ their service but I don’t think they nessicarily need to be eating the cost of installing a digital phone because the FCC changed the regs for the phone companies. After all, the people who really win from the shift to digital is the cellular companies.

  9. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    A few years back, I was considering an Acura TL as my next car. Until I found out that the OnStar system was standard equipment, and it couldn’t even be ordered from the factory without the OnStar. Forget that. The OnStar system is tightly integrated with the car.. It’s a cell phone, it’s a GPS navigation system, and OnStar operators have the ability to unlock your doors remotely if you’re ever locked out.The current OnStar systems are even worse. They’re linked to the car’s ECU and can run engine diagnostics. Do you really want to give OnStar that much power, control, and information over your and your car? Not me.

    Google: “onstar eavesdropping” and you’ll find some related stories.

    The current AcuraLink system isn’t too bad. It’s a standard GPS navigation unit that is made by Pioneer. You can purchase update DVDs from the dealer, or “find” them on the internet. The only subscription service Honda/Acura offers now is the real time traffic reports. And you can use your cell phone’s bluetooth to utilize the car’s handsfree system.

    As for Charlie.. Installing a current AcuraLink system on his TL probably isn’t feasible. It would cost a lot of time, money, effort to retrofit that system into his car. He’s better off taking his car to mobile electronics shop and swapping out the old head unit with an aftermarket system. Or he can just sell the car.

    Also.. This OnStar analog to digital transition affects some Volkswagon, Audi, Suburu, and GM vehicles.

  10. Karl says:

    I’m just wondering why OnStar was still installing analog-only devices in 2003. The government has been wanting to shift things digitally for a while now (more efficient use of the spectrum).

    And dwayne_dibbly, digital cell phone systems have one huge advantage: they’re encrypted. You can intercept analog calls fairly easily (and illegally).

  11. bluegus32 says:

    Karl: You said, “I’m just wondering why OnStar was still installing analog-only devices in 2003. The government has been wanting to shift things digitally for a while now (more efficient use of the spectrum).”

    The answers is simple — you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever count on the FCC doing anything in a timely manner. It took them eight years to approve the current cellular phone architecture scheme. It wasn’t until the head of Motorola (or maybe AT&T) presented a cell phone to then-vice-president George H.W. Bush, who in turn presented it to Ronald Reagan, who then placed a phone call to the FCC, did the FCC finally approve the creation of a cellular phone network. That took eight years and personal intervention from the President of the United States of America. And by that time, everyone else in the world was already using cell phones and we were being left behind in the dust.

    Point being, you never make any business decisions based on what you hope or think the FCC will do. Trust me, until the FCC actually does something, it’s best to presume that they never will do whatever it is you’re expecting them to do.

  12. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Korncob: My comment about firing Joseph was harsh; he probably was just doing his job. As a service tech, I’m constantly caught in the middle of having to tell customers that there’s “nothing I can do” and they’ll “have to talk to my boss.” So, yes, I take that back. And, irate customers often embellish the truth and make you out to be the bad guy when you really don’t have any control over the situation.

    As far as giving a name, earlier this year I had an issue with a Samsung TV, and every time I talked to somebody at Samsung, most people refused to give me a name or any way to identify them. So when I’m trying to tell the second or third customer service rep. that I’m talking to that the first person I spoke to told me one thing, and the second person told me a different story, but I can’t tell them who gave me the information, they accuse me of making it up or not hearing it correctly.

    At the very least, you should be able to identify to whom you have spoken so that when critical information comes into play that affects your claim, you can identify who told you what and when. It doesn’t have to be a real name..even an ID number would do. Without a way to hold customer service people accountable for what they tell you, you get the “I never said that, nobody heard me say that, I didn’t do it” effect and suddenly you’re at the mercy of whomever you’re talking to and whether or not they’re going to believe your story. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to 3 different people at the same company and I get 3 completely different stories.

    A good argument for making your own recordings of any calls you make to any customer service department.

    As for giving Charlie a new Acura-Link unit, legally…I think it’s pretty much “tough luck.” It is not directly Acura’s fault, so most likely they have no obligation whatsoever.

    However, since Acura is a premium brand which commands a premium price for its products, I think it would be a show of good faith for them to compensate the customer. LatherRinseRepeat is right…since the system is usually integrated into the vehicle’s CAN bus (the main vehicle network bus), it may not be possible to retrofit the new unit into a 2003 model.

    So, as to what form the voluntary compensation might take, I don’t know….maybe pay his cell phone bill for a couple of years or give him a ski vacation in Aspen. They don’t have to do anything, but it would certainly help their brand loyalty if they did.

  13. Hyman Decent says:

    crayonshinobi wrote, “The FCC is an ass for changing the rules after the product was released.” I think the FCC can be accused of changing the rules only if at the time Charlie’s Acura was manufacured, the phase out of analog service was scheduled for later than Jan. 1, 2008 or not at all. The reason the cellular companies have maintained their analog networks as long as they have is because the FCC requires them to do so. Maybe OnStar could have started offering analog- and digital-capable units sooner than they did but did not in order to save money.

  14. MacDave says:

    The reason that OnStar stayed with analog equipment so long is that it provides service coverage in more rural areas than the digital service that is replacing it.

  15. Hyman Decent says:

    Wait a sec… Acura offers OnStar on 2007 RL’s and MDX’s. Would it really be that difficult to swap out the analog cellular circuitry with digital cellular circuitry? I can understand that it would be either impossible or not worthwhile if the car didn’t have OnStar at all, but what about the aforementioned swap?

    Another thought: Could this legally be considered a warranty issue? January 1, 2008 may be less than five years from the date that Charlie purchased his Acura. I don’t know how long Acura’s bumper-to-bumper warranty was in model year 2003. If it’s less than five years, what if Charlie bought an extended warranty? If he hasn’t already bought an extended bumper-to-bumper warranty, maybe he still can. A warranty claim for this could get messy, though, with Acura denying the claim on the basis that the analog hardware still works fine and it’s the OnStar service itself, which the warranty doesn’t cover, that changed. bluegus32, what do you think?

    dwayne_dibbly wrote, “It’s not Charlie’s fault that Acura chose not to renew with On-Star because they could make more profit with their own proprietary system.” Acura may not have had a choice. Perhaps GM, of which OnStar is (or was) a subsidiary, decided to make it available only on GM vehicles in order to give GM vehicles an edge in the marketplace. That the RL and MDX are still available with OnStar may be due to the contract between OnStar and American Honda that predates such a decision.

  16. Hyman Decent says:

    O.K., I just checked the pages on OnStar’s Web site that the links in this Consumerist item point to. OnStar says that analog-only units cannot be upgraded, but analog/digital-ready units can. But the item says, “OnStar’s CSR confirmed that Acura owners could not install a new unit, because Acura has decided not to participate in the upgrade program- choosing instead to push their own AcuraLink unit.” So it may be technically feasible for Charlie’s car after all.

    I also looked up the 2007 RL on and there’s no mention of OnStar. But says it’s available on the 2007 RL and MDX.

  17. Tom says:

    Well, after reading this post and the responses, I don’t think I’ll ever get a car with OnStar or anything remotely like it, especially after LatherRinseRepeat’s comment–even if I didn’t have the service activated, I’d still be all paranoid about it–like, I’d try to drive a few MPH over the speed limit, or pull into a fast-food restaurant, or find directions to the nearest porn emporium, and my car’s system would say, “I’m sorry, DaveTom, I can’t do that.”

  18. bluegus32 says:

    Hyman Decent — this really wouldn’t be a warranty issue. Warranties cover things that break, not things that become obsolete. I would bet dollars to donuts that this would not be covered under any warranty.

    Then the question is whether there are other legal claims which could be aserted. The short answer to that is no. The long answer would probably take me at least 30 to 40 pages worth of legal citation and argument for me to explain. So, um, trust me — the guy is screwed.

  19. laxmig says:

    I completely agree with Charlie. I just bought a 2004 Acura RL that was a lease return. When I tried to subscribe to Onstar they said the exact same thing that I will not be able to subscribe to it after Jan 2008. I asked them if Acura is coming out with a Analog-Digital conversion kit and they said no. I just could not believe that Acura is not going to support the older cars. I have a 2003 Mercedes Benz and they have offered up to put a Digital unit in my car (Telematics) which is a very similar concept to Onstar. Now I wonder why I bought the Acura instead I should have paid the same amount and picked up a C class Benz.

    Maybe, if someone wants to go in to a Class action lawsuit, I would be interested in signing up and working together to make Acura take Responsibility for their products and commit to conver the units in older cars.

    Laxmi Govindan

  20. laxmig says:

    Onstar was a shoot out of GM. So if GM is suffering loss in their business and they feel that Onstar is unable to support themselves financially, would it not make sense for GM / OnStar to have an update / migration path for these non GM owners so they can still maintain them as a customer. There is a great article in the CIO magazine on the Feb 15th 2007 issue about Onstar and GM. IF I head GM, the first thing I would do is, create a product that will be a retrofit for Acura, Audi, VW, Infiniti etc to support the orphaned customers if you will.


  21. corlt1 says:

    GM’s Onstar was first installed in Cadillacs and even Cadillac doesn’t offer a digital upgrade to keep it’s Onstar working. A few years back, my Onstar was recalled for an upgrade. I just called Onstar to see if that upgrade was to convert it to digital. After a 2 minute diagnosis, the answer was NO, you do not have digital.

    Funny, how we can buy a new digital cell phone, but can’t purchase an upgrade for the onstar.

  22. TheNuke says:

    Hell All,
    Perhaps it’s time to say, “I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.” I am so ticked-off I can’t begin to tell you. I took the same course of action as Charlie. I called On-Star, the local Acura Service Manager who sent me to Acura HQ. I made four calls in one week, playing phone-tag with Edward. He said the same thing “Corporate Talk,” Sorry! All that is being done is allowing owners to vent and then the “S” word (SORRY). Because of Acura’s lack of response or caring, I suspect that my next new vehicle will not be an Acura model. Too bad, I really love my 2003 TLS-Nav. Acura should be letting owners know that they are working on a solution! Sorry…. A solution, well that seems not to be in Acura’s thought process.

  23. sadAcura says:

    So where is the Class Action Suit? And whom do you actually sue? OnStar, for not looking beyond their nose? Acura, for taking advantage of a made-to-order bait-and-switch situation? The FCC for taking away a major health and safety feature from thousands of cars without a hint of guilt or sign of any technilogical intelligence? Where were the lobbyists for GM/OnStar and Acura? While they were concentrating on keeping the government from raising emmissions standards, increasing gas milage requirements and anything else that might actually cost money in engineering changes, they let the government pass the change affecting OnStar, cause, hey — it only affected the hapless consumers; not their bottom line. I have a 2003 Acura that is soon to be without OnStar services. I can live without the phone. I have a cell phone. But, did anyone in the FCC consider all the safety features that OnStar provides? It gives me hands-free phone; it dials 911 if the air-bag inflates; it has one button access to emergency services; it can unlock my car and locate it if it is stolen. The government is so busy protecting us from ourselves that it loses sight of the protection we do have available from services like OnStar. The analog units already in service should have been grandfathered for cars belonging to the current owner for the next 10 years. Now when I put my kids in the government required car seats and I strap myself into my government required seat belts and ride in my car with the government required airbags and crash tested bumpers I can rest assured that if I have an accident and can’t use my cell phone — we’ll just lie there waiting for the Emergency services folks to have a psychic experience and come to the rescue.

  24. jollymonjeff says:

    I have this issue with my 2003 Saab 9-3. The thing is, GM/OnStar/Saab knew that my OnStar unit would be unusable in 2008, back in 2002. But they did not tell me that when I purchased the car. And the OnStar safety feature was a prime reason I purchased the car.
    I was the poster child for Saab. I got my dad to buy one. I love my car….but in the coming months, I am going to trade it for a new car…no way would I buy anything with OnStar. And they used to have really great customer service. Now, it is horrific. I will probably get a Subaru. I tell everyone I know my story and how I was taken advantage of.

  25. FedericoPapus says:

    What can I add; I also have a useless OnStar system on my 2003 Acura CL.
    I’m willing to pay for the upgrade and I still can’t get any satisfaction.
    I believe Acura has abandoned it’s customers; I’ll never buy another one.


  26. says:

    Hi Charlie: I’m in the same situation as you. I have an Acura 3.2TL great car I bought this as a second owner in 2005. These cars are not cheap but Acura is. My car was recently broken into and I wanted to activate my On-Star for protection, well you guessed it I don’t have the protection. I wasn’t even notified about this change the decent thing would have been for Acura to notify all owners of it’s intentions..but I forget that would be the decent thing along with standing behind your products. It seems Acura does stand behind their products only thing it’s way, way behind only to benefit them and not the consumer. The decent thing would have been to notify previous Acura Owners of their intentions and then rectifying it at no charge to the owners. It’s not my fault that they did not renew their contract with On-Star do the decent thing. I was going to buy another Acura for the future but this sure changes the way I feel about them,.This does leave a very bad taste in my mouth for them, where is the government or consumer and or attorney generals on this ? If their is a solution to this please let me know, otherwise this On-Star equipment I have on my car is completely useless.We as consumers are left hanging out to dry.
    Sincerely, Dolores