New Car Infotainment Systems Will Cost You Once Free Trial Is Up

Image courtesy of Cynthia Smoot

It used to be that your new car came with two infotainment systems: a radio and a tape or CD player. (8-tracks were briefly a thing, too, though record players in cars didn’t quite catch on.) Now even basic-model cars come with complex infotainment systems, but they also come with a catch: subscriptions to services that you’ll have to renew if you decide to keep them.

These can include subscriptions to new maps for the car’s navigation system, satellite radio subscriptions, in-car WiFi hotspots, live traffic updates, built-in roadside assistance and concierge services, and remote access to your vehicle from a smartphone app.

Our car-testing colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports, who review all of these systems along with the vehicles, note that you shouldn’t feel pressured to commit to these services at the dealership before you even take your car home. Instead, use the free trials and see whether you find any of the services worthwhile.

You can also explore how some of the services might be replaced with other things that are cheap or even free. Navigation and traffic apps are available for free on your smartphone, for example, and cars with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto can even display apps right on the main infotainment console on the dashboard.

Depending on what satellite radio content you prefer, free podcasts and the paid versions of streaming audio services like Spotify or Apple Music might be a good and cheaper alternative, as long as you don’t let them gobble up your mobile data.

Just don’t use these features as the deciding factor in what car to buy: Consumer Reports says that the best infotainment features come from Chrysler, but the cars themselves don’t score as highly.

Hidden Costs of New Car ‘Infotainment’ [Consumer Reports]