How To Save
How can you take advantage of connected car services without putting a dent in your monthly car budget? To maximize the benefits while minimizing the expense, here are some things to consider.
Educate yourself. Free trials of connected car subscriptions differ by automaker, model and year. For example, a free trial for BMW's BMW Assist service lasts 10 years for 2014 model-year cars. Hyundai's Blue Link goes for three years and Mercedes-Benz's mbrace lasts six months, according to Strategy Analytics, the auto industry researcher. Read up on any new car or truck you're interested in buying to see what's available before you shop. Many automakers create special Web sites for their connected car services. A few include:
Keep connected car costs in mind when negotiating with the dealer. Automakers are the ones that set terms for connected car subscriptions, which doesn't leave room for negotiating with the dealer over subscription prices once a free trial ends. One way to account for the expense of subscriptions you'll want once free trials run out is to calculate what the cost would be for the length of time you plan to own the car and then use that amount to negotiate a lower purchase or lease price for the car from the dealer, Koslowski says.
Use existing smartphone apps. Some vehicles' infotainment systems connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can use apps you already own instead of paying for car-based subscriptions.
"We have a strategy where we acknowledge the customer is already paying for a lot of great information content on their phone and we want to leverage that. We feel it's an efficient way to enable experiences in the car," says Moody, the Ford executive.
Automakers are struggling to find the "killer apps" that drivers will pay for, says Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics' global automotive practice. "This is the challenge that embedded systems have. A lot of these premium functions are available as apps on smartphones," Lanctot says.
Wait until a free trial ends, then bargain. Doyle, the Denver Prius owner, enjoys listening to Sirius/XM satellite radio, but not enough to pay the $9.99 monthly fee for a regular subscription. When the three-month free trial expires, he plans to negotiate for a below-advertised discount, something he says some of his friends have done successfully. According to Sirius, the company offers discounts if listeners sign an annual or two-year contract, or upgrade to its All Access premium package that includes additional channels and Internet radio. Families can get discounts when they sign up for more than one subscription. In 2013, 44 percent of the people who bought or leased a new vehicle with Sirius paid for a subscription after the free trial ran out, according to the company.
Wait for next year's model. If the infotainment or telematics services you really want aren't available yet in the car you want to buy, you could put off replacing an existing car until the services arrive. Koslowski, for example, loves the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, but is holding off buying one until summer 2014, when General Motors is expected to introduce a model with 4G LTE, the high-speed wireless communications connection, which allows the fastest speeds for sending digital data. "I won't purchase a car until it has LTE," he says.
Buy or lease a new car when free trials run out. If you buy a new car every few years anyway, knowing when a free trial expires could help you time when you sell or trade in your present vehicle for a new one. Some automakers' roadside assistance plans, whether phone- or telematics-based, last as long as the manufacturer's warranty period. Some last longer, such as the roadside assistance plans from Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz.
Some telematics systems' free trials are multiyear, such as those from BMW and Hyundai. Follow this approach and with some cars, you might never have to pay for telematics-based services.
Shop at dealers that offer connected car discounts on pre-owned vehicles. Some auto dealers that participate in manufacturers' certified pre-owned vehicle programs offer free trials of connected car services to used-car buyers. Approximately 10,000 U.S. used-car dealers offer three-month free subscriptions of Sirius/XM satellite radio, according to the company. Buy a used Mercedes through an authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer and you can get three free months of mbrace/mbrace plus packages, including safety and security and travel assistance features.
Check if your insurance carrier offers a connected car bundle. Some insurance carriers offer discounts on connected car services when you buy or renew an auto insurance policy. State Farm offers a Drive Safe & Save with In-Drive Connect policy as a joint venture with Verizon Wireless. The policy covers mileage-based insurance along with stolen-vehicle assistance and hands-free mobile phone service, and includes a small monitor that plugs into a car's diagnostics port. After a one-year free trial, charges for In-Drive Connect increase to $6.99 a month or more based on what other features you choose.
Get a free subscription in exchange for an oil change or brake work. Since summer 2013, Sirius/XM has offered two-month free trials to drivers who bring vehicles in for servicing at participating dealers or repair shops, including cars or trucks with previously expired subscriptions.