Subscriptions for things like phone pairing, SatRad, roadside assistance, and driver assist technology will soon cost you more than what you pay for an inexpensive vehicle. Here’s a breakdown of what automotive-related subscriptions cost vehicle owners.
Vehicle-related subscriptions are the new profit drivers for the automotive and automotive support industries. Many of the subscriptions have been around for so long we’ve forgotten about their costs. AAA membership, OnStar and other telematics systems, and satellite radio are good examples of costs many vehicle owners bear but may not think of when they budget for a vehicle’s total cost of ownership.
When we budget for your automobiles, we often include the depreciation or the lease payments. Then we add in an expected repair and maintenance cost, and finally, we factor in energy (electricity or gas). Throw in insurance, and your cost of ownership model is complete. Except it isn’t. One of the highest costs of modern vehicle ownership can be subscriptions.
We’re fans of the Chevy Bolt line, and we hope that GM emerges from its battery fire defect recall soon. One of the most affordable vehicles available this year in our area (Massachusetts) is the lease of a new Chevy Bolt. Deals for Bolts costing owners just $145 per month ran through the first half of the year here. The great part was that the Bolt qualified for a $2,500 state EV rebate—the exact cost of the down payment. So owners were only responsible for the monthly fee. Some owners reported $125 dollar lease payments in other areas, but we will model our story on the $145 lease. Annually, that car costs an owner $1,740. Let’s see how close we can come to that price if we were to throw every conceivable subscription cost its way.
Let’s run down a list of modern-era subscriptions and their approximate cost to the consumer annually to see how they add up. In this exercise, we are going to list all makes and models. After all, what one brand can successfully charge for today, other brands will surely also charge for tomorrow. Our first example illustrates this.
Proving subscriptions can cost more than cars was easy. Tesla presently charges more for its FSD driver-assist technology than GM charges for a complete electric vehicle. To upgrade from basic Autopilot to FSD, Tesla charges $2,388 per year. GM’s Super Cruise is just getting started. Its $300 annual subscription cost activates after the trial period ends. Ford’s BlueCruise is expected to cost $200 per year ($600 for a three-year subscription.) Of course, these prices can later change.
Extended warranties are a massive business in the U.S. Automakers, and third-party providers charge either up-front, on a payment plan, or in the case of CarShield, by monthly subscription. We spoke to Car Shield, who gave us example pricing for some of the top-selling models in the American market. The cost per month ranged from $99 to $129.
OnStar offers quite an array of services. Many of which your phone can provide to you at no cost. OnStar’s full package costs $600 per year.
SatRad was all the rage when it came out. No more commercials! Many long-time subscribers felt the fees just seemed to increase and increase. All the while, new members were paying a fraction of what legacy members were paying. The SiriusXM website says that an all-access membership costs $228 per year.
Most brands offer in-vehicle WiFi today. Your mobile phone can create a hotspot just as well, but who wants to take the time to set that up? The kids need internet, or there will be no fun on the drive. After trying various pricing models, GM now charges $200 per year for unlimited data.
Many of us use online music services today. This service is almost essential to commercial-free listening, and it extends beyond the vehicle. However, in-vehicle use is a big part of why folks have these services. Spotify Premium costs $120 per year.
Like online music, books on tape are very popular for those who like to listen in their vehicles. The price for Audible is $7.95 per month.
Almost every new car comes with free roadside assistance. In addition, many insurance policies and extended warranties include roadside assistance plans. So why do 61 million Americans still subscribe to AAA for themselves and family members? Well, for one thing, AAA membership follows the person, not the car. So if your college-age kid is stranded in a jalopy owned by a roommate, she can have it towed. AAA also offers DMV services and other benefits to members. Typical mid-tier memberships cost $60 per year.
Apple CarPlay is an app that is free in almost every modern vehicle. BMW felt it would be fair to charge owners to have it and wanted $80 per year to make it work. After considerable backlash, BMW reversed the decision (for now). We will hold off on showing this $80 fee, but don’t be surprised if the luxury brands try to charge you for what you already own in the future.
The cost for all of the subscriptions on our list combined comes to between $2,804 and $5,202. Contrast this with an annual cost for a Chevy Bolt of between $1,740 or any typical lease of about $3,400 per year including the initial down payment.
This total subscription cost is a bit higher than any single brand might charge since not all brands offer all types of subscriptions. Also, some vehicle owners may pick between SatRad and online streaming music. Use the list we have created to determine what you pay today for vehicle-related subscriptions.
Automakers and automotive support providers are expanding subscription offerings. When you budget for your next car, crossover, or pickup truck, be sure that you factor in the easy-to-miss subscription costs associated with owning your ride.
Note: We used pricing from the websites of the service providers at the time this story was written. We also rounded up to the whole dollar. For example, $9.99 per month is rounded to $120 per year. Prices do not include local taxes.