How General Motors Can Remotely Disable a Stolen Car

The TikTok challenge that put a target on the back of every Hyundai and Kia model in the United States served as a reminder that our four-wheel companions aren't safe, despite all the investments in anti-theft software and hardware.
OnStar helps remotely disable a vehicle 9 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/Chevrolet
2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD
Steering wheel locks are still very effective in the fight against the rising car theft trends, while others turn to new-generation devices, such as AirTags, to always monitor the vehicle's location. AirTags allow owners to permanently see the car's location, even if it gets stolen, as the device can communicate with nearby iPhones to share its coordinates.

Thanks to its small form factor, the AirTag can be hidden virtually anywhere in the car, making it difficult (though not impossible) for a thief to locate and disable the device.

General Motors offers an alternative that's harder to disable and comes pre-loaded with the vehicle for OnStar subscribers. And the way it works not only helps law enforcement locate the vehicle but also recover it and eventually arrest the thief.

Called Stolen Vehicle Assistance, the service isn't supposed to provide the car owner with location information but to allow a team of advisors to work with the police on finding the vehicle and recovering it.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD
Photo: TFLEV on YouTube
It all starts with the Theft Alarm Notification. A vehicle fitted with an alarm system pre-installed by General Motors from the factory can remotely send an alert to the owner on the mobile device, letting them know about the unauthorized access. It's the first sign someone broke into your car, so if you receive the alert, you'd better go look if the car is still where you parked it.

If not, it's the right moment to let the experts step in. The first step is contacting the police and letting them know someone drove away in your car. You should tell them the vehicle is equipped with the OnStar Stolen Vehicle Assistance so they know they can obtain valuable location information to locate it. The owner must contact the OnStar call center to report the theft, at this point, an advisor begins the recovery process by remotely connecting to the vehicle.

Thanks to the GPS system installed on the car, it's a matter of seconds to determine where it's located. The OnStar staff can obtain the vehicle's location and provide the police with real-time data so they can go to the address and attempt a recovery and maybe an arrest.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD
Photo: TFLEV on YouTube
The OnStar advisor checks to see if the vehicle is in motion or parked. If it's parked, the whole thing is easy. The police get the current location, and to buy more time, the advisor remotely locks the engine, making it impossible for the thief to drive away.

On the other hand, if the vehicle is reported as moving, the OnStar staff feeds the police officers with real-time location data so they can get closer to it. To make sure the patrol cars follow the right vehicle, the OnStar advisor can remotely activate various functions, such as the hazard lights. These features are enabled without the thief behind the wheel knowing, so the police can spot the vehicle and get closer to continue the pursuit.

There's no need for Hollywood-style pursuits or similar things, as the remote access to the vehicle allows the OnStar teams to bring the car to a halt by pressing a single button.

The OnStar Stolen Vehicle Assistance packs a feature to gradually slow down the vehicle, so even if the thief presses the throttle, the car no longer accelerates. The car will eventually stop, giving the police the opportunity to block it and arrest the thief.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS with AWD
Photo: TFLEV on YouTube
It all sounds great on paper, but it doesn't always end well, as thieves sometimes heavily damage the car in their attempt to run away from the cops. They occasionally crash the vehicle or try to get away by foot, but in 99 percent of the cases, they end up arrested, especially if the police are on their tail.

The whole system is based on the assumption that the police can promptly respond to your report, so theoretically, the moment you notice the vehicle is missing and alert law enforcement, it should be a matter of minutes until a police officer jumps behind the wheel and starts looking for your vehicle based on the information provided by the OnStar call center. Things don't always work so smoothly, as the police typically need more time to begin the search for your vehicle, but if you're lucky, a patrol officer spots the stolen vehicle and recovers it before it's too late.

Meanwhile, equipping your car with additional safety equipment certainly helps. The Kia Boyz madness taught us that steering wheel locks can still keep thieves away, even if they break into your car, as removing such hardware takes time, and nobody wants to spend several minutes in a vehicle they just broke into.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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