That little red box contains a lot of electronic goodies that, until now, were only available as options on newer vehicles. Plug that plastic rectangle into your car's diagnostics port and CarShield puts you in touch with your car like never before.

Like most simple telematic systems, it contains cellular capabilities, GPS and Bluetooth. Those technologies allow car owners to open locked car doors with a Bluetooth mobile phone and track where there car is, has been or is going. Got a teen driver? If the little brat ventures outside your pre-determined boundaries, the CarShield will send you a text message to let you know.

Perhaps more useful to the general population, though, are CarShields diagnostic features. It monitors your car's health, and alerts you via text message if your battery is getting weak, if your tires are low or, in some cars, if you need an oil change.

And for those in states requiring smog checks, you may soon be able to use CarShield to avoid the yearly emissions test and the fee usually charged for it. If CarShield detects an emissions problem, it alerts the owner. If the problem isn't taken care of, the module alerts CarShield HQ that will then contact the owner, presumably with something more forceful than a text message. CarShield claims the remote monitoring can reduce non-compliant cars by catching them more than once a year. Californians already have the option of using devices like CarShield to remotely test their emissions, and other states will be added soon, we're told.

CarShield will officially launch Jan. 22 for an MSRP of $300 and a $150 yearly subscription fee that includes roadside assistance. Not exactly pocket change, but if your car doesn't have these capabilities, it's possibly worth it if your speeding teenager rarely checks the oil.

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