Reader Question: Sports Car Tipping Point?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Zane writes: Curious, everyone has a certain cut-off point for used cars; wondering if sports cars made in the mid 2000s, without navigation would be acceptable (350z, S197 Mustang, M3, STI’s, Kappa Twins, etc.). If not those, when would be the latest you’d recommend? Thinking of a toy car later this year, but something Uncle couldn’t find unless he did it the old fashioned way.

My reply: Almost any car less than five years old will have GPS; most built within the past ten will also have “telematics” (i.e., a system like GM’s OnStar that can be used to locate the vehicle for roadside assistance and so on) which amounts to the same thing – a technology that can be used to pinpoint the location of the vehicle in real time and (in many cases) remotely control some of the vehicle’s operations.

So, that’s what you want to look for – or rather, avoid.

Any car that came with something like OnStar; look for a button on the sun visor or rearview mirror. Even if the subscription has lapsed, these systems remain active. Or at least, can be activated – without your having asked – and without you being aware.

Note that with regard to GM vehicles, you will have to go back to at least the mid-1990s to avoid OnStar (as well as Event Data Recorders, or EDRs).

This is why I love my ’76 Trans-Am! It hasn’t got any kind of leash that Uncle can yank!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Although most, not all GM vehicles have had OnStar since the late 1990’s.

    2004-2005 Pontiac GTO’s were free of this. They were directly imported from Australia, and I guess ‘OnStar’ wasn’t an initiative ‘down under’. I really enjoy the nice simple rear view mirror on this one. So elegant vs the plastic clad nonsense to house the OnStar electronics that now ALL GM cars now come with.

    Those GTO’s are also excellent sports cars, especially the 2005 and 2006 models since they have the LS2 and 400 horsepower (2004 only had LS1 and 350 HP). They also handle quite well stock, and, there is great support in the aftermarket to get much better than stock. They can also be bought fairly inexpensively now — usually ~$12K for decent condition. Actually they hold their value pretty well now since depreciation curve is done. 5 years ago same condition was around the same price (if not lower).

    I should also add that they have a ‘manual’ hand brake. A feature that is NOT available on any GM sports car any more (the future truly is bleak).

    I’ve had my 2005 since I bought it new. I plan to keep it until I’m old and gray (or some unfortunate circumstance forces me to part with it earlier).

  2. I knew a friend who lived in New Zealand for 18 years and she took out the tiny chip used in mobile phones. BTW, phones in NZ also are required to have a gps chip so you can be tracked. All western [fascist] countries have this requirement. Gotta follow Hitler and Himmler you see.

  3. EP is right, as usual. Try to avoid any GM vehicles with OnStar built in. I will point out that older generation OnStar no longer works because it depended on older cell phone technology to communicate, none of which is still in operation. The switchover on the cell phone tower side happened about 5 years ago, and GM sent letters out informing customers that they would need to upgrade their OnStar hardware to continue service. There’s no easy way to tell if an old GM car was upgraded (almost none were).

    Many other brands of vehicles have had their own OnStar equivalents, so keep an eye out for any sort of system that permits “SOS” or roadside assistance calls without using your own cell phone, or any sort of “concierge “ services. These sorts of things used to be only available in luxury makes and models, outside of GM’s OnStar service, but it has spread downmarket in the past ten years or so.

    Don’t be afraid of a car with built-in GPS navigation with a screen, though. GPS by itself is one-way and cannot be used to track your car without some sort of separate communication channel (i.e., cell phone) sending your location back to someone. As long as the car doesn’t have OnStar or an equivalent, it likely isn’t a model that can rat you out to Big Brother. Also, just because it doesn’t have a big screen on the dash doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a GPS. OnStar models always have a GPS built-in, even if you can’t see it. That said, I’d still suggest skipping GPS navigation equipped models only because the maps will be out of date, making it a useless feature unless you spend hundreds of dollars on updated maps, if such maps are even still available for that model car.

    Incidentally, even in a brand new car rolling out of the assembly plant the navigation maps will already be out of date, usually by one or two years, and sometimes as much as by five years. This may not be a big deal in sleepy towns off the main thoroughfares, but it can be critical in the big city where roads and closures change weekly. This is where online maps on your cell phone (e.g., Waze) can be invaluable.

    On the other hand, do you have a cell phone, with or without built-in GPS? If so, you can easily be tracked by the same authorities. Not only that, but it has been shown that they can activate the microphone of the phone to listen to the noises in the environment, such as conversations, and can usually turn the phone on if you have powered it off.

    Facial recognition software has come a long way, so your face can be tracked in many locations. Automated license plate readers can be used to track your car. Lots of other targeted tracking can be done easily these days. If they want to track you, they certainly can find a way.

    This is a deep rabbit hole.

      • All cell phones sold in the U.S. since 2003 are required to have built-in GPS, ostensibly so that the location of 911 calls can be tracked. Your location can also be tracked by the cell towers even without GPS, particularly when in range of more than one since the signal can be triangulated.

        I have a simple LG flip phone with a removable battery. I keep the phone turned off and the battery out unless I need to use it. (Though that’s not an option if you want to immediately receive incoming calls. I just check for messages periodically.)

        There are countermeasures for facial recognition available, such as:

        • This is true. I had an old Motorola Star Tac flip phone, and I LOVED that thing! I misplaced it, so I got another phone. Well, when I was doing some cleaning or getting ready to move, I found the old Star Tac and went to Verizon to have it reactivated. The guy told me that, since it lacked GPS, it was AGAINST THE LAW to activate it now; he said that all cellphones are required to have GPS, per Uncle’s fatwa.

          • The pre-GPS phones will no longer work in any event since 2G digital service has been universally discontinued. I had to replace my old non-GPS Nokia because of that.

            My provider gave me a replacement 3G flip phone for free when the 2G service was turned off. I can’t get a straight answer from them or the manufacturer though whether the GPS is active all the time when the phone is powered or only when a 911 call is made. (I err on the side of caution and leave the battery out when not in use, which is most of the time.)

      • Also meant to add you can use a prepaid cell phone that is not tied to your name. Ultimately though “they” will be able to put together a profile on you based on the calls you make and receive.


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