Cars used to be utilitarian—they took a driver from one place to another with just a few luxuries like a radio or CD player. But today’s cars are like computers on wheels, and your car may be storing more information about you than you think. So before you head to the dealership and trade in your old car for the newest model, make sure to delete from your old vehicle any personal or financial details that could be accessed–or abused.
Your Car Is a Computer
A modern car is likely to be able to connect to a smartphone, open a garage door, navigate the driver to and from home, and even place a call for help in case of an emergency.
In fact, newer cars with sophisticated “infotainment” systems can accumulate the same type of sensitive information that computers do. This data may include: credit card numbers and other bank information, account names and passwords, addresses and frequently traveled routes, contact names and numbers, and maybe even text messages.
The Dealer Will Clear the Data, Right?
Not necessarily. Even though the dealership may offer to wipe all data from your car, the car’s owner should take the time to remove any stored personal and financial information from the car before it’s sold or traded in.
For example, some cars have a factory reset option that is supposed to return settings and data back to their original state. But even after a factory reset, the car could still be connected to subscription services like satellite radio, Wi-Fi hotspots, and data services.
How to Clear Personal Data from Your Old Car
There are a few items you’ll want to review before you sell, trade-in, or donate an old car. Every make and model of car is different, so for more information about removing your personal information from a vehicle, check your owner’s manual, contact your dealer, or visit your vehicle manufacturer’s website.
- Contacts and Address Book – Delete any phone numbers, addresses, or other contact information that may have been saved to your car’s infotainment system.
- Location Data – Delete addresses stored in the navigation system, as “home” or “favorites” may have been saved.
- Garage Door Codes – Any saved garage door codes could, of course, still open the same garage doors, so delete garage door codes for your home or office.
- Satellite Radio and Other Subscriptions – Cancel or transfer any subscriptions, such as satellite radio or emergency communication services.
- ̈Mobile Apps – Delete or reset any mobile applications that you use in connection with your car as they may have stored some data on the vehicle.
- Vehicle Hard Drive Storage – Delete any information saved to your vehicle’s built-in hard-drive storage, such as music or movies.
- Removable Media Storage – If your car has removable media storage, such as an SD card reader, make sure it’s empty.
Rental Cars Can Save Your Personal Data Too
The same privacy concerns apply to rental cars, especially if you connect your mobile device. A rental car almost certainly stores some of your personal information if you plug your phone into the USB port, pair a device via Bluetooth, or use the navigational system. And you likely don’t have time to scour the owner’s manual at the airport to delete all of your personal information.
With rental car data, there are a few options. First, you could choose not to connect your phone or use the navigation system, which isn’t convenient if you are trying to find your way around a new city or want to listen to your own music. Second, you could try the Privacy4Cars app, which was designed to help people clear their personal data from rental cars by providing data wipe tutorials based on the make and model of the car. Finally, you could use the items provided above as quick checklist to run through before you return a rental car.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) recommends that you keep up with the new technologies used in cars so you understand how your information is collected and shared.