You enter a code to unlock your phone and tablet, and a password to access your computer data. You shred paperwork with personal data on it before you discard it. Few people, however, consider the data stored in their vehicles before they sell them or turn them in for a trade. Many vehicles today – particularly — those with sophisticated onboard infotainment systems, are racking up personal data just as readily as a phone or laptop. The result is an accumulation of years of sensitive digital information that could fall into the wrong hands. Dealers who sell used cars are advised to inform customers that it’s their responsibility to ensure this personal information is purged from the vehicle’s system.
While many carmakers offer a factory reset option to wipe out data and return the vehicle to its original settings, there are still things sellers need to do to protect their privacy. While the data may be gone, the vehicle could still be connected to subscription-based services such as satellite radio, mobile WiFi hot spots, and data services. In this case, sellers need to contact the service providers and either cancel the account or transfer the service to a new vehicle. It’s important to remember that it’s the seller’s obligation to delete data from the car, so if the information or services are misused, there may be little to no legal recourse for the seller.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the information you should be most concerned about removing from a vehicle include:
- Personal contacts. This includes names, addresses and phone numbers that could be stored in a vehicle after it synced with a phone or tablet. In many cases, the vehicle downloads the contact information and retains it.
- Mobile app login information. Mobile apps used in the car will often store usernames, passwords and even data obtained from those apps. It’s particularly important to wipe the data from any “pay at the pump” apps that have been used, since these apps will store credit card information.
- Stored entertainment content. Digital content such as music or video that may be stored on the vehicle’s built-in hard drive and should be wiped.
- GPS. Location data such as addresses or commonly traveled routes could still be stored in the vehicle’s navigation system. It’s recommended that sellers manually delete all maps or routes directly from the car’s navigation system.
- Garage door codes. Security codes used to open garage or other remote doors should be reset before selling the vehicle.
- Device connections. Connections between a smartphone and the vehicle for purposes such as remote unlocking should be eliminated. Also delete all Bluetooth pairings before getting rid of the vehicle.
If the vehicle has removable media storage, such as an SD card reader, be sure the card is removed. Also, if the car has been set to pull information from the electronic data recorder (to track a teenager’s movements, for example), be sure to delete this information. If you’d like to be sure, consider using one of the many apps designed to help vehicle sellers ensure the information is wiped clean. Finally, it’s a good idea to check the vehicle owner’s manual, which may include a checklist for all the things drivers should do before selling the vehicle, including information about a factory reset function.