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Drivers warned to wipe car data before selling

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Written by: Emma Lunn
01/11/2021
Car owners selling their vehicles may be unknowingly passing on their bank details, location history, social media accounts, and other personal details.

Price comparison site Confused.com is warning drivers that they could be exposing vast amounts of personal data if they don’t remove data and return their car to factory settings before selling it.

As part of its Clever Cars study, Confused found that Audi, Tesla and BMW are the top three manufacturers which collect most information about their owners via their ‘infotainment’ systems.

The advanced features in connected cars are powered by a complex background of artificial intelligence, which means they have the capability to collect copious amounts of personal information on drivers, including phone numbers and addresses, to the driver’s location history and music taste.

For example, to use Audi’s connectivity features, drivers can download the myAudi App, allowing improved route guidance, read aloud function for Twitter messages, online news, emails and more.

However, data downloaded can include your contact list so that it can perform the voice dialling function. The car also needs each device’s unique identifiers including friendly name, MAC address and serial numbers in order to keep track of each device separately.

How to erase your data when you sell your car

Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com, has the following tips on erasing data from your car.

Remove all Bluetooth pairings

Disconnect all your previous Bluetooth pairings from your car to ensure the safety of your devices. Although most paired devices will need to be in range to connect, it’s still important to remove them; particularly mobile phones that may have been connected for hands-free calls and texts, which will have access to all your contacts, call and text history.

Log out of all apps

Log out of all navigation, music and other apps you have an account for and make sure your user details and passwords do not automatically populate to log you back in.

With tech companies like Apple offering CarPlay, for example, giving drivers the ability to unlock and start their car from their iPhone, if drivers don’t log out of features, future drivers may be able to gain access to your music accounts, as well as personal calendars and other iPhone features.

Delete contacts and call history

Manually go through your phone book and erase all your saved and synced contacts, calls and text history. In cases like this, it’s important to protect other people’s personal information too, like their phone numbers, to avoid future drivers being able to contact them unwantedly.

Delete saved addresses

Similarly, it’s important to erase all addresses and saved locations from the car’s navigation system. If not wiped, then future drivers will have a pretty clear idea of the places you regularly travel to, such as your place of work, or family and friends’ homes. In that case, it’s also important to erase this information, not only to protect yourself but also protect other people.

Remove all external storage

If your car has removable media storage, like a USB drive or SD card reader, make sure these are all removed from the car and the information hasn’t been stored anywhere – especially if the devices contain personal information stored on them.

Refer to the car’s manual

While it’s wise to do the above steps manually to ensure all desired data is removed, you can also follow instructions in your car’s in-depth manual on how to restore your car to factory settings, which should wipe all stored settings and data.

Reset your car at the dealership

You can also take your car to the dealership and ask them to restore the car to its factory settings if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself. They should be able to wipe all of your data in the process and ensure that all the information about driver habits, location, paired devices, etc. is removed from the vehicle because it’s been electronically updated.

If you’re buying a used car…

It’s also important that you wipe the previous owners data when buying a new car if they haven’t already done so. If you don’t, it may mean they still have control over some elements of your vehicle, with some cars nowadays having external control from apps where you can stop and start the engine, turn on the air-con and also track the vehicle’s location.

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