Selling or Renting a Car? Don’t Forget to Scrub Your Data.

You’re looking to sell your current vehicle. It may simply just be time for something newer, or you just view your car as no longer a necessity.

Either way, you’ll need to do a litany of things in order to get the vehicle ready to sell. Beyond the normal preparation of finding the title, washing, waxing, and buying new tires—today’s vehicles contain an array of modern electronic conveniences that need to be addressed. The modern automobile is a marvel of miniature processors, controlling everything from the transmission, fault notifications, and fuel consumption, to the garage door and entertainment panel. It’s vital to grasp the amount of personal information stored in these components:

  • Phone information
  • Mobile applications
  • Digital content
  • Navigation data

An easy way in to a house without raising suspicion involves using a garage door opener. Similarly, modern vehicles kindly store an entry code, removing your need to grab a remote control. Even better, some cars remember multiple garage codes, providing access to separate locations.

Clearing this information prevents a person from entering your residence and/or business in a known vehicle. How to do it? Erasure typically involves some combination of pressing button(s) on the appropriate panel for a specific length of time. It is best to consult your specific owner’s manual for the exact procedure.

The phone wipe
Ahh—the ubiquitous smartphone: it craves connectivity and willingly shares data. While this is a good thing, cell phones will leave evidence behind for others to collect if not removed. This applies to your vehicle, if able to connect via Bluetooth. Cars can now store your contacts, call history, messages, and potentially more. This fantastic feature offers voice control and is great for hands-free driving (especially in Maryland where that is required by law), but bad if the information remains on the vehicle when selling. The system stores all of your contacts, when you called, for how long you talked, and to whom you texted.

There are two ways to correct this issue. First, you can delete your phone from the vehicle’s list of paired Bluetooth numbers. Second, with a little deeper digging, an option to perform a factory reset will likely exist somewhere in the Options menu. The latter will take longer to perform, but provides greater peace of mind as it clears all of the data residing in the car’s memory1.

Un-connect your car
Another consideration involves any in-vehicle computer applications that reside on the vehicle. While these applications provide great convenience and comfort, these same features necessitate careful scrutiny when selling a newer vehicle. Terminate any subscription services connected to the car, from satellite radio to using the vehicle as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Next, erase account information for any applicable applications, including everything from streaming music to reservations (For example, Open Table is an application many use to explore, reserve, and manage restaurant reservations). This will prevent someone else from gaining account information2.

How important is it to wipe this data? Here is a testimonial of someone recently selling their car.

“Recently I purchased a used vehicle and the person who owned the car previously failed to clear their map data from the navigation history. Had I been so inclined, I could have shown up at the previous persons’ residence, vacation spot, and/or favored haunts without them knowing. This person should have known better too, especially as the dealer let me know the previous owner is an active duty officer in the U.S. military.”

The final thing to consider when preparing a car for sale is the vehicle’s hard drive. Yes, you read this correctly—the car now possesses storage solely for information and entertainment. This pertains to music and any other information you may share with the vehicle through a USB or Bluetooth connection. The only option here is to delete all present data. The instructions will be found in the owner’s manual.

Rentals, too
Lastly, do not follow these suggestions only for the vehicle(s) you own. When you rent a vehicle, it would be wise to delete the cell phone, application, and navigation data to preclude giving away any information you desire to keep private.

Selling a vehicle is a great thing; just make certain you do not leave any personal information within the vehicles’ various electronic components at the conclusion of the sale.

Resources: USA TODAY, Help Net Security.