Have you given away your personal data when selling your car?

personal data
Cars are increasingly data hubs. But how do you keep control of personal info? (Picture iStock/oonal)

Modern motors are technical marvels that are more than capable of storing our personal data. And new research has revealed that when they sell their car, thousands of drivers are giving away potentially delicate information such as friends’ and relatives’ names and addresses. Read on to find out if you’re in danger of doing that or have perhaps already done it.

How do cars store personal data?

Increasingly, cars let drivers pair their smartphones with them via Bluetooth. This enables owners to listen to their favourite music, make phone calls and send and receive text messages – all perfectly legally and without touching their mobile phones.

For added convenience, most cars give their owners the option to download their contact information to the car’s computer drive. This enables drivers to access their phone’s call records and people’s contact details via the car’s screen. The study by Which? found that 54 per cent of drivers had synced a mobile phone to their car using either Bluetooth or a USB cable.

Why is this problematic?

The potential for trouble arrives when the owner comes to sell the car. If the phone is not disconnected and the account on the car and any additional information that’s been downloaded deleted, the new owner or owners could access it.

Is this a big problem?

Researchers from Which? discovered that more than half of drivers (51 per cent) didn’t bother unsyncing their phones after selling the car. Nearly a third (31 per cent) didn’t even bother wiping their personal data from the car.

More worryingly, four out of five drivers (79 per cent) haven’t followed the factory reset instructions on how to permanently remove data from their car. And more than half (58 per cent) didn’t bother to manually delete any data.

personal data
Cars give us ever more data to make our lives easier. But drivers must wipe cars’ systems when they sell them (Picture Volvo)

What about in-car apps?

An increasing number of cars can be linked with apps that you install on your mobile phone. This enables drivers to pair their phone with their car’s main functions. It means they can track their car’s location or unlock and drive the car using their phone as a virtual ‘key’. Some even allow access by other specified people, using their phone as a key.

Researchers found that 68 per cent of sellers didn’t bother doing a factory reset to uninstall the app. And half of drivers didn’t even bother unpairing the app from the car when they sold it.

What should drivers do?

First thing is to delete the connection between your phone and the car. This is simple to do, usually involving finding connected devices on the car’s screen and deleting the appropriate ones. You can also delete the connection on your phone.

You will know the car has downloaded your contact details if you search on the car’s screen for a contact or access the recent calls menu. If these have information in them, they’re in the car’s memory.

Wiping the information from the car might be a little involved. But the car’s user manual should tell you how to do it. And if it doesn’t, you could pop into a manufacturer’s franchised dealer. Deleting the data will be the work of a moment for someone who knows your make of car.

Is this going to get worse?

By 2026, it’s estimated that every new car will have the ability for owners to connect electronic mobile devices to them. CIFAS, the UK’s largest cross-sector fraud protection organisation, says identity theft using people’s personal data is already one of the UK’s fastest growing crimes.

What the expert says

Editor of Which? Harry Rose said: “If cars are not treated the same as a smartphone, tablet or other connected devices when it comes to data security, motorists risk giving away a treasure trove of information about themselves when they decide to sell their car.”

9 comments on “Have you given away your personal data when selling your car?

  1. Paul 28/07/2020 10:06 AM

    …It’s worse with car hire. I rented a car and all the previous renter’s info was right there!

  2. Andrew Kirby 10/10/2020 8:21 PM

    Don’t forget to delete stored destinations from the SATNAV especially home addresses.

  3. Brian Turner 11/10/2020 9:20 AM

    Part exchanging our “dumb” car for a “smart” car on Tuesday, this article is a timely reminder to make sure the dealer has wiped the previous owners details on our new car.
    I’m sure the new (to us) smart facilities on the new car could be useful but we managed perfectly well without them for years.

  4. John Northeast 11/10/2020 9:48 AM

    Very useful info i’ll pass this on to my family.

  5. Dave p 11/10/2020 8:14 PM

    The hire company need to be dealing with this on a hire by hire basis. You must tell them they have failed in their basic duty to protect hirers from fraud.

  6. Roy Langer 12/10/2020 8:55 PM

    Timely information. Changing my car this week!

  7. Hilary Hall 12/10/2020 10:13 PM

    Don’t put your address in the sat nav as home. If your car keys are taken the car and home keys are with the thief and they know where you live.

  8. Azra Shagul 13/10/2020 9:32 PM

    It’s v important to delete your data and contacts from your car, before selling or changing it. Useful point.

  9. ROGER MOON 22/10/2020 12:14 PM

    Why install such facilities any way. Its now’t to do with a cars driving systems or functions. Its purely a thing manufacturers install to sell cars. Better they spend time and money developing and installing safety systems than systems to distract a driver.

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