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Modern cars are great. Not only are they more powerful, they come with a host of features to make it easier to drive and keep you entertained while doing so. The latest infotainment systems and connectivity technology enable hands free calling, easy navigation and the ability to listen to your favourite road tripping music. Gone are the days of CDs lying around in your car.

Of course, there is a downside to having a connected car. These sophisticated infotainment systems accumulate as much sensitive digital information as any other smart device, like a smartphone. This can include contact names and numbers, account usernames and passwords, home, office and other addresses, and frequently travelled routes.

When you sell or trade-in your car, you could be leaving this information behind for a stranger to access, thereby putting your privacy and security at risk. Your navigation information in the wrong hands could be setting you up for a dangerous situation. For instance, information regarding your home address and frequent destinations could be used by a criminal to locate your car for hijacking or theft.

It’s quite possibly not something you have considered, but you need to treat your car the same way you would treat an old computer, smartphone or tablet before parting with it. While you are clearing out your personal items, also take the time to clear out your personal information.

Here are some considerations and the steps you can take to erase the personal data stored by your car before you part ways:

  • Remove all Bluetooth pairings: Unpair your phone and any other devices you might have connected to the car via Bluetooth. When you unpair a phone it will typically remove the contacts, call history and other personal data with it. However, if not:

  • Delete contact history: Go through the menu options to remove contact names and numbers, call history and text messages. This could be a little different for each vehicle make and model, therefore consult your owner’s manual to check how to do this.

  • Clear addresses: The navigation system has most likely stored your home and office address, as well as other frequently visited destinations and the routes that you travel regularly. These systems often have a menu option to clear personal data or recent destinations.

  • Log out of mobile apps: Log out of all the mobile apps that are included in the car or that pair with an app on your smartphone.

  • Disengage the garage door opener: Imagine the new owner of your car had the means to open your garage door by the touch of a button. Along with the knowledge of your home address, they could easily invite themselves over for a visit. Removing the code programmed into your car for opening your garage door is often as simple as pushing two buttons at once for a few seconds. Once again, consult your owner’s manual for specifications.

  • Lastly, make sure that you cancel or transfer any subscription services that your car is connected to.

Of course, a quick way to remove all personalised data from a car is to restore it to factory settings. But keep in mind that this will erase everything that you have ever customised, including seat set-up preferences, lighting profiles and radio pre-sets. 

“Modern vehicle infotainment systems store as much data as a computer or smartphone, and you could be putting your security at risk if you forget to erase your personal information when you sell or upgrade your car,” says Ron Knott-Craig, Executive: Operational Services at Tracker SA. “Take the time to go through the car’s menu and delete the data stored by the system to keep you and your loved ones safe.”