car sales

Cars' On-Board Computers Need to Be Wiped Before Sale, Just Like Phones

Consumer Reports looks at people should be careful of accidentally selling someone personal data along with their new ride

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Demand is high for new and used cars, which means many people are thinking about selling their cars. Before they do, they need to remember that most new cars are basically computers on wheels.

"Kind of like a phone," said Alex Knizek, a Consumer Reports auto expert. "It's logging data about what features you access, addresses you've been to, and now there are even things like WiFi hotspots where you like to log in. All these connected features you need to remember to log out of before you sell the car."

A good rule of thumb is to think of a car like a laptop: Wipe any data that someone shouldn't have about you.

"Make sure you delete Bluetooth connections, and make sure there are no contacts saved on the car," Knizek said. "Then you can do the same thing with your phone, and delete or forget the pairing of the phone and the car."

Sellers are also warned about forgetting hardware, even if it's built in. Take out your automatic garage door opener or reset it, for example. That way, if someone has your home address on some paperwork or they find it associated with the car, they can't walk right into your home.

"There are also telematics services," Knizek said. "You can find an SOS or call button on the mirror or on the ceiling, and those connect you to a live operator. Some of them, you can press the button and they will help you remove the vehicle and yourself form the account."

Consumer Reports also recommends checking to see if you have any apps on your phone that sync with your car. Depending on the automaker, those apps can store driver data, navigation destinations and driving history.

It's also a good idea to keep these tips in mind when using a rental car as well. Most new cars have a way to reset the onboard computer to factory settings. You can often find how to reset the onboard computer in the owner's manual.

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