How to Erase Personal Data From a Car: Avoid Identity Theft, Protect Your Privacy

With their wide array of technology features, such as a touchscreen infotainment system, modern cars are like a computer on wheels. These technologies help make a drive more convenient, safe, and entertaining. However, like a smartphone or home computer, with the collection of data, cars also pose the risk of invading your privacy, as well as identity theft and other scams. This is especially the case if you plan on selling or trading in your vehicle. Here’s how to erase personal data from a car. 

What personal information is stored in my car?

Infotainment system in Kia Sportage, highlighting how to erase personal data from a car to avoid identity theft
2023 Kia Sportage | Kia

Consumer advocacy groups advise people to wipe personal data from their smartphone, computer, or tablet before they sell, trade, or recycle it. The same thing applies to modern cars, which store sensitive personal information.

Personal data that’s stored in your car can include account names and passwords, bank information, credit card numbers, the names of numbers of contacts, and addresses. Your vehicle might also store frequently traveled routes, as well as your private text messages.

In most cases, the second you drive a car off the lot of a dealership, it starts collecting personal data. You wouldn’t want someone to scroll through your smartphone to view your private information. Likewise, it’s best to take measures to prevent people from viewing your personal information in your vehicle.

How can I remove personal data from my car?

Man using tablet in Ford F-150, highlighting how to remove personal information from a car to avoid identity theft
2022 Ford F-150 | Ford

If you’re not a tech-savvy person, the technology features might be overwhelming, along with the prospect of an invasion of your privacy and identity theft, as detailed by HowStuffWorks. However, if you follow these tips to remove personal data from your car, you might not be so overwhelmed. 

Before you sell or trade in your car, follow these steps to remove your personal information:

  • Log out all of your mobile apps that are linked to your car or paired to a smartphone app. When you log back in, ensure that your names and passwords for your accounts don’t automatically populate. 
  • In your phone book, clear out all of your contacts.
  • Either cancel or transfer any of your vehicle’s subscriptions. This includes Wi-Fi hotspots, data plans, satellite radio, music streaming, and emergency communication services. 
  • Unpair any Bluetooth devices.
  • In the navigation system, delete any addresses or maps.
  • For a car that has a built-in hard drive, delete all music and data.
  • If your car has an automatic garage door opener, reset it.
  • For a vehicle with removable media storage, such as an SD card reader, ensure that it’s empty.
  • Your car might have a factory reset feature, which can erase stored data and settings. To find out, view the vehicle owner’s manual. 

Do I need to erase private information if I have an older vehicle?

RELATED: DMV Scam Tries to Steal Your Personal Information

Whether or not you need to erase personal information from your car — and how much you need to do, largely depends on the age of your car. If you have an older vehicle, you might only have to do a few items on the above list, such as the navigation system and Bluetooth. For a newer car, you might have to do most, if not all, of the items. 

If these steps still seem too complicated, or you just want to err on the safe side, then you can utilize the services of a data security company in your area. Good luck, and be vigilant — so you avoid the invasion of your privacy, identity theft, and other scams when you sell or trade in your car. 

RELATED: 5 Worst Car-Selling Scams That You Should Worry About