Wipe Data From Your Car Before Selling It

How to avoid sharing your playlist, garage door code, and driving history with the next owner

conceptual illustration of car being wiped by squeegee Giacomo Bagnara

These days, vehicles collect and store all kinds of personal data, everything from your playlist to the places you frequent to how firmly you apply the brakes. And if you’re not careful, the data can travel on to your car’s next owner. “That’s why it’s important to know your car,” says a Consumer Reports auto analyst, Mel Yu, who offers these tips for seeking and destroying the data. For more detailed instructions, consult the owner’s manual for your particular vehicle.

Unpair All Bluetooth Devices
By deleting the connection to your smartphone, you protect info routinely shared for contacting friends, listening to music, and using GPS.

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Reset the Garage Door Opener
If you use a universal application, such as HomeLink, for example, you don’t want it to be sharing codes that grant access to your home. To erase them, press and hold the two outer HomeLink control buttons until the red light flashes.

Reset Telematics Services
Blue Link, FordPass, and OnStar can send data from a car to the cloud even if you don’t have a current subscription, Yu says. Look for an SOS or call button on the rearview mirror or overhead console. Press it and you'll be connected to a live operator, who can help you change the account owner information.

Log Out of Cloud Accounts
Exclusive to certain automakers, they store driver data, including preset radio stations, favorite temperature settings, navigation destinations, and driving history.

Remove Tracking Devices
Auto dealers, banks, and insurance companies may attach such devices to vehicles when setting up financing and coverage deals. If buyers don’t read the fine print, they might not realize they’re there. Once the car is paid off, check with your lender or dealer about disabling them.

Concerned about who's watching you? CR shares easy and effective ways to take more control of your digital privacy.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Bree Fowler

Bree Fowler

I write about all things "cyber" and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I've lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium. Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).