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How to Wipe Your Private Phone Data from a Rental Car

Sometimes I can’t believe that I missed something really, really obvious.

But hey, it happens. And rather than pretend it didn’t I’m now going to dedicate a blog post to one such thing in case I can help other people who missed it too.

That embarrassingly obvious thing?

That when you connect your phone to a hire or rental car, that car could store some of your personal information. Information that anyone who gets in the car later could see.

The other day I received an email from Collin Ikim from Magrenta, a car rental company in Romania and Bucharest, who explained that he always shows his clients how to wipe sensitive data from their cars before they return them.

Now that’s something I wish a car hire place had taught me!

As someone who values her digital privacy and loves a road trip I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before and am now flashing back to all the times I sang along with my iPhone’s playlist, used the Bluetooth to make calls and used Google Maps on my phone for navigation.

I asked Collin if I could pick his brains some more and share his tips and he kindly said yes. So let’s find out more…

What To Know Before Connecting Your Mobile Phone to a Rental Car

“Driving a rental car when you’re on a road trip is convenient – you don’t depend on fixed schedules or bus connections anymore. However, there are some hidden dangers you should take into consideration before connecting your personal gadgets to the car’s infotainment system.” Collin explains.

“The sensitive personal information that remains on the car’s devices can become a real hassle if they’re found by some malicious person.”

The easiest way to connect your smartphone to your rental car is through the Bluetooth system. Most modern models are equipped with Bluetooth for connecting music, multimedia systems, hands-free conversations, and so on. So whether you’re borrowing a friend’s Kia in London, or planning to rent Mercedes A200 on a vacation in Dubai it’s likely that the car will have Bluetooth. But once you’ve paired your phone with the car’s system the connection will remain in the device’s memory unless you keep an eye open and deny permission to memorize.

“Otherwise, the car may copy your contacts or keep a record of the numbers you called even if you didn’t connect by a wire to the vehicle.” Collin says. “There are some phones that require you to change the settings so that it can be discovered by other gadgets – but they are usually older models – while others will automatically search for devices with which to pair.”

Some cars these days are rather clever things with computer boards that learn their driver’s preferences. Which can be great if you own the car, but if it’s information that’s left behind in a car you only hired or borrowed it can be not so great.

What a Hire Car Can Remember From Your Phone

“A modern car with Bluetooth has the power of knowing pretty much all about you and your daily habits: where you’ve been, who you’ve called, what texts messages did you receive,” Collin says. “But that is only during the time you have your personal gadgets paired to the infotainment system.”

Driving in Bucharest, image courtesy Magrenta

Collin says that before you start a revolution against technology, it’s good to know that a lot of that personal information your car has access to is optional.

“Because it’s less distracting and also useful, the car’s system can ask if you’d like to download your address book to the car’s memory, so you can use the car’s touchscreen to find a contact. However, if this sounds like an invasive idea to you, there is always the option to click “No” when the system prompts you to download the phonebook.

“If you do choose to have your contacts stored in the car, you don’t need to worry if you remember to turn off the Bluetooth before leaving the car. The contacts will not be visible. For the information to be transmitted via Bluetooth, there needs to be an active connection.”

Information that can be stored in the car without you realising includes:

●      Device’s name

●      Phone number

●      Call logs

●      Address book

●      Text messages and e-mails in newer cars that have the option to get texts on-screen or read out to them while driving

●      Routes and destinations such as a home and work address if you remember to turn off the Bluetooth before leaving the car. The contacts will not be visible. For the information to be transmitted via Bluetooth, there needs to be an active connection.”

How Can We Wipe Our Personal Data from a Rental Car?

“If you wipe the personal data you used on-screen via Bluetooth before you return the car, there is no danger left to haunt you. But if you don’t, your sensitive data will remain stored.”

When that’s the case Collin says the next person who bconnects their personal gadgets to the infotainment system can stumble across your stored contacts, texts, destinations and so on.

“Most people return the rental car at the last moment, when they’re already in a hurry. You should give yourself time to remove the personal data stored in the car. It’s a matter of minutes but it proves to be very useful on the long run.”

Collin says while so many people spend time thinking about how to protect their personal data on social media, they rarely do the same with stored information on a rental car.

To erase any personal information stored Collin says to go to the system’s settings menu.

“There, you’ll find a list of devices that have been paired. If the previous renters didn’t delete their information, you will find many Bluetooth gadgets there. Locate yours and follow the instructions to delete it. That should wipe all the call logs and contacts. If that is not enough and you still worry, look for the option to do a complete factory reset. All you have to do is to click Settings, then Apps and find the car model you were driving to revoke the service’s privileges.

Country road trips

Some More Tips for Protecting Personal Data in Rental Cars

●      Avoid connecting your phone to the infotainment system if you just need to charge your phone. Use the USB charger in the 12 Volt port (in the old cigarette lighter spot) instead.

●      Notice what you give permissions to. Usually, the system lets you specify what kind of information you want the system to access.

●      If you want to listen to some music, use a different cable to connect the headphone port on your phone to the audio system directly. If you cannot skip the benefits of hands-free calling, you should buy a third-party Bluetooth audio kit that does exactly that.

●      To protect your personal information consider setting your home address to a nearby intersection. Then strangers won’t know the precise directions to your actual home address.

●      Before returning the car, delete all your data from the infotainment system and clear your location history. Go to the settings menu, locate and just delete your device from the previously paired Bluetooth gadgets.

A big thank you to Collin for sharing his tips and for teaching the people who borrow his cars how to keep their information safe.

So how about you? Have you been wiping your data from rental cars before returning them? Or are you like me and new to this obvious thing to do?

Planning a road trip? You may like to check out my story on insurance tips you need to know before renting an RV or hire car, and a look at road tripping to some of Australia’s Big Things. 

Love travelling with your iPhone? You may want to check out my stories on twelve great apps for travelling.

Road Trip Pencils

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  1. Peter S says

    What about apps to download that help with this? The only one that comes to mind is privacy4cars. Read about it on other articles but wanted to see if anyone used it?

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