How To

Q&A: I left my data on the infotainment system of a rental car. Problem?

July 16, 2021

Question: I rented a car and left my data on the infotainment system. Is that a problem?

Answer: Getting a rental car with a nice infotainment system can be a lot of fun — at least while you're cruising along listening to your favorite music as the GPS guides you down the road.

But after you get home, panic may hit if you forget to delete your phone info from the system. You may worry that an identity thief or the next customer to slide behind the wheel will get ahold of your personal information.

The nonprofit privacy watchdog Privacy International has found that most rental car companies put the onus on the customer to delete their own data without giving clear instructions on how to do so. And even a driver who unpairs their phone from a rental car may still be at risk.

When you use Bluetooth to connect your phone to a rental car infotainment system, the system may get ahold of info such as your call logs, contacts list, phone number, locations visited, and in-car internet search history.

So, next time you rent a car, read the privacy policy to see if the rental company does a factory reset between customers. (Most don't, but the issue is getting more attention.)

And remember that it may not be enough to just delete your phone from the list of paired devices before turning in the car. Instead, check the car manual and look for a factory reset button. If you can't find it, ask the rental car staff for help before you turn over the keys.

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