How to protect your personal information when renting a car

Have you ever rented a vehicle and found an unfamiliar contact list when trying to connect a phone to the car’s infotainment system? Turns out, the information may belong to an earlier renter of the automobile.

This is happening more often as states require drivers to go hands free behind the wheel, but it serves as a reminder that there are steps to take to protect your personal information when renting a vehicle.

If you want to connect your phone to any vehicle you intend to use temporarily, try to choose a car that has Apple Car Play if you are an iPhone user or Android Auto for Android users.

Both Apple and Android said their car connection systems do not store phone book and other information on the vehicle’s system, so selecting cars that support Apple Car Play or Android Auto is best.

Do remember to keep a charging cable handy, since some vehicles require you to plug your phone into a USB port to use Apple Car Play.

The loading of your phone book mostly happens when you connect your phone to the car through the manufacturer’s Bluetooth system. When connecting to a vehicle, you will usually see a prompt that indicates you are about to send your phone numbers into the car radio, so do not be too fast to click ‘OK’ when messages pop up in the setup process.

If you do decide to share your phone book with the car so you can use voice controls to make a call, you need to be ready to do a little tech work. All car infotainment systems have a ‘factory reset’ which is meant to put the system back in the state it was when it rolled off the showroom floor. This means that all phones connected to it in the past and their information will be cleared.

What should you consider before turning your car in if you connected your phone to it?

First, go into the car’s Bluetooth settings and ‘delete’ your phone. Next, to make sure it is gone, do a factory reset on the car’s infotainment system. For most cars, that can be found under a settings menu in the system.

These steps are also recommended when you sell a car you own.

Many experts agree that the only sure way to protect your personal information is to not connect your phone to your rental car. Information on how to do a factory reset can be found in the car’s manual, or with a quick online search for the words “factory reset” and the make and year of the car.

You can find factory reset instructions for some automakers like Ford, Honda and BMW online. Driver forums like those for Ram owners can also provide an outline for resetting your car’s entertainment system.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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