When You Sell A Car, You May Still Have Access To Its Telematics… Scary…

These days many cars allow you to access all sorts of information remotely and even do things like unlock doors and flash the lights. You might even be able to find its location on a map. That all sounds cool. But what happens to that access when you sell the car. Well, if you have a VW, you may still have access based on this article in The Verge:

Last December, Ashley Sehatti sold her 2015 Jetta back to a local Volkswagen dealership in California. So when the calendar turned over, she didn’t understand why she was still getting sent monthly reports about the car’s health. After another one came in April, she finally logged on to VW’s online portal for Car-Net, the telematics system that runs in many of the company’s modern cars.

To her surprise, Sehatti saw the location of her old Jetta on a map, up-to-date mileage, and the status of the car’s locks and lights. It had been resold, and yet she still had access to some of the car’s systems. “There was nothing in place to stop me from accessing the full UI,” she says over email.

That’s kind of disturbing. But when The Verge dug into this, they found that this is what truly is disturbing. It’s up to the customer to disable these services before they sell the car. And that is usually buried in the terms of service…. Which customers never read. That seems to be the case with VW and with other carmakers:

Other automakers that offer telematics services similar to Car-Net, like GM (OnStar) or Volvo (On Call), also tend to put the burden on the customer to disable subscriptions to these services in their terms of service (TOS) agreements. But these automakers also say they have backstops in place that help make sure customers who forget to discontinue these subscriptions (or who, like many, never read the TOS agreements in the first place) don’t retain access to the telematics systems when the car changes hands.

But specifically in the case of VW, if you don’t do this, you’ll be on the hook for anything that happens. At least the other car companies mentioned in The Verge story had some sort of backup plan in case a customer didn’t do this. But these only work if you sell your car back to a dealer. If you sell it privately, all bets are off.

So the take home message is that if you sell your car, you have to treat it like a smartphone that you’re selling on Craigslist. You have wipe the infotainment system before you sell it and disconnect your access to it. Otherwise bad things can happen.


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