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Auto Loan

How to Handle an Upside-Down Car Loan

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Upside-down. Negative equity. Underwater. No matter what you call it, it means you owe more on your car than it’s currently worth. While it happens to most people who finance the purchase of a vehicle at some point, it’s not a good place to be — especially when you’re planning on selling the car or trading it in for a newer model.

It’s also a situation that’s becoming more common. According to the Edmunds Used Vehicle Market Report for the third quarter of 2016, a record 25 percent of all trade-ins toward a used car purchase have negative equity, and the average negative equity at the time of trade-in was $3,635 — also a record in the used-car market.

You can find out if you’re in this position by looking up the value of your vehicle using a research tool such as Kelley Blue Book. If the value is less than the balance on your current car loan, you are upside-down.

Part I: How do you get upside-down in the first place?

There are some reasons car loans may be upside-down.

Low down payment

Dealerships often offer incentives for new cars, including very low or no down payment loans. A new car loses about 20 percent of its value in the first year, so a small down payment can quickly cause the balance of your loan to soar above its actual value. A healthy down payment can help keep your loan balance in line with the worth of your car.

High interest rate

Remember to shop around for an auto loan, because the higher the interest rate, the less you’re paying toward principal each month. That makes it more likely you’ll become upside-down, even if you made a decent down payment.

Anthony Curren, a sales and marketing manager and salesperson with Rick Curren Auto Sales in Corning, N.Y., says he sees this happen pretty regularly when disreputable salespeople charge higher interest rates to make more money off a loan.

“This happened to my girlfriend before we met,” Curren says. “She had an 800-plus credit score and got stuck in a loan charging 5 percent interest. She should have been paying 2 percent or less at that time.”

Longer loan term

According to Experian’s State of the Automotive Finance Market report for the second quarter of 2017, the average length of a new auto loan is currently nearing 69 months. While longer loan terms may keep your monthly payment low, you’ll end up paying more interest, and you’re more likely to be upside-down.

Past upside-down loan

You could be upside-down because you carried negative equity over from your last car loan. Many dealers offer what’s known as a rollover loan: When people trade in an upside-down vehicle, the dealership rolls the negative equity into the purchase of their next car. With a rollover loan, you are upside-down before you even drive off the lot.

People who trade up for a new vehicle every couple of years are most likely to have car loans with rolled-over negative equity. In the first few years of a new car loan, your car depreciates faster while your loan balance declines the slowest due to interest. This means many people are upside down in the early years of their loans. The longer you keep the vehicle, the more likely it is that the loan balance will be less than the current value of the vehicle.

Being upside-down on your car loan may not pose a problem, as long as you are planning on holding onto the car until you have some equity in it. But if an unforeseen financial setback means you need to sell the car, you may need to come up with extra cash to pay off the loan difference. And if your car is wrecked or stolen, your insurance may not pay out enough to retire the loan.

Part II: How to get out of an upside-down car loan

The first step to dealing with an upside-down car loan is knowing your numbers.

Step 1: Figure out how much you owe.

The fastest and most accurate way to find out how much you owe on your loan is to contact your finance company. If you are planning on selling or trading in your car right away, you’ll need to know the payoff amount, not just the amount remaining on your principal. The payoff amount is how much you actually have to pay to satisfy the terms of your loan. It includes the payment of any interest you owe through the day you intend to pay off the loan, as well as any prepayment penalties.

You may be able to find this figure by logging into your lender’s online account portal. Otherwise, you’ll have to call the finance company.

Step 2: Figure out how much your car is worth

You can get a value estimate using Kelley Blue Book’s What’s My Car Worth tool. You’ll need to provide the car’s year, make, model, mileage, style or trim level (the alphanumeric code that helps identify at what level the vehicle is equipped), and the car’s condition. If you’re not sure how to rate your car’s condition, you can take a quick quiz to help you assess it.

Once you input those details, you’ll receive a range suggesting how much (or how little) you can expect to receive from a dealer for a trade-in. Keep in mind that every dealer is different, but you may be able to negotiate.

Step 3: Calculate your negative equity

If the payoff amount on your loan is greater than the value of your car, you are, as we’ve said, upside-down. Subtract the value of your car from the payoff amount to find out how underwater you are. If the difference is small, you may be able to make extra payments toward the loan’s principal to catch up. If the difference is significant, you may have to take more drastic steps.

Step 4: Strategize remedies

If you find yourself upside-down on your car loan, the most prudent course of action is continue to pay down the debt until you have some equity in the car. You can hasten the process by making extra payments toward the loan’s principal.

If that isn’t an option, here are a few other ideas.

Pay off the car with a home equity loan or line of credit

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to paying off a car loan with a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC). One advantage is that you can typically lengthen your repayment period, thereby reducing your monthly payment. HELOCs also have more flexible repayment options, compared with the fixed monthly payment that comes with an auto loan. This may be a good option if you’re having trouble making your monthly payment due to a temporary financial setback.

The second advantage of paying off your car loan in this fashion: The interest paid on your HELOC is typically tax-deductible, while interest on your car loan is not. Keep in mind that you’ll have to itemize deductions on your tax return to take advantage of this benefit. If you take the standard deduction, there’s no tax advantage.

But before you pay off a car loan with a HELOC, consider the downsides. First off, HELOCs are often variable-rate loans. If interest rates rise, your monthly payment could go up. Second, even if the interest rate on your HELOC is lower than the interest rate on your car loan, you could end up paying more in interest by stretching out the loan term. Finally, if you can’t make your HELOC payments, you could lose your home.

If you decide to take this route, make a plan to pay down the HELOC as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could well outlive your car, and you’ll be paying off the HELOC and a new loan for your next vehicle at the same time.

Pay off the car with a personal loan

Paying off a car loan with a personal loan could be a good option if you plan on selling your car without buying a new one. In that case, you would sell the car, use the proceeds to pay down the balance of the car loan, then refinance the remaining balance with a personal loan.

However, keep in mind that auto loans are secured by collateral (the car). If you’re unable to pay, the lender can repossess the car. Personal loans are unsecured. If you stop paying, the lender has fewer options for recovering the money. For this reason, personal loans usually come with higher interest rates than auto loans.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s survey of commercial bank interest rates for the second quarter of 2017 shows just how much higher those rates can be. The average 60-month new car loan comes with an APR of 4.24 percent. The average 24-month personal loan has an APR of 10.13 percent. So with the typical personal loan, you’ll pay more than twice as much interest in half the time. Hard to see that as a good deal.

Refinance the car loan

Refinancing your car loan can help in a few ways. You may be able to lower your interest rate and lower the term of your loan, both of which will help you get equity in your car sooner. Curren says deciding whether refinancing is the right option depends on the remaining loan term and interest rate.

He uses the hypothetical example of a person who, because of credit issues, used a subprime loan with an interest rate of 22.9 percent to purchase a car. “My advice to that person is to build their credit up as much as possible and as quickly as possible,” Curren says. “In one year, they should be looking at refinancing the loan with an interest rate as low as 6 or 7 percent, which is still relatively high, but much more palatable. It will save them thousands of dollars in repayment.”

However, Curren says he doesn’t offer the same advice to someone with only a year or two left on a loan. “At that point, the savings is minimal,” he says. “The better advice is to pay off the car quicker.”

Part III: What to watch out for when you have an upside-down car loan

Car dealers push the latest vehicle designs and advertise very attractive incentives for trading in your old vehicle, no matter how upside-down you are at the moment. But take heed: You’ll want to be very careful about trading in an upside-down vehicle for a new loan. Here’s a look at the problems that can arise:

Rolled-over negative equity

As we mentioned above, many car dealers are willing to roll the negative equity from your old car loan into a new loan. This is a popular option because it doesn’t require coming up with any money immediately. But it also means your new car will be underwater before you even drive it home. That new car may be fun to drive, but your monthly will be higher because it includes the cost of your new vehicle and the remaining balance on the old one.

Dealer cash incentives

Some car dealers offer cash incentives that can help pay off your negative equity. For example, if you have $1,000 in negative equity on your current car loan, you could buy a new car with a $2,500 rebate, use $1,000 of the rebate to pay off the negative equity, and still have $1,500 left over to use as a down payment on the new car.

But be wary of dealers advertising they’ll “pay off your loan no matter how much you owe.” The FTC warns consumers that these promises may be misleading because dealers may roll the negative equity into your new loan, deduct it from your down payment, or both. If the dealer promises to pay off your negative equity, read your sales contract very carefully to make sure it’s not somehow folded into your new loan.

Part IV: How to avoid an upside-down car loan

Being upside-down on your car loan, at least for a little while, is very common. But there are things you can do to prevent it from happening.

  • Make a larger down payment. Because a car depreciates by around 20 percent in its first year, putting down 20 percent of the total purchase price (including taxes and fees) can help you avoid going underwater.
  • Choose a car that holds its value. Some makes and models hold their value better than others. Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and other car research sites regularly release lists of car brands and individual models with the best resale value. Do your research and pick out a car that will depreciate more slowly.
  • Opt for a shorter loan term. Longer terms are more likely to leave you underwater in the early years of the loan because you’re paying less toward the principal each month. Try not to finance a car for longer than you plan on keeping it.
  • Shop around for the lowest rate. The lower your interest rate, the more money you’ll pay toward principal each month. Don’t settle for the first offer you receive at a dealership. Shop around for a car loan before you go to the dealer, so you can feel confident you’re getting the best deal.
  • Avoid unnecessary options. Sunroofs, leather upholstery, rust proofing, extended warranties, fabric protection, chrome wheels — all these attractive add-ons are often overpriced. They’ll increase the purchase price of your vehicle, but rarely add long-term value.

Final thoughts

Being upside-down on your car loan is not an ideal situation, but you do have options. Understand the circumstances that led you to be upside-down in the first place can help keep the problem from recurring, or from carrying over to your next loan.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson |

Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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Auto Loan, Reviews

The Best Auto Loans: 2019 New & Used Car Loan Rates

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Disclosure : By clicking “See Offers” you’ll be directed to our parent company, LendingTree. You may or may not be matched with the specific lender you clicked on, but up to five different lenders based on your creditworthiness.

The best auto loan for you depends on your priorities, but two common goals are to get the most competitive rate and the lowest monthly payment. That’s why longer-term loans are so popular right now, with more people stretching out new and used car loans over 60 months or more. Despite that, new and used car payments hit an all-time high in 2017, meaning that people are spending more than ever on their vehicle purchases. That’s why MagnifyMoney has compiled a list of the best auto loans in 2019. We know that with rising rates, you need as much help as you can get finding the best rates to secure the vehicle you want and need.

Overview of the best auto loans in 2019

Company name

Best for

Loan types offered

 

LendingTree

Comparison shopping auto loan rates - LendingTree is not a lender.

New, used, refinance, lease-buyout

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

LightStream

Car buyers with good or excellent credit

New, used, refinance, lease-buyout

APPLY NOW Secured

on Lightstream’s secure website

Capital One

Car buyers with fair or poor credit

New, used, refinance

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Carvana Auto Loan

Buying a used car online

Used

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

How we picked the best auto loan rates

Using information from LendingTree, we compiled auto loan data over a six month period spanning across 22 auto lenders. We analyzed the loan data by applicant credit tier, and whether the loans were to purchase a used or new car to determine 1) the lenders consumers chose most often, and 2) the lowest average APR offered by the lender.

A closer look at the best new and used auto loans

Start with LendingTree

With LendingTree, you can fill out one short online form, and there are dozens of lenders ready to compete for your business. Upon completing the form, you can see real interest rates and approval information instantly. Some auto lenders will do a hard pull on your credit and this is common with auto lending. It’s important to remember, multiple hard pulls will only count as one pull, so the best strategy is to have all your hard pulls done at one time.

LendingTree
APR

As low as
3.99%

Terms

24 To 84

months

Fees

Varies

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that they allow you to compare multiple, auto loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online. LendingTree is not a lender, but their service connects you with up to five offers from auto loan lenders based on your creditworthiness.

 

Where people with good credit (680+) get the lowest rates

LightStream

LightStream is the online consumer lending division of SunTrust Bank. LightStream seeks to make the online lending process easy, so you may apply, be approved, sign your loan agreement and receive your funds all through your computer or mobile device — no papers to fill out or sign.

Why we chose Lightstream
Out of the lenders compared, borrowers with good and excellent credit were most likely to choose a loan with LightStream and receive the lowest APR. You can read our full LightStream review here.

New auto loan product details

  • APR: See table below
  • Terms offered: 24 – 84months
  • Loan amounts: $5,000 - $100,000

Lightstream New Auto Loan APRs

Loan Amount

Loan Term (months) *

24 - 36

37 - 48

49 - 60

61 - 72

73 - 84

$5,000 to $9,999

5.24% - 6.79%

5.84% - 7.39%

6.29% - 7.84%

6.59% - 8.14%

6.79% - 8.34%

$10,000 to $24,999

3.99% - 5.99%

4.44% - 6.24%

4.69% - 6.49%

4.94% - 6.74%

5.14% - 6.94%

$25,000 to $49,999

4.44% - 5.99%

4.69% - 6.24%

4.94% - 6.49%

5.19% - 6.74%

5.39% - 6.94%

$50,000 to $100,000

4.44% - 5.99%

4.69% - 6.24%

4.94% - 6.49%

5.14% - 6.69%

5.29% - 6.84%

As of 4/01/19. Includes a 0.50 point discount for autopay. Exact rates depend on your credit profile.

Used auto loan product details

  • APR: See table below.
  • Terms offered: 24 – 72 months
  • Loan Amounts: $5,000 - $100,000

LightStream Used Auto Loan APRs

Loan Amount

Loan Term (months) *

24 - 36

37 - 48

49 - 60

61 - 72

73 - 84

$5,000 to $9,999

5.24% - 6.79%

5.84% - 7.39%

6.29% - 7.84%

6.59% - 8.14%

6.79% - 8.34%

$10,000 to $24,999

3.99% - 5.99%

4.44% - 6.24%

4.69% - 6.49%

4.94% - 6.74%

5.14% - 6.94%

$25,000 to $49,999

4.44% - 5.99%

4.69% - 6.24%

4.94% - 6.49%

5.19% - 6.74%

5.39% - 6.94%

$50,000 to $100,000

4.44% - 5.99%

4.69% - 6.24%

4.94% - 6.49%

5.14% - 6.49%

5.29% - 6.84%

As of 4/01/19. Includes a 0.50 point discount for autopay. Exact rates are dependent on your credit profile and for purchases made from dealer. 

What we like

  • Fixed rate, simple interest fully amortizing installment loans. This means you won’t pay interest on your interest, and if you follow the payment schedule, your loan will be fully paid off at the end of the term.
  • No fees or prepayment penalties
  • No restrictions on the vehicles year, make, model or mileage
  • If you’re not 100% satisfied, Lightstream will pay you $100 (conditions apply)

Where it may fall short

  • Loans may not be used for a cash-out refinance
  • Secured loans may not be used for commercial vehicles
  • Vehicle must be classified as automobile, sport-utility vehicle (SUV), light-duty truck, passenger or conversion van
  • No phone support for customer service. Everything is handled by email

How to apply
Before you apply, keep in mind that you’ll need to:

  • Have good credit
  • Have sufficient income and assets
  • Agree to electronic records and signatures

Applying is done entirely online. You’ll provide:

  • Personal information. Name, address, phone, Social Security number, driver’s license, etc.
  • Employment information. Employer name and address, income and other financial assets
  • Loan information. Loan purpose, loan amount and term
  • Security information. Create a username and password
LightStream

APPLY NOW Secured

on Lightstream’s secure website

Where people with fair (620-679) & bad credit (500-619) get the lowest rates

Capital One Auto Finance

Capital One is a Fortune 500 company and a trusted name in banking and other financial services. In the fourth quarter of 2017, Capital One originated $6.215 billion worth of auto loans, making it one of the top five U.S. banks offering auto loans.

Why we chose Capital One
The most borrowers with fair and bad credit chose a loan with Capital One, and it came in second in terms of lowest average APR.

New auto loan product details

  • APR: See table below
  • Terms offered: 36 – 72 months
  • Loan Amounts: $7,500 - $50,000

Capital One new auto loan APRs

Credit

Loan Term (months) *

36

48

60

72

Rebuilding

7.45%

7.99%

7.99%

10.55%

Average

4.76%

5.12%

5.12%

6.42%

Excellent

3.99%

3.99%

3.99%

3.99%

As of 4/01/19

Used auto loan product details

  • APR: See table below
  • Terms offered: 36 – 72 months
  • Loan Amounts: $7,500 - $50,000

Capital One used auto loan APRs

Credit

Loan Term (months) *

36

48

60

72

Rebuilding

10.60%

12.63%

12.63%

14.00%

Average

5.91%

7.45%

7.45%

9.08%

Excellent

4.62%

4.62%

4.62%

5.38%

As of 4/01/19

What we like

  • Easy to pre-qualify online without a hard inquiry on your credit
  • Minimum monthly income required is $1,500 or $1,800, depending on your credit
  • 12,000 auto dealers work with Capital One

Where it may fall short

  • The best rates require excellent credit with 20% down on the vehicle
  • Vehicles must be 2006 or newer
  • Vehicles must have less than 120,000 miles
  • Dealers may charge additional fees, including document fees, dealer preparation fees and delivery charges
  • Maximum loan amount may not cover the cost of the vehicle you desire

How to apply
Apply using Capital One’s Auto Navigator. Enter your personal information including your Social Security number to get pre-qualified for an auto loan without affecting your credit. Then take your financing certificate to the dealership to shop for cars and make a selection. Once you’ve selected a vehicle, the dealer will have you fill out a credit application and you’ll finalize the paperwork for your vehicle purchase with the dealer.

Capital One

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Carvana

Carvana specializes in helping you shop for a car online. It uses things such as 360-degree photos, free vehicle history reports, details and specs, ratings and reviews to provide you with the maximum amount of information.

Why we chose them
We looked at the three used auto lenders chosen most often in each credit tier, and Carvana was the only lender in the top three in every tier. That’s why we chose Carvana, even though other lenders offered lower average APRs on used auto loans.

Product details – Used auto loans only

  • APR: APR depends on credit history, vehicle type and down payment.
  • Terms offered: Up to 72 months.
  • Minimum loan amount: None
  • Maximum loan amount: Any amount, as long as it’s a vehicle listed on the Carvana website.

What we like

  • High level of detail on vehicles makes online shopping easy
  • Online application personalizes your shopping experience and doesn’t require a hard pull on your credit
  • You can return the vehicle within seven days and get your money back (Make sure you’re familiar with the limits on this policy before you buy)
  • All vehicles are certified with a 150-point inspection

Where it may fall short

  • Only available for used vehicles
  • Carvana is a car dealership, and you must select a vehicle through their website

Online experience
Carvana provides a lot of information about each vehicle. You won’t have to visit other sites to find specs or read reviews

When you fill out the online application, you’ll see a breakdown of your monthly payment, minimum required down payment and your APR, making your shopping experience truly personalized.
How to apply
You may get pre-qualified with Carvana without a hard pull on your credit by filling out the online application. After you complete it, you may start shopping for a used vehicle, and your payment, down payment and APR will be displayed for each vehicle. Keep in mind, with Carvana, you must purchase a vehicle in their inventory.

Carvana

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Understanding the auto loans process

How do auto loans work?

For the lenders we detailed above, you may apply for a loan online and receive personalized loan rates without a hard pull to your credit. So while you don’t see rate tables on certain lender websites, don’t be discouraged. If you’re serious, just fill out an application to see what you may qualify for.

Once you’ve completed the initial application, you’ll be able to shop for a vehicle knowing which type of financing you’ll likely qualify for.

Once you’ve selected a vehicle, you’ll need to submit a full application for the loan. This can be done online or with a dealer, if you’re working with one. Once again, most lenders are streamlining this process online, so for the lenders we discussed on this page, you may upload your documents using a computer or mobile device.

Once you’ve purchased the vehicle and completed your loan documents, you’ll just need to make payments. Making payments has moved online as well, and many lenders offer apps to help you manage your payments and loan information using your mobile device.

Tips when shopping for car loans

Here are some tips to help you avoid common mistakes and shop confidently for a car loan.

  • Set a budget. Everyone says it, but it’s not always easy to do. If you aren’t keeping a budget, here’s how to start in four easy steps.
  • Know how much you can afford. MagnifyMoney suggests you keep your total car expense less than 10% of your monthly budget. This is part of the 20/4/10 rule, which also says you should put down at least 20% and choose a maximum loan term of four years.
  • Save for a down payment. The amount of your down payment is likely to affect the interest rate you receive when financing your vehicle. So saving for a larger payment will help save you money and putting more down will lower your monthly payment, too.
  • Check your credit. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months, and it’s easy to get your free credit score from a variety of sources.
  • Consider a co-signer. If your credit score is low or you have a limited credit history that needs improvement, having a co-signer with good credit on your auto loan could significantly lower your interest rate.
  • Shop around. It’s smart to get multiple rate quotes, so you may compare loans.
  • Get pre-approved. Shopping for a vehicle doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t know how much money you’ll have to work with. Shoppers have many options for getting auto loan quotes without a hard inquiry on their credit, but if you’re serious about buying a car, doing all your loan shopping in a short period of time will minimize the potential impact on your credit score, if loan applications result in a hard pull.
  • Talk to local credit unions. While banks and online auto loan companies offer easy-to-use online tools, don’t forget to talk to your local credit union to see if it has a more competitive rate.
  • Beware of extra fees. Keep in mind you’ll need to pay state taxes and title fees. In addition, dealers may charge fees, including document fees, dealer preparation fees and delivery charges. These fees will affect your APR if you finance them into your loan.
  • Check your paperwork. Everyone makes mistakes. When you get the final copy of your auto loan, check to make sure you got everything you were promised and there are no extra fees.

How to apply for an auto loan

From choosing the right car to getting approved for financing, this article will walk you through the complete online car buying process.

When you apply for an auto loan, it will help to have your documentation ready. This will include proof of identity, proof of income, credit and banking history and proof of residence. If you’ve selected a vehicle, you also want that information, including VIN, mileage, year, make and model.

While many online lenders advertise the loan process as being quick, be prepared for roadblocks. Sometimes a lender may request additional information or take time to verify information, and that may delay the process.

Be proactive! Once you’ve started the auto loan process, the lender will walk you through what’s needed. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait for your lender to get back to you. If the loan process has stalled, make a call or send an email to your lender asking what’s needed. In many cases, you’ll have an online login that will allow you to see your loan status, or take the next step online.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Ralph Miller
Ralph Miller |

Ralph Miller is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Ralph here

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Auto Loan

Your Car Data Could Sell You Out

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

car data
iStock

While cars can’t fly or do your taxes — yet — they can be pretty smart. Navigation and “infotainment” systems on newer vehicles can store your address, open your garage and access your cell phone. IHS Markit predicts that by 2023, 69% of passenger vehicles sold will be connected ones, with onboard sensors and computers. So what happens to all of that data when you get rid of your car? It could wind up in the hands of strangers. The next person who has the car could have a creepy-level amount of information about you and your family.

Of course, if your car has only roll-down windows and an AM/FM radio, this doesn’t apply to you. If your car has more technology, however, read on to find out what is at risk and how to protect yourself.

The type of car data at risk

Your previous and saved locations

Andrea Amico has spent most of his career involved in the wholesale of used cars. What he learned in the business inspired him to found Privacy4Cars, a mobile app that guides users with photos and instructions on how to delete their car data. One day during a car inspection, what he found surprised him. “I was literally two clicks away from getting inside someone’s house,” he said. “I had her home address, the garage code, [addresses for] her doctor’s office, her kid’s school, and after-school activities.” It even showed the saved address for a cancer treatment center.

Amico said it doesn’t take special skills to see this information, just basic knowledge about syncing a car’s computer to a phone.

Home access services, subscriptions

A car does not require a passcode or facial recognition once you’re in it. A new driver can simply press a button to open your garage. Services such as HomeLink are handy in that they can allow you to deactivate the home security system and turn on the lights before you walk in with an armful of groceries. But those probably aren’t things you’d want a stranger to be able to do. HomeLink recommends you delete the programming for security purposes before you sell or turn in the vehicle.

Other subscriptions may give a new driver access to your wallet. Alicia Garcia, a Kia salesperson in San Antonio, said a customer once forgot to cancel their satellite radio subscription. The next person who bought the car continued to use it, racking up charges. “If they do not call to cancel or transfer the service, it keeps going,” Garcia said.

Contacts, texts, media and call logs

Syncing your phone with your vehicle means the car may have access to your contact list, personal contact information, call log, digital media and more. So besides being able to call your mom and listen to your favorite playlist, a new driver could keep up with your daily life. In one instance, Amico said, a car was able to read aloud the former owner’s current text messages because the phone was still synced and the owner had not deleted the car’s data prior to reselling it.

What about the law?

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear two cases involving the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications Act, a federal law specifically governing car data privacy is in the works. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the SELF Drive Act, a bill that would require manufacturers of highly-automated vehicles to develop cybersecurity and privacy plans before selling those cars to consumers. It now sits with a Senate committee. California became the first state to enact cybersecurity laws for smart devices when it passed the California Consumer Privacy Act which could have an impact on connected cars when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.

The U.S. is not the first country to take note of this issue. The European Union has already passed regulation on data protection and consumer rights.

How to clear car data

The two best ways to clear your car data yourself may be to restore factory settings on the infotainment system and unpair the car from your phone’s Bluetooth. After this, you may want to double check that specific apps on your car have been digitally wiped. For example, check that the navigation app no longer has your addresses saved. And to cancel or transfer services like SiriusXM Satellite Radio and HomeLink, contact the provider.

If you don’t feel like clicking around on your car’s system to figure things out, you may be able to find a tutorial on YouTube, get instructions from the owner’s manual, get help from a car salesperson or use an app.

When you rent. Clearing your data is important when you sell or donate a car, but it’s a good idea to follow the same steps after renting a car.

An app for clearing car data

Privacy4Cars is an app that is free to download and offers two free “wipes,” step-by-step pictures and instructions on how to clear your car data, based on the car you have. If you need more than the two free wipes, there are paid options, too. On Google Play for Android, the app has a 4.4 star rating. Users of the Apple Store gave it a 4.9 star rating. Reviewers note that it is especially useful if one often rents vehicles.

What else does your car know about you?

As more and more cars become connected and offer more safety features and conveniences, the amount of data that cars — and thus carmakers — know about their drivers can reach levels previously unconsidered. Here are some examples of what else your car could know about you.

  • Safety systems that help the car to balance and keep traction may know how much you and any or all of your passengers weigh.
  • Systems such as Subaru’s DriverFocus can recognize up to five faces and remember their favorite seat positions, media and temperature preferences.
  • Chevrolet’s Teen Driver system can also know who is driving by recognizing a specific car key and apply limits to things such as maximum driving speed and maximum music volume when that key is in use.

While many of these advanced features keep us safer as drivers and passengers, it’s important to keep track of what your car might know about you and what information you wouldn’t want in the hands of the next owner or their passengers.

Looking to buy a car? Check out our top picks for the best auto loan companies in 2019.

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Jenn Jones
Jenn Jones |

Jenn Jones is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jenn at [email protected]

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