In response to Karlin Lillington’s recent article “Could your old car be giving away all your secrets to its new owner?” I thought I’d share what my car knows (spoiler, the answer to Karlin’s question is ‘yes’). – Originally Jul’20 updated Jul’22.
First off, this data is common, my 2007 Passat had a similar data set and so do most cars, the question is not what ‘does the car know?’, but ‘with whom does it share?’.
The 2007 Passat car had no modem so a download was needed i.e. physical access. Our 141 Auris has a modem and as far as I can see it shares its need for a service with local dealers, and it certainly shares its location with a server to download local traffic updates (a modem connects the car to internet via mobile network 2-4G usually).
Both 2007 and 2014 cars showed me their previous owner’s home address and other frequently used locations on their sat nav until I deleted them.
My current car is an electric BMW i3, I asked BMW for a download of the data and it was delivered promptly next morning. Below is an edited version of the data. Key fields are in bold and I have edited out very detailed data for ease of reading and to protect my home address.
BMW CARDATA – THE TELEMATICS DATA ARCHIVE FOR YOUR BMW
Request date: 03-07-2020
The BMW CarData data archive allows you to retain an overview of the telematics data that your vehicle regularly sends to BMW as part of the BMW ConnectedDrive services and that are stored there. This includes measurements by your BMW, such as the mileage and check control messages.
Basic data of your vehicle
The following table provides you with basic information of your vehicle.
|i3 94 (+ REX)
|Number of doors
|CAPPARISWEISS MIT AKZENT BMW I BLAU
|Colour code raw
|List of optional equipment
Data regarding the status of your vehicle
The following table provides information about the current status of your vehicle.
|AC charging current
|AC charging voltage
|Charging method and plug type
|Charging profile (remote)
|Status of front left door
|Status of rear left door
|Status of doors
|Status of front right door
|Status of rear right door
|Vehicle position – degree of latitude
|Vehicle position – degree of longitude
|Orientation of the vehicle
|Status of hood
|Status of charging plug
|The date when the brake fluid needs to be replaced
|01.04.2021 00:00:00 UTC
|Number of CBS reports
|Time threshold for main and exhaust gas inspection
|Display unit of instrument panel in vehicle
|Date of next service
|28.03.2021 00:00:00 UTC
|Availability of teleservices
|Environmental temperature (sporadically available)
|Distance threshold for service information
|Time threshold for service information
|Tank content range
|Remote service result
|Remote service type
|Charging status of high-voltage battery
|Status of boot lid
|Status of engine (on/off)
|State of ignition
|Status of lights
|Motion status of the vehicle
|Status of front left window
|Status of front right window
|Charging window selection
Usage-related data from your vehicle
The table below contains usage-related data from your vehicle.
|Condition Based Services
|Brake fluid Description:Next change due at the latest by the stated date.State:OKDue (date):01.04.2021 00:00Due in (km):-Vehicle check
Description:Next visual inspection due when the stated distance has been covered or by the stated date.State:OKDue (date):01.04.2021 00:00Due in (km):-Engine oil Description:Next service due when the stated distance has been covered or by the specified date.State:OKDue (date):01.04.2021 00:00Due in (km):-
|Average distance per week
|Average distance per week (long-life)
|Driving style evaluation – ‘acceleration behaviour’
|Driving style evaluation – ‘pro-active driving’
|Activation period for ECO PLUS mode during most recent drive
|Activation period for ECO mode during most recent drive
|Electrical energy consumption in COMFORT mode during the most recent drive
|Electrical energy consumption during last drive
|Fuel consumption during most recent drive
|Mileage after last drive
|Electrically driven distance during the most recent drive
|Energy recuperated during the last drive
|Charging status of battery
|Time of most recent drive
|03.07.2020 17:56:00 UTC
Data regarding events of your vehicle
The following table provides an overview of the most recent events recorded for your vehicle.
|Time the event occurred in the vehicle
|Time the event information was stored at BMW
|Teleservice Battery Guard
|25.06.2020 09:56:44 UTC
|25.06.2020 09:56:50 UTC
“It is possible that additional data are stored by BMW, providing you have booked one of the following BMW ConnectedDrive services. Information on the data saved for these services is made available by the respective service itself and therefore is not part of this data archive” – Frankly they have to store extra data to support warranty and service prediction, so this is not a surprise – end of data set.
I realise this is nerd territory but it is nonetheless interesting to see BMW are aware of my:
- Driving Style including acceleration
- Parking orientation
- Fuel and battery status
- Charging patterns
- Have I left the doors and windows open or closed etc.
I am happy for BMW to have this data as I have been aware for many years (courtesy of a Saab c.1998) that manufacturers need and use this data to extend or shorten my service intervals.
However, based on my experience training professional drivers and transport managers, most, if not all, are completely unaware of how much data your car stores and how easy it is for this data to be physically downloaded after an incident. *
Does this knowledge and feedback improve their driving? You bet it does. Savings of 5% sustained in L/100km on average. 10+% sustained in some places. Manufacturers agree many vehicles such as Ford vans, Scania trucks feature driving coaching based on this data. Stick to 5% saving if citing. Example at https://ecodrive.ie (full disclosure that’s one of my courses)
Furthermore, the introduction of eCall means that all new cars automatically send an alert in the event of an accident to emergency services; expect to see a spike in road traffic accident reports soon (as so many are not reported currently). Link to more information on eCall: https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/security-and-emergencies/emergency-assistance-vehicles-ecall/indexamp_en.htm (Jul’22 I see new cars will be fitted with speed limit alerts as standard).
If you are worried about your data being stored or shared;
- Buy a bike? Don’t use Strava though, or if you do turn on the privacy settings.
- Buy an eBike? Many come with apps to tailor your experience i.e. they may share data with the cloud via your phone.
- Use the Bus? Your Leap card and/or Phone will track your movement.
- Buy a very old car without sat nav and ECU (from before 1998 is my best guess).
In short we live in a connected world, your data is your responsibility: Delete your personal data from your car when you sell it; just like you do when disposing of your mobile phone and laptop – you do do this already don’t you?
*Post incident crash investigation is very sophisticated, Since the noughties police forces worldwide have been able – easily – to download the data from your car’s ECU – Electronic Control Unit – a device called the CrashCube makes this process extremely simple. How anyone thinks their driving style is NOT being recorded in a modern car is beyond me (modern means 1990s or later).
You can read more about CrashCube and its history at CrashCube – DIGITPOL
For the avoidance of doubt I am in favour of increased use of electronic means to police our roads; that drink driving readings, and video footage can be challenged at all is incredible to me. By all means lets debate how we use this data (and that’s all it is) but don’t rule out its use, as we appear to be doing with bicycle cam footage (By the way, how is bicycle cam footage different from dashcam footage?).
Postscript: Can your car be hacked?
I try to keep these blog posts short and on the point, but the above almost always leads to the question can my car be hacked? The short answer is yes.
Car makers have taken steps to prevent this, but as we should all know security updates are essential and these are delivered over the air i.e. via the modems mentioned above. Having said that here’s a link to a car being hacked:
I updated this article 6th July 2022 to reflect some questions asked on Twitter. Happy to have errors and omissions pointed out and will amend further. Do click on the Twitter Link below to see the full Q&A.