What does your car know?

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.

BMW i3

Basic data of your vehicle

The following table provides you with basic information of your vehicle.

arData ElementValue
BrandBMW_I
Development seriesI01
SeriesI
Model namei3 94 (+ REX)
Model key1Z82
Body typeHatchback
Number of doors4
Navigation systemTrue
HeadunitENTRYNAV
Sun roofFalse
Country codeIE
SteeringRL
EngineIB1
Drive trainBEV_REX
Charging modesAC_LOW,DC
Propulsion typeEL
Colour descriptionCAPPARISWEISS MIT AKZENT BMW I BLAU
Colour code rawB85
Construction date2017-03-31 T00:00:00.000+0000
List of optional equipment02D7,02PA,,08R9,08S2,08S3,08TG,0812,0845,0853,0880,09AA

Data regarding the status of your vehicle

The following table provides information about the current status of your vehicle.

CarData ElementValue
Charging profile[detailed/edited out]
Vehicle altitude54 meter
AC charging current0 A
AC charging voltage0 V
Charging method and plug typeNOCHARGING
Charging profile (remote)INVALID;DIRECT_CHG_ONCE_NOT_ACTIVE
Charging statusNOCHARGING
Status of front left doorCLOSED
Status of rear left doorCLOSED
Status of doorsSECURED
Status of front right doorCLOSED
Status of rear right doorCLOSED
Vehicle position – degree of latitude[detailed/edited out]
Vehicle position – degree of longitude[detailed/edited out]
Orientation of the vehicle13 degrees
Status of hoodCLOSED
Status of charging plugDISCONNECTED
The date when the brake fluid needs to be replaced01.04.2021 00:00:00 UTC
Number of CBS reports5
Time threshold for main and exhaust gas inspection4
Coolant temperature16 °C
Display unit of instrument panel in vehiclekm
Date of next service28.03.2021 00:00:00 UTC
Availability of teleservicesInitial status
Environmental temperature (sporadically available)15 °C
Distance threshold for service information2000 km
Time threshold for service information4 weeks
Tank content range44.0 km
Mileage57764 km
Tank content3 l
Remote service resultTrue
Remote service typeCLIMATE_NOW
Charging status of high-voltage battery96 %
Status of boot lidCLOSED
Door statusASN_secured,allDoorsLocked:ASN_isTrue,trunkLocked:ASN_isTrue
Status of engine (on/off)ASN_isFalse
State of ignitionASN_isFalse
Status of lightsASN_isFalse
Low-voltage batterychargingCondition:99,plausibility:ASN_notPlausible,
Motion status of the vehicleASN_isFalse
Status of front left windowCLOSED
Status of front right windowCLOSED
Charging window selectionNOTCHOSEN
Fault memory[detailed/edited out]

Usage-related data from your vehicle

The table below contains usage-related data from your vehicle.

CarData ElementValue
Condition Based ServicesBrake 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 week300 km
Average distance per week (long-life)300 km
Driving style evaluation – ‘acceleration behaviour’0
Driving style evaluation – ‘pro-active driving’0
Activation period for ECO PLUS mode during most recent drive0 %
Activation period for ECO mode during most recent drive0 %
Electrical energy consumption in COMFORT mode during the most recent drive0.04 kWh
Electrical energy consumption during last drive0.38 kWh
Fuel consumption during most recent drive0.0 l
Mileage after last drive57764 km
Electrically driven distance during the most recent drive100 %
Energy recuperated during the last drive12 kWh/100km
Charging status of battery96 %
Time of most recent drive03.07.2020 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.

CarData ElementTime the event occurred in the vehicleTime the event information was stored at BMW
Teleservice Battery Guard25.06.2020 09:56:44 UTC25.06.2020 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).

Fix

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:

Video article from Forbes 2013
(car makers have taken steps to prevent this form of attack since).

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.

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