Finding and Turning Off a Car's Black Box

Does your car have an event data recorder?

If you bought your car within the last few years, it contains a black box. These devices are called event data recorders (EDRs) EDRs keep track of everything from how fast you were traveling prior to an accident to whether you were wearing your seatbelt at the time.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 95 percent of vehicles sold in the United States contain some form of EDR. Even in the early 2000s, black boxes were installed in tens of millions of vehicles sold in the United States.

Since event data recorders are integrated into the electronic control systems of the cars they monitor, and many are built into airbag control units, unplugging or turning them off is usually not an option.

So, where do you go from there?

How to Identify Whether Your Car Has a Black Box

The easiest way to find out whether your car has a black box is to read the owner's manual. Although the NHTSA refused to order manufacturers or dealers to disclose the presence of EDRs when the agency first ruled on the matter in 2006, it issued a regulation that requires some form of disclosure in the owner's manual.

If an EDR isn't mentioned in the owner's manual, and the car was built after the 2006 ruling standardizing black boxes, there may not be a black box in the car.

The 2006 ruling gave automakers six years to comply. That means cars and trucks built between 2006 and 2012 could have EDRs without any form of disclosure. And one year after the ruling became enforceable, 96 percent of all new vehicles in the US came with EDRs installed.

Turning Off or Removing Event Data Recorders

Turning off, disabling, or removing an EDR is typically difficult or impossible. The difficulty is because the location and appearance of an EDR may vary from one make to another and even within different models produced by the same manufacturer.

The other issue is that EDRs are often built into an airbag control module, secondary restraint system (SRS) module, or electronic control module (ECM), which means they cannot be removed or tampered with.

Even when a vehicle has a discrete component that only functions as an EDR, it is almost always tied into the airbags or SRS in some way. This is particularly true of newer vehicles, and even if you locate a discrete EDR, the airbags may deploy as soon as you tamper with it.

If you want to disable or remove the EDR in your car, look for someone who has successfully done so with a vehicle that precisely matches the make, model, and year of yours and then proceed from there.

There are potential consequences of tampering with an EDR that go beyond accidentally deploying the airbags. For instance, tampering with these devices is illegal in some jurisdictions. To be safe, check your local laws before removing an EDR.

Buying a Car Without a Black Box

Although it may be difficult or impossible to disable the EDR in your car, you could buy a used vehicle that doesn't have one. In some cases, you will have to dig pretty deep, but there are other automakers that jumped on the bandwagon recently.

While there isn't a comprehensive list of vehicles that do or don't have EDRs, one place to start your research is with the companies that build the devices that interface with EDRs. These companies provide lists of vehicles that their equipment is compatible with.

Companies that offer accident investigation services also provide lists of vehicles that they can pull data from. Find a vehicle that isn't on one of those lists, and you may have found a car that doesn't have a black box.

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