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GPS Tracking Buyer's Guide

Posted by Brian Frazier on

Vehicle recovery tools are an excellent way to protect your vehicle. There are different types of vehicle recovery systems. A GPS, or “global positioning system” tracks the location of an object. These trackers can be attached to things that move, like cars, to locate them around the globe.  There are passive GPS trackers and active GPS trackers. These two devices have a few differences that are important to understand.

Active GPS Trackers 

Active GPS trackers track a vehicle in real-time. These devices are attached to a vehicle, and they can track the movement of the vehicle. These devices allow you to track when a vehicle moves, starts and stops, and where it is located.

 

Most active GPS trackers operate by using a GPS transmitter and cellular technology. The GPS transmitter works by tracking the vehicle. The information from that tracker is sent to the monitoring center using cellular technology. These GPS trackers are excellent tools, but there are disadvantages to using GPS trackers that depend on a cellular signal.

GPS trackers that depend on a cellular signal must be able to communicate with the satellite systems. These satellite systems are what transmit the signal. If the trackers do not have a clear line of sight to three satellites that locate the car’s position, the trackers won’t work. That means that if your car is taken and parked in an area where a cellular signal is blocked (a concrete parking structure, for example, or a “dead zone” that doesn’t pick up a cellular signal), your car can’t be tracked. Think of how often your cell phone signal drops. In those cellular “dead zones,” the GPS tracker would not work.

Passive GPS Trackers/Data Loggers

Passive GPS trackers differ from active GPS trackers in that passive GPS trackers do not monitor a vehicle’s movement in real time. Instead, they store the vehicle’s information in a tracking device. To access the tracking information, you must remove the tracker and plug it into a computer to view the information. Obviously, this isn’t helpful if you are using a tracker to recover a stolen vehicle. It would be helpful, however, if you are tracking your mileage or monitoring the movement of an employee.

Passive GPS trackers can be attached and stored to a vehicle discreetly, which makes them easier to use to track a teenage driver or a roaming spouse. The data is not transmitted for storage, so you’ll have to regularly review the information. If you don’t need to track a vehicle in real time, a passive GPS tracker may be the right choice, as it is much easier on your wallet.

Alternative Tracker Systems

In the passive versus active tracker debate, there is an exception. The LoJack system uses radio frequency technology instead of a cellular signal. Because of this and other features, LoJacks are expensive to purchase upfront.

Why Do You Need a Vehicle Tracker System?

You can use a vehicle tracker system for several reasons. It’s helpful to track your vehicle’s movement, whether it’s to track mileage or to track whether someone is driving. There are pros and cons to each type of system, but both are beneficial.
If your car is stolen, a GPS tracker may help police recover your lost vehicle. Most people think that it couldn’t happen to them, but the reality is that it can. In the United States, a car is stolen every 45 seconds! During any given year, roughly 500,000 automobiles are stolen in America. If you suffer the unfortunate circumstance of being one of those people whose vehicle is stolen, a GPS tracker will be very useful. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
If you have a teenager, a tracking device is a useful way to track his or her whereabouts and verify where the teen went. It can be done discreetly, and it saves you the hassle of arguing over your teen’s travels in the car. A tracker can also be used to track a spouse or employee, or any person driving your vehicle.

How Much Does a Car GPS Tracking System Cost?

Although a GPS tracking system is an investment upfront, it will pay for itself in the peace of mind by not worrying about the location of your car. If you do have to use a system to recover a lost vehicle, the costs will be made up in real dollars.
The price of a GPS device varies depending on what kind you buy and what features are available. On the high end, a GPS costs between $150.00 to $200.00.  On the lower end, you can find a GPS tracker in the range of $80.00. Before you purchase your device, make sure that it has the features that you are looking for.

Most GPS devices will also require that you purchase a monthly subscription service. The price of these services varies, but it can be between $5 and $50. Again, it depends on what features you want in your tracking service. The monthly subscription service is something that you want to investigate before purchasing. You may be required to sign a contract for the monthly service. But, this can be positive because some manufacturers will waive or lower the costs of the device when you sign up for a tracking service.

Vehicle Tracker Features

So, now that you understand the different between and active and passive GPS tracker, and you have some idea of the price range, the next thing to look at is the features of individual devices. Some of the features to consider in GPS tracking devices are listed below.

1. Support – With any GPS system, you want to consider what support services are available. You may need help with the operation of the device, activating the tracking feature, or tracking your vehicle if it is ever lost. You want to consider what type of support is available.
2. Battery Life – How long will the battery in your device last? Ideally, you want a long-lasting battery so that you don’t have to change it out frequently. One that last days or even longer is best.
3. Ease of Use – Consider your needs and select a tracker that will cover your needs, but still be relatively easy to use. You want a GPS tracker that’s easy to set up and get going doing its job.
4. Breadcrumbs – This feature leaves information about whether your vehicle was on a map. You can view the map to trace your vehicle’s location and movement.
5. Geofencing – This feature is a virtual boundary on a map. You can set up your virtual geofence, and it will alert you whenever your car leaves that imaginary boundary. This would be useful, for example, if you have set limits on where your teen can travel to. If your car travels outside of those boundaries, you will be notified.
6. Speed Alerts & Aggressive Driving – Again, this is helpful if you have a teen driver. You can set speed alerts to be notified when your car travels faster than a certain speed, or if there is aggressive driving, like sudden acceleration or braking.
7. Ignition on/off – This feature notifies you of when your car is turned on and when it is turned off.
8. Technology Integration – This can include a myriad of features, including what type of software is used for tracking, whether the GPS can plug into an OBD-II port, and what type of information the GPS provides.
9. Motion Sensitivity – If possible, choose a GPS tracker that is motion sensitive. These systems will only use the battery of the tracker while the car is in motion, thereby extending the battery life.

Hiding a GPS System

So, what if you are using a tracker on your car and you don’t want anyone to know? Well, there are ways to hide the GPS tracking system and make it less likely that the driver of the vehicle will be able to detect it.

The first thing to consider is selecting the right tracker. Trackers come in a range of sizes, and you want to choose one that’s small enough to be attached and hidden discreetly.

The next thing to consider is the location of the tracker. You want the GPS tracker placed in a location that won’t block its signal.  Here are a few places where you can place the tracker and keep it hidden.

1. Inside the vehicle undercarriage.
2. In the front or rear plastic bumper.
3. Inside the back brake lights. (If the brakes have to be repaired, the tracker may be discovered.)
4. Inside the dashboard.
5. Inside a seat cushion.

There are better spots to put a tracker to get a good signal (such as the sun visor or on the dashboard), but those locations make it likely that the tracker will be discovered. Once you place the tracker in one of the recommended hidden spots, test it to make sure the tracker can still pick up a signal. If you’ve tested it and can get a signal, then you’re good to go!

Conclusion

A GPS tracking system on a vehicle has many benefits. It can help you track mileage, recover a lost vehicle, or find out where a loved one or employee is traveling to. The downsides are that the systems cost upfront may require a monthly subscription for tracking, and must be maintained and checked at regular intervals. But, once you find the right system for you, it’s worth it!

GPS Trackers

Passive GPS Data Loggers

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