What to look for in a GPS tracking device for your car
Bradley Jando | Friday 5th February 2021 9:24am
Your car may well be one of the more expensive things that you own. You take steps to maintain it and make sure it runs smoothly and safely, but for many, their car’s security is not something that they tend to consider on a regular basis.
You can spend hundreds of pounds fixing and maintaining your car, only to have it disappear one night. So, opting for security is a must. In particular, a GPS device will go a long way in helping you locate your car in the unfortunate event that it’s stolen – but there are so many options online that it can be overwhelming to choose one.
The best place to start when planning out your needs is to know how you’ll use your tracking device.
What is your primary intention with a GPS tracker?
The first thing you need to establish is what your primary intention is for your GPS tracking device. That’s because a GPS tracking device for tracking personal movements will have a wholly different set of requirements than, say, one for tracking a fleet of vehicles for a taxi company.
For fleet tracking, for example, you’ll often need a tracker that is able to tap into a vehicle’s OBD port – this allows for accurate tracking of vehicle conditions, as well as location. So, you’d be able to see which of your fleet vehicles need to be serviced or repaired (in real time), as well as track how well your drivers are driving through looking at things like hard braking metrics, average speeds, and so on.
On the other hand, these aren’t necessary if your intention is to keep track of family members as they go about their day. For that, you need something that’s small, light, and weather resistant – with a good battery life.
Otherwise, you may be using a tracking device to keep track of your personal vehicle and help locate it in the event of it getting stolen. That in itself comes with different requirements.
So, once you’ve decided on the primary purpose for your GPS tracking device, you need to look for the perfect device. Here are the main things to look out for.
If you’re not intending to permanently install your tracking device to your car, you need to get one that is highly mobile. Many modern tracking devices are surprisingly small – some as small as 3 inches!
Many come with innovative ways to mount to vehicles, such as clips or neodymium magnets, which hold the tracker sturdily onto a metal part of your vehicle.
The more mobile a tracker is can come with a slightly higher monthly subscription, so just keep an eye out for that.
Independent battery & good battery life
Often, you’ll be able to wire a tracking device into your vehicle’s battery so that it can be charged whenever the vehicle’s running. Trackers that plug into your vehicle’s OBD port don’t need to be charged, but these are also less secure – a thief will usually know common places for trackers, and the OBD port is, by necessity, easy to access.
As such, an independent battery with a good lifespan will come in handy if the power to your tracker is disconnected. That way, if your vehicle is stolen, you’ll have a greater chance of finding out its location.
Real-time tracking and monitoring
This is almost standard now on vehicle tracking devices, but being able to track where your vehicle is whenever you want is crucial. Some tracking services, usually for motorhomes, campervans, or caravans, are monitored by a professional, but don’t have the functionality for you to view the real-time location of your asset yourself.
Being able to check whether your vehicle is where it should be, whenever you want to, may be quite important. So it’s worth considering tracking devices that come with compatible phone or web apps.
Likewise, look out for what the update interval is on a device. This is how frequently the device messages the server with an updated location. A more frequent update interval of, say, 15 seconds, will provide a very up-to-date location whenever you need it, but will run the battery down more quickly if you’re using a battery-powered tracker.
Historical data tracking
It may be beneficial to be able to track historical data so that you can see routes and previous stops. In a practical sense, this could help you devise better routes or remember stops that you made, but in a security sense, this may help you find your vehicle if it does ever get stolen.
This is particularly useful for fleet tracking purposes, as you may need to be able to see not only where your drivers are at any one point, but where they’ve been.
What’s more is that the ability for historical data logging on a remote server will mean that if your tracking device is disconnected, you’ll still be able to find its last known location – this itself may be enough to get your car back!
A geo-fence zone is an area that you can set up where your vehicle would usually be. This could be the drive at home, the car park at work, or anywhere else your car should be at a certain time. The purpose of this is to alert you immediately whenever the tracker is moved outside of that geo-fence zone.
More advanced systems may even let you set geo-fence zones on the go, so that you can quickly save where you’ve parked at the supermarket.
As such, it’s important to have a device that is able to give a highly accurate reading of its current location. If a location is accurate to, say, 30 meters, then your car could be on an entirely different street when in urban areas.
For geo-fencing to work as intended, opt for a tracking device that also has precise location accuracy. If you’re able to find your vehicle within, say, a meter of its listed location on the phone app, then you can be quite certain that you’ll be alerted quickly if it is ever moved.
How easily can it be hidden?
Discretion is key with tracking devices. While this is tied to mobility, it’s important to also note how easily a device can be hidden within a vehicle. Modern thieves are aware of tracking devices and are sure to check quickly for them. Having a tracking device obviously on your dashboard, therefore, means that a thief can easily throw it out of the window or dispose of it.
Be sure to find out whether the device you’re looking for is able to be mounted or hidden remotely somewhere where it won’t be easily found.
Similarly, an option to turn off LED lights is also likely to help keep it hidden, as a flashing light under your vehicle is a giveaway at night time.
If your tracking device is mounted externally, such as on the chassis of the vehicle via magnets, then it needs to be able to withstand the elements.
Tracking devices need to be able to operate at below-freezing temperatures, be resistant to water, as well as other materials that may be sprayed up from road surfaces. Substances such as salt, oils, or other chemicals can wreak havoc on rubbers and certain plastics, so be sure to check the resistance rating of any prospective tracking device.
Similarly, the casing needs to protect all electronics from hard, physicals shocks – such as from stones or road debris hitting it – as well as the vibrations of the vehicle on the road.
Tech support and ongoing costs
Often the least thought-about option is tech support. It may seem like an inconsequential option at the point of purchase, but being able to quickly call up a knowledgeable team whenever you have trouble with your device will help significantly. Ultimately, the more easily you’re able to use your tracking device and its software, the safer your vehicle becomes.
As such, consider the quality of technical support when you factor in things such as ongoing costs.
Most trackers use SIM cards that essentially ‘text’ a coordinate to a remote server. As such, you’ll usually need to have a compatible SIM card with a monthly messaging plan that will cover the update frequency you desire. Some trackers, however, come with pre-installed SIM cards where you’ll only be able to pay for a subscription directly to the company that’s providing the tracking device. If that comes with increased support and regular updates, it may just be worth paying a little extra a month – don’t be fooled by excessively low costs!
Armed with this information, hopefully you can go and find the best tracking device out there to keep your vehicle safe.
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If you need mechanical help to keep your car in tip top condition, get in touch with your local Kwik Fit for service you can rely on.
Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.
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