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What is a Vehicle Tracker and How Does it Work?

Vehicle Tracker

Many portable devices have built-in GPS tracking capabilities. Wearables track the distance, speed and time of workouts, phones use GPS to help you navigate through unfamiliar territory without the need of a network connection, and animal trackers find your pets. And this is just scraping the surface of the countless ways GPS is used. First developed for military use to track enemy satellites, GPS has moved into the civilian sphere to make life that much easier.

How Does GPS Work?

gps on phone
source: dronemobile.com

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, uses a series of 24 satellites to determine the location of an object or person at any given time. These need to be equipped with a GPS compatible device, such as a tracker or phone. To provide precise data, devices ping signals from up to 6 satellites each located in a different location in the Earth’s orbit. Information is used in many ways. Navigation is a prime use of GPS, enabling pilots and sailors in reaching destinations safely. But tracking, or determining the route of a person or object within a given timeframe is also important. This is how you get your workout stats or monitor the movement of vehicles.

What Are Vehicle GPS Trackers?

Vehicle trackers are small electronic devices with enabled GPS used in tracking the movement of vehicles. They transmit signals that are picked up by a number of satellites, which relay the precise coordinates of the vehicle to a ground control station, and this, in turn, transfers data to devices like phones or computers. They provide detailed information about the route, speed, current and past locations and so more much more.

Vehicle tracking equipment of this kind can be used in tracking individual cars, trucks, caravans, trailers, boats and other vehicle types. Advanced units can provide for more precision, by switching or combining relayed signals from other satellite systems, like the Russian GLONASS, or Europe’s Galileo systems, if the reach of any of the satellites in the GPS is somehow obstructed.

gps tracker
source: autoquarterly.com

Types of Vehicle Tracking Equipment

There are three types of vehicle trackers, each differing in the way they are powered:

1) Plug-In Trackers

These are plugged in the OBD port of the car, which powers the device and also displays the information the tracker has gathered.

2) Hardwired Trackers

These are fitted in visible places like the dash, or alternately may be hidden anywhere in the vehicle. They are powered by the vehicle’s battery and so are seen in older vehicles, and vehicles without an OBD port. Hardwired trackers are the mainstay of fleet companies who track the locations of multiple vehicles at a time.

hardwired tracker
source: gpstracker-malaysia.com

3) Battery-Powered Trackers

This type of vehicle tracking equipment uses its own power source, a rechargeable battery that lasts up to a week on a single charge. Since there are no wires, they have more flexibility in terms of where they can be fitted in or on the vehicle.

Features to Look for in Vehicle Trackers

Most trackers on the Aussie market provide detailed information. Even smaller battery-powered units relay multiple parameters back to your phone. Most trackers only need a fitted SIM card, with no ongoing fees for the duration of the card. Prices vary on features, and here’s what to look for:

• Real-Time Tracking

gps tracker equipment
source: vivint.com

This involves locating the whereabouts of the vehicle at the exact time. Better trackers relay their location every few seconds, so can be precisely pinpointed. Other real-time information like current speed and direction are available on most trackers. Plug-in variants also provide data from the ECU like current and average fuel consumption and engine and vehicle condition. This is valuable information for fleet owners, rental companies and couriers. Passive tracking units use longer tracking intervals, and the collected data is stored and interpreted after the vehicle has arrived at its designated location. Accuracy is somewhat affected, but basic info like routes, distance and time are generally correct.

• Customisable Alerts

Some trackers can be customised to better monitor vehicle behaviour on a given route. Excessive use of fuel or speeding are things important to companies when monitoring individual vehicles. Maintenance alerts regarding upcoming servicing, like oil changes are also programmable, as are time alerts, signalling long durations of immobile vehicles. Geo-fencing is another feature that alerts users that the vehicle has breached a marked zone on the map, and that the vehicle is straying off its course. Standard in all trackers are built-in SOS buttons for emergencies.

• General Tracking and Monitoring

monitoring gps tracker
source: joyofandroid.com

Trackers record data relating to the vehicle’s current route, but also store information about previous routes. Route history is useful in adjusting or changing routes for better efficiency, and in avoiding frequent deadlocks along certain roads at any given time. This also helps in scheduling routes at different times and organising the routes of more vehicles.

Where and How are Car Trackers Used?

Trackers are beneficial both for private owners as an anti-theft device, and for companies who want to know the exact whereabouts of their vehicles. The devices provide valuable information that reduces company costs and risks while maximising efficiency for fleet owners, and private owners can duly alert the authorities if their vehicle has been stolen.

By Anthony Hendriks

The life of the party, Anthony is always up for spending some time with family and friends, when not blogging of course! Ever since a child, his love for books of mystery, race cars and travelling keeps on growing so it's difficult for him to single out that one all-time favourite hobby. If there's one thing he hates, though, it's having pictures taken but you already guessed that from his choice of plant photo for the blog.