Some deem that installing a separate car GPS device on your car is unnecessary, especially since smartphones nowadays already have GPS navigation and applications, allowing you to track your location and guide you to your destination.
Yet, not many are aware that car GPS devices are far superior to the ones present in smartphones. They offer a plethora of other benefits that make driving safer and more relaxing. As such, it’s no surprise that more and more spouses, parents, and business owners have installed a GPS tracker in their cars in recent years.
To give you a better glimpse, read below as we’ve collated all the basic information on what you need to know about car GPS devices. From what they are, to how they work, their types, their perks, factors to consider when buying them, to their legality, all these will help you assess and decide if you should be adding one to your beloved vehicle.
What is GPS Tracking?
GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking depends on a network of 31 satellites circling around Earth and helping determine location. Each of these satellites constantly sends out signals, which are then received by a special receiver. By calculating the time for the signal from four or more satellites to arrive at the location, it can figure out exactly where you are.
As radio waves travel at the same speed, the GPS system is able to use the time difference between the broadcast time and the signal reception in decoding the range or distance of the receiver from the satellites and pinpointing the exact positioning in the process called trilateration.
Most people tag anything that calculates location as GPS. However, if a certain device uses a different method, such as using cellular towers to triangulate its position, it’s not considered a GPS device.
Moreover, GPS is actually used for a variety of purposes. If it’s used solely for detecting location and determining directions, it is called GPS navigation. If the position data is shared with outside monitors and retrieves other helpful data like speed, distance, time, direction, and driving habits, it is called a GPS tracker.
What are Car GPS Trackers?
Car GPS trackers use the global positioning system (GPS) to primarily let you know where your car is at all times, which can be useful in many different scenarios. It can provide instantaneous location data, as well as speed, with some car GPS trackers even allowing you to set up real-time warnings should you exceed driving speeds or veer away from a specified location.
As the system relies on satellites, what makes car GPS trackers more advanced than smartphones is that they can work even in areas with limited cell service. You can see the information on the dedicated device displayed on your smartphone, tablet, or your dashboard.
How Do You Use a Car GPS Tracker?
While the process differs from one device to another, learning how to use a car GPS tracker is pretty simple. Typically, the major difference is the power source, though it pays to check the manual first so you won’t miss any variation and ensure that you’re using the device the right way.
Some car GPS trackers are powered by the onboard diagnostics (OBD-II) connector, which is situated under the dash near the driver’s legs. The main perk of such trackers is that they are directly powered by the diagnostic connector. If you’ve previously used a scan tool or code reader, using these trackers will be a breeze.
Other car GPS trackers are designed to be plugged into an accessory socket or cigarette lighters. Thus, providing limited options for installation. Though they are also easy to use, they often draw power from the battery even when you’re not driving. As such, it’s very important that you unplug to avoid seeing a drained battery.
Meanwhile, you can also find hardwired car GPS trackers. These trackers are designed to be connected directly to the internal circuit of your vehicle, usually also placed under the dashboard. They are meant for car models that don’t have an OBD port. If installed correctly, they serve as permanent tracking solutions.
On the other hand, there are also GPS trackers that use an internal battery. They are pocket-sized, extremely portable, and can be installed nearly anywhere. These devices just need to be inside the vehicle to function and can be hidden discreetly in small devices. The catch is that due to the lack of a power source, you must remove them from the car and charge them periodically for continual use. Otherwise, it will stop working.
Once you have any of these GPS trackers installed, you can access all the data using the device’s software on your phone, tablet, or computer.
What are the Types of Car GPS Trackers?
Based on how they track data and transmit, you can find two types of car GPS tracking devices in the market: real-time and delayed time.
Real-time car GPS trackers are the most widely-used type as they provide data about your car as it’s happening. Information can include everything from location, speed, and distance, to vehicle diagnostics. As data is continuously collected from the satellite system, these devices usually entail paying a monthly subscription fee.
On the other hand, delayed car GPS trackers don’t provide instantaneous data, which means you won’t have access to information while you’re driving. What they do is gather data and store it for your future use. As they don’t track real-time, these types of trackers usually come with little to no monthly subscription fees.
How much does a Car GPS tracker cost?
A car GPS tracker costs vary depending on the device’s features. Typically, products are under the $50 to $200 range, with the high-quality ones on the more expensive end. As mentioned, many car GPS trackers require a monthly subscription fee. These subscriptions are generally paid monthly or annually depending on the company. The average cost per month falls between $20-$25 for the basic plan. Costs can increase based on added features like driving habits. Fees may include activation and cancellation charges as well.
Benefits of Adding a GPS Tracker to your Car
Now that you have ample idea about car GPS trackers, it’s time to know why installing one on your vehicle can be a smart decision.’
1. Know the location of your vehicle at all times.
A car GPS tracker’s primary function is to determine your car’s location. There are many situations where it can be useful. For instance, if you did an errand and found out later on that your vehicle is gone from its parking spot, you can check your GPS tracker to see its whereabouts and know if it was towed. If your spouse or teen used the vehicle instead and was supposed to arrive half an hour ago, you can also determine where they currently are.
2. Get help during an emergency.
Most people agree that one of the best key benefits of having a car GPS tracker is getting help quickly during an emergency. In case you get stranded or get involved in an accident, your loved ones can keep track of you and know exactly where you are. You’ll also be able to inform emergency personnel about your exact positioning and where to send help. This is incredibly important if you get in an unfamiliar area or a location where there is limited to no cell service.
3. Help prevent car theft.
Regardless if you’re owning an expensive car or a more affordable one, it can be a target of car theft. A total of 810,400 vehicles were stolen in 2020 alone, which was significantly up by 11.8% from the previous year. In most cases, vehicle thieves have an easier time stealing cars as many owners tend to leave their key fobs or keys inside their vehicles.
Though you have car insurance, you may not be covered for the kidnapping or theft of your vehicle. As such, it’s vital to add a car GPS tracker to your car. It serves as an additional affordable layer of security that allows you to receive updates about the whereabouts of your vehicle. You can then provide the information to law enforcement personnel, increasing the likelihood of your car being recovered after it was stolen.
Some more advanced car GPS trackers can lock out certain features on your car. You simply need to contact the GPS tracking company where you bought the device and they can turn off specific functionalities that can help lock the theft in. This provides ample time for the authorities to arrive, arrest the perpetrator, and get your vehicle. Be wary that such a feature is expected to be on the expensive side, but are extremely worth the price.
4. Monitor your loved ones.
Are you worried about your newly-licensed teen driver? It’s understandable given that motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for teens in the United States. Lack of experience, inability to discern dangerous situations, nighttime driving, and overspeeding are some of the biggest factors why they get involved in such fatal mishaps.
To somehow ease your worries, you can also use a car GPS tracker to monitor your teen’s driving habits. You can get real-time trip data, including location and speed, and even send alerts using specific GPS systems. With the proper information, you can address any issues with your teens to ensure their safety.
Meanwhile, car GPS trackers can also help you protect your elderly family members. There are possibilities that your senior loved one will still attempt to drive after being diagnosed with dementia. Studies show that people with dementia have a five times greater risk of being involved in a car crash. Being able to keep track of the car could help you stop such unwanted road trips.
5. Have improved safety.
As you can see your trip details and statistics, such as how fast you’ve driven, how long you’ve finished the trip, your average speed, and even unsafe driving habits like rapid acceleration or driving, you get valuable insight and see where you need to adjust your driving behavior for your own safety. Meanwhile, you can also take advantage of the device’s navigation features to avoid any roadworks, traffic jams, or construction works on the road, giving you better routes where you can reach your destination safer and faster.
6. Get diagnostics on your car.
Some advanced GPS trackers provide vehicle diagnostics for your car or alert you about the schedule of routine maintenance. Others can even warn about more serious problems that need a visit to your auto mechanic. Such features are extremely useful in monitoring the overall health of your vehicle and keeping it in tip-top condition.
7. Have better security.
More advanced GPS trackers can send you alerts should your car be moved, bumped, or towed, allowing you to act quickly. They can also be connected to various security systems. For instance, if your vehicle is parked at home and a potential vandal or thief does anything to your car, the device can be used to trigger a warning light and sound that help deter the bad guys.
8. Chance to explore new areas.
Thanks to car GPS trackers, you’ll have greater confidence in exploring new areas. You can go wherever you want to go with easier navigation and added features, and knowing that your loved ones can constantly track your location.
9. Save money.
Though getting a car GPS tracker means shelling out a considerable amount of money, it can help you save in the long run from other aspects. For instance, you can ask for a discount from your insurance provider as the device promotes safer driving and serves as another layer of anti-theft protection. On the other hand, you can also use all the collected driving data to help save money on fuel.
Tips for Choosing the Car GPS Tracker for your Car
Given such amazing benefits, you might be enticed to buy a car GPS tracker right away. However, be minded that they are a considerable investment, which means you need to be wise before getting one. After all, you most likely have spent a lot on your car. Not to mention the cost of must-have accessories you’ve added to your car. There are a lot of things to consider like purpose, budget, compatibility, security, etc. prior to buying this device.
The initial thing you need to assess is the purpose of why you’re getting a car GPS tracker. If you need to simply track the whereabouts of your loved ones, you may only require a simple and basic device. If you want to learn more about your driving habits or get more security features, then you will need to go for more advanced models. Knowing the reason why you need a car GPS tracker can help you guide your purchase.
After knowing the purpose of why you’re buying a GPS tracker for your vehicle, it’s time to assess your spending options. If your budget is tight, you may opt for cheaper trackers, but expect that they may have limitations in terms of the real-tracking updates they can give, battery power, and other issues. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to break your wallet to get the expensive ones. Take a look at different brands, check the features and reviews, and compare the prices to get the best buy.
Another thing to consider is the device’s compatibility with your car. This is crucial as the car GPS tracker you should be buying should match your vehicle in order to gather all information properly, function without trouble, and ensure that it won’t negatively affect your car’s performance. Checking compatibility is far more important if you have a luxury car (Audis, Mercs, Volvos, BMWs) as they have more complex electronic systems. You can contact the manufacturer of the device as they can certify they have done the necessary tests on your car’s model.
Any tracking device gathers and stores data about your vehicle’s whereabouts and the details of your daily trips. Adding all the personal data that’s inputted into the device’s companion application, all information is highly sensitive and must be treated with utmost privacy.
With that, you must also check the level of data encryption and security that the device and application provide, such as knowing how tamper-proof they are, how secure is the data flow, and if they are following all the other best and required security practices.
Driving is an experience itself, which means it can either go good or bad depending on external factors. Don’t let your trip get ruined by having a hard-to-install device with a poor application. Ideally, the app should give you a smooth user experience. You must be able to easily access all information like location alerts and live maps. There must also be no confusion and the need to exert much effort in finding them.
If you’re buying a car GPS tracker at a store, you can ask for assistance from the salesperson to give you a thorough demo of how the app works. If you’re buying online instead, you can check the app reviews to read the experience of other users and give you an idea if it will work for you. Setup of the device itself should also be a breeze, or else you won’t reap all the benefits from the device.
Car GPS trackers are becoming more and more advanced and transcend becoming mere real-time vehicle trackers. You can find a lot of other special features in various devices, such as a panic button that you can press to alert authorities, the ability to send notifications if ever it gets disconnected, the offering of geofences, and other customizable features.
When choosing a car GPS tracker, it’s also best to check its power usage and the longevity of its battery life. Note that without a battery, your device won’t be able to provide the essential information you need. Some portable car GPS trackers are equipped with motion sensors, so they also consume low amounts of power when not moving. Others have a short battery life that requires weekly charging, while there are high-end units that can last up to more than 3 months without charging. You may opt to choose a device with a shorter or longer battery life depending on your needs.
Is it legal to install a Car GPS tracker?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), several states bar the installation of a tracker into an individual’s car without his consent. Moreover, several others also ban tracking a person without him knowing, but there can be some exceptions. For instance, it’s legal for a parent or guardian to track a minor.
The general rule of thumb is: it’s generally legal to use a tracker if it’s your car. If it isn’t your own, installing a tracker is usually illegal. When in doubt, it’s still best to contact a legal professional for advice on the matter. While your intentions are good, such as safety, efficiency, and accountability, you’ll never when tracking others can get you in trouble.
Cars are part of our life. With that, protecting your vehicle is a must. Though there’s insurance that can be a great help in paying medical bills, in repairs, or in cases of theft, it’s better not to experience any unfortunate scenario by avoiding them through a car GPS tracker.
While movies portray them as an aid to spy cars, these devices are far more useful in real life if used within your legal rights. You can definitely use them to track your location and driving habits, as well as that of your loved ones, helping you know each other’s whereabouts and ensuring each other’s safety and well-being.
To make your car even safer, you can install other security devices like dash and rear view cameras, allowing you to improve your viewing angles and record whatever’s around you while on the road. Of course, a car GPS tracker and other tools you add to your car will incur some cost, but all are worth what you pay for.