For all the bells and whistles, this unit fits the bill — and provides location updates up to every 10 seconds at no additional cost.
Easy setup, a long battery life, and tracking history for up to a year. It works not only in the US, but also in several countries worldwide. Monthly cost is a flat $25 regardless of plan, with a discount for multiple months.
Battery can fluctuate and drain quickly if set incorrectly.
A great little tracking device fitted with magnets to be placed anywhere that you need on a car.
Allows the user to be able to identify where the car is in real-time. Perimeter fencing can be enabled to alert you whenever the car passes it. Includes a sim card. Motion-activated to allow extended battery life.
Can fall off of underside of car if it hits major bumps.
A versatile device that will let you know where it is frequently.
The app is easy to use and quick to set up. It allows the user to ping as frequently as they want to. Can be set up to track the speed of the car it is in and ping the user if the car is over the speed limit. Has a two-week battery life.
Has a monthly subscription cost to enable GPS features.
A premier name in tracking devices, this tiny unit is great for locating cars and other property both at home and abroad.
Easy to set up and tends to be ready for initial use quickly. There’s a 2-week battery life, with an option to purchase a six-month battery. No activation or cancellation fees. Text alerts if designated person or car goes outside of allowed area.
Three different billing options, when other companies offer one price for all plans.
A small tracking device that discreetly keeps tabs on cars, kids, and adults with iPhone and Android accessibility.
Can be used with a USB port to extend battery life — which seems to last longer than similarly priced options. Easy to set up and keep updated, and a relatively low-cost monthly subscription. Can set alerts to notify when device has gone outside boundaries.
Some report the trip reporting is a little spotty, single journey spread out over several reports.
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There are lots of good reasons to own a vehicle GPS tracker, and security is just one. Modern units can do much more than tell you where your vehicle is, with a wide variety of possible reporting and alert functions. It’s not difficult to find a device that will give you all the information you need for personal or business use, and there’s a great deal of choice when it comes to budget as well.
However, the jargon related to these devices can sometimes be difficult to understand, and with three different means of installation, it can be a challenge to get the right balance of performance and price.
All vehicle GPS trackers work in a similar way, using one or more orbiting satellites to plot where the vehicle is. Monitoring this basic data over time can also give speed, distance traveled, and all manner of other details. The units themselves can be divided into three types: portable, plug-in, and hardwired.
Portable GPS: These are the most flexible. They don’t have to be installed in your vehicle, they just need to be in or on it. In fact, they can just as easily be in a pocket or backpack and be used for tracking a person. They can even be in a package to track delivery. They can be concealed easily inside the vehicle or put in a magnetic case hidden on the body. The only thing you have to be careful of is battery life. A week or so between charges is common, but they can differ considerably. Some trackers notify you when the battery is low, which is a very useful feature on these.
Plug-in GPS: These only need to be inserted into the on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port that you find in almost all of today’s cars and trucks. They take the small amount of power they require from the vehicle itself, so there are no batteries to worry about. The big advantage plug-ins have over portables is that they can also provide driving data like excessive acceleration or braking. The drawback is that if anyone steals the car, they simply need to check the OBD-II port, pull the GPS out, and throw it out the window! Also, classic and collectible vehicles don’t usually have diagnostics, so there’s no place to install one.
Hardwired GPS: These are a permanent solution, connected to the internal circuitry of the vehicle. It makes them quite difficult to detect and very difficult to remove quickly. They’re particularly appropriate for motorcycles and older vehicles that don’t have diagnostic systems. Although modern bikes do have similar diagnostic systems to cars and trucks, they don’t use the standard OBD-II port.
Most vehicle GPS trackers communicate with your phone, tablet, or laptop over G3 or G4 networks. They should give nationwide coverage, but it’s worth checking owner feedback in case there are problems between a particular model and a network provider. Many can also transmit information via WiFi or USB cable. You need to check the compatibility of your devices. Most GPS trackers work with both Android and iOS, but perhaps not with older versions.
Position: Knowing your vehicle’s position at any given time is obviously a key feature of GPS trackers. You might also receive alerts when the engine is started or the car moves. Many allow you to set up geofencing. You define a virtual area that the vehicle is allowed to travel within, and you’ll be warned if it moves outside that zone.
Time: Curfew is a similar feature, where you set the times that the vehicle is allowed to be used.
Driver monitoring: Driver coaching and monitoring is another facet of those GPS trackers that are capable of monitoring diagnostics. It’s possible to tell if the vehicle exceeded the speed limit or braked or accelerated suddenly. Route detail can be reviewed at the end of the day, and some trackers produce a report card. Several even offer automatic crash reporting if they detect the severe deceleration likely in an impact.
Mileage: There are a few vehicle GPS trackers that focus more on mileage covered than on vehicle security. Ideal for business users, these are capable of generating accurate, tamperproof reports that are accepted by the IRS for tax purposes.
Storage: If you need reports for business purposes, it’s convenient if the GPS tracker stores them for later access and analysis. Depending on the service, this can be for a year or more.
Almost all vehicle GPS trackers require a subscription. It’s usually quoted as a monthly fee, though you may be billed quarterly. You can generally save a few bucks if you pay for 12 months up front. However, you don’t necessarily have to sign up for a fixed contract length, many allow you to pay as you go, and you can cancel at any time.
Current prices run anywhere from $10 to $50 per month, though $20 and $25 are the most common. The main difference is the frequency of reporting. At the low end, you might get updates every 5 minutes. At the top rate, they could come in as quickly as every 5 seconds. It’s not always the case, however, and at the time of writing, a favorite model provides 10-second updates for the same price as 60 seconds. This might change, of course.
It’s not unusual for the same provider to offer two or three different plans, so it’s important to understand what you’re getting for your money. It’s a good idea to compare subscriptions carefully, in much the same way that you would the technical aspects and cost of the device itself.
Inexpensive: OBD-II devices are the cheapest vehicle GPS trackers, starting at about $20 for the unit, plus another $10 to $20 per month for the subscription. Vehicle compatibility can be limited, and some display advertisements on your phone when you log in, which can be frustrating.
Mid-range: Most quality plug-in and portable units cost between $40 and $70, with subscription fees between $20 and $35 a month. A few hardwired units also fit into this bracket. They provide wide-ranging feature sets that will satisfy the majority of vehicle owners.
Expensive: Some units, including those that are hardwired, can be as much as $140, and subscriptions can reach $50 per month (though you do get fast and highly detailed reporting). Another option is a fixed 12-month contract that has no monthly fees and costs around $200. However, these are very inflexible, and at the end of the fixed term, the unit no longer functions.
Q. Is a GPS tracker easy to install?
A. Most are. Portable models don’t even need to be installed, as such, they can be placed anywhere convenient or put in a magnetic box and attached to the body (ideally in a concealed location). The OBD-II type just plug in. Hardwired vehicle GPS trackers can be a little more complex. Most manufacturers say they take between 30 minutes and an hour to install. Of course, if you’re not comfortable working with your car’s electronics, it’s better to call a pro.
Q. Can I get cheaper insurance if I install a vehicle GPS tracker?
A. It’s possible. You’ll need to talk to your insurance provider. It may specify the type or even a specific device (usually the OBD-II plug-in type). We have heard of discounts of 20% or more being offered in some cases. The trade-off is that it means sharing all your driving data with your insurance company all the time.
Q. Are vehicle GPS trackers legal?
A. They don’t emit a signal like a radar jammer, for example, so there are no interference problems or restrictions on their actual use. They are completely legal in any vehicle you own, personal or business (if you run a fleet of cars or trucks, for example). It is illegal to track someone else’s car without their permission. Under the same legislation, law enforcement cannot track a car without the owner’s knowledge unless they first obtain a warrant.
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