Best Vehicle GPS Trackers

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
366 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best vehicle GPS trackers

Last Updated September 2020

There are lots of good reasons to buy 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 great 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 value.

BestReviews is here to help you with a detailed examination of the alternatives and thoroughly researched advice on how to pick the best GPS tracker for your vehicle. The quickest solution is to choose one of the models we recommend. If you need more detail, you’ll find it in the following buying guide.

Ever wonder how accurate a vehicle GPS tracker is? While it varies from one model to the next, the best can locate your car to within 10 feet or less.

Key considerations

Portable, plug-in, or hardwired

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 that we detail below. 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.

EXPERT TIP

If your tracker is easy to locate, a thief can remove it. Portable models can be hidden between or under seats (rather than in the glove box). Magnetic models can be concealed inside a wheel arch, rear fender, or trunk.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Data

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.

Subscriptions

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 to 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.

DID YOU KNOW?

You may find 2G models still on the market at very attractive prices. However, 3G and 4G are much faster, and incompatibility with 2G means older devices may stop working altogether.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bear in mind that in addition to the cost of the unit, there is a regular monthly service fee. Prices vary by as much as $25, depending on features, so it’s worth checking around.

Vehicle GPS tracker prices

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.

Real-time data transfer gives you terrific accuracy, but it is usually a more expensive option. For fleet use, delayed reporting can still track route, time, and distance, and it might give you all the information you need.

FAQ

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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The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
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