What are Car GPS Trackers and How Do They Work? (2024)

Global positioning system (GPS) trackers are portable devices that allow fleet managers, parents, and vehicle owners to monitor and track their cars and trucks. Real-time GPS trackers for cars can provide instantaneous speed and location data, while less expensive options record this information for later use. With some GPS vehicle trackers, you can set up real-time alerts to go off when a driver speeds or deviates from a specific area.

What are Car GPS Trackers and How Do They Work? (1)

How Does GPS Tracking Work?

GPS tracking uses a network of satellites to determine the location of a device designed for that purpose. The basic idea is that a GPS tracker uses trilateration to determine its physical location based on its distance from three GPS satellites. This is the same technology used by a portable or in-car navigation system.

The difference between a GPS tracker and a car navigation system is that the navigation system provides you with your location and driving directions. In contrast, a tracker either keeps a record of your driving habits or broadcasts its location in real time.

When a GPS tracker for a car can broadcast its location, it typically uses the same technology that your cellphone does to make calls or connect to the internet. Therefore, some GPS car trackers require a monthly subscription fee.

What Are Car Tracking Devices Used For?

The primary purpose of a GPS car tracking device is to let you know where your vehicle is at all times, and there are many scenarios where that can be helpful. For instance, if your car was stolen but you had a tracker installed, you could provide the police with its location.

GPS trackers for cars also fall in the rift between free-range parenting and authoritative parenting. With the right tracker installed in your teen's car, you can pull up their location in real time or view a record of where they've been, when they were there, and whether they broke the speed limit.

Vehicle tracking devices are also useful for owners of large fleets of cars or trucks. Some use the technology to keep tabs on where their vehicles are at any given time to better coordinate daily operations. In contrast, others are more interested in tracking mileage for bookkeeping or reimbursem*nt.

However, there is a dark side to automobile GPS trackers. Some might use them without the vehicle owner's knowledge to track where the vehicle goes and when. If you suspect that's the case, you can locate a GPS tracker that's been hidden in your vehicle.

If you can think of any situation where you might want to know where your car is or has been, you might need a GPS car tracker. The only caveat is that most of these trackers require cell service to provide you with real-time location data.

How Do You Use a GPS Car Tracker?

Using a GPS tracker in your car is usually easy, but the process differs slightly from one device to the next. The major difference is the power source, but there is enough variation that it's still a good idea to check the manual first.

Some GPS trackers are designed to plug into the onboard diagnostics (OBD-II) connector, usually located under the dash near the driver's legs. The benefit here is that these trackers get power directly from the diagnostic connector, which is extremely easy to use. Using this type of tracker is a breeze if you've ever used a code reader or scan tool.

Other car trackers are designed to plug into a cigarette lighter or accessory socket, limiting where you can install them. These trackers are easy to install and use, but some draw power from the battery when you aren't driving. In that case, you need to unplug the tracker to prevent the car battery from going dead.

The most discreet car GPS trackers are powered by a battery, which means they can be installed virtually anywhere. Since there is no external power source, this type of tracker has to be removed and charged periodically, or it will stop working.

Once you have a GPS tracker installed in your vehicle, you can use software on your computer, phone, or tablet to view its location in real time.

Are GPS Trackers for Cars Legal?

While all the usages outlined above are legal in most jurisdictions, there are some circ*mstances where using a car tracking device could cause you trouble. When in doubt, contact a lawyer for legal advice on the matter.

The general rule of thumb is that if it's your car, you can track it. This is true for both privately owned vehicles and vehicles that a company owns. So if you want to keep track of your minor child or keep tabs on your employees during work hours, you're generally in the clear.

If you don’t own the car, it's usually illegal to install a tracker. There are exceptions for police, provided that they obtain a warrant first, and private investigators working under the instructions of the owner of a vehicle. It's illegal in most other circ*mstances, and some jurisdictions have cyberstalking laws that specifically address GPS car trackers.

While you can use GPS trackers for cars to spy on people, legal uses fall short of that mark. If you have any concerns, seek a professional's legal advice.Even in tracking a teen driver or an employee, the main goals are safety, accountability, and efficiency, rather than spying.

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What are Car GPS Trackers and How Do They Work? (2024)

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