How to Find a Hidden GPS Tracker on Your Car

4 tips to foil anyone trying to track your travels

looking for a hidden car tracker with a creeper, jack and flashlight
Focus your search for a hidden car tracker on easily accessible areas, like the wheel wells, but a jack and creeper will allow you to make a much more thorough investigation. gilaxia / E+ / Getty

Hidden vehicle trackers are tiny devices that rely on the global positioning system (GPS) and cellular networks to keep tabs on the location of a car or truck in real time. While not all GPS car trackers are designed to be hidden, most are small enough that they can easily go unnoticed to the untrained and unsuspecting eye. In fact, many of these devices are smaller than a deck of cards.

Like so many other forms of technology, GPS trackers have both legitimate and less savory uses.

Law enforcement agencies often use these devices, with an appropriate warrant, as do private investigators.

There are also a number of reasons that vehicle owners might want to use some type of vehicle tracking system, although most of them don’t call for hiding the device.

Common uses for GPS car trackers include:

  • Fleet management

  • Delivery and taxi dispatch

  • Keeping tabs on your minor teen

  • Helping you find where you parked

  • Theft recovery

GPS trackers designed for use in cars can be found in big box stores like Walmart, electronics stores like Best Buy, and specialty stores that cater to private investigators. They can also be purchased online at virtually any retailer that deals in electronics like GPS devices and surveillance equipment.

All car GPS trackers fall into the basic categories of active and passive. Active trackers use GPS to determine location and transmit that location via a cellular connection, while passive trackers record and store location data.

What that means is if someone installs an active GPS tracker in your car, they’ll be able to use a computer, cellphone or tablet to see where you are in real time. Depending on the device, they may also be able to view a record of where you have been in the past, how fast you drive, and other information.

If someone hides a passive GPS tracker on your car, they won’t have access to any real-time information. In fact, the only way to get any information out of a passive tracker is to retrieve it and then view the data that was recorded while it was installed.

Some hidden GPS trackers are designed to draw power from a vehicle’s electrical system, but others are battery operated, which can make them exceedingly difficult to detect. Most are still possible to detect, with the right tools, but others will require a visit to a professional.

Finding a Hidden GPS Tracker on Your Car

If you suspect that someone may have hidden a GPS tracker somewhere on your car, you’ll need some basic tools like a flashlight, mechanic’s mirror, and a creeper or mat of some kind to help you slide under the vehicle. In instances where a simple visual inspection isn’t sufficient, specialized equipment like electronic sweepers or bug detectors may also be necessary.

The basic steps involved in locating a hidden GPS tracker on your car are:

  1. Perform an exterior inspection

    1. Use a flashlight and mirror to check areas like the wheel wells and under the vehicle.

    2. Most trackers are hidden in easy to reach locations.

    3. Be aware that the tracker may be dirty and difficult to see.

  1. Perform an interior inspection

    1. Check the data port first.

    2. Most GPS trackers are very small, so don’t overlook any potential hiding spot..

    3. Don’t overlook the trunk.

  2. Sweep the vehicle with a bug detector

    1. Bug detectors are available from many of the same places where you can find trackers.

    2. Some trackers only transmit when the vehicle is moving.

    3. Sweepers can’t detect passive trackers.

  3. Know when to seek professional help

    1. If you suspect that someone has hidden a tracker on your car, but you can’t find it, a professional may be able to help.

    2. Technicians specializing in automotive electronics, car audio, and car alarms often have the necessary expertise and equipment.

    Inspecting the Exterior of a Vehicle for a Hidden GPS Tracker

    While it’s possible to hide a small GPS tracker just about anywhere, these devices are usually hidden in a location that is relatively easy to access. So the first step in finding a hidden GPS tracker on your car is to perform a visual inspection of hiding spots that someone could reach quickly and without too much difficulty.

    The most common place to hide a GPS tracker is inside a wheel well, and this is also a relatively easy location to inspect. Using your flashlight, you’ll want to check inside both the front and rear wheel wells. You may need to use a telescoping mirror to get a good look, and you can also feel around with your hand in places that you can’t get your eyes on.

    If you notice that the hard plastic wheel well liner is loose, attempt to peel it back and look or feel inside. Someone may have loosened the liner in order to attach a magnetized tracker to the frame or body behind it.

    Your flashlight and telescoping mirror will also come in handy in checking underneath the vehicle. If you have a creeper, and the ground clearance is great enough, you can even slide under the vehicle to perform a more thorough inspection. Focus on areas someone could easily hide a tracker without taking too much time or effort, and keep in mind the fact that the tracker could be covered in road dirt and grime.

    Trackers can also be hidden under, or inside, bumpers. You’ll need your flashlight and mirror to perform a thorough inspection here as well. In some cases, you may have to reach up and inside the bumper to feel around.

    While trackers can be hidden inside the engine compartment, it isn’t very common. If someone can get inside your car to open the hood, they are more likely to just hide the device inside the car.

    Inspecting the Interior of a Vehicle for a Hidden GPS Tracker

    Since hidden GPS trackers can be so small, they can be tucked away just about anywhere inside a car or truck. You’ll want to focus on places where such a device could be hidden quickly, but that won’t always do the trick.

    While the most discreet trackers are battery powered, simpler units are designed to plug directly into a vehicle’s data connector. So if you are able to locate the data connector, which is usually found under the dash near the driver’s legs, and it has something plugged into it, that’s an immediate reason for concern.

    If you don’t notice anything quite that obvious, you’ll want to use your flashlight and mirror to check under the seats, under and behind the dash, inside and behind the glove compartment, and in the center console. Trackers can also be hidden in seat pockets, between seats, behind sun visors, and elsewhere.

    One of the difficulties involved in locating a hidden GPS tracker inside a car is that it may blend in with other components. For instance, small modules like the one that runs the power door locks may easily be confused for something more nefarious.

    In cases where someone is determined to have their surveillance device go undetected, they may even hide a tracker inside a seat cushion, behind a door panel, and in other similarly out of the way locations.

    These devices can also be hidden in a trunk. If you have a spare tire, you will want to remove and inspect it. At that time, you can also peel back the trunk liner, which can easily hide a small GPS tracking device.

    Locating a Hidden GPS Car Tracker with a Bug Sweeper

    Electronic sweepers, which are also called bug detectors, are handheld devices that are capable of detecting electromagnetic signals like those used by radio transmitters and cell phones. This type of equipment can be purchased from some of the same places you find GPS trackers, or you can build one if you have the right spare parts laying around.

    Since sweepers rely on detecting transmissions, they aren’t useful in finding passive GPS trackers. However, they can be a great help in finding well hidden active trackers.

    If you are able to get your hands on a bug sweeper, you’ll want to power it up and then slowly walk around your vehicle. Depending on the sensitivity, you may have to hold it near all of the locations mentioned in the previous sections.

    When a bug detector locates a suspect signal, it will typically light up, vibrate, or buzz to let you know. That’s your cue to go over that area with a fine toothed comb.

    In some cases, you may run into a tracker that transmits only when the vehicle is moving. When the vehicle is stopped, this type of tracker remains passive, and a bug sweeper can't detect it. So if you don't detect anything at first, you may want to have someone else operate the vehicle while you keep an eye on the sweeper.

    What to Do When You Find a Hidden GPS Tracker

    Most hidden GPS trackers are battery powered and held on by magnets or tape. If you find one of these, all you have to do is pull it loose, and you’re done. The same is true of trackers that plug into a diagnostic connector or the cigarette lighter socket.

    In rarer cases, where a GPS tracker is hard wired into power and ground, you may want to seek professional assistance. Simply cutting the wires may do the trick, although wires cut like that may short out in the future. It’s also important to make sure that the component you’re cutting out is actually a tracker, which is something a professional will know.