How to Find a Hidden GPS Tracker on Your Car

Tips to foil anyone trying to track your travels

This article explains four ways to find a hidden GPS on your vehicle. Instructions apply to all modern consumer and commercial vehicles.

Lifewire / Daniel Fishel

Finding a Hidden GPS Tracker on Your Car

If you suspect that someone may have hidden a GPS tracker somewhere in 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: Use a flashlight and mirror to check areas like the wheel wells and under the vehicle. Most trackers are hidden in easy to reach locations.

    The tracker may be dirty and difficult to see.

  2. Perform an interior inspection: Check the data port first. Most GPS trackers are small, so don't overlook any potential hiding spot such as the trunk.

  3. Sweep the vehicle with a bug detector: Bug detectors are available from many of the same places where you can find trackers. Be aware that some trackers only transmit when the vehicle is moving and sweepers can't detect passive trackers.

  4. Know when to seek professional help: If you suspect that someone hid a tracker on your car, but you can't find it, a professional may be able to help. Technicians specializing in automotive electronics, car audio, and car alarms often have the necessary expertise and equipment.

Where to Look for a Hidden GPS Tracker: Exterior

While it's possible to hide a small GPS tracker almost 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.

A common place to hide a GPS tracker is inside a wheel well, and this is also an easy location to inspect. Using a flashlight, 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 see.

If the hard plastic wheel well liner is loose, attempt to peel it back and look or feel inside. Someone may have loosened the liner 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 high enough, slide under the vehicle to perform a thorough inspection. Focus on areas someone could easily hide a tracker without taking too much time or effort, and keep in mind that the tracker could be covered in road dirt and grime.

Trackers can also be hidden under, or inside, bumpers. You'll need a 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 common. If someone can get inside your car to open the hood, they are more likely to hide the device inside the car.

Where to Look for a Hidden GPS Tracker: Interior

Since hidden GPS trackers can be small, they can be tucked away 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. If you can 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 a reason for concern.

If you don't notice anything that obvious, 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 hide a tracker inside a seat cushion, behind a door panel, and in other out-of-the-way locations.

These devices can also be hidden in a trunk. If you have a spare tire, 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 detect electromagnetic signals like those used by radio transmitters and cellphones. This type of equipment can be purchased from some of the same places you find GPS trackers, or you can build a bug detector 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 a bug sweeper, 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 typically lights up, vibrates, or buzzes 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, ask someone else to 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 car diagnostic tool 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. 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.

Why Use a Hidden GPS Tracker?

Like 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 one of the best car GPS trackers, 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 most any retailer that deals in electronics like GPS devices and surveillance equipment.

  • Where do police typically install GPS trackers on cars?

    The most discreet car GPS trackers are battery-powered, so they can be installed virtually anywhere. Others plug into the car's cigarette lighter or onboard diagnostics (OBD-II) connector. Law enforcement authorities must have a warrant to install one.

  • Which car GPS tracker is best for me?

    The options are many and range in price from about $25 to $100, depending on features. Lifewire testers recommend the Spytec STI GL300MA GPS Tracker as an overall favorite.

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