What Is Vehicle Tracking?

Police Cruiser

Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Vehicle tracking systems use a combination of technologies to keep real-time tabs on the position of a vehicle or to construct a history of where a vehicle has been. These systems are used in a variety of industries, and they also a key part of most stolen vehicle recovery strategies. Most vehicle tracking systems use GPS technology, and some also make use of cellular or radio transmitters.

Types of Vehicle Tracking

There are two types of vehicle tracking, each of which is useful in specific situations.

  • Passive: The simplest vehicle tracking systems are passive in nature. These trackers typically use a GPS device to record the position of a vehicle over time. When the tracker is removed, the data can be transferred to a computer and analyzed. These tracking systems are useful for fleet management, but they also have other applications.
  • Active: More complex tracking systems transmit the location of a vehicle in real-time. For fleet management and dispatch purposes, this data is typically monitored from a central location. This type of system can also be used for stolen vehicle recovery.

Commercially Available Stolen-Vehicle Recovery Systems

There are a number of aftermarket options, including:

  • LoJack
  • Mobile IQ
  • Smart Tracker
  • VectorTrak
  • Zoombak

Most of those systems use a GPS device coupled with a cellular transmitter. In addition to the commercially available systems, it’s also possible to build a makeshift GPS tracking device with a cellular phone. However, all GPS- and cellular-based trackers can fail if the vehicle is parked in a building or driven to an area that lacks cell towers. LoJack is an older system that relies on radio transmissions that police cars can pick up with specialized antennas.

Aside from the aftermarket options, most of the OEMs offer some type of stolen-vehicle recovery system. These systems are also based on GPS data and transmit the location of the vehicle using a cellular data connection. Some of the OEM options include:

  • GM’s OnStar
  • BMW Assist
  • Toyota Safety Connect
  • Lexus Enform
  • Mercedes-Benz TeleAid
  • Mopar EVTS

Usage Outside Stolen Vehicle Recovery

A variety of industries use vehicle tracking systems for purposes other than stolen vehicle recovery. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Fleet management
  • Tracking various assets
  • Management of service personnel
  • Mobile sales
  • Surveillance
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