Vehicle tracking system

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A vehicle tracking system is an electronic device installed in a vehicle to enable the owner or a third party to track the vehicle's location. Most modern vehicle tracking systems use Global Positioning System (GPS) modules for accurate location of the vehicle. Many systems also combine a communications component such as cellular or satellite transmitters to communicate the vehicle’s location to a remote user. Vehicle information can be viewed on electronic maps via the Internet or specialized software.

The GPS satellite system is maintained by the US Department of Defense. It is available at no cost to civilians. This makes this technology very inexpensive.

Active versus passive tracking

Several types of Vehicle Tracking devices exist. Typically they are classified as "Passive" and "Active".

"Passive" devices store GPS location, speed, heading and sometimes a trigger event such as key on/off, door open/closed. Once the vehicle returns to a predetermined point, the device is removed and the data downloaded to a computer for evaluation. Passive systems include auto download type that transfer data via wireless download.

"Active" devices also collect the same information but usually transmit the data in real-time via cellular or satellite networks to a computer or data center for evaluation.

Many modern vehicle tracking devices combine both active and passive tracking abilities: when cellular network is available and a tracking device is connected it transmits data to a server; when network is not available the device stores data in internal memory and will transmit stored data to the server later when the network becomes available again.

There is a popular misperception that GPS is a "tracking" technology and therefore that it can be easily misused by public agencies and private companies to monitor people's whereabouts.[1]

Common uses

Vehicle tracking systems are commonly used by fleet operators for fleet management functions such as routing, dispatch, on-board information and security. Other applications include monitoring driving behavior, such as an employer of an employee, or a parent with a teen driver.Vehicle tracking systems are also popular in consumer vehicles as a theft prevention and retrieval device. Police can simply follow the signal emitted by the tracking system and locate the stolen vehicle. When used as a security system, a Vehicle Tracking System may serve as either an addition to or replacement for a traditional Car alarm. The existence of vehicle tracking device then can be used to reduce the insurance cost, because the loss-risk of the vehicle drops significantly.

Vehicle tracking systems are an integrated part of the “layered approach” to vehicle protection, recommended by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to prevent motor vehicle theft. This approach recommends four layers of security based on the risk factors pertaining to a specific vehicle. Vehicle Tracking Systems are one such layer, and are described by the NICB as “very effective” in helping police recover stolen vehicles.

Some vehicle tracking systems integrate several security systems, for example by sending an automatic alert to a phone or email if an alarm is triggered or the vehicle is moved without authorization.

Major markets

Vehicle tracking can be used in the following scenarios:

  • Stolen Vehicle Recovery: Both consumer and commercial vehicles can be outfitted with RF or GPS units to allow police to do tracking and recovery. In the case of LoJack, the police can activate the tracking unit in the vehicle directly and follow tracking signals.
  • Fleet Management: When managing a fleet of vehicles, knowing the real-time location of all drivers allows management to meet customer needs more efficiently. Whether it is delivery, service or other multi-vehicle enterprises, drivers now only need a mobile phone with telephony or Internet connection to be inexpensively tracked by and dispatched efficiently.
  • Asset Tracking: Companies needing to track valuable assets for insurance or other monitoring purposes can now plot the real-time asset location on a map and closely monitor movement and operating status.
  • Field Service Management: Companies with a field service workforce for services such as repair or maintenance, must be able to plan field workers’ time, schedule subsequent customer visits and be able to operate these departments efficiently. Vehicle tracking allows companies to quickly locate a field engineer and dispatch the closest one to meet a new customer request or provide site arrival information.
  • Field Sales: Mobile sales professionals can access real-time locations. For example, in unfamiliar areas, they can locate themselves as well as customers and prospects, get driving directions and add nearby last-minute appointments to itineraries. Benefits include increased productivity, reduced driving time and increased time spent with customers and prospects.
  • Trailer Tracking: Haulage and Logistics companies often operate lorries with detachable load carrying units. The part of the vehicle that drives the load is know as the cab and the load carrying unit is known as the trailer. There are different types of trailer used for different applications, e.g., flat bed, refrigerated, curtain sider, box container.
  • Law enforcement or surveillance: A tracker may be hidden on a vehicle to follow the vehicle's movements without the driver's knowledge.[2]
  • Homeland Security: A tracking device can be used to monitor and control vehicles to improve Homeland Security. This may be in the form of tracking all vehicles in a country, or tracking specific cargoes to ensure safe transit to their destination.
  • Transit Tracking: This is the temporary tracking of assets or cargoes from one point to another. Users will ensure that the assets do not stop on route or do a U-Turn in order to ensure the security of the assets.

Points to consider before buying a Vehicle Tracking system

[3] The list below contains just some of the things you should remember to ask and do before buying a system.

  • Learn as much as you can about different systems. Research them on the Internet, call the companies and ask for literature.
  • Learn as much as you can about different systems. When investigating potential suppliers, ask for references. Speak to the references! Once you sign up you are locked into a potentially lengthy and costly agreement. Do your homework first!
  • Make sure you find out if, in addition to the fixed costs, there are additional monthly charges e.g. "Airtime". Monthly charges, in addition to the cost of the system itself, can add up.
  • Check the coverage of the tracking system. Are there black spots? If there are, where are they?
  • What happens to the data if the Vehicle Location Unit installed in the vehicle cannot transmit due to a coverage black spot? (lack of GSM, GPRS, Satellite Communications) Does the unit store the location updates? If so, how many and for how long?
  • If the vehicle goes abroad, will the system still track? If yes, then what are the associated costs? GPRS roaming charges will most likely not be included in your package and the roaming tariffs in Europe are exorbitant?
  • Determine how much money you are willing to spend. Check exactly what you are getting for your money. Check the fixed and variable costs, set up charges, annual software licensing etc.
  • Check if the supplier offers a Service Level Agreement or warranty along with the product. Read the small print.
  • If you are only interested in a vehicle security tracking system or only want a tracking report once a week, make sure the system you buy delivers want you want and you don’t end up paying for features you won’t and don’t need.
  • Be aware that the technology you sign up for today, may be quickly overtaken by the technology of tomorrow. Much of the industry sells its products via lengthy fixed term rental agreements. Check if the system you opt for can be upgraded during the agreement period. If there is an upgrade path, get confirmation of the upgrade costs.
  • A rental agreement might last for anything from one to five years; make sure you get in writing, confirmation of any verbal assurances you were given by the supplier during the initial sales process

See also