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Considering the value of cars and trucks, it’s kind of strange that we don’t monitor them more closely, isn’t it? For example, where’s your car right now? If you buy a car for a family member like a teenager, how do you know he or she is driving it safely? Provided it’s not returned with half a tree embedded in the engine block or all the paint scraped off one door panel it can be hard to tell.
Then there are those who run businesses that maintain vehicle fleets for their staff – even if it’s just one pool car, that represents a big chunk of the business capital. If you want to monitor a vehicle and how it’s driving – whether it’s your own, a loved one’s or a business vehicle – a GPS tracker is the way to go. It can provide driving logs with pinpoint accuracy and, depending on the model you select, it can give the exact location of the vehicle at a moment’s notice.
In this guide we take you through some of the best car GPS trackers on the market and help you to find the one that best suits your needs without breaking the bank.
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The Best GPS Tracker for Cars
One of the stumbling blocks that can put many people off when investing in GPS tracking devices is the assumption they are complicated to use. Spy Tec has taken that notion and thrown it out the window with this extremely easy-to-use device.
For one thing, the device itself is absolutely tiny, measuring about 3 inches in length and weighing about 8 ounces. As far as GPS trackers go, that’s tiny! Despite it’s small size however it, it’s good to see this model has a good battery life, with a lifespan of about 2 weeks between charges – more if you use the device intermittently.
In use it’s nice and simple too, with the bundled software synching with Google Maps when relaying information. That is useful to see, as Google Maps is, by and large, the template map app that we all know and recognize. Taking advantage of that familiarity makes the product easy to use. Real time updates are provided every 5 seconds for pinpoint accuracy, and it is possible to set up Geo-Fencing, meaning you get an alert by text or e-mail if the vehicle leaves a set area.
All in all in then, this is a very useful model that comes bundled with a range of useful features and a middle of road price.
Real Time Updates
Compatible with Google Maps
- BrandSpy Tec
- Weight0.5 lbs
Our next product comes from Vyncs, and is a pretty high tech little device, with a range of interesting design points. One of the more interesting things about this model is not actually a design point or a feature however – instead it is the fact that it is an active GPS tracker without a monthly fee. A little more on that in a minute.
In the meantime, lets discuss the practical aspects. This model does not use a battery as it plugs directly into the car itself, specifically into the OBD-II port. That means that maintenance is virtually non-existent, as there is no need to recharge. You do need to have a bit of cunning to hide the device however, or a car thief could just rip it straight out.
This device accesses a 3G mobile data network to connect itself to your laptop or tablet device. That is why there is no monthly fee (hooray!) but it can mean that mobile data outages can lose the signal (boo!) and you may struggle in more rural areas for a 100% connection.
You do by the way pay a $10 activation fee that lasts for a year. At that level, the unit updates every 180 seconds. If you want closer to real time updates then prepare to spend a little more, with 15 second updates – the most frequent – coming with a yearly charge of $129.
Uses 3G Mobile Data Technology
No Monthly Subscription
Real Time Updates
Powered Directly by Vehicle – No Batteries
- Weight4 oz
This is another of the type of GPS tracker that is very straightforward to use. Simply fire it up (and ensure the battery is charged) and then secrete it somewhere inside the vehicle – in the glove box, in the trunk, anywhere you like. You can then access the tracking software for real time updates on the location and speed of the vehicle at any time.
You can also use it as a digital watchdog. You can, for example, set a geographic area that if the car leaves you will receive an alert. Set that area to be the size of your neighborhood, and get an alert every time the vehicle rolls of that area. You can do exactly the same for speed, getting an alert every time the vehicle tops 80mph for example.
It’s a pretty good value compared to some other models. Just bare in mind this unit utilizes the 2G mobile network (not the newer, faster networks). 2G is not as widely available as it used to be, so it could be an idea to check you local coverage (usually with T-Mobile) before taking the plunge on this model.
10 – 14 Day Battery
Smaller Than a Cigarette Lighter
Alerts for Proximity and Speed
- Weight8 oz
First thing to state is that this product is not endorsed in any way by the Transformers or by Optimus Prime. While this unit won’t transform into a cool fighting robot that shoots lasers out of its palms, it is a very efficient little GPS tracker.
The tracker unit is absolutely what you expect for a premium level product here. It’s black, it weighs a few ounces, it’s the size of a cigarette lighter, etc. etc. – it’s the same as most of the others we have seen already. It even has a similar battery lifespan of around 10 days depending on unit use.
So what’s the stand out with this model? Well, the feature that makes it different from many other GPS vehicle trackers is the App you use to monitor the vehicle location and driving history. Optimus Tracker describes it as a no-nonsense app, and it isn’t kidding. It’s a very straightforward app that’s very easy to use. You can also manage every aspect of the device from it. So not only do you see vehicle history log, you can also set up alerts for the vehicle entering or leaving a set area or going over a specific speed limit. The device also sends alerts reminding you to charge the battery, which is a pretty useful feature actually.
Use With an App – Android & Apple Compatible
30 Second Real Time Updates
Range of Alerts
- Weight3.36 oz
There are a number of useful features in this GPS tracker from Trak4, which all shout out to a model that has been very well though through. Lets start with something a little different from any other model we’ve seen so far and that is the case on the device. Many other GPS trackers can have additional weatherproof cases purchased for them – this model comes already built into one. That means that out the box it can be mounted anywhere including to the exterior of a vehicle or trailer.
Inside the case is another stand out feature, an incredibly high capacity battery. At the lowest monitor level (one “ping” or location report per 24 hours) the device can last a full year on a single charge. It uses the 3G mobile data network (with 2G as a fall back option) meaning it should be able to find a signal just about anywhere in the continental United States.
The tracking software is easy to use, and can be used on a laptop – you simple sign into your account and you can locate the vehicle in seconds. It also keeps a log of speed and past locations and you can set up alerts based on these factors too. The initial outlay is a shade under 50 bucks whilst the monthly subscription runs from $5.99 to a little under $20 depending on the frequency of vehicle reports you need.
High Capacity battery – Up to 12 Months on One Charge
Uses 3G Network
Simple to Use Interface
- Weight6.4 oz
The vehicle trackers we’ve looked at so far have been designed to do exactly that – track the vehicle. This model from CarLock though is a bit of a different beast. Yes, it can track the vehicle and you can access your account through the CarLock app to see the log of the vehicle activity.
What this product is more about though is providing security. It plugs into the car OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) Port, which makes it a more sensitive tracker than many others on the list. That means while it can send alerts if the vehicle crosses certain geographical lines or speeds, it has another trick up it’s sleeve.
It can send you alerts if the engine starts or even if it senses vibration – the kind of vibration that, for example, power tools may produce if a thief is using them to break into or steal your car. That is a level of security you do not get from many other products, making this more of an electronic watchdog than a simple GPS tracker.
Various Anti-Theft Alerts
Various Poor Driving Alerts
Monitors Car Battery
Powered by Car Battery
- Weight1.76 oz
This device has a cool trick up its sleeve to help it stand out from the crowd. On the surface it is a pretty bog standard GPS Tracker. It clocks in with a price tag of around 50 bucks, and you get what you expect for a 50 buck tracker. So an internal battery with a lifespan of about 2 weeks between charges. A tracker unit that’s small and easy to place – and also has built in magnets, making it even easier to find a discrete location on the vehicle.
Its monitoring is via an iPhone and Android compatible app or you can log in on a web browser, and the tracker provides 30 second updates on vehicle location. So far, so similar – and that’s when you notice the internal microphone.
Yep, that’s right – the Unique Selling Point on this little baby is the fact that it not only transmits vehicle location, it transmits live audio too. You simply text the device (each one has a unique number) and it calls you straight back. You then get a one-way audio connection through your phone, allowing you to hear everything that happens inside the car.
How cool is that, huh?
Built in Microphone for Live Audio Monitoring
Real-time GPS Tracking with 30 Second Updates
Case Has Built in Magnets
- Weight7 oz
Hey, remember the GPS tracking device from Optimus Tracker we looked at above? Course you do, we made that hilarious joke about the Transformers and Optimus Prime?
No? Well we though it was funny.
This product is exactly the same; it’s the Optimus 2.0 GPS tracker. Scroll back up to see the specifics, but this is a pretty good little device (as we outlined in the earlier entry). The difference here is that for a few extra bucks the Tracker unit comes bundled with a very useful magnetic case.
Not just any magnets in fact, these are made of Meodymium which is strongest type of magnet commercially available. If you want to mount your tracker on the outside of the vehicle then, you should certainly consider taking up this great value offer.
Optimus Tracker 2.0 Device
Bundled with Twin Magnet Case
Excellent Value for Money
- BrandOptimus Tracker
- Weight2.5 oz
Our penultimate item is this GPS tracker from TKSTAR. It has a price tag a bit below what you would expect to pay for a premium model, and correspondingly some of the top end features are missing. On the other hand though TKSTAR have managed to bundle in an incredibly powerful 5000mAh battery.
That battery, combined with the way this unit works, gives a lifespan of up to 90 days, a very useful amount of time. It should be noted that the device works a little differently from other models. What you do here is download an app and then when you want to know the vehicle location you text the device. It replies with Google Maps coordinates that you enter in the app for a pinpoint location.
The external shell of the tracking unit is both water and dust proof and constructed of tough plastic, so you’ll have little worries of damage occurring during use. So like we said, it’s a bit of a basic model. But for the money it does exactly what it says it will – but it doesn’t do much else either.
Up to 90 Days Battery Life
Tough, Water & Dust Proof Construction
- Weight11.2 oz
In operation, you can download an app or access the company web browser and get real-time updates (with 20 second update time) for real accuracy. Or, for a quick check on vehicle location simply text the device and it sends you a link. Click the link and your phone opens Google Maps to the exact location of the tracker – or at least to within 2.5 meters, which is excellent accuracy for a device of this size.
Like we said it’s not cheap – but you can’t deny this is a very high-quality car tracking system.
90 Days of Battery Life
Pre-Loaded with 6 Months Free Tracking Data
20 Seconds Updates
- BrandAES Spy Cameras
- Weight1.65 lbs
Best Car GPS Tracker Buying Guide & FAQ
That completes our list of the best car GPS trackers on the market today. Having identified no less than 10 outstanding models however, how can you decide which is the best one for you?
In this next section we’ll take a look at some of the features you should bear I mind whilst making your choice, as well as answering some of the most frequently asked questions about vehicle trackers.
Features to Consider When Buying a Car GPS Tracker
- Real-Time or Delayed Time? Do you want to know exactly where the car is right now? Or is to ok to know where it was 10 minutes ago? The closer you get to real time monitoring the more accurate the results – but also the higher the bill is going to be.
- All the devices are pretty small, but the smallest are about the size of a Zippo cigarette lighter. They smaller they are, the easier they are to hide inside (or outside) the vehicle. The size will also influence the battery life however. Speaking of which -
- Battery Life. How often do you want to charge the device? Smaller tracking units will have smaller batteries and require a charge as much as once a week. Bigger units can go for months, but are harder to hide. Or eliminate the problem entirely with a device that hooks up to the vehicle itself for constant power.
Why you Should use a Car GPS Tracker
Why should you spring for a GPS tracking device? To out mind, there are three good reasons:
- Recover Stolen Vehicles. If your car is stolen you have less than a 50% chance of getting it back – and that rate varies hugely from State to State. However, if you have a GPS tracking device those chances sky rocket. If you call the cops to report a stolen car, it’s up to them to find it and that’s often just down to pure luck. If you call the cops to report your car stolen AND you can tell them exactly where it is, you have a much better chance of seeing it again.
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- Monitor Vehicles Usage – Family These days we often have to share our vehicles with family members – usually our wives/husbands and our kids. A GPS tracker is a great way to monitor the driving habits of those we share the vehicle with, highlighting for example excess speeds and harsh braking.
- Monitor Vehicle Usage – Business If you own a business then you may be just as worried about your vehicles! For business owners, vehicle-tracking systems can help you to monitor staff when they are out and about.
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Types of Tracking Systems
There are essentially two type of GPS tracking system, which are active and passive. They both have some pros and cons, which we’ll go over in this next section.
Active – An active style of car GPS tracker will always be transmitting data via satellite uplink. That means that you can real time information at the click of a button via a website or app. You can see where the vehicle is at that exact moment, and you can backtrack through it’s journey to see where it has been, check it hasn’t exceeded any speed limits or gone to any places it shouldn’t have. The downside is that most Active GPS car trackers have subscriptions attached to pay for that access to the satellite networks.
Passive – A passive tracker on the other hand will not transmit data. Instead, whilst it will remain connected to the GPS satellite network above earth, it will store all the movements of the vehicle internally. That means that you have to physically remove the device from your vehicle and hook it up to your laptop or tablet. You can then download the information for a complete history of the movements of the vehicle. The downside is of course no real time information, and you can’t use a passive GPS to locate a missing vehicle. The plus is these devices are usually a lot cheaper, and there is no monthly subscription to pay as with the Active style trackers.
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Car GPS Tracker FAQ:
Q: What is a car GPS tracker?
A: A GPS Tracker is a device that uses Global Positioning Satellites to pinpoint the location of your vehicle.
Q: How do car GPS trackers work?
A: They work the same way that a Sat Nav device knows where you are – by communicating with satellites orbiting the earth to download it’s exact location. Once it has the location, it communicates with you – or rather your phone or your laptop – using the 2G or 3G mobile data networks to send coordinates that the App or Website overlays onto a map, usually Google Maps.
Q: How accurate are car GPS trackers?
A: Jordan Carter from gadget review site Gear Hungry says: "Car trackers are incredibly accurate and a fantastic deterrent in the war against car theft. A high-end model will locate the vehicle to within 8 feet of its exact location."
Cheaper models may be a little less accurate but, broadly speaking, it’s not going to tell you the car is in Texas when you know it’s in Oregon.
Q: Is GPS car tracking legal?
Broadly speaking yes with a couple of exceptions. If you do not own the car, you do not have the legal right to track it. It is also illegal to track someone else’s car without their knowledge.
These are general rules of course and will vary from state to state so we strongly recommend speaking to your local law enforcement or town hall if you have any queries at all.
Q: Where should I place my GPS tracking Device?
A: That’s a good question. Many people will advocate placing it on the outside of the vehicle. That has the advantage that a car thief is unlikely to spot and remove it. On the other hand, without a tough case and strong magnets it could end up removing itself.
A smaller GPS tracker can be easily concealed in a glove box or under seats inside the vehicle cabin.
Our Top Pick
For our money – or rather for yours, as you’ll be the person buying it – the Spy Tec GL300 Vehicle GPS Tracker is the best product on the list. It’s already an extremely popular product anyway, but having now dug through its specs and features it’s easy to see why.
It’s very small, making it easy to place in the vehicle. It has a long battery life, it synchs with Google Maps, it has a Geo-Fencing feature to monitor the vehicle location at all times and it is above all easy to use. All of that for a price tag of about 50 bucks or so – plus a monthly subscription of $25 – is phenomenal value too. For all of those reasons then, we are happy to name the Spy Tec GL300 as the best car GPS tracker on the market today.