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Published Dec. 15, 2020

When it comes to the safety and protection of not only your vehicle, but your loved ones or employees, installing a GPS tracker on your car is a great way to monitor and track its whereabouts at any given second of the day or night. This is a great option for families with younger, less experienced drivers who may not know their way around as well as some other drivers, or if you just want to be able to have the peace of mind of knowing exactly where they are whenever they take the car out.

If you own or manage a fleet of vehicles or even just a single vehicle that your employees use for business purposes, installing a GPS tracker on them is a good way to guard your equipment and get real-time information on vehicle location that you can use to gauge delivery or pick-up times or reroute drivers for more efficient travel times in case of traffic jams or back-ups.

A GPS tracker is also an effective safety precaution that can not only help to deter automobile theft, but if it should happen, having a GPS installed can help you quickly track and recover your vehicle. The following comprehensive buying guide is designed to help answer all your questions regarding GPS trackers for your car and to educate you on what to look for and what features are key so that you can be sure to get the best unit to suit your needs. 

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.

Key Features
  • Real Time Updates
  • Compatible with Google Maps
  • Compact Size
Specification
  • Brand Spy Tec
  • Model GPS-GL200
  • Weight 0.5 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.

Key Features
  • Uses 3G Mobile Data Technology
  • No Monthly Subscription
  • Real Time Updates
  • Powered Directly by Vehicle – No Batteries
Specification
  • Brand Vyncs
  • Model VYNCSLINK-001
  • Weight 4 oz

This compact and sleek GPS tracker is ideal for tracking loved ones and employees and is super simple and easy to use. It’s small enough to be easily concealed in backpacks, purses, luggage, strollers, and of course, vehicles. This unit functions on 4G LTE and is an upgrade from the previous 2G model and features faster and more reliable tracking and information. The tracking unit requires a monthly subscription to be properly activated, but you can do so without having to commit to a long-term contract or with costly activation and cancellation fees. 

This GPS tracker offers real-time tracking with up to five second updates via the web browser of your choice, or on your smartphone with the free Amcrest GPS app. The intuitive interface is very user-friendly and super easy to use. You can create shareable links, monitor activity, generate custom reports, and manage alerts.

Key Features
  • 10 – 14 Day Battery
  • Smaller Than a Cigarette Lighter
  • Alerts for Proximity, Speed, and Harsh Braking
  • IPX5 Water Resistant Housing
Specification
  • Brand Amcrest
  • Model AM-GL300W-4G
  • Weight 0.22 lbs

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.

Key Features
  • Use With an App – Android & Apple Compatible
  • 30 Second Real Time Updates
  • Range of Alerts
Specification
  • Brand Optimus
  • Model
  • Weight 3.36 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.

Key Features
  • High Capacity battery – Up to 12 Months on One Charge
  • Uses 3G Network
  • Weatherproof Case
  • Simple to Use Interface
Specification
  • Brand Trak4
  • Model Trak4
  • Weight 6.4 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.

Key Features
  • Various Anti-Theft Alerts
  • Various Poor Driving Alerts
  • Monitors Car Battery
  • Powered by Car Battery
Specification
  • Brand CarLock
  • Model OBD100
  • Weight 1.76 oz

If you’re looking for a car GPS tracker that’s ultra-compact and can be easily concealed in even the tiniest space, the Tracki 2020 Model Mini Real Time GPS Tracker is the ideal option. This handy GPS tracker is up to 30 percent smaller than many other units on the market and gives you the luxury of unlimited distance real time tracking throughout not only the USA but worldwide, thanks to the included international SIM card. A monthly subscription is required, but different plans are offered at very reasonable rates.

This GPS tracker is also a great option for keeping track of cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, boats, landscaping or construction equipment, or even attach it to purses, bags, and backpacks to keep track of individual people. Easily and quickly access whereabouts via a convenient app that you can download on your mobile phone, or use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to give you updates.

 

Key Features
  • Compatible With Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Real-time GPS Tracking with 1-5 Minute Updates
  • Case Has Built in Magnets
  • Lifetime Warranty
Specification
  • Brand Tracki
  • Model Model Mini
  • Weight 1.26 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.

Key Features
  • Optimus Tracker 2.0 Device
  • Bundled with Twin Magnet Case
  • Excellent Value for Money
Specification
  • Brand Optimus Tracker
  • Model
  • Weight 2.5 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.

Key Features
  • 5000mAh Battery
  • Up to 90 Days Battery Life
  • Tough, Water & Dust Proof Construction
Specification
  • Brand TK-STAR
  • Model 4330271730
  • Weight 11.2 oz

Here you get a very powerful battery that can give up to 90 days of tracking (based on driving one-hour per day in that time period). You get a very tough case that has incredibly strong, 70-pound magnets attached – so you can stick this anywhere on the car and have no worries that it’s going to disappear.

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.

Key Features
  • 90 Days of Battery Life
  • Pre-Loaded with 6 Months Free Tracking Data
  • 20 Seconds Updates
  • 70-Pound Magnets
Specification
  • Brand AES Spy Cameras
  • Model RGT90A
  • Weight 1.65 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 in mind while making your choice, as well as answering some of the most frequently asked questions about vehicle trackers.

gps tracking device in the car
GPS tracking device installed inside the car

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 it 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 is about the size of a Zippo cigarette lighter. The 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.
  • 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.

Types of Tracking Systems

There are essentially two types of GPS tracking systems — active and passive. They both have their own 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 get 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 its 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 the 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 that these devices are usually a lot cheaper, and there is no monthly subscription to pay as with the Active style trackers.

gps tracking device
GPS Tracking on Smartphone

Car GPS Tracker FAQ:

Q:  What is a car GPS tracker?

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?

They work the same way that a Sat Nav device knows where you are — by communicating with satellites orbiting the earth to download its exact location. Once it has the location, it communicates with you — or rather your phone or your laptop — using the 4G LTE 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?

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?

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.

Q: What’s the best GPS tracker for a car?

In our opinion, there isn’t just one best GPS tracker, as you can see from our comprehensive list of high-quality devices, but the best GPS trackers utilize the most up-to-date technology to give you real-time data about your vehicle’s location so that you see where it is any minute of the day. It will be a super compact device that can connect to your smartphone to provide updates and it will have a long battery life that means less charging and hassle.

Q: Which tracking device is the best?

Again, it’s tough to say outright, but our research tells us that the number one selling GPS tracking unit for 2020 is the Tracki 2020 Model Mini Real time GPS Tracker. It’s a great combination of cost, functionality, use of technology, and size. Does that make it the best? Not necessarily, but it definitely checks all the boxes when considering a top-notch GPS tracking device. 

Q: Where would you hide a GPS tracker on a car?

There are several great places to safely and securely hide a GPS tracker on your car in order to protect it from damage and ensure proper function:
– The diagnostic port of your car. This is usually located near the lower left of your steering wheel and is a safe, out-of-the-way spot that’s not exposed to harsh weather or road conditions.
– Under the seats, carpet, or floor mats. These are also inconspicuous places that are extra secure because they’re inside the vehicle. You can even hide them inside the seat upholstery if you want to get really crafty.
– Under the dashboard. There’s usually plenty of space here to secure a small GPS tracking unit that will prevent it from accidental damage.
– Inside the glove compartment. Again, this is a safe and out-of-way spot that’s protected from the elements and harsh temperatures, although if you’re like many people, your glove box may already be overstuffed with minutiae, so maybe not the best spot.
– The underside of your car. This is definitely a common spot to hide GPS trackers, although due to exposure to snow, rain, mud, salt, and harsh temperatures, it’s definitely not our favorite.

Q:  Can tile be used to track a car?

Technically, yes, you can use Tile to track your car. If you are within the BlueTooth range of your car, which is usually up to 100 feet, then you can simply use the Tile app on your phone to activate a ringing noise to help you find the car. However, if you’re outside that range, you need to rely on Tiles Community Network to locate your vehicle, which could take quite a while depending on the number of other Tile users in your area, and it may be too late by the time they track it down.

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. After reading through our complete buying guide, you can see that it clearly checks all the boxes when it comes to being a high-quality and reliable GPS tracker, which is why it’s such an extremely popular product.

It’s super compact, making it easy to place safely and inconspicuously in your vehicle. It has a long battery life, it syncs efficiently 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.

Sources:

  1. GPS Law – GPS
  2. GPS Tracking Unit – Wikipedia

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