GPS Tracker Buying Guide

GPS Tracker Buying Guide

The use of GPS tracking devices has become increasingly popular as an affordable way to protect your prized possessions.

Using a small black box, you can easily keep track of just about anything. But, how do you know which GPS tracker is right for you?

By learning more about how GPS tracking devices work.

Take a moment to find out what GPS trackers are used for, how to install them, which features to look for, and other fine points that will help you make an informed decision.

Discover everything you need to know about GPS tracking devices…

What is a GPS Tracker?

A GPS tracker is meant to help you track things, such as cars, boats, machinery, and even people. Designed for discreet placement, they are often compact and portable.

You can hide the tracker in a vehicle or backpack and track the location with your phone, tablet, or computer.

The GPS tracker transmits this location to satellites. You then use a mobile or web-based application to view the location, routes, and other GPS data.

The concept is simple, but there is plenty to consider when shopping for a GPS tracking device…

Why do People use GPS Trackers?

The most common use of a GPS tracker is as an anti-theft measure.

If your car or truck gets stolen, you can track its location using GPS. Sending this information to the necessary authorities could help you retrieve your stolen vehicle.

Other common uses include monitoring teen drivers or elderly parents. With GPS data, such as speed, safe driving, and safety scoring, you could keep a better eye on their driving.

Along with location and driving data, you can often retrace the routes driven. Through a mobile app or web-based interface, the GPS tracker will outline the exact path taken.

These devices are often used in cars or trucks, but they can also be attached to other valuable assets. You could use a GPS tracker on a boat, motorcycle, RV, or even farm machinery.

How does a GPS Tracker Work?

Most GPS trackers are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. They are typically housed in a solid black plastic shell, like a small black box. The device is then hidden inside or outside the vehicle or machinery.

If you’ve ever used GPS directions on your phone or car navigation, then you’ve experienced GPS tracking. Your phone determines your location by transmitting your coordinates.

GPS vehicle trackers use a similar method. The tracker transmits GPS data to a satellite, which can then be accessed through a mobile network.

Like a mobile phone, access to the mobile network typically requires a data plan, and possibly a SIM card. The SIM card is needed to transmit data to the network. These cards are included with some GPS trackers, while others require a separate purchase.

You use a mobile app or web-based application to view the GPS data. This gives you access to the location of your tracker from any phone or computer. You can then find the vehicle or person, trace map routes, access other data, and change settings.

The application used to monitor GPS data or track a location varies. Most manufacturers offer mobile apps with easy-to-use interfaces. These apps will work on any smartphone or tablet. You can then track the device anywhere you go.

Others will use a web-based application. You will sign in to a webpage and then access your GPS data and settings. These web-based interfaces can be accessed by any device with an internet connection, such as your phone, tablet, or PC.

What Features Should you Consider?

Along with basic GPS location, you can find additional settings and options. Here are some of the primary features to pay attention to as you compare GPS tracking devices:

  • Update intervals
  • GPS accuracy
  • Geofencing
  • Alerts and alarms
  • Driving data

The update interval refers to the frequency the GPS tracker transmits the location. Some devices update every 60 seconds, while others update every 15 or 30 seconds. With real-time tracking, the GPS tracker continuously transmits its location.

Along with the update interval, the accuracy of the GPS coordinates impacts your ability to track down the vehicle or object.

You will find high-end GPS trackers that offer pinpoint GPS data, with coordinates within 6 feet of the tracker. Though, the average accuracy range is within 10 meters of the target.

When tracking teen drivers, aging parents, or for personal GPS trackers, you should look for a tracker with geofencing.

Geofencing lets you set a specific zone for travel. If the GPS tracker exits the specified zone, you receive an alert via a mobile app or SMS message.

Additional alerts and alarms are available with some GPS trackers. A GPS tracking system that connects to the onboard diagnostics port in your vehicle can provide performance alerts, such as the check engine light. You can also find mobile alerts for movement detection or electronic tampering.

Driving data, including map routes, travel speed, distance traveled, and other specifics are available with certain tracking systems.

GPS location tracking and routes are the most commonly included features. Some of the other features discussed, such as geofencing, mobile alerts, and shortened update intervals, can cost extra.

Another factor to consider is the battery or power source for the GPS tracker, which directly impacts your installation options.

How do you Install a GPS Device?

Installation of a GPS tracker depends on the power source. GPS devices will often use one of these 3 options for power:

  • Internal rechargeable battery
  • Wired connection to the car battery
  • Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) connection

The wired and OBD connected devices are intended for use in vehicles. A GPS tracker with an internal battery can be used in vehicles, placed in a backpack, or hidden inside an object.

Internal Rechargeable Batteries

GPS trackers with internal batteries can be concealed inside or outside of the vehicle, allowing for covert tracking. They usually secure into place with the help of strong magnets, attaching to the undercarriage or underneath the dashboard.

The magnets will generally work on any metal surface. This lets you place the device anywhere in or on the vehicle, where it can remain hidden from sight. Installation takes seconds.

As an alternative to magnets, some GPS tracking devices will attach with adhesives.

The life of the rechargeable battery varies. You can find trackers with batteries that will last 2 to 4 months before they need charging. The use of a sleep mode can extend battery life, potentially doubling the time between charges.

Wired GPS Trackers

Some GPS tracking systems need a direct connection to the car battery, instead of relying on an internal battery. Due to the need to wire the tracker to the vehicle battery, installation could take a few minutes.

Once connected, the tracker can then be tucked away inside the dash. These devices will typically require adhesives to keep it securely hidden, which may be included with the product.

The advantage of a wired connection is a continuous power supply. The GPS tracker can continue to provide data if the vehicle battery is working.

OBD Connected GPS Trackers

The third option is to use a GPS tracker with a connection to the onboard diagnostics. These devices plug into the OBD port on the car or truck, giving you additional data.

Along with GPS tracking, you can receive OBD notifications, such as fuel economy, engine problems, and other issues. Though, some of these features will result in extra monthly fees.

The OBD GPS tracking systems also offer continuous tracking, due to the direct connection to the car battery, and can be hidden away inside the dashboard.

The physical installation of the GPS tracker is just the first step in setting up the unit. You need to access the GPS data. This is done through a connection to a mobile network, which is also a factor in the final cost of the device.

How Much Does a GPS Tracker Cost?

The average cost of GPS trackers can range from $30 to $150 or more. On top of the purchase price, you may need to purchase a SIM card and access to a mobile network.

As discussed, the GPS tracking device needs to submit data to a mobile network. This is done with a mobile SIM card. If not included, the SIM card can cost between $5 and $25.

You also need to consider the network options. This could be included in the cost of the product, with 1 or 2-year data plans occasionally provided.

If service is not included in the purchase price, you will need to purchase your own. The average cost of a GPS data plan is about $25 per month.

You can also shop for a service plan that includes a free SIM card if neither are provided with the purchase of the GPS tracker.

Which Mobile Service Should you Choose?

Some manufacturers offer their own service. Others will require you to purchase a standard data plan through a popular mobile network. You might even find that your existing cellular network supports GPS tracking, which could include additional monthly fees.

When comparing mobile plans, pay attention to the type of mobile network. This determines whether your GPS device will work with your existing network, along with the type of SIM card that will be needed.

The latest mobile phones operate on 3G and 4G networks. Though, most GPS tracking devices are designed to communicate with 2G or 3G networks.

If you use a 4G network with your current smartphone, your GPS tracker could require a separate network plan.

Mobile plans often have a data limit and exceeding this limit results in extra fees. With 24/7 tracking, the average device will use between 20 and 50MB of data per month. This means that data use shouldn’t be a major factor in choosing a network.

The bottom line is that you should always examine the details of a product to determine if service is included and whether it comes with a SIM card. Otherwise, you will need to factor these costs into your total.

How do you Choose the Best GPS Tracker?

Finding the right GPS tracker depends on your individual needs. Consider how you plan on using the GPS and what type of object you intend to track.

For personal GPS tracking, you may want a GPS tracker with a rechargeable battery. You can hide it inside clothing, luggage, or a backpack. Monitor your child or elderly parent.

Trackers with rechargeable batteries can also be used in vehicles. But, vehicles give you a couple more options.

A GPS tracker with an OBD connection or wired directly to the car battery will offer continuous use. You won’t need to recharge an internal battery every few months. With an OBD connection, you also gain access to some of your vehicle’s onboard diagnostics.

Remember to consider the extra features, SIM card, and mobile network. These could be included in the cost of the device or they could result in more monthly fees.

Reading reviews of the top-selling GPS trackers will help you make an informed decision. You can learn more about the specific features of each model while considering your exact needs.

Keep all this info in mind as explore your options and check out our GPS tracker reviews.

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