LightBug

Hidden GPS Tracker for Cars: Finding the Right One for You

Looking for a GPS tracker for vehicles has become such a tedious process. With so many specs to consider and countless brands to pick from, it’s easy to be left scratching your head wondering what really matters when buying a tracker.

Long exposure traffic tunnel
Photo by Alessio Lin 

Whether it is to prevent theft, monitor unauthorized use of your vehicle when you are away or simply for peace of mind, this guide should help you identify what to look for when buying a GPS tracker for your car. Broadly speaking, there are 3 main aspects to consider which we’ll cover:

1. The hardware: does the tracking device itself fit your requirements?

2. The software: how easy is it to view the data recorded and set up alerts?

3. Pricing: flexibility, hidden charges and what’s included

Before we go any further, we strongly recommend that you review local laws about tracking vehicles. Although in most places it is perfectly legal to track your own vehicle, it might be a legal requirement to notify any other person also using that vehicle.

Car Tracking Hardware

Tracker size

The first thing you should lookout for is the form factor. You will need something small and discreet that you can hide almost anywhere in the vehicle without drawing attention. Battery powered GPS trackers offer exactly that with a hassle-free installation while wired GPS trackers take time to install, might require professional help and are limited to a few potential mounting locations.

When it comes to mounting or hiding your tracker, it is important to remember that no GPS tracker will work when completely surrounded by metals. A bad example of where to place your tracker is in the trunk. This blocks GPS signals and to a lesser extent GSM signals which are vital for GPS trackers when locating and sending their information to you. All other materials are generally fine so feel free to hide the tracker inside the glove box or under one of the front seats (one notable exception is windows with a metallic tint, sometimes used in high end vehicles: these can interfere with signal).

Other places work too – if you have a magnetic mounting option on your tracker, you could put it under your car, inside a bumper or even light fixing, but make sure that the device you have is waterproof if this is your preferred option!

Unless you are primarily looking to monitor your vehicle’s stats in terms of MPG & service alerts, avoid OBD GPS trackers as thieves will know exactly where to look to find these: they will be unplugged and disposed of within seconds.

Battery

Next most important thing is battery life. It is advisable to buy a GPS tracker that wouldn’t require frequent charging. This means less hassle in general and a lesser chance of you forgetting to charge your tracker.

This is where things get a little complicated; there is usually a trade-off between the tracker’s size and battery life. The good news is, very few trackers on the market fit into the small size but decent battery life category, so you should have less than a handful of GPS trackers to pick from at this stage.

Indoor & Underground Positioning Capability

One final feature to add to our hardware list is WPS: WiFi Positioning System. This is relatively new in GPS trackers, not exactly a deal breaker but would definitely come in handy because it enables tracking to work in indoor environments where WiFi is available such as your home garage or underground parking lots. More importantly, this feature will give you more accurate location updates if your vehicle is in a city where tall buildings reduce GPS signals or in some cases block them altogether.

Photo by NeONBRAND

2. Vehicle Tracking Platform or App

Once you are happy with the hardware specifications you will need to find out more about the tracking platform. Generally speaking, you will want something that looks fairly easy to use just to make your life easier if you plan on constantly tracking your vehicle.

• A good platform will also allow for a decent amount of your tracking history to be stored. Some platforms offer unlimited data storage which is definitely a great feature to have as you will not have to worry about exporting your data and downloading it periodically.

• Make sure it is not an App only, you would need other means of accessing your data in case your phone is out of charge or in the very unfortunate scenario where your phone is inside your stolen vehicle!

Platform security and data encryption are also very important, you don’t want your tracking history or your vehicle’s current location to fall into the wrong hands. In an ideal situation, you would want the data to be encrypted from the moment your tracker sends you its location update to the moment you view that data through the tracking platform.

• Finally, a good platform will allow other concerned family members to also view your vehicles current location and its tracking history, either through your account or through a separate account that can also view the same tracker.

3. Overall Price

GPS trackers tend to send their location updates via the internet so do not be surprised when you see a monthly fee; if anything you should be worried if you don’t see one. This is less than ideal but a decent tracker will need to have this in order to send you live updates without having to be within close proximity to you.

If you’re considering a Bluetooth based tracker, think again as their ‘crowdsourced GPS’ features are unreliable at the best of times, and realistically you’ll only ever get 30m range from them (that’s a very small car park).

It is common practice to see two separate fees: a one-off hardware fee and a monthly fee that covers your monthly running costs. These can be a little ambiguous so be sure the monthly fee you will be paying covers everything you need. The fee should include the SIM card charges, the cost of storing and processing your data so that you can view it through the tracking platform and of course support!

Keep a lookout for hidden fees and make sure everything is clearly stated. Try to find a company that offers no commitment period. This will allow you to pause or stop your subscription when it is not needed which would definitely save you some money.

It might look appealing to have an option that allows you to use your own SIM card as it offers flexibility and possibly a lower price but there are tradeoffs. Using your own SIM card can be a hassle as you need to set up the APN details (usually via SMS) and roaming can be very expensive or not an option at all. Most importantly having your own SIM card means you are solely responsible for managing the connectivity which ultimately means that if your device doesn’t work, you are left with little to no support options as both the network provider and tracker manufacturer can put any problems down to “user error”.

Throwback to the good ol' days
Photo by Aditya Chinchure

Car tracking extras

If the trackers you’re looking at already tick all those boxes and you still don’t know which one to go for, the following features might help you make your final pick:

  1. International Tracking. This will be very useful if, for example, you are a car enthusiast and you take your car with you when you travel. Finding out that your tracker doesn’t work in the country you’re visiting is a pain. The best way to avoid this is by purchasing a 4G GPS tracker with a 2G fallback option and an international SIM card. Most countries have either 4G, 2G or both and will be keeping one or the other around for the foreseeable future (at least 10 years). The same cannot be said for 3G, which is soon to be turned off in many places.  You may have heard that some countries have or are discontinuing support for 2G (USA, Australia…). This means 2G GPS trackers won’t be the best choice for international travel, but it’s important to note that lots of places still have better 2G coverage than 4G, so really for the best of all worlds, you want a device that can do both. Again keep an eye out for extra fees (if any) when operating your tracker internationally.
  2. Remote programming capability. This is only applicable to smart trackers. You might want to set your tracker to send a location update once every hour which should give you a longer battery life and in the event of theft you should be able to remotely program your tracker to send location updates in a more frequent manner, for example, a location update every minute to track down the thieves.
  3. Geo-Fencing and safe-zone features. This is very important if you own a classic or a weekend car that you only use occasionally. This feature usually allows you to get alerts when your vehicle leaves the set safe-zone and in some truly intelligent trackers it will increase your battery life.

The best GPS tracker for cars?

At Lightbug we specialize in truly intelligent, small trackers that have exceptional battery life. We like to think that we’ve covered everything you’d need in a vehicle tracker and that our Lightbug Pro is in the running for the best GPS tracker for cars, but if you’re still unsure, please feel free to get in touch at support@thelightbug.com or by messaging us on facebook. We’re always happy to advise, even when our products aren’t the best option for you.