How To Use GPS Car Tracking Systems

by Joe Mueller on September 20, 2009

There are many different uses for GPS car tracking systems.  How you decide to use this technology and for what purpose is almost entirely case specific.  There are some things about this technology that do transcend your particular use of it, namely, that the device is going to be using the Global Positioning System to determine its location through the process of trilateration and that the device will either store this data locally (a data logger) or will send this data to a third party (a real time GPS tracker).  Once this data is ready to be processed, users will then interact with their GPS coordinates through a map interface that is going to resemble the ever popular Google Maps.

Each tracking company is going to provide certain features or UI bells and whistles that might appeal to certain submarkets of individuals looking to use a GPS car tracking system.  For example, a tracking system designed to monitor teen drivers is going to differ from a system designed as a theft recovery system even though the same fundamental process is going on in the actual GPS tracking device and in the GPS software behind the scenes.  But because the information that end users want is going to be different the different companies generally tailor their products for certain purposes.

What follows is a listing of some of the more common areas where a person may want to use a car tracking system, with each area having a few tips on how to best make use of GPS tracking to get the most out of the system.

Track a Teen Driver

When it comes to driving, one of the most important things for a parent with a teen driver to do is to make sure that they are correctly and safely operating the vehicle.  You often spend hours with your teen showing them how to drive properly, how to obey the speed limit, how to make safe lane changes, and how to maneuver the various hazards that driving throws at you.  Your efforts are painstaking and appear to produce a lot of results.

Little do you know, however, that once your teen is out driving alone or with their group of friends they turn into an entirely different driver.  They are reckless, risk takers who live in the moment without thinking about the potential consequences of their actions.  They get a little hot headed and that is very dangerous.

GPS tracking can be particularly helpful in assisting a parent both in determining their teen’s driving habits when they are not around and in monitoring their progress so they can discipline their teen’s driving appropriately.

But how can one use a GPS car tracking systems more effectively when tracking their teens?  Here are some ideas:

  • Make sure your teen is aware of the tracking device.  It won’t act as a deterrent to bad driving habits if the teen does not know that it exists.
  • Set very clear guidelines for how your teen should be driving the car as well as the rewards and punishments associated with good and bad driving.  Honest and open communication works best for teenagers and for parents, that way if you have to bring the hammer you can point to your conversations and show that you really meant what you said when you talked about the family driving rules.
  • Monitor your teen’s driving in small bits each day.  If you wait until the end of the month to look at the driving data then you will have to sift through 30 days of driving to find out if any rules have been broken.  It is much better to spend 5 minutes going over the GPS tracking software than it is to spend 3 hours at the end of the month doing it.
  • Get a real time GPS tracking device.  These are superior pieces of technology when compared to simple data loggers.  While real time trackers do generally have battery issues, this can easily be overcome by hard wiring the device to run off of the car’s power supply.  You will appreciate the ability to know where your teen is at any given moment of the day when they are using the car.

If you want to track your teen but want to do so very cheaply then you might want to consider going with a cell phone as your tracking device.  These powerful gadgets can easily be outfitted with some free GPS tracking software, making it some of the cheapest GPS tracking around.  You might not get a full fledged GPS car tracking system like you would if you went with a more commercial package – but GPS data is GPS data and you should be able to figure it out.

Monitor a Wayward Spouse

Another important use of car tracking systems is to help spouses find out the truth.  It is very sad some spouses cheat on one another (in my opinion this should never happen, but it does require a lot of explaining and now it not the place).  What makes it even worse, is that the cheating is often ongoing and done in secret – all the while the cheater is acting normal.  This can put the spouse who is being cheated on in danger of contracting various diseases in addition to being an incredible emotional and psychological blow.

As I have mentioned before, it is perfected acceptable for a spouse to track their spouse with GPS.  I don’t see it as any violation of trust and it certainly isn’t wrong.  Now you can do evil with GPS tracking, but that doesn’t mean that the actual act of tracking was wrong in an of itself.

For those that want to use GPS tracking to see if a spouse is cheating you might want to consider the follow things:

  • Get a covert vehicle tracking device.  Chances are that if you are going to be tracking a potential cheater then you want to do so in a way that will not let them know that you are tracking them.  There are plenty of small, highly portable GPS devices out on the market so you will have your pick. I would probably recommend getting a data logger since these generally let you track for much longer periods of time than a real time tracker would normally allow (weeks instead of days).
  • Be secretive. This not only goes for the GPS car tracking device you purchase, but also in how you go about installing the device, retrieving it, and monitoring your spouse’s activity. When you install the device do so at night or when the car is parked in a secluded location, like a garage. Retrieving the device should follow a similar pattern. Also, when you look at the tracking data on your GPS tracking software be sure that you hide your tracks. This will involve deleting any web browsing history that your session logged as well as the cookie that your log in created. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but is good if your spouse has a habit of checking internet histories.
  • Tell a friend about it. The last thing you want to do is keep the fact that you suspect your spouse of cheating and have installed a tracking device in their car a secret. Don’t just tell any friend, but only hold a very reliable, tight lipped friend with the information. That way you can release some of the burden from your own soul and get some input on how to go about doing things.
  • Don’t do something evil with the knowledge. Once you find out the truth on whether or not your spouse is cheating you need to make good decisions with that knowledge. If you find that they are cheating tell a close friend and get immediate help. The blow to your soul can be very grave indeed and you are going to need to do a lot of healing.  Just don’t make matters worse by doing something illegal, immoral, or dangerous to yourself.

In most instances, creating your own spouse tracking GPS is not going to be an option – so you might expect to shell out a good chunk of change to pull off this type of tracking effort. I think a safe estimate is anywhere between $150-$250 for the tracker.

Improve Fleet Performance

Another important use of GPS systems for cars is in the role of fleet tracking and management.  Since this is mostly a commercial application it is probably going to be outside the scope of most of the readers here, so suffice it to say that businesses of that employ commercial fleets of one shape or another can benefit significantly from having one of these devices employed.

Generally speaking, they offer a functionality and features that are hard to find in the consumer market and are designed to create efficiencies that most normal people are unconcerned about – like cutting down idling time, optimizing routes, and monitoring driver activity.  As such, I will keep my recommendations short and few:

  • Plan how to implement the system before you make your purchase.  If you need to talk with several different providers to see how they recommend you employ their system.
  • Roll out the plan to your employees in a non-confrontational manner.  They need to know that this system is going to improve the business, not be used to watch employees like Big Brother.
  • And finally, use common sense in how you move your workers toward an effective use of the fleet tracking system.  Not everyone is going to be gun ho about it at the beginning so make sure changes happen slowly but deliberately so that they can see the improvement first hand.

Fleet managers and business owners should really consider using car tracking systems since they have been shown to significantly increase the efficiency of fleets, reduce costs, and increase revenue.

Theft Recovery

Finally, the last category under which most GPS car tracking devices fall is theft recovery.  While it is certainly not the most common use of GPS in cars, it certainly is an effective one. Just imagine how useful it would be if you actually suffered a stolen vehicle?

You wake up and realize that your car is no longer in your driveway.  A small, sudden panic slow crescendos until your heart is beating so loud you can hardly hear yourself think.  A million thoughts scream in your mind until one voice calms them all.  “Check where your car is online.”

You race to the computer and log in to your online GPS car tracking system.  In the time it takes to boot up your computer and start using Mozilla Firefox you have an exact location for your car.  You immediately phone the police who thank you for your GPS coordinates and let you know that they are going to recover you car.

A few hours later, the police have recovered your vehicle and apprehended a suspect in relation to your car theft – all thanks to GPS car tracking.

Here are some tips to make sure that you understand how your GPS auto tracking device is going to work best for you and your theft recovery hopes:

  • Install the tracking device in a hidden location near the back of the car.  The reason I like the back of the car is that it is often not searched by thieves and might be out of range of any GPS tracking blocker that a thief might try to use.
  • Make sure that the battery is charged or is hard wired to the vehicle’s power supply.  The later option is a little more difficult if you do place your tracking device at the back of the car, so some might want to put the tracker at the front of the car anyway.
  • Use a reliable service.  Lojack is probably the biggest name out there when it comes to theft recovery systems, but there are certainly others.

A short word about home made theft recovery systems: it doesn’t seem wise to me.  There are a lot of things that could go wrong with a homemade GPS system, so making sure that you have all your ducks in a row is super important.  It is certainly possible, I just wouldn’t recommend it.

Conclusion

GPS car tracking systems are going to be the norm in a few years or in a decade or two.  This is without question the way that auto makers, cell phone companies, and personal GPS navigation device manufaturers are taking the consumer market.  As this happens we are going to see even more ways to use this new, fun, and innovative technology to make our lives better and create a more verdant future.

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