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What is a car tracker?
Car trackers track the location of your car using a global positioning system (GPS) or very high frequency (VHF) technology. These technologies help your tracker calculate your car's exact position.
The types of people who may find car trackers useful include:
Car owners who live in areas with a high risk of car theft
A car tracker can vary in size and price, depending on the types of features you want it to have.
Some are battery operated, while others are wired into your car.
GPS trackers are the most popular car trackers because they're inexpensive and effective to use. But criminals can use devices to jam their signal.
Trackers that use VHF technology aren't so easily hacked. But they're more expensive and often come with a subscription service. They can also only track your vehicle's location if it's reported stolen. GPS systems can track your car's location 24/7.
How does a car tracker work?
A GPS car tracker works by sending a signal to 3 satellites orbiting the Earth's atmosphere. It can calculate the car's physical location based on its distance from these 3 satellites. This is known as trilateration.
You can get notified about the car's location either through an app or a third-party control centre - depending on your car tracker.
Most GPS car trackers use the same technology as a car navigation system. The difference with a navigation system is that it provides you with your location to give you driving directions. A car tracker can keep records of your driving and give its location in real time.
Making calls or connecting to the internet on your phone uses the same technology. This means that some car trackers may also have a monthly subscription fee.
How do car trackers use VHF technology?
Car trackers with VHF technology use radio waves. TVs, radios and other types of communications also use VHF technology.
The UK police force relies on this technology so it can be seen as an attractive option for car tracking systems.
Vehicle tracking and recovery company, Tracker, uses VHF technology in their devices. Tracker is the only tracking device company who are supported by the the UK police. So if your vehicle gets stolen it has a better chance of being recovered.
Can criminals jam car trackers?
GPS tracking systems can sometimes get jammed using a GPS signal jammer. These are relatively easy for criminals to buy online.
Once a criminal has entered the vehicle, they can plug the signal jammer into the car's power outlet. The criminal places the jammer next to the GPS tracker and generates an interference signal, which can span a 5-10 metre radius.
This means the GPS system can't get any signal from the satellites.
Unlike the GPS system, the VHF signal shouldn't be blocked by jammers. Some VHF trackers even alert you if there's been an attempt to block the signal using a GPS signal jammer.
The VHF signal can't be blocked by tunnels or large structures either. So even if it's hidden in a shipping container, garage or underground car park it can potentially be recovered. This is useful because cars like Range Rovers are often stolen to order and then shipped abroad in shipping containers.
What types of car tracker are there?
There's a variety of car trackers you can get, including:
Wired-in car tracker - this connects to your vehicle's electrics.
Magnetic car tracker - these fasten to any metal part of your vehicle using a magnet. They don't need to be wired into your car.
Insurance approved car tracker - these tracking devices are usually approved by insurers and could bring down your premiums.
Subscription car tracker - when you buy the tracking device, you usually sign up to a subscription service too. Usually this is to pay for the SIM that's part of the tracking service.
Some of these trackers rely on GPS technology, others VHF and some with a hybrid. A GPS tracker monitors the location of your car at all times, whereas a VHF tracker only alerts you when the car is reported stolen. That's why the hybrid tracker is a good combination for people who want both.
Should I get a GPS tracker?
Adding a GPS tracker to your car helps improve the security of your car. This is because the car tracker should be able to notify you of its location, which helps you get your car back if it's stolen.
Although there's no legal obligation to add a tracker to your car, as well as the extra security, it could also help you save money on your car insurance. This is because the likelihood of your car becoming damaged or written off is significantly reduced with a tracker. This makes it much more appealing for the insurer.
If you're living in an area where car theft is common, a tracker should also be useful. Keyless car theft is on the rise and thieves can steal your car in less than 60 seconds - they don't even need your keys to do this.
You may also want to consider a tracker for peace of mind if you know your car is vulnerable to theft and on the list of UK's top most stolen cars.
A car tracker may also be useful in other situations. For example, in work you might want to check whether your employee made their service call and how far away they are from their next client.
Or if you're a parent, you might want to check your kids made it to their school and back. You'd need a GPS tracker for this though as this is the only tracker that can give you your car's current location.
Does my car have a tracker?
Double check in case your car is already fitted with a GPS tracker. It's possible that the manufacturer has fitted the device in the factory, especially if it's a new car.
You can check this by looking at the user handbook or calling the car manufacturer.
It's worth remembering that factory fitted car trackers may not necessarily make your car insurance cheaper. They're usually not insurance-approved and not as safe as if you were to get a dedicated car tracker.
Other ways your car may have some kind of tracker is through telematic devices. Many car insurers offer a chance to install a telematic or 'black box' device into your car. These trackers use GPS to relay data about your driving. Good driving habits are often rewarded with cheaper insurance.
How much does a car tracker cost?
As well as the initial price of buying car tracker devices, you may also need to pay for the labour of the tracker being installed. There's sometimes also a monthly or annual charge on top to be able to use the 24/7 tracking system.
The cost of a car tracker varies depending on its specifications, but costs can start from as little as £40. Or you can buy a more advanced one from a specialist vehicle tracker company, like Tracker.
You should weigh up the consideration of the costs of a car tracker against the costs of having your car stolen to decide whether to buy a car tracker or not.
What’s the best car tracker without a subscription?
Paying monthly fees for a car tracker can end up becoming too much for some. That's why a one-off payment that covers you for the duration of owning your car may be a more affordable option.
Some of the best car trackers without a subscription are:
SinoTrack 4G GPS Tracker
This tracker has real time GPS tracking using their tracking app, with an accuracy of up to 10 meters. You need to buy a local SIM card with 4G network to insert it into the tracker.
SinoTrack GPS tracker has no monthly fees and you can play back and view your daily tracking history.
Zeerkeer GPS Tracker
With a battery lasting up to 5 months, this tracker requires a SIM card to track the location of your car. You need to call the SIM card phone number in the tracker, which should send you a Google Maps link of its position.
Winnes GPS Tracker
The Winnes is a 4G real-time SIM card GPS tracker that works globally. You can get real time location of your car by text, web or app, with an accuracy of up to 5 meters.
The tracker also has a geo-fence feature. If your car moves out of the fence area you set, the app pushes an alarm notification. You also get up to 6-month tracking history of your car's route.
Can a tracker drain your car battery?
No, a car tracker shouldn't drain the battery of your car.
This is because most car trackers have their own built-in battery, which is used when the car is turned off.
Even car trackers that don't have their own battery, like an on-board diagnostics (OBD) tracker that plugs into the port of the car, still don't drain the car battery. This is because although they're relying on the car battery for power, they only use a small amount when the car is turned off.
Do I need to install a vehicle tracking device for my car insurance?
It's not a legal obligation to have a tracker for your car. But recently it's becoming more common for car insurance providers to request that you install one.
Over the years, car thieves have become more tech-savvy and are more likely to override factory-fitted security. This includes keyless car theft, where they use 'relay technology' to access your car.
Insurance-approved tracking devices have advanced security. These are designed to both deter thieves and recover stolen cars.
Due to an increase of car theft, we suspect insurers asking to fit a car tracker might become standard in the future.
If in doubt, check the T&Cs of your car insurance policy. If it requires a car tracker it could be worth installing one so you avoid any surprises later on.
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Which is the best vehicle tracking device for insurance?
Monitored Thatcham-approved car trackers, like the Tracker models and the Meta S5 Deadlock, are among the best car tracking devices available.
All of Tracker's vehicle tracking devices are Thatcham-approved and also use VHF technology. So your car should be detectable even if it's hidden in a shipping container.
You have to set up a subscription when you buy a tracking device from Tracker. But their vehicle trackers are able to locate your car even if it's shipped to Europe. You can get a device for any vehicle, including motorbikes and tractors.
The S5 GPS car tracker is Thatcham approved and has immobilisation security, which is controlled by you. This means that nobody can drive your car without you knowing.
If you'd like a car tracker that doesn't use a detectable GPS signal, you could consider the S7 Tracker Monitor. The S7 uses VHF technology, which can't be blocked by any large structures and can be found underground or in containers.
It's best to talk to your insurer to discuss what car tracker they recommend you using.
Will fitting an insurance-approved vehicle tracker reduce my insurance?
It's possible that installing an insurance-approved tracker could reduce the cost of your car insurance policy.
Insurance providers tend to reward customers who add more security to their car. This reduces the likelihood of your car being stolen or damaged and having to make a payout.
In cases where insurers ask that you fit a tracking device, they may not offer to insure your car at all unless the tracker is fitted.
For more information, check out our tips on how to reduce the cost of your car insurance.