Buying Guide: GPS trackers for cars
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GPS Trackers for Cars: The 2020 Buying Guide

Installing a GPS tracker on your car is one of the best ways to protect your investment. If someone steals your car, your tracker will lead you (and the police) right to it. But there are other reasons you might want to put a GPS tracker on your vehicle. Some GPS trackers can tell you a lot more than just where your vehicle is, so many businesses with company cars use them in fleet management.

You have a lot of options when it comes to GPS trackers. And not all of them are ideal for tracking your car.

In this buying guide, we’ll cover what to look for in a GPS tracker for your car, and we’ll talk about how what you’re trying to do should impact your choice. We’ll also look at a couple of top-selling GPS trackers and highlight what makes them the best.

First, let’s talk about why you’re getting a GPS tracker, and how that changes what you’re looking for.

What are you using it for?

Unlike the GPS you use to get directions and navigate your commute, a GPS tracker is designed to transmit its location to a separate device, like your smartphone or computer. It still relies on the Global Positioning System’s network of satellites, but it’s not trying to help you get from Point A to Point B. It’s giving you a reliable estimate of where your vehicle is—whether you’re in it or not.

There are a few big reasons you might want to use a GPS tracker on your car, and your reason will impact which features are most important to you.

Security

A GPS tracker can’t prevent vehicle theft. But having the right GPS tracker on your car can help you get it back quickly. The main things you’ll be looking for here are concealability, battery life, real-time monitoring, and instant alerts. 

You don’t want a car thief to see your GPS tracker out in the open, or they’ll disable or remove it. (A visible GPS tracker can actually encourage car theft as well, because thieves sometimes break in to steal electronics and decide to steal the car, too.) You also want to make sure you know the moment your car isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and you want to know where it is right now, not where it was 10 minutes ago.

With a good GPS tracker designed for vehicles, you’ll be able to lead the police right to your car within minutes of it being stolen.

Vehicle recovery

If your company rents or leases vehicles, you need an effective way to get them back if someone misses payments. You’ll likely want to pair a well-concealed GPS tracker with a starter interrupt device, so you can disable the vehicle remotely. Just as with a GPS tracker you purchase to keep your personal vehicle secure, concealability is important here. Some of your customers will have no problem disabling or removing a tracker if they find it, and there are plenty of articles and videos teaching people how to do that. So you may want a tracker you can install in unconventional or hard to reach locations on the undercarriage.

Other than concealability, the main thing car rental and leasing businesses want to focus on is battery life. You won’t have convenient access to the vehicle for long stretches of time, so you need to be sure your GPS tracker will still work months from now.

Fleet management

Theft prevention is part of fleet management, but if you want to get the most from your company vehicles, you’ll probably need a GPS tracker that tells you more than just where your vehicles are. And you may not be as worried about your employees stealing your vehicles, so concealability isn’t as important. Depending on the size of your fleet and what you’re trying to optimize, a GPS tracker that connects to the onboard diagnostics port (OBD) might be the best choice for you. 

An OBD GPS tracker can give you far more than just location data, such as the ignition status, fuel usage, braking or acceleration force, and engine health. This can help you improve and enforce driving standards, comply with regulations, and increase your team’s efficiency.

Now let’s dig into the features you should compare.

What should you look for in a GPS tracker?

If you aren’t familiar with GPS trackers, it can be hard to tell the difference between good ones, bad ones, and ones that were designed for a different purpose. All GPS trackers are going to transmit their location, but there are a number of features that change the ideal way to use them and how well they’ll meet your needs.

Here’s what you should be paying attention to.

Concealability

If someone steals your car, you don’t want them to know they’re being tracked. Depending on how they’re powered, some GPS trackers may need to be stored inside your car, where a thief could easily find them—especially if they’re looking for electronics and other items worth stealing!

For tracking a stolen car, you want a GPS tracker that either has its own battery or connects directly to your car battery and has a magnetic mount, so you can easily attach it under the hood somewhere or on the undercarriage of your car (there are plenty of great spots under the bumper, where it can’t get knocked off.)

Instant alerts

You don’t want to discover your car has been stolen hours (or days) after the fact when you go to use it. You want to know the moment it happens. And for that, you need a GPS tracker with some form of instant alerts that tell you when your car isn’t where it’s supposed to be.

These alerts could come via email, text messaging, or push notifications. None of those options are necessarily better or worse than the others—the best option for you depends on which is most likely to get your attention.

Instant alerts only work if your GPS tracker either has geofencing capabilities or a motion sensor of some kind. Geofencing lets you create a virtual barrier around a geographic area, such as your garage, parking spot, or company campus. It won’t prevent the car from leaving the area, but if your car crosses the barrier it will trigger an instant alert. Some GPS trackers use motion sensors to trigger alerts, so you get one whenever the car is moving.

Real-time monitoring

Most GPS trackers don’t constantly transmit their location. Battery-powered trackers may only transmit every few minutes to make the battery last longer. Or they’ll use a “standby” mode and start transmitting when your vehicle is in motion. 

If you’re trying to track a stolen car, you need a GPS tracker capable of real-time monitoring, so you can see where it is right now—not five minutes ago. 

Power source

There are a handful of ways a GPS tracker might be powered, and that affects how you install it, how concealable it is, and how long you can leave it in place. 

Some trackers simply connect to your car charger. Others have to be hardwired directly to your car battery or inserted into the OBD port (where it runs off your car battery). You shouldn’t have to worry about any of these options draining your car battery, because they’ll often be in standby mode until the car is on the move. And each of these options means you’ll never have to worry about running out of power, either. You can set it and forget it. They do, however, mean your tracker will need to be installed in specific locations.

A battery-powered GPS tracker gives you more flexibility as far as where you install it, but then you’ll need to think about how frequently you’ll need to remove it to charge or replace the battery.

Battery life

Some battery-powered GPS trackers can only go a few days without charging or replacing the battery. Others last for weeks. Or even months. Unfortunately, when manufacturers make a device smaller (and thus easier to hide), one of the first things to go is the battery life. So some of the smallest, most concealable GPS trackers may also have the most limited batteries. (Although that’s not the case with the GL300MA.)

You might be able to find accessories to increase your tracker’s battery life, but just keep in mind how accessories may impact cost or concealability. If you have to hook your tracker up to a massive battery to use it the way you want, it doesn’t matter how small and inconspicuous the tracker itself is—it’s not discreet.

Installation

Some GPS trackers require a little technical know-how to install. You certainly don’t need to be a car expert, and you can probably learn everything you need on YouTube, but some people are more comfortable asking a mechanic to hardwire the tracker to their battery.

OBD GPS trackers have to connect to your onboard diagnostics port. This is usually under the steering wheel or in one of the following locations:

[Insert OBD location image created for How to Track Your Car with GPS post.]

If your car was made before 1996, it might not have an OBD port. So if you’re looking for a tracker for your hotrod, you may want to just steer clear of these ones.

While you can hide a battery-powered GPS tracker just about anywhere, you probably want to get one with a magnetic mount, so you can stash it in the undercarriage or under the hood.

Data

If you’re looking for a tracker to maximize the efficiency of your company vehicles, lower insurance premiums, increase driver safety, or comply with regulations, then you’ll want to pay attention to the types of data each tracker can give you about your vehicles.

Trackers that don’t connect to the OBD port can still give you plenty of data like speed, location, direction, and stops, but that’s about it. This is plenty for a lot of businesses like lawn care professionals, moving companies, construction crews, and cleaning services, but some organizations may need more advanced data. And if that’s you, you’ll want to compare GPS trackers that connect to the OBD port.


These trackers collect more information from the car itself, so you can see things like:

  • Fuel usage
  • Ignition status
  • Engine health
  • Fault codes
  • Braking force
  • Acceleration

That’s a lot more than most people (or even most businesses) need to track, but for companies with lots of vehicles (and therefore vehicle related costs), this information can be crucial for managing your fleet.

Weatherproofing

Most electronic devices don’t do too well in the extreme heat or extreme cold. This is less of a concern if your tracker is going to be inside your vehicle, but if you plan on putting it under the car or under the hood, make sure it can handle the kind of temperatures it’ll be exposed to. It may also get wet or covered in dust, so that’ll be important to pay attention to as well.

Best hidden GPS tracker for cars: GL300MA

Price: $49.95

Power source: Battery

Battery life: 2.5 weeks

Instant alerts: Text or email

Real-time tracking: Yes

Installation: Place anywhere in or on vehicle 

Data: Location, speed, direction

Dimensions: 3" x 1" x 1.5"

Operating temperature: -4°F–131°F

Weatherproofing: Water resistant

The GL300MA is far and away our most popular GPS tracker. It’s small enough to discreetly tuck away just about anywhere. It’s highly affordable. It has several weeks of battery life out of the box. And with instant alerts and real-time tracking, it’s perfect for recovering your car if it’s ever stolen. It also surprisingly durable. But probably the biggest thing that sets the GL300MA apart is its wide range of accessories. You can get a waterproof magnetic case to install it anywhere on your car’s exterior. A hardwire kit to connect it directly to your car battery. A car charger to charge on-the-go. And you can add a battery to make it last for up to six months!

Best OBD GPS tracker for cars: XT 2000

Price: $79.95

Power source: Car battery

Battery life: N/A

Instant alerts: Text or email

Real-time tracking: Yes

Installation: OBD port

Data: Location, speed, direction, fault codes, ignition status, brake force, acceleration, fuel usage

Dimensions: 1.8” x 1.5” x 1”

Operating temperature: -22°F-158°F

Weatherproofing: No

If you want an affordable GPS tracker for fleet management, look no further than the XT 2000. This model comes with all the functionality you need, and since it connects to your vehicles’ onboard diagnostics systems, you’ll get far more data than you can from other types of trackers. You’ll also never run out of battery. While it has to be installed in a specific location (your OBD port), the XT 2000 is even smaller than the GL300MA, so it’s still possible to keep it concealed and undetected. It also operates in a wider range of temperatures.

Start tracking your car

Not all GPS trackers are equally suited for tracking your car. But now that you know what to look for, we hope you’ll find the tracker that’s right for you. Want to see all the GPS trackers we have available?

See all SpyTec GPS trackers.