How does GPS Tracker Work?
In movie Bourne Ultimatum, the amnestic hero Jason Bourne tracked down the assassin using the installed GPS system to prevent his next hit. With the development of technology, GPS trackers are no longer a gadget used by heros in movies, they have been used by people like us in our daily life. In this article we explain how GPS trackers work.
GPS tracker uses a network of satellites to determine the location. It uses trilateration to determine its physical location based on its distance from 3 GPS satellites. The same technology is used by your GPS navigation system. Note, currently your phone uses celluar towers to determine its location (in the future your cell phone may connect to satellites to get internet service.)
The difference between a GPS tracker and a car navigation system is that the navigation system provides you with your location and driving directions. In contrast, a tracker either keeps a record of your driving habits or broadcasts its location in real time.
A GPS navigation system only receive location information from the satellite, it does not broadcast its location. In contrast, a GPS tracker broadcasts its location in real time using the same technology that your cellphone does to make calls or connect to the internet.
How Accurate is GPS Tracker
When GPS trackers are shown in movies it usually is in the form of a smoothly moving dot showing pin-point accuracy. However, this is not how it works in the real world. For starters, civilian GPS equipment usually is rated for an accuracy of within 15 meters. The actual accuracy depends on the used receiver chip inside the GPS tracker (usually the more expensive the better). However your surroundings also have a big impact. If you are in an area with a lot of high-rise buildings, trees or other objects (urban canyons) the GPS signal might get reflected or blocked resulting in a lower accuracy.
Most modern GPS trackers use a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi and cell tower data. Spectrum Smart GPS trackers have an accuracy of within 15 ft (5 meters).
Different Types of GPS Trackers
BATTERY-OPERATED GPS TRACKERS: Most GPS trackers are battery-powered, meaning that you will have to check them frequently to avoid having a dead battery at the worst possible time. Because these devices are cordless and compact, they are very easy to conceal. Keep yours out of sight to prevent a potential thief from spotting and removing it before making off with your car.
PLUG-IN GPS TRACKERS: Plug-in GPS trackers draw power from your car 12-volt outlet or OBD II port, so you never have to worry about changing the batteries. These are great options for keeping family members connected, but are difficult to hide if you plan on using your tracker as an anti-theft measure. Be aware of how much energy they draw from your car to avoid putting excessive strain on its battery.
HARDWIRED GPS TRACKERS: Hardwired GPS devices are wired directly into a vehicle. Most chose this option because the vehicle does not have an OBD II port, which is needed for non-wired devices. As some older cars do not have this port or an incompatible port, this is the only option for them. The benefit of adding a hardwired GPS tracker is that it can be hidden better than others. Since they are not attached to the OBD port, the GPS device can be placed anywhere under the dashboard.
The most discreet car GPS trackers are powered by a battery, which means they can be installed virtually anywhere. Since there is no external power source, this type of tracker has to be removed and charged periodically, or it will stop working.
What Are Vehicle GPS Trackers Used For?
Even though you can use a hard-wired GPS tracker or a battery powered GPS tracker for your vehicle, the most popular one is the OBD2 (or OBD II) gps tracker. OBD2 tracker is easy to use, it does not require installation. Just plug it to the OBD port and you are done. OBD port is available on any vehicles made after 1996. Compared to battery powered GPS tracker, OBD2 GPS tracker does not require recharging because it is powered by your vehicle. For battery powered GPS trackers, you need to charge it periodically.
There are various information you can get from an OBD2 GPS tracker. First, it provides your vehicle location at all times, and there are many scenarios where that can be helpful. For instance, if your car was stolen but you had a tracker installed, you could provide the police with its location.
Second, it provides the vehicle speed. With the right tracker installed in your teen's car, you can pull up their location in real time or view a record of where they've been, when they were there, and whether they broke the speed limit.
Third, with the buit-in G-sensors the OBD2 tracker can tell driver behaviors. If the driver has harsh braking or harsh acceleration it will send an alert to the owner.
Last, but not the least, an OBD2 GPS tracker can monitor your vehicle health. It scans the engine health. If engine light is on, the tracker will read the engine error code and reports to the owner. If the RPM is too high, battery is too low, or coolant temperature is too high, the device will send an alert so you can take actions immediately.