GPS tracker in the car: is the technology suitable as a weapon against theft?
Created: 01/13/2023, 06:00
By: Sebastian Oppenheimer
If the valuable car is stolen, it can be easily found using GPS tracking, so the popular belief.
But how well suited is the technology as a weapon against car theft?
The number of car thefts in Germany has recently fallen, but of course people are still being stolen – SUVs are currently particularly popular with thieves, and vehicles in Berlin, Hamburg and Brandenburg are particularly at risk.
One way to find a stolen vehicle is to use a GPS tracker – these are available for little money.
They are compact, smart, easy to use and allow car owners to find out about the current location of their vehicle.
They are therefore an interesting supplement for anti-theft protection.
The gadgets also offer useful additional functions.
GPS tracker in the car: how does the technology work?
Thanks to the GPS module, the small devices can determine their location anywhere in the world using the GPS geographic positioning system.
This works like with navigation devices or smartphones.
However, a SIM card is also required in order to transmit the GPS coordinates via the mobile network.
As a rule, SIM cards with cheap data transmission tariffs are chosen for this purpose, which allow access to the network in EU countries, but not beyond.
The owner of a tracker must install an app suitable for the device on his smartphone for commissioning and thus establish contact with the tracker and set it up.
If the tracker is connected to the mobile network and contact is established with its user, the location of the vehicle in which the tracker is hidden can be displayed on the app.
Many devices are equipped with alarm functions, thanks to which the user is informed of irregularities such as vibrations or changes in location via SMS on the smartphone.
The operation of such a tracker is legal in Germany.
However, it is forbidden to use this for secret surveillance of people.
GPS trackers in the car: what types of devices are there?
GPS trackers come in different formats.
Some are smaller than matchboxes, some almost the size of a pack of cigarettes.
Most devices are offered at double-digit prices.
An important cost factor is the SIM card, which makes data transmission via the wireless network possible in the first place.
Particularly cheap trackers are offered without a mobile phone contract.
Here the user can then choose a tariff that suits his purposes, area of application and wallet.
Alternatively, there are devices that are already supplied with a SIM card.
A mobile phone contract is usually brokered here, which incurs a monthly fee of a few euros.
Other devices are combined with SIM cards with a long-term flat rate, which drives up the purchase price, but then there are no monthly fees.
GPS tracker in the car: How does the power supply work?
If you want to hide a GPS tracker in the vehicle as best as possible, you should choose a device with a long battery life.
Some trackers can work independently for several years without changing the battery or charging.
Users can set the frequency of the tracks and reduce them to about one per day, which significantly extends battery life.
However, only selective location localization and no active tracking is possible.
If a more frequent signal density is desired, the battery power supply usually only lasts for a few weeks.
Alternatively, there are devices that connect to the 12-volt vehicle electrical system via cable, but are therefore not so easy to hide.
Trackers connected to the vehicle electrical system usually have a backup battery, which is why they continue to send signals for a while even if the vehicle electrical system battery is removed.
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GPS tracker in the car: What installation options are there?
Of course, car thieves also know that trackers are hidden in vehicles by car owners, and they try to discover and remove these spies as quickly as possible.
If the tracker is well hidden, the chances of it remaining undetected increase.
The rather simple and therefore easy to find hiding places include the glove compartment, center console, spare wheel recess, back of the fuel cap or the underside of the front seats.
Basically, the smaller the devices, the better they can be hidden.
It becomes more difficult for thieves when mini-transmitters are hidden in the headrest, behind the dashboard paneling or in a plastic catcher.
Good hiding places can also be found in the vehicle underbody or in the engine compartment.
Here, magnets integrated in the tracker often simplify assembly.
Should the device be under the vehicle,
it has to be waterproof.
Basically, as a car owner, you can be creative when looking for a good hiding place.
GPS tracker in the car: is the tracker a good protection against theft?
Stolen cars have repeatedly been discovered thanks to tracking technology and their thieves caught.
But they have long since adjusted to the espionage technology.
Thieves use jammers called signal jammers, with the help of which the GPS connection of the tracker is disrupted or prevented.
If stolen vehicles are taken to shielded halls, the connection to the mobile network can also be blocked.
There are also devices that can be used to detect GPS transmitters hidden in the car.
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A tracker does not buy ultimate protection against theft or a guarantee that stolen vehicles will be found again.
Nevertheless, the investment can be worthwhile.
If the device offers an alarm function, there is a high chance of being informed at the moment of theft.
If the police are called in immediately, they can possibly turn the thief in flagrante delicto.
Some thieves just go for a spin and then park the vehicle somewhere.
Here, too, a tracker increases the chances of finding the car again quickly.
Tracking can also be a practical help in everyday driving, for example if a car user has forgotten the exact parking space location of his vehicle.
GPS tracker in the car: Apple Airtag as an alternative
With its Airtag, Apple offers a compact and inexpensive alternative to the GPS tracker with a SIM card.
This little round thing costs around 35 euros.
Instead of using GPS and the mobile network, the small transmitter transmits its location via the Apple network.
If an Airtag is plugged into the car and someone with an iPhone or iPad comes near, the devices will automatically contact each other.
The location was then determined in the Apple network and sent to the owner of the airtag.
The advantages: An Airtag can be easily hidden.
He is protected against Jammers.
The battery also lasts a year.
However, location determination is only possible in conjunction with nearby Apple devices.
If there is none at the vehicle location, this also remains unknown.