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Frequently Asked Questions



Real-Time GPS Vehicle Tracking -
Know Where Your Car is Right Now

GPS tracking map

  By now, everyone knows that a GPS is a great thing to have in your car. Driving directions on demand means we never have to get lost. Not even an unexpected detour due to construction or heavy traffic can prevent us from finding our way to that baby shower or job interview. While consumer use of GPS technology is currently mostly limited to getting from A to B, a whole new use has emerged: Real-time GPS vehicle tracking. Instead of telling you where you are or where you going, it tells you where your vehicle is, where it was, and how fast it got there -- whether or not you happen to be driving it at the time.

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With a little help from cell phone technology

By combining GPS and cell phone technology, GPS manufacturers have given us the ability to track, in real-time, all the details that GPS navigation provides: Speed, elevation, location down to a street address, and in some cases even weather conditions. This powerful technology brings us many possible uses, including monitoring teenage drivers, employees, valuable cargo, VIPs, and fugitives.

It is important to be fully aware of the legal implications in your area before purchasing or using any equipment capable of real-time GPS vehicle tracking. Some uses are illegal in certain areas without a court order, while others (typically for use on one's own vehicle to track their own driving) are often not restricted.

Why would you want to track yourself?

Since real-time tracking is, by definition, used by someone not driving the vehicle, it may seem counterintuitive for a person to use it to track their own driving. However, those applications do exist, including people with medical conditions choosing to give a doctor or family member the ability to locate them in an emergency, VIPs allowing their security detail to monitor their movements, and adventurers (such as Roz Savage, who is currently [2008-2009] rowing solo across the Pacific ocean) who enjoy allowing others to participate in their journeys from all over the world.

In addition, some manufacturers of GPS devices have begun to incorporate real-time tracking into consumer GPS units designed for navigation. This allows the driver to receive real-time traffic updates from their service provider in return for their real-time information, which the provider uses in identifying traffic jams.

See real-time GPS vehicle tracking in action

real-time GPS vehicle tracking video

click the triangle to play

What does a real-time GPS vehicle
tracking device look like?

GPS tracking device

Most real-time GPS vehicle tracking devices are smaller than a GPS unit used for navigation; they may have no screens and there isn't much need for a lot of buttons and switches; they tend to do their jobs quietly and without requiring anything -- including power -- from the vehicle or driver.

Although some can be wired into the vehicle's electrical system, many are battery-operated, and can be secured nearly anywhere on the vehicle. The only limitation is that they must be capable of accessing the cellular network and receiving GPS signals. However, some manufacturers have units which can even be mounted underneath the vehicle and still do the job. Real-time GPS tracking devices can be under six inches in length, operate on batteries for several days, and if cell service is lost they can store the data until reception is reacquired, so no information is lost.

The biggest difference between real-time GPS vehicle tracking and all other uses for GPS systems is that a real-time system has the ability to communicate with the outside world at any time. Generally, it sends updates automatically every few minutes to its service provider. This means that real-time tracking requires a monthly fee, similar to that of a standard cell-phone plan.

Customizable options

Because the devices can provide instant updates, it is possible to program them to automatically send the owner an alert if the vehicle enters a restricted zone, leaves a designated area, or exceeds a set speed. Some services can also identify traffic violations, such as speeding or running stop signs. There are many other customizable options, including the ability to send alerts if the vehicle is moved after a certain time of day. The real-time tracking information is received and stored by the service provider, who in turn provides access through a Web site, e-mail, and sometimes cell-phone notifications to the owner.

A less-expensive option to a stand-alone real-time GPS vehicle tracking device may be as close as your mobile phone. If your phone GPS-equipped phone is supported, there are companies that provide software which can be installed on the phone, allowing it to have all the same capabilities for a small monthly fee. While a stand-alone device costs in the neighborhood of $59.99 per month, a real-time tracking service for an existing mobile phone is generally under $10 per month.

See related information at Covert GPS Vehicle Tracking.

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