Vehicle trackers: the ultimate guide

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Vehicle trackers: the ultimate guide

Vehicle trackers: the ultimate guide

Vehicle trackers are big business in South Africa. It’s not surprising; according to the most recent statistics released by the SAPS, vehicle hijacking and theft are a very real problem. On average, 160 cars are stolen each day around the country. Between 2012 and 2013, 9 990 hijackings were reported.

Nobody wants to become a statistic, but tracking services aren’t cheap. Are they worth it? How do they work and are they effective? Let’s take a closer look.

How trackers work:

In South Africa, the majority of vehicle tracking services use a combination of GPS and GSM technology. A few make use of radio frequencies as well.

What does this mean? GPS, or Global Positioning Systems, make use of satellite technology and a receiver to pinpoint your location in real time. Using the information about time and positioning from the satellites, the receiver can pinpoint where the unit is and transmit this information to a control centre. GPS is widely considered the most accurate technology; it’s also the most expensive.

GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is a cellular network technology for transmitting information through mobile devices. It’s a world standard for mobile communications and provides decent coverage and accuracy. Most of our local tracking services incorporate GPS and GSM.

Companies who make use of RF (Radio Frequency), uses radio frequencies to locate a vehicle. RF is far cheaper than GPS or GSM, but also less able to pinpoint an exact location. All vehicle tracking companies have their own combinations of technologies and features offered, all with varying degrees of success.

Are they effective?

According to statistics shared by Arrive Alive, there is an 85% success rate for vehicle recovery when a car tracker is installed. Different companies report varying success rates. Cartrack boasts a 94% recovery rate, and various other companies report even higher recovery rates. Some South African tracker companies report recovery rates of 100%, like Benoni based company NoJack.

It’s difficult to believe that a car with a functional tracking device can be stolen and not recovered, but as technology develops, so do criminal methods. Carte Blanche, an investigative television series, reported in April 2013 about ”jammers’. Devices used by criminals to interrupt the tracking signals. They’re small machines, apparently easy to acquire, that send out a signal stronger than the tracking one. Other reasons for cars not recovered? The technology isn’t full proof: there are situations where reception is poor. Simple technical faults like flat batteries or human error also account for some unrecovered vehicles.

Despite this, the figures speak for themselves. A car with a tracker is far more likely to be recovered than one without.

The many uses of vehicle trackers

The most obvious function that trackers serve is to protect your car from theft. In the event of a hijacking, a tracker might just save your life. There are too many stories of violent hijackings; and increasingly, hijackers take the car occupants hostage. In some cases, they want information about disabling the car security systems; in other cases, it’s far more sinister. With the right tracking company, help will already be on its way before you need to report the incident. With smart features like monitoring your driving habits, regular routes and maximum speeds, some companies will know there’s a problem before you’ve called for help.

Car tracking also allows you to monitor family members. Anyone with a naughty teenager will appreciate the peace of mind that comes with knowing where your progeny is and how fast they are driving. In addition, it’s not only about preventing theft or monitoring behaviour. A vehicle tracker can be a powerful safety tool in the event of a breakdown or accident. Some trackers even have crash detection features that mean that in the event of an accident, help is dispatched immediately.

Some other features like geo-fencing allows you to set up a boundary that the vehicle may not cross. Some trackers even have the ability to disable the car battery and thereby immobilize the car. There’s also roadside assistance and the ability to have a private ambulance dispatched to the scene of the accident.

Vehicle trackers in South Africa

South African vehicle trackers have some impressive recovery rates. Some of the big names include; Tracker, NetStar and Matrix. There are many more, all with varying success rates and features on offer. Smaller companies generally offer lower rates, but have smaller infrastructure behind them. In South Africa, vehicle trackers are required by many insurance companies. A move is reminiscent of being forced to eat your brussel sprouts as a kid. It may be good, but nobody likes being forced. For some insurers, if a tracker isn’t installed, tested regularly and functional, they have the right to refuse to pay out. Other insurers, like Discovery, offer a tracking service as part of the insurance.

Buying a tracker

There are so many options it can seem overwhelming. Let’s break down some of the most important considerations.

  • The features you need: Real time tracking is the most obvious feature, but there are many more. The ability to disable your car, or the use of geo-fencing, as well as regular maintenance and accuracy checks are all important and worth paying a bit extra.
  • The size of the company: Bigger companies have more extensive supportive infrastructure. The largest companies collaborate with the police. This is a huge advantage for the consumer. Smaller companies do seem to report higher success rates, so it’s important to consider them as well. However, the more response units there are, the better your chances of recovery.
  • The equipment and technology used: Is the equipment subtle and easy to hide? Is your service provider accredited by the Motor Vehicle Security Association of South Africa? Do they use a combination of technologies to provide signal, including backup options like radio frequencies?
  • Passive or active? This is a key distinction in vehicle security; does the company actively monitor your vehicle? In the event of unusual movements, do they check in with you? If you have to phone in to report a vehicle theft before your service will respond, your chances of vehicle recovery are significantly lowered.
  • DIY options: It is possible to go entirely DIY on car tracking. You can buy the equipment you need, install it and monitor your vehicles without making use of a service. Some consumers who have gone with this approach feel better knowing that they are responsible for testing, monitoring and maintaining their own systems. The big downside is lack of access to recovery teams. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that a high speed car chase to recover your vehicle is a button away is immeasurable and worth paying for.
  • Compliance with your insurance: For many consumers, the key issue is whether a vehicle tracker is compatible with their insurance requirements. To comply with most insurance, trackers need to be certified with the Motor Vehicle Security Association of South Africa. You’ll need to check and maintain your tracker regularly too.

We can only imagine what kinds of gadgets we’ll be using to prevent vehicle thefts in the future, but we can be sure that as technology develops and become cheaper, so will tracking services. For now, tracking services do appear to be worth the cost and effort.

Created on 11th November 2014