Vehicle Tracking Devices 101

If you are just beginning to research GPS tracking for fleet management, this overview will give a basic understanding of how vehicle tracking works and how it can benefit your business. No matter how many vehicles are in your business fleet, two or 200, you need to account for vehicles and drivers when they are in the field or at job sites. The ability to track your fleet in real-time gives you the information you need to manage your fleet and make strategic decisions that make operations more efficient and keep customers happy.

Vehicle tracking devices 101

What Does a Vehicle Tracking Device Look Like?

One of the first questions many people have is what does a vehicle tracking device look like? Is it big or small? Will it get in the way?

A vehicle tracking device will look like a small box, about 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and about an inch thick. Once installed, it unobtrusively tracks your fleet vehicles and provides you with real-time data that you can use to make daily decisions. Paired with telematics software, your data is stored, and you can use it to see trends and inefficiencies. You can then use this information to develop strategies that will make your fleet operations more efficient and save your business money.

How Does a Vehicle Tracking Device Work?

The next question often asked is how does a vehicle tracking device work? A GPS tracking device works by connecting with the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network. This is a network of satellites that emit microwave signals that travel through various GPS devices.

This is the same system used in the navigation system of many cars. Most people don't think about it often, but they are carrying around a GPS device with them in the form of their smartphone. The information that GPS fleet trackers provide includes things like vehicle speed, location, and direction, to name just a few.

All GPS tracking devices have these four components:

  • GPS Satellite
  • A vehicle with GPS Tracking Device
  • Wireless Network
  • GPS Servers

The Tracking Process

Once the GPS tracking device is installed on a vehicle, it can gather information such as speed, idling time, engine diagnostics, and more. It uses the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track the vehicles at all times. The information gathered is initially stored in the device. It is then transmitted over a wireless network back to a server.

The server allows fleet managers to access the information through a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. This information can then be displayed on a map, breadcrumb trials of the vehicle's travels, vehicle speed, and more. All the data gathering is done in the background, so fleet managers can log in and set up automated reports and alerts based on the information that they choose is important and relevant.

GPS Tracking vs. Other Tracking Technologies

If you've been researching the best method to track your fleet, you've probably found information about two different ways to track fleet vehicles: mobile or smartphone tracking apps and GPS tracking devices. They may seem similar at first glance, but they perform very differently. Understanding these differences is key to making the right decision about which one will work best for your business.

GPS is not the only technology available for tracking vehicles. Other systems use radio frequency to find vehicles as needed. Instead of being in constant communication with satellites, a radio frequency system sends a radio signal detected by a tracking receiver. Radio frequencies have a limited geographical range, and vehicles cannot be tracked in real-time.

In addition, people often use smartphone apps for navigation to destinations they are not familiar with. While this can be useful to drivers in the field, it does not let fleet managers track their fleet's location or speed. Simple cell phone navigation apps do not let you create alerts, define geofences, or run reports on driver behavior and other metrics.

Simple smartphone navigation also does not allow you to create alerts, set up geofences, or run analytic reports on driver behavior over time. Only a GPS tracking system or app specifically designed for fleet tracking, integrated with telematics software, can give you true insight into the big picture.

How to Install a Vehicle Tracking Device?

If you are wondering how to install a vehicle tracking device and think it may be difficult, this is not the case. With MiX Telematics, you have the choice of DIY installation or having it installed for you. With the plug-and-play solution, the device plugs into the vehicle's onboard diagnostic computer (OBD). You merely locate the OBD II port in your fleet vehicles. Plug the device into the port. Start the car and drive to finish the installation process. Then link your device so that the system knows which asset it is tracking.

10 Benefits of Vehicle Tracking

GPS vehicle tracking offers invaluable benefits to fleet managers. By using a fleet tracking system with telematics, you get an unparalleled amount of access and insight into your entire fleet. And the ability to track every fleet vehicle is only one of the benefits you will get when you implement a GPS fleet tracking system.

Maximize Your Workforce

Monitoring and managing your drivers' hours with GPS tracking and telematics can significantly reduce overtime throughout your fleet. For instance, if a customer needs last-minute service late in the day, you can send a driver or team over based on the amount of hours they've already worked as well as how close they are to the job.

This prevents the rerouting of a driver who is too far away from the location or too close to their maximum hours. You can weigh each factor and make the best decision for your business. Drivers will incur fewer overtime hours, arrive at their destination on-time, and avoid wasting fuel.

Reduce Payroll Theft

Payroll theft can be pernicious and subconscious. It happens when drivers get paid for work they didn't do or for time spent on non-work activities. There are many reasons for timesheet fraud ranging from inaccuracies and human error, drivers recording more hours than they worked, or editing their driving time to log their regular time as overtime. Not only does timesheet fraud cost the business money, but it can also cause billing errors. You can avoid this by using GPS tracking and a telematics solution that creates reports on start and finish times, days and hours worked, average hours, and more.


You can even use GPS tracking and telematics to improve your fleet's utilization. You can track and monitor drivers and vehicles, time spent in specific locations, and routes taken to see if your resources are being over-or under-utilized.

By noting arrival and departure times, stop duration, travel time to and from jobs, and inactive driver time, you can see which jobs are completed on time and take longer. You can also see if delays are caused by traffic, lack of route knowledge, or detours for personal errands. Most importantly, you can see if drivers are not being utilized even when they have available hours.

Reduces Theft and Unauthorized Use of Vehicles and Assets

Fleet vehicles and assets such as trailers, generators, tools, and other equipment are costly. If they are misplaced or stolen, it can cost you both time and real money. Keeping your assets secure at all times can be challenging.

In addition to the costs of replacing stolen vehicles or equipment, there is also downtime that can have a cascading effect. Your employees may not be able to complete their jobs on time, which can then result in a loss in customer satisfaction. Installing a GPS tracker connected to telematics software on vehicles and assets can deter thieves from stealing your vehicles or equipment and reduce the recovery time if they are stolen.

The increased visibility and insight that GPS tracking technology gives you can reduce misuse of vehicles and assets. It helps you see when unauthorized usage takes place by tracking movement outside a set location or personal trips after-hours without permission.

Reduce Vehicle Costs with Preventative Maintenance

Keeping your vehicles regularly and properly maintained offers many benefits to your business. Well-maintained vehicles run better and longer, so it saves you money in the long run. It costs less, over time, to maintain a vehicle than it does to wait until it breaks down to repair it. It also makes them safer, so you won't receive fines and penalties when they are checked for safety issues. And lastly, fuel usage, and therefore costs, are lower for well-maintained vehicles.

Vehicles that are not maintained are less safe and more likely to be involved in breakdowns and accidents. This puts your drivers' lives in danger and those of fellow drivers on the road. Not only do unexpected breakdowns incur costly repairs, but they also cause unexpected downtime, which in turn cause a loss of productivity and a decrease in customer satisfaction. Scheduling maintenance proactively avoids these issues because you can schedule it after hours or during slower times.

Your vehicles reflect your business, so when they run well and look maintained, they create a good impression with current and future customers. And lastly, during regular maintenance, the mechanic or technician can find problems before they turn into significant issues.

Predictive Maintenance with Telematics

A telematics solution can take preventative maintenance one step further into predictive maintenance. You can set up alerts based on time or mileage and schedule maintenance when it is convenient for your fleet and won't negatively impact operations. And since telematics hooks up to your vehicles' engines, it can alert you to emerging problems that need to be addressed before a breakdown happens.

Improve Fleet Safety

Improved fleet safety is a huge benefit of vehicle tracking and fleet management systems. They can track driver behavior such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and harsh braking. You can use that information to create driver scorecards that help you coach drivers to improve their driving habits. In a system that includes integrated in-cab video, you can get visual evidence for accident reconstruction and insurance subrogation. You also get features that help eliminate distracted driving. All these features together help reduce the number of crashes, which then can help reduce your fleet's insurance rates. A safer fleet is a well-run fleet.

Reduce Fuel Consumption

Fuel costs are a huge part of any fleet's budget. And with fuel prices wilding fluctuating, it can be difficult to get a handle on your fleet's fuel consumption. Although these prices are out of your control, with GPS tracking and telematics, you can reduce the amount of fuel your fleet uses, which over time will reduce your fuel costs.

You can reduce or eliminate excess idling, speeding, harsh braking, and other aggressive driving behavior that is not only risky but also uses extra fuel. You can also optimize driving routes so that they are more efficient and use less fuel.

Optimize Routes

Using GPS tracking data not only helps you optimize regular routes so that they use less fuel, but you can also ensure that they are more efficient and faster. You can reroute drivers when necessary to avoid slowdowns so that they arrive safely and on time at their jobs.

Prove That You Got the Job Done

There may be cases when customers dispute how much time your employees spend at their site. They may even state that they weren't there at all. GPS tracking solves this issue by providing proof of how, when, and how long your employee was at their site. In some cases, it may identify a problem employee, but most of the time, the information will show that your team was there when they said they were.

Your employees will feel supported. And your business will have accurate records for your customers. Both these things can improve customer service.

GPS tracking devices are no longer just for knowing the location of your fleet vehicles and assets and planning more efficient and faster routes. They can also help improve the efficiency and safety of your fleet operations. Contact us today if you are interested in learning about GPS tracking for your fleet.

A fully-implemented and supported MiX Telematics solution is guaranteed to improve driver safety and reduce accident rates while also lowering risk, liability and cost.

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