Types of GPS Vehicle Tracking Devices

Super TrackStick Data Logger
Super TrackStick data logger

Whether you're managing a fleet of vehicles or just trying to make sure your teen driver follows the rules of the road, GPS tracking devices can help you keep tabs on your vehicle's location. These devices, which work similarly to GPS navigation devices, come in two main types, each with distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Passive GPS Tracking Devices

Passive GPS trackers, also known as GPS loggers, gather information about the vehicle's position, but they don't send that information anywhere. Instead, they store their data on a hard drive or memory card, which you can then access when you want to take a look. This type of device is a common choice for fleet vehicles, since it can record where the vehicle has been, how fast the driver has gone, and other important information.

To use the device, you simply place it in or on the vehicle. When you want to see where the vehicle has been, you can access the information by directly plugging the device into a computer.


Passive GPS trackers have a few advantages you may want to consider:

  • Since the data is stored directly on the device, you don't have to worry about maintaining a link to the device from a receiver. All you have to do is download the information at your convenience.
  • This is the simplest type of device, making it easy to use and learn.
  • GPS loggers don't require a monthly subscription or have any ongoing fees after purchase. This makes them more affordable than active trackers.
  • Most passive devices are weatherproof, meaning you can attach them to the inside or the outside of the vehicle.


There are a few limitations that come with GPS logging devices:

  • You don't get real-time data. This means that if you're wondering where the vehicle is at any given moment, you'll need to wait until the vehicle returns to find out.
  • This type of device doesn't help police locate your vehicle if it's stolen, since it doesn't maintain a connection with a receiver.
  • Typically, you have to physically remove the device from the vehicle to download the information. This can be inconvenient.
  • Some devices aren't compatible with all computers and operating systems.

Passive GPS Tracking Options

The following GPS tracking devices might be just what you need:

  • LandAirSea 3100-INT - This device can store up to 300 hours of data about a vehicle, and you can mount it inside or outside the car or truck you are tracking. The LandAirSea 3100-INT connects to your computer via a USB port, but it is not compatible with Macintosh operating systems. It retails for about $280.
  • Sharper Image GPS Tracking Key - One of the smallest options available, this tiny tracker will fit in the palm of your hand. Fresh batteries provide two weeks of tracking, and you can download the data directly through your computer's USB port. It's weather-resistant and has a strong magnet for attaching to a car. This device is priced at about $150.
  • Data Logger Super TrackStick - Depending on the amount of use a vehicle receives, this tracker will capture weeks to months of driving data. It has a magnetic mount for installation inside or outside the vehicle, and it transfers data via the USB port on your computer. It retails for about $240.

Active or "Real Time" GPS Tracking Devices

The other primary alternative to passive trackers is active, or "real time" tracking devices. These devices constantly send data to your computer or phone, allowing you to keep tabs on the vehicle at all times. This can be a good choice if you're tracking a new teen driver and want to be informed about the vehicles whereabouts on a regular basis. You'll see the car's location and speed whenever you wish.

To use the device, you install it in the vehicle. Often, this involves plugging it into a port on the car. Then you subscribe to a service that sends updates to your computer.


Real time tracking has a few advantages over passive tracking:

  • You know where the vehicle is at all times, not just after it arrives back.
  • This system is convenient, since there's no need to physically remove the tracking device from the car and plug it into the computer.
  • You don't have to worry about whether the device works with your computer system, since you receive updates over the Internet.
  • Police can use this type of tracking device to locate a stolen vehicle.


There are also a few disadvantages to this type of tracking technology:

  • In order to receive data from your active tracker, you need to subscribe to a service. This is typically about $15 to $60 per month.
  • In many cases, you need to plug the device into a port inside the car. This may not be as subtle as you'd like.
  • Unless it also features passive technology or the service has a logging feature, you get real time data only. This means you see where a car is now, not where it has been.

Active GPS Tracking Options

If you're considering an active tracker, one of these devices might be perfect:

  • MasTrack OBD-II Tracker from Amazon.com
    MasTrack OBD-II Tracker from Amazon.com
    Go Track EZ - This little unit plugs into the OBD-II port on your vehicle, which is usually located behind the dashboard on the driver's side. It transmits data to your computer via a service that costs about $22 per month. You don't need to sign up for a long-term usage contract to access data. This unit costs about $200.
  • LandAirSea Silver Cloud - This device doesn't draw power from the vehicle, and it can be installed inside or outside your car using its magnetic mount. Rechargeable batteries mean you have to plug it in every few days, but it's more subtle than some alternatives. The monthly price of the data plan depends on how often the device updates the information, but prices range from about $30 to $60 per month. The device itself costs about $360.
  • MasTrack OBD-II Tracker- - After plugging this unit into your vehicle's OBD-II port, you can forget about it. It automatically sends updates every minute to your phone or computer, and you can also receive texts or emails about specific driving behaviors. It comes with one month of service. After that month, plan to pay $15 to $35 per month. The unit costs about $150.

Know Where Your Vehicle Is at All Times

Finding the perfect device for your needs is mostly a matter of analyzing how you'll use the tracker and determining which one will fit in your budget. Whether you choose an active tracking device or a passive GPS logger, you'll know where your vehicle is from now on.

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Types of GPS Vehicle Tracking Devices