Large-fleet operators have been using GPS tracking devices to get real-time location information on their vehicles for years, and now the technology is trickling down to small-business applications and consumers. A cellular connection and smartphone interact with existing equipment on your personal vehicle to turn it into a company car in a snap.
The simplest units plug into the OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port, which has been mandatory on every passenger vehicle sold in the U.S. since 1996. The port is easily accessed on most vehicles (usually under the driver's dash), and is used by mechanics to read trouble codes sent by the electronic control unit--the brains of the car. Once plugged in, the GPS tracking unit draws power from the car's electrical system and sends its information via existing cell phone networks to the home company's servers. The information is then routed to the users via the web or through an app on a mobile device.
Like many of the robust, customized telematics systems employed by the likes of UPS, this software tracks vehicle location, real-time movement and driver performance and sends out mechanical and service alerts.
"GPS tracking can help a small business essentially in the same way it helps a big business," says Bob Fiesthumel, sales and marketing manager of the web-based GPS app Track Your Truck. "A customer can call to set up a service at a specific time or in an emergency situation, and you can look at the tracking and know exactly where your truck is. You send the customer a text and route your driver where you need them to go. It doesn't even matter whether your guy answers his phone."
Drivers may not love the feeling of having a GPS tracker looking over their shoulders, but used judiciously, the units can work to the benefit of owners and customers alike. "Once your employees know that their vehicle is being tracked," Fiesthumel says, "inefficiency and waste are eliminated."
Upgrade your ride to business class with our picks for GPS tracking apps that plug into your vehicle's on-board diagnostics port
Track Your Truck
$159 to $199 for device,
$20 to $22 per month
PROS: Simple, intuitive operation; customizable alerts available
CONS: Pricey to start; additional features drive the cost up even more
Free device, $23.95 per month
PROS: Extensive reports and tracking data; geofencing; activity alerts
CONS: Added complexity may provide unnecessary services--and costs
Audiovox Car Connection
$169.95 for device, $9.95 per month
PROS: Affordable; geofencing; activity alerts; maintenance alerts
CONS: Software designed for consumers, not for business fleets--can't track multiple vehicles at once