How To Track a Car Location With or Without GPS

You find yourself looking for your car in a wide-open parking lot full of vehicles, after a big concert, perhaps. There are no markings or signs you can use to remember where you parked your car. So, you keep on staring at the never-ending car meadow, wondering why life is so difficult sometimes. Knowing how to track a car location definitely seems like an underestimated skill, right?

Losing your car at a parking lot might be annoying, but there are other reasons car-tracking systems are a necessity. The most severe among them is, obviously, car theft.

Almost 800,000 vehicles are stolen annually in the US. In 2018 alone, $6 million was lost to car theft. But what’s even more worrying is that these numbers illustrate a stable trend that spans almost a decade.

How to track a car location.

Is Tracking a Car Location Without GPS Possible?

For those of you who drive high-class cars, it’s likely that you already have some GPS system installed in your vehicle that you don’t know of. Some modern vehicles come with integrated GPS systems, but these still fall under the premium category. Most affordable cars don’t come with GPS.

Luckily, there are a few ways to track a car without relying on a GPS system. I will briefly explain what methods there are and how (not) to use them.

If you decide to improve your car-tracking system, the chances of getting your car stolen irreversibly are very slim. Hopefully, after reading this, at least open-space parking lots won’t cause you any more headaches!

Regular GPS Car Trackers

Of course, I have to mention that using GPS trackers is the most effective way to secure your car’s location. Most people would rely on insurance in case of theft, but insurance companies don’t always cover that. So, in essence, you’re the only one responsible for not securing your car correctly.

It would be best for you to buy a GPS car tracker that enables users to track their cars from their mobile phones. In case you want a budget-friendly solution, though, there is a crafty way to use your phone as a GPS.

GPS Phone Tracking

If you have an extra smartphone within reach, download one of the many free phone GPS trackers. Then, all you have to do is leave the phone in the car.

Keep in mind that the location on the phone must be turned on for this method to work, and don’t forget to hide the phone well. It’s unlikely that the car thief will stumble upon it if you hide it underneath the driver’s seat or somewhere deep in the trunk of the car.

The only downfall of this method is that it works as long as the location is on. However, there are ways to track cellular signals even when the location is off.

Cell Phone Signal Tracking

If you lose your phone or someone steals it, you can contact the police to track the phone’s location. The police can then get in touch with the cell phone company to learn more about the phone’s recent activity.

If the phone’s location is off, but the thief connects to a Wi-Fi network, tracking the location of this network can give information on the phone’s whereabouts. Also, if the thief uses the phone to call or text, that can be enough to track the phone’s location as well.

So, putting a working phone in the car can be as equally effective as getting a GPS device. One issue with this method, though, is that it’s not easy to trace a turned-off phone.

Another downside is that the process of finding a car can take a long time. Your vehicle might be long gone before the police and the phone company find common ground

Business Car Trackers

Many companies today use fleet management systems (FMS) to track cars their employees drive. It’s crucial for company owners to know where their vehicles are located at every moment. So, if the company’s fleet management system covers your car as well, you honestly don’t have much to worry about!

Aside from the location, fleet management vehicle trackers can provide users with information on:

  • Fuel management
  • Traffic
  • Engine status (OBD II)
  • Weather
  • Speed

There are some other additional features that you might find convenient when it comes to FMS. The distance calculator enables you to measure the traveled distance and plan the rest of the journey ahead. Also, in case your vehicle is carrying precious cargo, asset trackers can come in handy if the cargo gets lost.

Radio Transmitter Tracking

It might surprise you that the radio, which the police used for tracking back in the 1960s, is still a very clever piece of technology that can help you find your car today. This doesn’t mean that you can track your vehicle with a built-in FM radio, though. The FM is a receiver — you need a transmitter that can send out a traceable signal.

What you should do is hook a radio transmitter to your car and get a receiver that can pick up this signal. CB radios, such as this one, would definitely get you the results you need.

However, remember that radios can only tell you where the signal is coming from, not the exact location of the vehicle. Also, they need either batteries or wiring to work, so they are pretty much useless if they’re not transmitting.

License Plate Tracking

A license plate can tell you more about a car than any other source. With this simple combination of letters and numbers, officials can identify all car specifications and the owner, as well as the car’s history.

Yet, the most important reason license plates are such a powerful information source is that they can even help you track down a car.

Still, there are some conditions you have to fulfill for this method to work. The license plate itself doesn’t transmit any signal, so you’ll still need a locating device.

The first option is to link your license plate to a GPS tracking system. Without this link, the GPS information stored on an online server won’t be able to identify which signal is coming from your car.

So, what you need is:

  • An account on the main GPS server in your area
  • A tracking device in the car (smartphone, GPS, radio transmitter, etc.)
  • A license plate database linked to the server

Another option is to identify license plates using CCTV cameras. Do know, though, that you can make your life a whole lot easier if you get text recognition software instead of going through the video frame by frame.

You can even use the information gathered from the frames to identify possible locations. It’s no wonder this type of technology is considered to be the future of car tracking!

Roadside And Onboard Equipment

When all other methods fail, old-fashioned detective work and espionage can come in handy. If you’re smart and love thinking in advance, you might have installed an onboard camera in your vehicle, which the thief hasn’t yet noticed.

In that case, you can easily analyze the features of the footage taken after the car was stolen and discover the location of the car. If you’re not familiar with the sites, Google Street View should help you out.

However, if you’re not this lucky, know that there are still police cameras all around. The police use roadside cameras to identify vehicles down to the smallest details, such as license plates. They can also use several sequential cameras on the same road to track the car’s movements.

You can help with the investigation on your own if you have access to CCTV cameras. There is also Insecam, where you have open access to various live IP cameras all over the world. If you combine this methodology with video recognition software that I already mentioned, I bet you won’t have any trouble finding your car ever again.

Final Thoughts

It’s safe to say that, nowadays, you don’t have to go through that much trouble to retrieve a stolen car, let alone find it in a full parking lot. If you’re crafty enough with technology, you can even be more efficient than the police! There are many videos and tutorials online that can help you get hold of these technologies, some of which I’ve already linked to in this article.

Keep in mind, though, that none of the mentioned tracking techniques will work if you don’t get preventive equipment. So far, you’ve learned that you need a transmitting device; otherwise, there won’t be a signal to track. GPS signals are the most efficient, as well as the most precise.

Additionally, there are many free apps that can help you track your phone, which you can use instead of somewhat pricey GPS systems. However, don’t be cheap when your car’s safety is at risk. Making your car theft-proof should be your number one concern, and since car thieves are only getting craftier, you better start securing your car right away!

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