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The complete guide to vehicle tracking for fleets

Learn everything on how vehicle tracking technology works, which problems it solves and which companies use it

Introduction

Vehicle tracking technology has been very popular for almost a couple of decades. Also known as GPS tracking, vehicle tracking is used by fleets for efficiency and cost-saving purposes, but also by businesses of any type and size that depend on the use of vehicles to develop their activity and wish to streamline their daily operations.

In this complete guide to vehicle tracking for fleets you will learn more about the principles of vehicle tracking, how vehicle tracking systems work, which features and advantages they offer, which problems they solve and how you can purchase and install a vehicle tracking system.

What is vehicle tracking?

Vehicle tracking, or GPS tracking, is a technology that combines the tracking of the location of a certain vehicle with a software interface that displays vehicle data, that can be later used by companies as business intelligence in order to make informed decisions.

In order to capture vehicle data, a tracking device is installed inside the vehicles that have to be tracked. The device collects vehicle data of different types, from the turning on and off of the engine, to fuel consumption, to the working of vehicle-connected devices, to mention just a few, and matches the data with the location.

Location data is offered in most cases by the GPS (Global Positioning Service) radionavigation system - hence the name GPS tracking - though in some other specific cases different location technologies can be used (for example, GLONASS, a satellite navigation system originated in Russia, or even other type of location technology).

The vehicle data collected is transferred in a software user interface that can be available in the form of an installed computer program or, as recent trends suggest, as a cloud computing service.

The vehicle data collected in the software might be made available for a smartphone app or be downloadable in excel or PDF format or the vehicle tracking system can be able to create alerts looking for specific vehicle positions of vehicle activity.

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All these variables depend on the complexity and completeness of the vehicle tracking system - there is a wide variety of software packages and systems in circulation, ranging from very basic tracking features to complete software suites with various features and reports fleet managers or anyone in charge of a fleet can create or use.

As regards its origins, vehicle tracking is not an extremely recent technology, as it started to be used around 1978, at the time when the first GPS satellite was launched into space. The first use of vehicle tracking was primarily for military purpose.

Despite the initial indifference and scarce interest for GPS tracking to be used by businesses or organisations for efficiency purpose, around late 90s progress was made in order to use the potential of vehicle tracking for purposes different from the military one.

The new interest for GPS tracking led to the development of navigators (satnavs) for end users but also of the technologies that today can streamline the work of fleet managers and anyone responsible for a number of vehicles.

How does a vehicle tracking system work?

Vehicle tracking systems usually rely on a hardware and on a software part.

GPS tracking hardware collects data in combination with the GPS coordinates of a vehicle (for example, specific vehicle information such as speeding is gathered together with position of the vehicle and time of the data collection).

GPS tracking software displays data collected in different forms to software users: some examples can be location of vehicles on a map, specific details in table format, reports on activity starting and finishing and much more.

GPS tracking hardware can be of different types.

Hardwired GPS trackers are extremely common and fleets using them go through a 3-wire-installation connecting to engine, power and ground sources in a vehicle. Portable GPS tracking devices are also used as you can easily plug them, an example being the OBD trackers.

The_complete_guide_to_gps_tracking_for_fleets_2.pngAn example of a hardwired GPS tracker

 

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A plug-and-play OBD tracker

In the next future vehicles will automatically come from the manufacturer with some type of vehicle tracking technology incorporated.

Which problems does vehicle tracking solve?

There is quite a good number of problems that vehicle tracking technology is able to tackle successfully if accompanied by an intelligent management.

Regarding probably the less specific ones, we can find for example:

  • Cost reduction, the system can save money in a number of ways, from reducing administrative time to decreasing global fuel consumption, from checking drivers’ position without the need of making phone calls to decreasing insurance premiums.
    Cutting on costs potentially deriving from wear and tear, skipped maintenance and aggressive driving behaviour is something can also be made possible with the most advanced vehicle tracking systems.

    An example of how costs can be reduced with vehicle tracking: check out our blog 'How does a vehicle tracking system work for decreasing mileage' >>
  • Excessive paperwork: the digitalisation of fleet documentation can help move to the paperless office and avoid tedious administrative work.

  • Getting genuine fleet information, as there is no way to track some metrics even when using manual methods in order to know at any moment what is happening to drivers and vehicles.

  • Checking on vehicle use, as the technology allows to detect improper use as well as detours or allows the implementation of driver identification add-ons to make sure only authorised drivers use a fleet vehicle.

  • Work organisation, as it is possible to plan routes (also detect which routes are more fuel efficient and with less traffic), keep track of working hours and sometimes do job assignments.

  • Automate compliance, as some software allows users to record all information needed for compliance purposes.

This is just a quick overview of some of the issues fleets commonly have, that vehicle tracking technology is able to address and solve.

What are the main features offered by a vehicle tracking system?

Vehicle tracking systems, depending on their complexity or completeness, may offer a different number of features. When thinking about more basic gps tracking, software products typically offer these features:

  • Real-time location: of fleet vehicles on a map (systems typically integrate with maps providers such as Google Maps for instance).

  • Driving history: in the form of reports or tables with the possibility of playing the different trips performed by the vehicles.

  • Fleet summary reports: typically underlining activity performed per single vehicle and as a fleet altogether, including journey reports, stop reports, alerts and scheduled reports, heatmaps showing areas where most activity takes place.

  • Alerts setup: for driving style and safety (speeding, harsh braking, rapid acceleration, idling) or for location and activity (alerts when vehicles start or stop or when they reach a precise location or get in or out of a designed area).

    For alerts or real-time location purposes, companies can usually set a geofenced area (a virtual perimeter) and decide whether all or certain vehicles should move within that area or not.

    Alerts can be sent via email, sms and usually appear in the vehicle tracking software dashboard.

  • Custom locations: certain locations can be customised on the map with special icons (for example a depot belonging to the company.

  • Driver messaging: some systems offer the option of messaging drivers from the software at once (instead of manually doing it one by one).

There is also a number of add-ons available for companies having drivers using different vehicles, willing to get other fleet metrics or having other requirements:

  • Driver ID: a system for the identification of drivers using vehicles and making sure only authorized staff has access to them. Each driver has a unique keyfob that, once presented to a reader mounted on the dashboard, can start driving. If a vehicle is turned on by an unauthorized driver, the system starts buzzing.

  • PTO: a system that detects the working of connected equipment, the time and location equipment is turned on and off for example. Private mode: used for vehicles that are partly used for business and partly privately, allows driver to “switch off” the tracking when they use vehicles in their free (personal) time.

  • Panic button: to be used by drivers in emergency situations.

  • API: integrations of the vehicle tracking software system with the software used by the fleet for other purposes.

More complete vehicle tracking systems, also known as fleet management systems, offer other advanced features:

  • Fuel card integration: the system can integrate with the fuel card provider and inform fleet managers on fuel purchases, transactions and cross-check them with location and driver.

  • Fuel management: the software is able to establish targets for global fuel consumption and for single vehicle, according to the actions taken by the fleet the fuel consumption can decrease (driver behaviour monitoring, improved maintenance, restriction of service station purchases to strictly fuel, detecting unauthorized driving or personal use).

  • Fleet maintenance management: through a special service manager, fleet management solutions allow users to build up a fleet maintenance calendar, set up a maintenance vendors database, schedule servicing and keep track of maintenance costs.

  • Driver challenge: using the principle of gamification, some vehicle tracking systems for fleets include options able to set up driving competitions based on safety or on fuel consumption reduction to share best practices of ecodriving and safe driving among staff.

    Driver challenge options do rank drivers from the best performing one to the least performing one, so the game is educational and can be used in company meetings to reward safe driving behaviour or higher fuel economy.

  • Driver behaviour monitoring: in order to keep fleets safe and decrease global fuel consumption (as safe driving is also fuel efficient), vehicle tracking for fleets allows to track dangerous driving events such as speeding, harsh braking and rapid acceleration as well as idling.

    Through reports generated by the system, it is possible to see which driving styles have to be switched to more fuel efficient ones and the driver behaviour alerts provide the base for both driver training and fleet risk assessment and management.

  • Walkaround checks/vehicles checks: some of the solutions integrating vehicle tracking also give the opportunity to fleets to do paperless vehicle checks and walkaround checks.

    Companies looking for a safe and fast way to reach fleet compliance can largely benefit from this feature, as paperless walkaround checks eliminate manual errors and manual administration work.

  • Compliance suite: the most advanced fleet management systems do include a compliance section, where you can keep track of all compliance milestones and automate consent for fleet policies.


Which types of vehicle tracking devices are available?

Vehicle tracking technology needs a hardware component able to collect vehicle data, while a software program displays it into tables, maps and reports.

Very commonly GPS trackers are black boxes that are installed under the dashboard by means of a 3-wire-connection. Inside the trackers there is a sim card collecting vehicle data.

Other options include:

  • OBD trackers: it is black boxes that do not require installation and can just be plugged into the OBD II diagnostic port of the vehicle. They are particularly suitable for fleets where vehicles are changed often or where the installation cost is not justified.

  • Asset trackers: these trackers do track items that have no power or engine connection, such as trailers or mobile devices (particularly useful in the construction sector).

Choosing between traditional black boxes, OBD trackers and asset trackers might depend from the sector or expectations of your business. In the next future vehicles will come directly from the manufacturer with tracking devices (built-in telematics boxes), as trends are shifting to what is known as connected vehicles technology.

How does vehicle tracking software work?

Vehicle tracking software basically collects vehicle data by means of the black box or the OBD or asset tracker installed on the vehicle and converts data into different types of reports.

Very typically it shows vehicles on a map where users can set a locations database as well as a geofencing perimeter, but can as well provide the data in the form of tables or downloadable reports (for example, tables would indicate the activity of a specific vehicle, where it has been, the starts and stops).

More complete vehicle tracking software (usually known as fleet management solutions) might include further information in the forms of charts, for example

  • global fuel consumption or consumption per fleet vehicle

  • data on fuel purchases provided by the integration with your fuel card provider

  • specific data on the driving style such as number of speeding, harsh braking, rapid acceleration and idling events

  • fleet maintenance information including your servicing providers and the related costs

  • fleet compliance management with the possibility of recording the necessary documentation for running a fully compliant fleet.

How do you install a vehicle tracking device?

Installation is different depending on which tracking device you choose your vehicles to be equipped with.

As regards hardwired black boxes, they are positioned under the dashboard and generally speaking they need a 3-wire installation that can be carried out by your maintenance department, basically the power, ground and ignition of your vehicle are connected via wires to the tracker.

Manufacturers usually recommend the installation of the tracker to be in a safe, dry, mechanically protected area not receiving direct sunlight or not at an extreme temperature.

For this type of tracker they also advise to install the GPS antenna and cables as far away as possible from the radio antenna or other electrical devices to avoid any possible interference.

As regards OBD trackers, they basically do not require installation but are plug-and-play trackers, you basically plug the black box into the OBD II diagnostic port of your vehicle and the tracker starts collecting vehicle data that is later reported in the software system.

As per asset trackers, they work with a battery and are designed to work to track mobile assets, so they do not need external wires or antenna and ensure protection against dust, water spray and temperature.

Who uses vehicle tracking?

Despite the general idea that only logistic and transport companies use vehicle tracking, this technology can actually be used and is used by fleets of different sectors and industries and different sizes as well.

Potentially any company that uses vehicles in order to perform part of its activity can enjoy the advantages of using vehicle tracking technologies.

We have been dealing with cases of cleaning companies where the staff uses vehicles and the technology is used for risk prevention as well as for the correct scheduling of tasks, since cleaners have to drive to the places where they work, companies in the construction with big fleets use them to make sure they know the position of their assets at any time and to protect them from theft.

The multiple features of vehicle tracking systems can benefit in different ways different companies, generally speaking all of them help reducing running costs and increasing efficiencies. According to the different needs of a fleet and a company, the system can also be further customised.

Regarding end users, so not those who drive for work, it is possible in some countries to have discounts on insurance premiums if you equip your vehicle with vehicle tracking technology.

Which type of companies are most suitable to use vehicle tracking?

Any company using vehicles can enjoy the benefits of vehicle tracking, there is no most suitable one, but there might rather be customised solutions for specific needs or industries.

Companies usually getting started with vehicle tracking technology have one or more of the following needs or issues:

  • They wish to save on their operating costs

  • They wish to always keep an eye on their vehicles

  • They wish to automate fleet management processes, logbooks, vehicle checks and turn to a digital system rather than using paperwork

  • They wish to be compliant and make less efforts in terms of time and resources required for that scope

  • They wish to have a paperless office… and the list might continue!

How big must a company be to have vehicle tracking devices installed?

There is actually no fixed size or limit.

While some people assume only big fleets can fully get the benefits offered by vehicle tracking technology, even smaller fleets can enjoy increase efficiencies and savings if they implement vehicle tracking.

What does typically offer a vehicle tracking provider as a service?

Vehicle tracking providers usually offer the use of the software and hardware for a specific amount of time.

Some providers do offer the service under a contract, which can sometimes last long and become hard to cancel due to the presence of a penalty that must be paid. Other providers do offer the same type of service without the need of signing up for a long contract, just paying a monthly subscription to the service.

Most vehicle tracking software available is usually in the form of a cloud service accessible at any time from any device and usually combined with a smartphone app.

Other services a vehicle tracking provider could offer would be the tracker installation (it can be done by a technician, but in case of bigger fleets with an internal maintenance department, it is usually carried out by the fleet itself) as well as the sale of other items such as dashboard cameras or trackers of different type.

Software packages can also be sold in different modules and some particular features might be offered as add-ons to the technology (for instance, driver identification or PTO).

How much does a vehicle tracking system cost?

Vehicle tracking systems might differ in cost depending not only on the complexity and completeness of the software, but also if the cost includes installation or not.

Vehicle tracking providers could also offer a monthly breakdown of the price but then have a contract of 3 or more years as a condition with a high penalty to be paid if you want to cancel.

Remember to thoroughly check on contract, terms and conditions, if the hardware price is included and if installation is before signing up for a vehicle tracking provider.

In any case, the Return on Investment is much higher than the expense itself when it comes to vehicle tracking or fleet management solutions.

The software is designed to improve efficiencies and make global fleet costs decrease by means of actions that fleet managers can take towards vehicle use, fuel consumption, fuel card use, driver training to mention just a few.

How shall I choose a vehicle tracking provider?

Before choosing a vehicle tracking provider it is recommended to do an internal audit in order to understand the current fleet situation, examine type of activity and vehicle and outline the expectations you have from the implementation of a vehicle tracking solution.

Good providers of this technology are generally able to advise fleet managers on the best tracking solution or adapt it to the needs of their fleet.

Good vehicle tracking technology providers also do have a smooth implementation process and can exactly detail it to the fleet manager, and do provide post-sales support.

We advice to choose companies that do not tie you in a long-term contract and offer a cloud solution - remember to double-check on this when you work on contracting a vehicle tracking provider, make sure to know if the price is per month, if there is any cancellation policy, if the installation cost is included as well as the tech support.

Where is vehicle tracking used?

Vehicle tracking technology usage in fleets has spreaded all around the world, embracing different sectors (not only those strictly related to transport or logistics).

Vehicle tracking technology has become the base for some car sharing programmes, helps food delivery companies displaying to users where orders are, bus timing apps work based on the position tracked by the technology device and at present day some governments (among them UK and China) have considered using vehicle tracking against the menace of terrorism.

Are vehicle tracking systems legal?

It is completely legal for companies to track their vehicles, though collected data must only be used for the benefit of the company.

Vehicle tracking systems are legal, though we need to remind that companies deciding to use them have to respect Data Protection Act and notify drivers before installing the technology, making sure they are aware of the use of data and which data are going to be used or shared.

According to Data Protection Act, personal driver data needs to be processed carefully and lawfully in an adequate way. If vehicles are partly used for personal purposes they should have a privacy button, so that driver can switch the tracking option off when they are using the vehicle in their spare time.

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