How do fleet tracking devices work?

Three satelites in space above Earth sending signals.

Does your business use GPS (Global Positioning System) data to effectively optimize business processes and scale? If you have a fleet of two or more vehicles and you’re not already using GPS trackers, you’re missing out on significant operational benefits and financial savings. 

But, to make GPS tracking work for your business, you need first to understand how it works, and the different ways using GPS tracking can grow your business. 

How do vehicle tracking systems work

Many businesses still use spreadsheets for fleet management. This system can work for small fleets of one to two vehicles, but it’s not scalable and doesn’t provide the level of detail a GPS fleet management system can provide. 

How the Global Navigation Satellite (GPS) System works

When you want to know the real-time location of your company vehicles, you install a GPS  tracking device in the vehicle. This tracking system uses GPS satellites  (in the Global Navigation Satellite System or GNSS) that orbit the earth. There are 27 satellites in space, but three are not in use unless required as a backup for a malfunctioning satellite. 

These satellites travel on a precise path around the earth once every 12 hours, so their exact location is always known. Their location is confirmed by tracking stations on earth that pick up data signals from each satellite that send its current velocity, time, and position. 

Your vehicle’s GPS tracking system picks up on the signal transmitted by at least four in-range GPS satellites. It uses that data to determine the accurate location of the tracked asset—in this case, your company vehicle.

How GPS fits into fleet management

Fleet managers use this technology to monitor their company vehicles by attaching a GPS device to the vehicle or keeping a portable GPS tracking device in the glove compartment. 

Here’s how GPS is used to monitor fleet vehicles:

  1. A GPS satellite transmits location data
  2. Your GPS-enabled vehicles or fleet tracking device picks up the signal from at least 4 of these satellites to determine the vehicle’s exact location. 
  3. Your enabled GPS device
  4. will then use cellular or a wireless network to send this information to a cloud service or to be tracked on a web-based or mobile device GPS dashboard for you to monitor and save. 

GPS data is available in real-time. There may be a data refresh delay (depending on GPS’s make and model and software capabilities) to receive the data via the cloud or wireless network. A fast refresh rate is considered to be 10 seconds for consumer GPS devices.

How can a GPS monitor driving habits?

Some GPS platforms provide fleet managers data on driving habits, including speed, sharp turns, and acceleration. It uses GPS data to determine these actions.

Today’s fleet management GPS trackers can also plug into a vehicle OBD-II port to gather information about the maintenance and operation of the vehicles. In equipped GPS devices, this information is transmitted from your vehicle to your cloud-based dashboard to consolidate this data with other saved information, including GPS location data points and driving habits. 

What common technology features does a GPS tracker have?

Many GPS tracking devices provide additional features aside from GPS coordinates. These features vary depending on the GPS technology manufacturer and their software capabilities. 

Some useful features may include:

  • Real-time and saved GPS coordinates 
  • Ability to temporarily share vehicle location with your customers
  • Monitoring through smartphones and web interfaces
  • SMS alerts for DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes), aggressive driving, geofenced locations, and vehicle damage or theft. 
  • Monitoring fuel consumption and gas mileage
  • Creation of geofences with automatic alerts
  • Storing vehicle maintenance records and recall alerts 
  • Recording vehicle speed and driver habits
  • Export reports for taxes, accounting, and business planning

Benefits of GPS trackers for your business

GPS trackers can help you optimize and scale your business while saving money and increasing driver safety. The technology behind GPS trackers provides your business with some significant benefits: 

You can respond faster to jobs

If your company gets rush or last-minute job requests from customers, you can quickly assess the location of every vehicle to assign the closest one to the job. This will save fuel costs and can help you ensure the fastest available car will arrive on-site. We all know how much our customers love quick response times!

For example, if you’re an HVAC company working in a heatwave and a customer calls about the air conditioning breaking down in their elderly parents’ home, you can check the GPS coordinates of your vehicles to send the quickest one so your customers can cool down and stay safe.

You can keep staff and vehicles safer

Since GPS tracking technology allows you to track the real-time location of assets, you will always know the location of a lost or stolen vehicle to recover it faster. You can also get a GPS tracker with built-in sensors to record when your vehicle is bumped or gets into an accident. This can provide crucial time and location data for any vehicle damage claims. 

You can stay ahead of vehicle maintenance and breakdowns 

When your GPS tracker plugs into your vehicle’s OBD-II port, it can also collect and store information pertinent to the health and operation of the vehicle. It will store this data in the cloud along with your GPS location data. Information that is collected can include:

  • DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes)
  • Fuel consumption and low-fuel alerts
  • Battery voltage 
  • Tire pressure

Data collected by GPS technology can be accessed and correlated with GPS location data in your fleet tracking platform.

You can be proactive and share location data with customers

If companies like Uber and Skip the Dishes have taught us anything, it’s that consumers love tracking the real-time GPS location of their delivery or service provider. If you’re already following the real-time location of your fleet vehicles, you can also send this data to your customers. 

You can check driver efficiency

Before fleet tracking GPS tracking systems, you had no idea if your driver was taking a two-hour lunch break or purposely driving the “scenic” route to a job for no reason. By monitoring live or recorded GPS trip data, you can see the exact routes of your vehicles, including how long they spend at a customer’s address and how long they spent getting a coffee. 

You can solve customer complaints more efficiently

Did your customer claim the driver arrived two hours late? Maybe they’re complaining about a four-hour labor charge that they claim only took two hours. You can provide trusted data to support or refute customer complaints like these. Each stop in a driver’s route is time-stamped by a GPS-enabled fleet management system. This enables you to see that the driver did arrive two hours late (and you can discuss with the employee) or that the job didn’t take two hours and was accurately billed for the four hours the driver was on site. 

Are GPS tracking devices for fleets legal?

Every country and state has laws and regulations regarding the legality of a business owner using GPS technology in vehicles. Legally, there is a distinction between tracking a person and tracking a vehicle. It is legal to track a vehicle in most jurisdictions, but not a person. If you were using a GPS tracking app installed on a driver’s mobile phone or tablet, that would be considered tracking a person and is likely illegal. 

It’s always good to inform all drivers that their vehicles are equipped with GPS monitoring devices and get their consent if your state law requires it. Disclose what information is being tracked in the vehicle and ensure you share clear guidelines about what constitutes appropriate use of the company vehicle to help avoid any legal disputes.

What’s the best GPS tracking system for small to medium fleets?

Running a business can be hard. But, tracking and managing your vehicles is easy with Force Fleet Tracking’s GPS fleet tracking software. You can monitor vehicle location in real-time, get security and safety alerts directly on your phone, send customers location sharing links, and ensure your vehicles are in tip-top shape to avoid accidents or costly repairs. 
Start your free trial of Force today to see how easy it makes optimizing and scaling your business easy. 

Published March 1, 2022
Joni Taisey
Joni Taisey
Director of Growth Marketing
Force Fleet Tracking