Installing Vehicle Tracking Devices

Van tracker fitting

From the equipment you need to the exact steps to take, we share – in plain terms – an easy, three-step process for car tracker fitting…

Obviously, you can't start tracking your fleet of vehicles (or your personal car) without first installing your vehicle tracking devices. The problem here is that, in the absence of advanced experience with engineering or mechanics, tracker fitting can seem a pretty daunting task.

Luckily, it's actually quite simple. A safe, reliable car tracker fitting can be completed in just three steps (or even fewer, if you're working with an OBD device), which we explain in detail below…

Installing vehicle tracking devices: What to consider before you start

Before diving into a car tracker fitting (our step-by-step instructions are ready to be followed below!) you'll first need to…

Understand the type of device you're using

The very first thing to clarify is whether you're working with hardwired devices or plug-and-play devices.

As the name might suggest, plug-and-play devices don't actually have to be fitted – all you need do is plug them into your vehicle, and Bob's your uncle! Some can be plugged into the cigarette lighter, while most are designed to plug into the OBD port (these will more commonly be referred to as OBD devices). Installation doesn't get much easier – or quicker, or cheaper – than this!

Hard-wired devices, on the other hand, need to be – you guessed it – hard-wired to your vehicle's engine. The remainder of these instructions will deal with installing these hard-wired devices.

Need help deciding which vehicle tracking system is right for you? Check out our guide to the best vehicle tracking suppliers in the UK.

Decide whether to do it yourself or use a professional fitter

Most vehicle tracking suppliers provide an installation service. The good ones will offer to send an accredited engineer to carry out the installation at a time and place of your choosing, with government restrictions and social distancing in mind.

Unless you're confident in your ability to fit your trackers yourself, our advice will always be to accept this offer. A professional installation affords peace of mind and minimises the risk of problems down the line, after all. Just be wary that, while many tracking companies offer installation for free, some do charge for it.

That said, there are some vehicle tracking companies that don't offer installation as part of their service. In this case, you've got two options: do it yourself, or hire a third party to do it for you.

Derek Ryan tells us how Verizon Connect (formerly Fleetmatics) installs its vehicle trackers in customers' vehicles:

Seek out the manufacturer's instructions

If you've decided to fit your trackers yourself, read on! We can give general instructions here, but it's always best to also check out the official instructions provided by the manufacturer or supplier of your specific devices.

You'll often be able to find these on the supplier/manufacturer's website, or you can get in touch and request them if they're not easily available.

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How to install car tracking devices: Step-by-step instructions

So, you've decided to hard-wire your trackers yourself – good for you! First things first, though: you need to get your tools together.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 x Phillips head screwdriver
  • 1 x voltage meter
  • 1 x pair of wire cutters
  • 1 x wire pick
  • 1 x ring terminal
  • 1 x roll of electrical tape
  • 1 x piece of double-sided tape

With these in hand, you're ready to get down to business. Here's how you install a vehicle tracking device in a car or van:

Step 1: Find the vehicle's ignition and constant power wires

During your installation, you'll be attaching your tracker's red wire to the car's constant power wire, and your tracker's white wire to your vehicle's ignition wire. The first thing to do is open up your dash and identify these wires.

First, unscrew the car's plastic lower dashboard cover with your Phillips head. If there are any wires plugged into the casing itself, carefully disconnect these. Place the casing and screws to one side.

Inside the lower dash, you’ll see a collection of wires. To find the ignition wire and the constant power wire, find your ignition switch and follow the wires from there, as they both connect to it.

To make sure you've got the right wires, use the voltage meter to verify that you've identified them correctly – you should get a reading of 11 to 14 volts when the ignition is turned on, and a reading of 0 when it's off.

Top tip: Some cars include special wiring diagrams, designed to help you identify the wires you're looking for. Root out your vehicles' documentation for even more guidance!

Step 2: Affix your device's wiring to these wires

Take the constant power wire, and use your wire cutters to remove a small section of its insulating outer casing, so that the copper wires beneath are exposed.

Top tip: Be careful to use the right gauge wire cutters so that you don't accidentally cut the power wire itself… or say goodbye to your dashboard radio!

Use your pick tool to create a small gap between the exposed copper wires. Take the exposed end of the red wire on your GPS tracking device, and thread it through the gap you've just created in the constant power wire copper, like threading a needle.

Wrap the loose copper end of the tracker's red wire around the power wire's copper tightly, ensuring a reliable connection. This is known as the ‘poke and wrap' method. Finally, cover the connection with a piece of electrical tape so no copper is exposed.

Repeat this step, this time using the poke and wrap method to connect your tracker's white wire to your vehicle's ignition wire.

Finally, add a ring terminal to the exposed end of the black wire on the GPS tracker. Place the ring terminal end on a metal surface (‘grounding’ the device), such as the steering column, and secure it there with electrical tape.

Step 3: Reassemble your dashboard

It's easiest to affix the GPS tracker underneath the dash with double-sided tape – however, if your wiring allows, it's possible to fit it elsewhere in your vehicle (check out the section below for more advice on this). Remember, GPS signals can't travel through metal, so don’t place your device on the steering column! Near or around the ignition coil is usually a sensible location.

Top tip: For the best results, make sure the GPS tracking module is facing upwards when you attach it.

Wherever you put it, be sure to fix it securely in place. You don't want it to come loose and require a re-fit mid-journey.

Finally, tidy up any loose wires with electrical tape, tuck them out of the way, and reattach the plastic dash cover. You’re all done!

Did You Know?

Vehicle tracking devices are only one part of an effective vehicle tracking system. In order to get the system working, view the data your trackers collect, and reap the benefits this brings, you'll also need to install and set up the corresponding vehicle tracking software on your office computer(s).

Lots of vehicle tracking suppliers now also provide mobile apps, so you can access your vehicles' locations and analytics on the go, too.

In order to find the right vehicle tracking system for you, you shouldn't be focusing on the hardware – it's what the software can do that matters. If you're stuck, we can help you to find the right solution. Just answer a few quick questions about your fleet, and we'll match you up with system suppliers that can meet your unique needs. They'll be in touch directly with no-obligation quotes for you to compare.

Where in my car should I install my tracking device?

While we've advised fitting your tracking unit under the dash, and near or around the ignition coil, it is possible to place it elsewhere in your vehicle if you'd prefer (and if your wiring safely allows). Modern trackers are pretty compact, so they can usually fit just about anywhere.

Where might you install a vehicle tracker?

As you can see, some recommended spots in which to install your tracking devices are:

  • Under a car seat
  • In the boot
  • Behind the radiator
  • Underneath the car body
  • In the glove compartment

Here are a few things to keep in mind, though:

  • Be sure that the tracker is in a discreet location. You don't want thieves to be able to spot and dismantle it.
  • That said, you should also make sure the device is accessible to you or an engineer, in case it ever needs to be fixed, replaced, or have its battery changed.
  • Interference from other equipment could be an issue – try to place it away from other electronic devices.
  • Any external fitting needs to be sturdy and weatherproof.
  • Be sure to run some tests to ensure it works effectively before securing your device firmly in place.

Next steps

So, you're ready to go ahead and start fitting your car trackers. Follow the advice in this guide carefully, and you're unlikely go wrong. But remember – it's always best to read your vehicle tracking system's manufacturer's specific instructions before embarking on this process.

If you haven't yet chosen a vehicle tracking system, we understand. There are so many different options out there, with different price tags and different software features depending on whether you run a fleet of cars, vans, HGVs, motorbikes, or even electric vehicles.

If all that has got your head spinning, don't worry – we're here to help you find the right solution for you. Simply answer a handful of questions about your fleet's needs, and we'll match you up with leading suppliers that can meet your requirements. They'll then be in touch with bespoke, no-obligation quotes for your business. It's the fastest, easiest way to compare the best vehicle tracking systems for you.

Julia Watts Content Manager

Specialising in the complex realms of telephone systems, business energy, vehicle tracking, asset tracking, and fuel cards, Julia writes content that cuts through the noise to help you find the right solutions and technologies for your business. Having spent five years working across the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, she loves helping exciting ventures – big or small – to flourish.