By Julia Watts | Content Manager | Updated: 2 December 2019
If you run a business fleet that uses them, the ability to track your trailers and containers will be a truly essential element of your complete vehicle tracking solution.
As you know, trailers are often hitched, unhitched, and hitched again to a range of HGVs across your fleet, meaning it's easy to lose track of where they all are, and whether or not they're in use. That's where trailer trackers come in.
Luckily, there are plenty of specialist trailer tracking solutions out there – but which ones are the best? Read on for our verdict…
What is trailer and container tracking?
Put simply, trailer and container tracking is a means of – you guessed it – tracking the whereabouts, condition and availability of your business' trailers and containers.
To start tracking your trailers, you'll need to have GPS trailer tracking devices fixed to each of the trailers and containers you want to keep your eye on. You'll also need to install their corresponding software, with which you can view the trailer data and locations the devices record.
This sounds a lot like vehicle tracking, we know – so how does it differ? Well, firstly, trailer trackers will record data that's specific to your trailer management. Check out the FAQs below for more on what trailer tracking can do for your business.
Another key difference is that, while vehicle tracking devices draw their power from the vehicle, trailer trackers need their own power unit to work. More often than not, this'll be a battery.
It's worth knowing that you might not need to get these key services from two separate suppliers. Plenty of vehicle tracking providers also supply trailer tracking solutions as part of the same package.
The best trailer GPS trackers
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Best for all-round trailer management
Specialising in fleet management and vehicle tracking, Verizon Connect can also supply a GPS asset tracking solution for trailers, containers and more. As well as location, Verizon Connect's intuitive software can show you each trailer's availability status, usage history, utilisation rates (to help you identify assets that aren't being used enough), and even project costs. The weather-resistant devices can also track mechanical wear and tear to keep you on top of maintenance, and alert you to temperature changes, excessive vibration, and door movement.
- Customisable - can be configured to report only the data that matters to you
- Excellent coverage - trackers can work using GPRS cellular network data, satellite coverage, or a combination of the two
- Devices have a shorter battery life (four years) than some others
Best for real-time trailer visibility
Another fleet management specialist, Samsara also helps businesses keep tabs on their trailers. One of Samsara's standout trailer tracking features is its ‘helicopter view', which shows a real-time, bird's eye, satellite view of your trailers – making it easy to see what's going on when a trailer moves out of bounds (i.e., a geofence alert is triggered). The system also reports trailer utilisation stats, enables automatic inventory data, and lets you control that all-important trailer refrigeration. Samsara's solution comes with four sensors – an asset gateway, a temperature sensor, a cargo sensor, and a door sensor – to ensure comprehensive visibility.
- 'Helicopter view' gives Samsara's system the best trailer visibility on this list
- Comprehensive - offers a huge range of trailer management features
- Having four separate devices installed and maintained may prove fiddly for some
- No clear data on battery life seems to be available
Best for air-tight trailer security
The Tough Tracker is one device that lives up to its name. In particular, it's tough on theft, with an anti-tamper system that sends real-time removal attempt alerts. Plus, the device's bullet-proof casing can withstand considerable force – a video on Tough Tracker's website shows the unit being pummeled with a sledgehammer and living to tell the tale. Tough Tracker's cloud-based interface is purposefully simple, enabling you to track your trailers 24/7 from any internet-connected device. It does lack some more complex, insightful asset management reporting features, though.
- The device's bullet-proof casing and anti-tamper system make it very difficult to steal or damage
- Impressive average battery life of five to 10 years
- Offers more basic asset management features than some other suppliers
Best for handy user customisation
PearTrack's PT-700C device has been designed to intelligently conserve as much power as possible, based on when you need the device to be active and when you don't. The device ‘sleeps' when not transmitting data (based on a cycle set by you), and can be configured to report less frequently while abroad, reducing battery usage and roaming costs. You can manage your PT-700Cs via any device, using the PearTrack Web Portal, on which you can view your trailers' locations, generate transit reports, set up geofencing and other system alerts, and configure how often your devices will transmit data and updates.
- Very good battery life of seven years (though this is based on just four position updates per day)
- Can be remotely switched to 'security mode' - that is, to keep transmitting location data every five minutes - in the case of theft
- The PearTrack Web Portal interface looks a little dated
Still unsure which provider to go for? We can help you to find a vehicle tracking and fleet management supplier that can also track your trailers and containers. Just tell us about your business via our quick form, and you'll receive free quotes that are tailored to your specific requirements, directly from tracking solution suppliers. The process is fast and free, so give it a try!
What are the benefits of GPS trailer trackers?
There are many ways in which fleets can benefit from trailer and container tracking:
- Location – Using trailer tracking, haulage fleet managers can readily access semi-real-time information on where each of their trailers is, meaning they're no longer at a loss for where their assets are once they've left the depot. Managers can monitor their trailers' progress on jobs, and quickly be made aware if the driver encounters any problems, or is running behind schedule.
- Theft – Cargo theft is always a potential problem. The presence of GPS trackers can deter theft and, in the case of theft, they can even facilitate recovery by enabling the police to track the location of the stolen asset.
- Shipment tracking – a GPS tracker for trailers can be used to provide customers with semi-real-time shipment tracking. This means waiting times and delays can be minimised for all parties, with your business able to give out the most accurate ETAs possible.
- Temperature – When goods need to be carried in refrigerated trailers, carriers are obliged to retain temperature profiles throughout the journey. Some trackers can record and transmit temperature data, so that any potential problems can be identified.
- Positive ROI – The return on investment that comes with trailer tracking can be high, with boosted efficiency, increased productivity and higher revenues on the cards for businesses that use GPS trailer tracking.
How do trackers contribute to trailer security?
Anti-theft GPS trailer trackers play an important role in the recovery of stolen assets, namely by giving police a means to monitor stolen trailers' locations.
Of course, it's worth being aware that, if a trailer is stolen, it's far easier to locate it if its tracker provides a continual, rather than intermittent, report of its position. Different manufacturers have different solutions to this.
Some anti-theft GPS trailer tracking devices include geofencing features, which automatically switch the unit to continual reporting if the trailer or container is moved to an unauthorised location. Others can be remotely switched to continual reporting when theft is discovered or suspected.
But none of this will work if the tracker is removed or disabled. While trackers are usually fitted in a well-hidden spot, a determined thief may well be able to locate the device and remove it from the asset. However, some high-end trailer trackers are difficult to disable even when located. For instance, they may be tamper-proof – and even bullet proof.
How long is a trailer tracker's battery life?
As we mentioned earlier, GPS trailer tracking devices are usually powered through an integrated battery. This may be a rechargeable unit that charges when the trailer is hitched to a vehicle, or it may simply be a unit with an extended battery life. This latter option is the more common solution.
A tracker's battery life can vary from model to model. While some have a battery life of up to three years, some high-end models claim a battery life of up to 10 years.
Like many things, battery life is dependent on several factors – including the strength of the GPS signal emitted by the tracker, and the number of messages it transmits.
In order to maximise battery life, these factors can be limited. Some devices can be configured to provide just one message per day when the trailer is stationary, and transmit data at a rate ranging from once every 15 minutes to once every two hours when the trailer is in motion.
Oh, and another thing – it goes without saying that non-rechargeable batteries need to be replaced well in advance of becoming discharged. To assist with this requirement, some battery-powered trackers can report on the current status of their battery.