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Best car tracker 2023: Tech to keep a close eye on your vehicle

GPS car trackers are your eye in the sky, letting you keep tabs on your car’s whereabouts. Here are the best

The best car trackers used to be prohibitively expensive pieces of kit, requiring professional installation and charging a hefty monthly fee. Although these insurance-approved devices are still available, for the cost-conscious motorist, there is another way. While still using the same sort of GPS technology that the pro systems use, there’s a wide range of simple kits that you can fit at home, allowing you to track the movements of your car, van, bike, or camper via a simple smartphone app.

Many of these devices simply need plugging into your car’s On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) socket, while others might need wiring into the car – usually a fairly straightforward job. Once fitted, you’ll just need to pair the tracker to your smartphone. And it really is as simple as that.

Depending on the tracker, you’ll be able to enjoy a host of features besides merely tracking your vehicle’s position in real-time: set a geofenced zone that will alert you if your vehicle leaves a predetermined area; be notified if the device senses that your car has been hit; even inform you if the tracker has been disconnected.

You have options when it comes to the monthly cost too. It’s possible to enjoy a fully-featured kit for a minimal ongoing fee.

We’ve tested a selection of the best on sale, and provided an all-you-need-to-know guide to choosing the best car tracker for you.

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How to choose the best car tracker for you

How do I fit a car tracker?

Some kits need to be hardwired into your car. Depending on where you want to install the device – the location of your car’s battery, or fuse box, or whichever accessory you plan to tap the power from – this can be extremely straightforward.

Other kits will utilise the OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic) socket that’s been built into most cars since the late 1990s and early 2000s. These ‘plug-and-play’ devices are an absolute doddle to fit, plus you can swap them between cars if you need to. Just bear in mind that, while they’re the easiest to install, they’re also the easiest for a thief to remove.

How much does a car tracker cost per month?

To gauge the true cost of a car tracker, you need to look beyond the initial purchase price. Depending on the device, you may need to pay the operator a monthly fee, though this is usually only a few pounds per month. And some operators may include data connectivity in their monthly charge, while others may require you to arrange your own SIM and then foot the bill.

Some operators don’t charge a monthly fee, but still require you to arrange your own SIM – read our review of the best SIM only deals – and there are also systems which don’t require a SIM at all. For example, using Apple AirTags offers you a basic but affordable solution, while InvisaTrack leverages Apple’s Find My app. 

Can I use my own SIM card for a car tracker?

Yes, depending on the device. Most units accept smaller micro or nano SIM cards so, depending on what you have, you may need an adapter. It’s also important to see how much data the unit will use, in order to keep your costs as low as possible.

Where can I put my car tracker?

If the tracker uses your car’s OBD-II port, you won’t really have a choice – it will need to plug straight into the socket under your dashboard – so it’s worth checking how much space you have around the socket as some trackers can be bulky, making them visible, or preventing you from reattaching the panel that conceals the socket.

A hardwired tracker is likely to be positioned close to the car’s fuse box, battery, or near whichever device you’re taking power from. Depending on the length of the leads supplied, you’ll have a degree of flexibility to be as adventurous in its placement as you like.

With a battery-powered device, you could theoretically place it wherever there’s space – just remember that you’ll want it reasonably accessible for when it needs to be charged. Under a seat, or the carpet, or behind plastic trims are all common locations, or you might want to install it in, around, or under the boot. Some favour the engine bay, but you should check how resistant your tracker is to moisture, heat, and vibration before you make that decision.

How we test car trackers

There’s a huge gulf between the best and worst car trackers on the market, and the number one frustration is how easy they are to set up. For that reason, ease of use was the first criteria to take into account during testing: specifically how easy the car trackers were to physically install, and how easy they were to connect to the companion app.

We also looked at the apps themselves to see how slick the user interface was, and the ease with which a user can register their account. Once we were set up, we gauged how quickly and accurately the tracker would register its initial position on the map and, once satisfied, we took to the road with a passenger reporting the lag between actual and reported positions. We also parked several times to see how quickly the new location was detected.

While we recognised that hardwired GPS trackers represent the most secure option, because they’re harder to locate and remove, we gave them equal weighting with those which use the OBDII port because they are simple enough to be used by anyone, regardless of mechanical confidence.

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The best car trackers you can buy in 2023

1. Carlock Basic: Best hardwired car tracker

Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon

Despite the need to hardwire the Carlock into the vehicle, installation could barely be more simple: locate the car’s battery, loosen the electrical accessory nuts on the terminals, slide on the Carlock’s fork connectors, and then tighten the nuts. The unit is IP65-rated so it’s safe in dusty or damp environments, which is just as well because the Carlock needs to be located close to the car battery, using the supplied adhesive pad, because the leads aren’t particularly long. That aside, it’s hard to fault Carlock.

Carlock says that, depending on how quickly it can seek the required GPS signals, it could take up to 24 hours to connect, and up to seven days to fully calibrate; however, it took us less than ten minutes to configure and we were tracking our test car’s movements not long after.

The companion app is easy to use and refreshes every 15-30 seconds. It logs every journey – including the average and top speed, plus mileage – and displays the route on a map. It can send notifications if the unit senses vibration, so it can alert you if someone bumps your car while parked, or sound a loud alarm if the vehicle is moved or exits a predefined geofenced zone. You can also nominate up to five phone numbers for the system to call or send SMS message alerts to.

Carlock’s service costs £6.90/mth, with more advanced features – such as a graphical dashboard, driving stats, a three-month journey log, or the ability to receive reckless driving notifications – costing an additional £1 per month.

Key specs – Monthly cost: £6.90 monthly, £85 annually; Connection: Hardwired; Alerts: Movement, vibration, anti-tamper, geofencing; Size: 90 x 55 x 10mm; Compatible with: Android, iOS; Other features: Driver monitoring, car battery health check

2. InvisaTrack: Best car tracker with no monthly fee

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’ve shopped for car trackers before, you’ll know they can be cheap to buy, but that the ongoing cost of subscriptions can be significant, and potentially several times the purchase price every year. There’s none of that with InvisaTrack because it simply leverages Apple’s Find My app – with no complex third-party apps to support, InvisaTrack requires no monthly fees.

Besides the obvious price advantage and the Apple-only disadvantage, there are some other pros and cons to consider. On the upside, while cheaper car trackers are often let down by unintuitive or buggy apps, there’s no such hassle here: the Find My app is slick, easy to operate, and comes bundled with every Apple device. And it’s easy to sync – simply plug the InvisaTrack into your vehicle’s OBD-II port, tap a couple of buttons in the app, and you’re done. On the downside, InvisaTrack is light on features: you won’t get alerts if your car is stolen, or receives a knock in the car park, or if the InvisaTrack is removed.

But if you want a cheap, reliable fit-and-forget system that does the basics very well, and shows your car’s position in real-time on a map, or in 2D or 3D satellite modes, the InvisaTrack is hard to ignore. It’s also perfect for absent-minded drivers who forget where they’ve parked.

Key specs – Monthly cost: None; Connection: OBD-II; Alerts: None; Size: 48 x 25 x 32mm; Compatible with: iOS; Other features: none

3. Amacam AM-T22: Best plug-and-play car tracker

Price: £50 | Buy now from Amazon

The Amacam isn’t the cheapest option, but your only ongoing cost will be a 2G data SIM to use it. To that end, Amacam bundles a GiffGaff SIM as part of the package, but you’re free to use your own if you want to. Installation is simple: just ping off the cover and insert the SIM, then connect the tracker to your car’s OBD-II port and sync the app. The unit itself is small, so will be ideal on cars where space is tight.

The companion app isn’t as slick as Carlock’s, but it’s intuitive enough to use. We found it was quick and effective in operation, although there was some lag when we were tracking our test vehicle in real-time, so it was hard to put its claimed accuracy of fewer than ten metres to the test. The geofencing feature works well, and alarms are sent to your phone if the car is moved, or if the Amacam is removed from the OBD-II port. There are 66 user-configurable alerts too, ranging from erratic driving behaviour to geofence entry and exit but, in reality, you’ll barely scratch the surface of these.

Key specs – Monthly cost: None (requires 2G data SIM); Connection: OBD-II; Alerts: Movement, anti-tamper, geofencing; Size: 45 x 22 x 29mm; Compatible with: Android, iOS; Other features: Driver monitoring, car battery health check

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