You would be surprised at the clever, and not-so-clever, ways of tracking a car without the use of a GPS. Some solutions range from using very old technology, to more recent uses of smartphone technology, while others require rigging a car to work (not recommended).
At any rate, if your vehicle has been stolen, these are alternative ways of tracking down your car without using a GPS.
1. Radio Receiver
You probably didn’t realize the radio in your car can be tracked, at least indirectly tracked. It’s the least accurate method, giving you a more general area.
When your vehicle was manufactured and the radio was installed, it’s very likely it was installed with a transmitter–a device that creates radio waves to send data with the use of an antenna. As you can imagine, if it’s data that’s being sent, then it can be picked up by a receiver. The receiver then tunes to the transmitter’s signals and you get the car’s general location.
That’s the key world, though: general. The reason radio receivers are the least accurate is their signals won’t give you an exact point, only the direction in which the radio signal is coming from. It’s more akin to a compass than an alternative to a GPS.
However, the worst aspect of attempt to catch a transmitter’s radio signals is the need for a power source. Yes, the transmitter needs a power source in order to transmit a radio wave. In other words, if your car isn’t on, you aren’t getting the signals. Unless your transmitter has a separate power source, then that’s a whole different story.
2. Radio Frequency Identification
Radio frequency identification takes the idea of the radio transmitter and cranks it to eleven. In short, it’s a wireless tool that sends signals, in turn, allowing you to pick them up.
During your normal, everyday life, you come in contact with RFID without realizing it. Have you ever picked up a product and noticed a white label stuck to it? Chances are, that’s an RFID tag.
Its main use is on the commercial levels, like businesses, as a technology tool. Slap a few of these on your products that are going to various locations, and use software to track them. At its core, it is essentially a mixture of a GPS and a radio transmitter.
RFID has its glory in commercial use, but what makes RFID tags so great is the ability to hide them in obscure places; they can be very small in size.
3. Cellular Signals
By far the most useful on this, useful enough for law enforcement to use. By using your smartphone, you can nap the signal that’s being transmitted from another phone inside the car.
You might be thinking, what about phone permissions? When an app is installed and used, depending on its use, it may need permission to access certain features of your phone. For example, a photo editing app would need access to your photo gallery. How else would it edit photos? With the same line of thinking, a GPS app would need permission to access your current location. You can deny that permission of course, but if you tried using a GPS without giving permission, well, it’s of no use to you.
You also might be thinking, if they deny a GPS app permission to their position, isn’t it dead in the water? Actually, no. A smartphone is still pinging any nearby stations when that smartphone passes by, as well as any Wi-Fi network connections available to it. Any devices connection to an open Wi-Fi network connection will collect data on the event that a device connects, even for a split second.
The better news would be that the GPS tracking was allowed on the smartphone located in the car. Then it’s just as simple as tracking it with an app with accuracy far better than the transmitters in car radios or RFID tags. There may be some lag, but you’ll always know the direction in which the car is headed, not like using a radio transmitter. You’ll know an exact location.
4. Use Another Phone
People love to save money, and find very strange ways of doing so. In this episode of ‘Strange Ways to Save Money,’ pennypinchers will go out and spend money on another phone, buy a plan and rig it to their car.
The solution works like this: you buy another phone, preferably a cheap one with the capability of accessing a network connection–Wi-Fi to be specific–and an equally cheap prepaid data plan, like one of those monthly ones.
After you’ve bought the phone and prepaid plan, you install a GPS app on it. Simply enough, considering there’s dozens of GPS apps that monitor phones, for family tracking, of course (by the way, that’s going to cost you more money).
Now you hide it in your car. There’s one catch, though: it needs to be charged at all times if you want to track it. It needs a power source. If you’re looking to hide its existence, plugging it in with a car charger is a bad idea; people will see it. Your car does have its own battery, but you’ll need a mechanic, that knows what they’re doing to wire it to your battery.
On paper, this seems like a brilliant idea. There’s plenty of really cheap smartphones, as well as plenty of prepaid plans to choose from. However, in practice, you’ll end up spending the same amount that you’d spend on a cheap GPS. Not to mention killing your battery from a phone constantly draining its battery. Now you’ll need to replace your battery.
In other words, don’t bother with this solution unless you’re a car expert. This solution is more for individuals that like to do stuff just because they can. You’re better off using TrackR. In fact, the money you’d spend on buying a phone and prepaid plan is more than what you would spend on a TrackR gadget.
TrackR advertised as a commercial key finder, but as it stands, it’s a GPS. It has a weak signal, sure, but it utilizes a crowd GPS network. That means that when it passes another TrackR device, they ‘ping’ each other. The downside is there needs to be more TrackR devices to do so.
There’s very few ways of tracking a car without a GPS. While some are very smart ways, others are, quite frankly, pretty dumb, but hilarious, nonetheless.
If you had to choose from this list, it’s worth investing in RFID or a TrackR device–RFID more than TrackR. RFID is more reliable than TrackR, considering its strong usage in the commercial sphere to track goods.
There is one honorable mention: roadside equipment. This relies on companies using their on roadside cameras to track the movements of a vehicle. Not a bad method, by any means, considering any thief taking off with your vehicle would probably pass a few cameras on the way and one of the cameras is bound to catch the license plate.