GPS trackers are an investment. First, there is the cost of buying the tracking device. Second, you will need a monthly or annual subscription to use the tracker.
Depending on the usage, the tracker may have to be recharged or maintained regularly. These costs can easily run up to $100 to $300+ annually.
You may need to track your car for several reasons. Personal applications could involve finding your vehicle in a busy parking lot or ensuring your teenagers or senior parents reach their destinations safely. Commercial applications could involve monitoring pickup or delivery routes.
With every additional tracker, the subscription costs will also increase. You can use accurate and cost-effective alternatives like Maps, SIM-based tracking, and phone-based apps to overcome this problem.
The article will attempt to answer the question of how to track a car without GPS trackers and the advantages and disadvantages of using those options.
How to Track a Car Without GPS Tracker?
If you do not want to invest in a GPS tracker, you can rely on your vehicle’s in-built tracking or your phone for location updates. Some of these apps are free to use, whereas otherwise require a subscription.
Let us explore seven ways of tracking your vehicle without a GPS tracker.
1. In-Built GPS Tracking
Most cars today are equipped with GPS technology. You can use these multi-functional in-built systems to navigate your way to your destination, find your car or remotely start, stop or lock, or unlock your vehicle.
For example, Ford cars can use the FordPass to stay connected to their vehicles. If you tend to forget your parked location or you parked far away from the destination, the app can help locate your vehicle. It offers additional features like roadside assistance and information about vehicle health and service histories.
There are similar in-built systems available for other vehicles. For example, Toyota’s Safety Connect offers a stolen vehicle locator, collision notification, and emergency assistance button.
Then you have the Lexus Enform app with a vehicle finder feature that uses maps on your phone to guide you to the vehicle’s last parked location.
Typically, these apps come with a one-year free annual subscription when you buy a new vehicle. The premium features would require a subscription.
2. Google Maps
You can use Google Maps to find and save car parking locations. However, the feature is only accessible with a mobile device.
Once you arrive at your destination and park your car, you can save the location on Google Maps. Android users can open the app, tap the icon showing their current location, and click ‘Save your parking.’ The parked location will be saved on the app until you remove it.
You can also add notes to this saved location. For example, it could be the parking lot number or a nearby landmark. You can also share the location with others to let them know you have arrived safely.
When you want to find your vehicle, simply search for ‘parked location’ and then directions.
The app works similarly on iPhones and iPads, with a bit different interface. For example, you will tap your current location and then select ‘Set as parking location.’ Then, to find the vehicle, you will find ‘Saved parking’ on the bottom screen of the app and then ‘Show on map’ to get directions.
3. Apple Maps
Before you use Apple Maps to find your parking location, a few settings must be taken care of. Under the Settings sections, these are:
- Privacy & Security – The location services should be on
- Privacy & Security > Location Services > System Services – the significant locations should be on
- Maps – The parked location should be on
Also, pair your phone to Bluetooth or Car Play. This will ensure your parked location gets automatically saved on the app. You should see the blue parked car icon on the app when you disconnect from the system.
If this does not happen automatically, you can search for ‘parked car’ on the app, and the location should appear. Then similar to Google Maps, you can add details and add a photo by tapping on the location.
When it is time to get back, select the parked Car icon > Directions > Go.
4. SIM-Based Tracking
If you are looking for more extensive location tracking than parked locations, explore SIM-based tracking. This method works even if the vehicle or phone uses no GPS technology. Instead, these SIM-based tracking apps use cellular towers to provide location details.
To begin, you will have to enter the driver’s phone number. The driver will then receive a message asking them to consent to the tracking request. Then as the driver starts moving, their phone will send and receive signals from the cell towers around.
The tracking software uses the coordinates of the closest tower to provide location updates. The frequency of these updates could range from 30 minutes to an hour or two. This tracking method is suitable for long-range tracking of cars and trucks. It is also cost-effective compared to GPS devices.
The next three options on the list are GPS apps you can download on your mobile devices. Several such apps are available in the market; our recommendation is based on features, usability, and customer reviews.
5. Find My Car
Find My Car is one of the popular GPS navigation apps with over 1 million downloads. It has a rating of 4.4 on Google Play and 4.7 on App Store.
The app can help find the last parked location of your vehicle. It does not rely on Maps or an internet connection to help find your car. Your phone’s GPS capabilities are enough.
The app has a built-in direction compass. It includes a pulse wavefront radar and GPS-reflected pseudo-radar, which highlights the location of your car.
To save the parking location, open the app and select ‘Park.’ You can add a photo with the location if required. When ready to get back, select the ‘Find My Car’ option to get directions to your parked location.
SpotAngels Parking & Gas is another popular app with over 100K downloads. It has a 4.5 and 4.4 rating on Google Play and App Store, respectively.
Once you pair the phone with the car’s Bluetooth, the app automatically remembers the parking location. Or you could also manually set the parking location.
Apart from always being able to locate your car, the app offers additional features like finding free parking spaces or finding the best parking deals. It also sends notifications for street cleaning and alternate side parking. These can help you avoid fines or the risk of having your car towed.
The app offers a 7-day free trial. If you want to go for a monthly subscription, it costs about $5, and an annual subscription costs about $30.
Life360 is a good app for families. You can create a private circle by inviting your family members. Using the app, you can check where your loved ones are and their trip history or receive alerts for personalized places.
Life360 uses the phone’s GPS function to provide location and driving details. You can see what trips your kids have taken and their driving habits. For example, the app records phone usage while driving, top speed, total distance, and more.
The app offers roadside assistance, including services like free towing and refueling up to 50 miles. In case of a car crash, they will help send emergency services to the location.
Even with the free version of the app, you get location sharing and ETA features. For the full suite of features, opt for the premium plan offered at $4.99/month.
What Are the Advantages of Tracking a Car Without a GPS Tracker?
- Cost: This is one of the major differentiating factors between GPS trackers and phone-based apps. Some of these apps are free to use, while others offer free and paid versions. The paid versions are comparatively cost-effective.
- No Device Maintenance: Your phone is all you need to use the above-mentioned tracking options. You do not have to worry about maintaining and recharging an additional device.
- Easier Installation: To start tracking, you will have to download the app and personalize your account. Hardwired GPS trackers can take up to an hour and be challenging to install.
- No Internet Connection Required: SIM-based tracking works without GPS or the internet. It relies on the driver’s cellular network. Some phone apps also do not require the internet to locate your car.
What Are the Disadvantages of Tracking a Car Without a GPS Tracker?
- Limited Location Functionality: SIM-based tracking apps do not provide the most accurate location details. Their refresh rates can be delayed. You can locate your vehicle with other phone apps, but active tracking features are limited. If you need real-time tracking, then GPS trackers are the best option.
- No Vehicle-Related Information: OBD and hardwired GPS trackers can provide vehicle diagnostic alerts like low battery, fuel level, and oil change reminders.
Yes. You can use SIM-based tracking to track car locations without GPS. Instead, it uses the driver’s cellular network to provide you with location updates.
If you feel like your car is being tracked, check the exterior and interior of your car with a flashlight. The undercarriage of your car, front and rear bumpers, wheel well, car upholstery, dashboard, and carpets could be likely areas. You could use a GPS bug detector, but the handheld device can be expensive.
GPS trackers, phone-based location trackers, Google and Apple maps, and other third-party apps and software can be used to know your car location.
How to track a car without GPS trackers? The answer is built-in GPS tracking in cars, Google and Apple Maps, SIM-based tracking apps, and other phone-based location tracking apps.
The benefits of using other tracking methods than GPS trackers are that they are budget-friendly, easier to install and use, do not require any additional device, and do not rely on an internet connection. If you need to track a vehicle for a single trip or short period, using these options rather than buying a GPS tracker would be ideal.
The choice of car tracking depends on your requirement. If you need to find your parked car, Maps will work just fine. If you want comprehensive tracking, explore an app like Life360.
Meet Klark Kurz, a GPS enthusiast and author with a B.B.A. in Finance from Texas A&M University. With a passion for technology and innovation, Klark provides accessible and user-friendly content to help individuals and businesses make informed decisions. As a regular contributor to TraxFamily.com, Klark’s insights and practical advice make GPS tracking more accessible, affordable, and user-friendly.