Properly installing a wireless tracking device is crucial to its performance in the field. A poor install can result in a device that is so unreliable it can be a hindrance to effective surveillance. But, with so many different vehicle makes and models, especially imports, a good install can be easier said than done. So, how can law enforcement and investigators work to stack the odds in their favor and ensure reliable covert device installation on the first attempt?
For starters, there are no guarantees when attempting to install wireless magnetic tracking devices. There are simply too many variables. However, there are fundamentals that can be practiced to increase the chances of a quality install.
Ensure you begin with a device that is designed specifically for covert GPS tracking purposes. For example, do not attempt to use a device that is designed and programmed for long-term remote asset tracking and expect it to produce the results you’re hoping for. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The devices might look somewhat similar but the configuration will be drastically different. It’s apples and oranges.
Most wireless tracking devices are magnetic slap and track units that attach to the vehicle undercarriage. The GPS signal that the device receives from the satellites actually skips off the pavement and ricochets up toward the device. That’s a challenging environment for a tracking device to function in, so make sure the device is top-of-the-line! Always make sure the device is mounted somewhere on the vehicle’s frame and facing down toward the ground, not attached in the wheel-well facing inward. If it is not facing down, the device will have difficulty receiving a bounced GPS signal. The device might still operate if attached in the wheel-well but, it will work sporadically at best. Generally speaking, try and position the device approximately 3-6 inches behind either rear tire. Bumpers can sometimes produce reliable results but, it can be hit and miss. Metal, especially moving metal parts, interferes with GPS signals, so do your best to ensure the device is clear of obstructions. Try to give it a little space to operate.
Your tracking system should also be available via mobile app. Any legitimate system is. Most turnkey systems will also report GPS signal strength. This is crucial, so pay close attention to this piece of information! It might be necessary to ping the device to get a reading first but, a weak GPS signal is a good indicator of poor device placement. Confirm the signal quality on your mobile device while you are still on site. Do not leave before you at least have a decent signal. This might be your only opportunity to make adjustments!
After a reliable location has been identified on the undercarriage, and the device has been attached, ping it a few more times before you leave. This will ensure that the device is communicating properly. If possible, you should prepare in advance by attempting a dry run! Hunt for the same make a model vehicle at local car dealerships, and examine the undercarriage before heading out in the field for the actual install.
It’s also important to know that most newer imports have sealed undercarriages. Finding a flat metal surface for a magnetic enclosure will be difficult, if not impossible. It might be necessary to remove the tracking device and external battery pack from the magnetic enclosure, and find a more appropriate means of attaching the device. Don’t forget that whichever alternative you choose must be resistant to weather and the elements. Neoprene pouches are a popular substitute.
Wireless tracking devices can be an effective vehicle surveillance tool if deployed properly, and with some forethought. Planning ahead and doing some homework can make all the difference in the world.
We have more great articles in our archives on GPS technology. “GPS Tracking of Insured Drivers. Potential for Pay-by-Mile Snooping?”