You are either an already active user of GPS tracking technology, have been in the past, or are perhaps considering it for your own tow fleet operation. Regardless of which category you fall in, this article is written for you above all. Tow operations are a unique breed. There has to be a certain level of trust to operate a business that must be able to react quickly, and so has no choice but to extend that very same trust to employees. More so than in many other industries. Drivers regularly take company trucks home (or work without much supervision), and are entrusted not only with the vehicle but with fuel, driving responsibly, collecting payment, and so on. It is fair to say that this person is, in effect, being trusted with the keys to the entire business; the keys to the kingdom in fact!
That said, it’s an unfortunate reality that in today’s day and age, trust is bound to be betrayed. Any time the human element is introduced into the equation, the outcome is almost inevitable. It would be nice to be able to trust without fear, but sadly that would not be the prudent choice. Far too often we have heard of fuel theft, drivers doing side-jobs, and other financial discrepancies. What is fundamentally lacking is information. Without firsthand knowledge, who can really know what is happening with their trucks when they are on the road? This is where GPS tracking comes in.
Imagine that you are standing in front of a locked door, and on the other side of that door are previously lost company revenues and profits. There is a pillowcase of your money just on the other side of a closed and locked door, right in front of your face! The key to unlocking that door, and to rescuing your hard-earned profits, is information! The sole purpose of GPS tracking is to provide high-quality, actionable, real-time intelligence to its users. Information that is truly valuable. That is the sole reason for its existence. However, that knowledge is worthless unless it is actually used to tweak operations and improve the business. As a tow fleet owner, unused or stale information would serve no purpose at all. The data must be used to be of any benefit! Let’s examine exactly what we mean by that.
At its core, GPS tracking is about information. Tracking it, transmitting it, and storing it. Pure and simple. A device is installed into a user’s tow truck that transmits information over wireless networks about vehicle activity & status. This data would include an address, speed, heading, arrival and departure times, and so forth. One of the most important pieces of information to tow fleet users is, of course, PTO activity. PTO monitoring will be included in any legitimate tracking system, and is primarily a product of using a knowledgeable technician when installing the device (installation will be covered in further detail later on in the article). The information is collected and then displayed via an online tracking system software application, which active users would of course have access to.
A full GPS tracking system consists of a device installed within the vehicle, and a web-based tracking platform. Most all platforms will be accessible via Internet-connected PC, or through a mobile device application. Tracking vehicle location is the easy part, as icons representing truck locations should be overlaid on digital mapping and available at-a-glance. As a tow fleet owner/operator, there are two primary methods for monitoring vehicle activity; reports & alerts. Reports would include more in-depth intelligence on all vehicle movements, and are designed to be accessed via the PC version of the full tracking system. Alerts are designed to be sent via SMS message, and are more likely to involve a link to the tracking system via mobile app. These apps can also come in the form of a mobile website, which is essentially a scaled-down version of a full tracking system. The key is not to rely on one aspect more than the other, but to use reports and alerts as a compliment to one another.
For example, perhaps there are questions about the activity of a particular driver. Something about their explanations just doesn’t add up, and fuel receipts and invoices have been way off. Well, configuring the system to send an SMS alert whenever the PTO is engaged would be a nice way to start monitoring this driver’s activity. But, that alone is not enough.
Since the link in the SMS alert would likely lead to the mobile app, and so would only include limited information about that particular occurrence of PTO activity, it is important to also access the full tracking system activity reports. In essence, a user should cross-reference reports and alerts with one another as a system of checks-and-balances. Reports will include comprehensive information on truck activity, while alerts will inform of driver activity as it occurs. If a person can learn to use these two strategic tools together cohesively, the sheer amount of valuable information can completely change the way a tow company operates, and will definitely drive profits back into the business where they belong. Much like an investment portfolio cannot be run without information, neither can a fleet operation be run effectively in the absence of timely vehicle-related knowledge. If there is an option, choosing to fly blind without GPS tracking technology would definitely be the wrong choice for most any tow fleet.
If you are in the process of shopping for, or upgrading, your GPS tracking devices then there are a few tips that should help you in your search. First, most all devices that are sold in North America are 2G devices. However, the vehicle telematics industry is in the middle of a transition period, and 2G infrastructure is being completely phased out. In industry jargon, 2G is being “sunset-ted”. 2G technology will continue to be supported for a few years, but it’s important to consider the long-term outlook and at least inquire about 3G, 4G, Edge, or CDMA-based device cost. On a side note, be prepared to pay a bit of a per device premium for the enhanced technology. Prices should level off as the market corrects and continues to adjust to the change.
Avoid plug and play OBD devices at all costs! OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) devices plug directly into a vehicles’ diagnostic port, and so are susceptible to tampering by drivers. Even if the device comes with a Y-harness extension cable, it should still be avoided. As a rule of thumb, steer clear of any device that remains exposed after installation, and so is vulnerable to human tampering. Most tow truck operators DO NOT LIKE being tracked at all! Do not make it any easier for drivers to manipulate or alter the device in any way. Why take a chance if you don’t have to, right?
When selecting a device, take care that it has all of the built-in capabilities you’ll need to get the job done. Ensure that the device has sufficient “inputs” and “outputs”. Without getting too technical, inputs and outputs allow for enhanced integration with the GPS tracking device. For example, one device “input” would be responsible for PTO monitoring. Another would be responsible for door lock and unlock. Keep in mind that adding advanced features will have an effect on monthly tracking service cost.
GPS tracking devices also require a combo GPS/GSM antenna to transmit and receive signals. These antennas can be located internally within a device, or they can also be deployed externally as well. With the exception of certain specific situations, an external antenna will almost always be preferred. The reasoning behind this is very simple…to make device installation far simpler and more flexible. Having the freedom to re-position the antenna without having to move the entire device is a definite advantage during installation. This is extremely important when troubleshooting signal reception.
Outside of actually knowing a little bit about the technical aspects, those concerns should only need to be addressed when choosing an experienced installation professional. The importance of using a legitimate install technician cannot be overstated. This holds especially true for tow truck operations. Installing aftermarket electronics in modern-day tow trucks is not an easy thing to do correctly. PTO integration is also a job for an experienced professional. If the integration is faulty, then the information that the tracking system transmits would also be false. That is, if any information is transmitted at all. Biting the bullet and making the commitment to do things right from the outset will result in a big net return in the long run. So, how do you go about finding a qualified installer? Easy, Google!
Car alarm installation shops will be your best qualified candidates. Many will already be experienced in installing tracking devices and, if not, much of what they already do will apply to tow truck installations and, specifically, PTO integration. Simply perform a Google search for car alarm installation in your city or ZIP code. The first results should be those that include reviews from previous customers. Visit websites of prospective installers, read the reviews, browse pics of their previous work, and conduct your overall due-diligence. After you’ve created a shortlist of prospects, start making calls. It’s to your negotiating advantage if you have more than one vehicle, and need multiple installs. Prepare for installation costs to average in the $100 per vehicle range, plus an additional cost for the PTO integration. If they offer on-site installation services, prepare to be charged for mileage as well.
Seeing is believing! If you knew about the activity of each and every one of your trucks, what would you do with that information? That is, if you knew every stop made and for how long, every time a driver was speeding, every time the vehicle was being mishandled or abused, every time the PTO was engaged and at what address and time, their ETA, and every time the left and every time they arrived. If you had the answers to all of your questions about your trucks and drivers, what would you do? Would you simply let this goldmine of intelligence collect dust in the database, or would you actually use it to improve your business and boost your profits? And just to clarify, these are not profits that you are working hard to earn. These are profits that you have already earned, but have slipped through your fingertips. A GPS tracking system can tell you virtually everything about your vehicles and, by association, your entire tow business. But talk is cheap, and you MUST actually take action and utilize this new knowledge to change things for the better! Otherwise, what’s the point? Good luck and happy hunting!
Source: EasyTracGPS, LLC.
We have more great articles in our archives on GPS technology. “Cutting-Edge GPS Tracking Systems.”