Tracking work vehicles is becoming more common. The technology is becoming easier to use, cheaper and more powerful. New health and safety laws, along with public liability or insurance regulations is forcing business owners to take measures to encourage greater employee accountability.

And while employees are generally unwelcoming and suspicious of GPS tracking (big brother) most begrudgingly admit it’s just the way things are going, and they need to work with it rather than desperately looking for GPS jamming solutions (these can work but it won’t be long before the ruse will be uncovered when the unit isn’t reporting).

So if you run a fleet of work vehicles and it’s time to get on board with the whole GPS tracking thing then you’re probably starting to shop around to see what’s on offer.

What GPS tracking software is best for your business?

This is the hard part for a lot of fleets – they know they need it but what exactly is beyond them. Faced with an array of different choices, from simple personal devices to complex telematics platforms, business owners can end up putting it in the ‘too hard’ basket or buying something that is way more than they actually need, and the end result is worse than no GPS tracking at all.

The first thing you need to do is take a step back and think about why you’re actually getting GPS tracking. Is it to make employees accountable for how they spend their time? Is it to review work history? Trips taken and to where? Is it to track vehicle mileage? Do you want to report on speeding or when employees arrive or leave a marker?

After thinking about your needs you may find a basic GPS tracking system is all you need, and you can always upgrade later if your business requirements change.

GPS tracking system on the cheap

1 – 3G GPS tracker – For every fleet vehicle you plan on tracking you’ll need to buy one a GPS tracker (like this one I bought from Aliexpress for about $100NZ – it includes the free fleet tracking software, which you’ll need). These OBDII port plug-in trackers are super easy to install and suit most cars and trucks built in the last 20 years or so. Mine took about two weeks to arrive.

2 – Buy a sim card for each of the trackers. I went with Skinny since they had the best value data plan at the time (they generally dont use more than about 1MB a day, even on the more frequent reporting rate of about once every 60 seconds).

3 – Organise your tracking units – When the trackers arrive I strongly recommend matching up each sim with a tracker and taking a picture of it so you have a clear record of the tracker ID number and the sim card that goes with it (also match to the name of the vehicle it will be installed on). It’s much easier to do that now than when the units are installed and you’re trying to remember what goes with what.

4 – Register your sim card – Since the trackers dont have screens you’ll need to register the sim using a phone to get it activated. One important thing to remember when doing this is that since the phone may need the sim as a micro or nano size, the tracker needs it in the standard size to fit properly in the sim tray. All you need to do is just make sure you dont break the standard frame when popping out the smaller sim, and then you can pop it back in when inserting it into the tracker. Head over to the website of the sim card provider (e.g. Skinny) and activate the sim.

5 – Load a data plan for the sim – You dont need much data (50MB a month is fine) but about the smallest you get these days is 100+ so any cheap plan will do. Some trackers allow you to “phone” them and listen to whats happening in the cab, which could have potential safety benefits however I’m not aware of anyone using this feature – but if you do obviously you’ll want call minutes as well. Top up, choose your plan and preferably set it up to be recurring so you don’t have to worry about it every month. Skinny have a neat feature where you can manage up to nine sims on the same account, which you could find useful – you’ll just need to set it up before inserting the sim into the tracker.

6 – Insert the sim into the tracker – Now that your sim card is activated and loaded with a data plan you’re good to go. Remove the sim from the phone and drop it back into the Standard size sim frame and then insert into the tracker’s sim tray. Slide the tray into the tracker (there’s only one way) and you’re done! Tip: If you need to remove the sim tray use a toothpick and press the small eject button beside the tray opening.

7 – Plug the trackers into the vehicle – This is generally a five minute job and doesnt require any special tools, unless you want to move the position of the OBD plug to make it more secure or conceal it from view. If you’re not sure where the OBD port is just google your make, model and year and obd location (in most cases it’s directly under the steering wheel or dashboard area). As soon as its plugged in it can start reporting, using the vehicle’s constant power supply (it draws a very small current). It will take about a minute to get the current GPS coordinates.

8 – Request the tracker seller to setup your account – By default each tracker has its own account with the GPS tracking software portal however you can request that the seller group your trackers together on to a single account. Just use the message option in Aliexpress to do this and list all the tracker ID numbers to be on the same account. This might take a day or two.

The seller will provide you with the login details needed for the online fleet tracking software (possibly it will be the same portal as this – which also has a link to the manual with lots of OBD commands you can text to the tracker for a quick diagnostic report).

Be warned, it’s not amazing software and it’s a little horrifying it doesn’t have SSL setup but it does the job and provides all the basic tracking and reporting information that the average mobile business would need. And for a one-off cost of $100 + mobile data plan it’s a pretty good deal considering what you’d be paying with the likes of Navman, EROAD etc.

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The cheapest way to add GPS fleet tracking to your work vehicles