Stolen Vehicle Tracking & Recovery: Worth It?

A car is stolen every 43 seconds.  And while nobody wants to experience the cost and lost time dealing with insurance claims, police reports and vehicle damage repair costs caused by thieves and joyriders…protection comes with a pricetag. (See theft rates by vehicle per DOT-NHTSA). The question is: An ounce of prevention (protection in this case)…is said to be worth a pound of cure.”  Is the expense or investment in anti theft and vehicle tracking and recovery systems really worth it?   Choosing the ideal solution for protecting your vehicles can be a real dilemma for car owners.

The car theft rate has been steadily declining in recent years (theft rate for 2011 decreased significantly by 15.38 percent from the theft rate for 2010 vehicles [1.17 thefts per thousand vehicles])…according to the DOT-NHTSA.  More important, knowing that fewer cars are stolen today than a decade ago is not much consolation if yours is one of the 700,000+ vehicles reported stolen each year.

Law enforcement officials and car security experts can’t directly attribute the drop in thefts to the use of tracking technology, but most agree that it has had an effect…and that if you want to improve the chances of recovering your stolen vehicle once it’s gone missing, these systems are a necessity.

Two Types of Recovery Systems

Surprisingly, there are only two basic technologies when it comes to vehicle theft recovery systems:

  1. Factory Installed by Vehicle Maker – GPS-based technology + Cellular Communications
  2. Aftermarket – Radio Frequency based technology

Most vehicle recovery systems are GPS-based, like GM’s OnStar, Toyota Safety Connect, BMW Assist, Lexus Enform, Mercedes-Benz TeleAid and Mopar EVTS.  The vehicle’s location is ascertained via GPS and an integrated cellular communications system reports that information to an administrative center that immediately shares that information with local law enforcement. Limitations of this system include various cellular areas without coverage…and GPS’s requisite clear line of sight by three satellites to correctly identify a vehicle’s location.

Aftermarket recovery systems use a hidden FM radio transceiver that sends out a signal to police cars equipped with a receiver.   Manufacturers include: LoJack, Mobile IQ, Smart Tracker, VectorTrak, Zoombak. More identifying details are also broadcast to police to aid in visual confirmation of the stolen vehicle…like make, model, color and license tags.  For example, the LoJack tracking system has a range of three to five miles on the ground, but aircraft-based tracking equipment can locate a car up to a 40 mile radius.

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