How to Find a Hidden GPS Tracker on Your Car (Updated for 2021)

September 6, 2018 Published by

Stories about privacy violations, data breaches, stalkers, and if it’s ok for someone to be tracking our every move, dominate the headlines today. As a result, GPS tracking often gets a bad rap. As we pointed out in our previous post, there have been plenty of cases where a criminal used a hidden GPS tracking device to stalk their victims, or where someone has tracked an ex’s vehicle illegally. It’s understandable if you’re paranoid about something similar happening to you. With all the media attention this issue gets, you might want to know just how you can find a hidden tracking device on your car.

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GPS Technologies is all for legal and ethical tracking. We specialize in tracking solutions for fleets, assets, and for keeping teen and elderly drivers safe. But we do not sell devices or systems for the purpose of illegally spying or stalking on someone. We’ve covered many of the issues and questions many people have when it comes to the law and tracking at work, so we thought it was a good time to go over how you can protect yourself and the people you love from unethical and sometimes even illegal GPS tracking. But before we tell you more about tracking devices and how to remove them, let’s go over some basic facts about why someone might put a tracker on your car.

How GPS trackers work

The Global Positioning System or GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system operated by the US Space Force. It is one of several global navigation systems that provide time and location information to receivers anywhere on earth that there are unobstructed lines of sight to four or more satellites. Buildings, mountains, and tall trees can block the signals.

Your GPS receiver does not have to send any information back to the satellites. The US government makes the service available to everyone for free. GPS operates independently of any cell phone or Internet reception. Coupling a tracking device to cell service is only necessary if someone wants to monitor data from the receiver in real-time.

Who uses GPS trackers?

GPS trackers are inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to operate, and they have many legitimate uses.
Taxi companies want to pair available cabs to customers waiting for a ride. Trucking companies want to be able to keep tabs on trucks and their payloads on the road. Parents want to be able to keep track of their teenage drivers, and adult children of elders don’t want their parents to get lost on the road.
Some other applications of trackers are not so clearly legitimate. Private investigators sometimes surreptitiously install trackers into vehicles of spouses suspected of infidelity. Hijackers and freight thieves may place trackers in trucks carrying valuable cargo. Stalkers may seek to track the movements of their victims with GPS.

Now let’s consider the difference between the two kinds of GPS tracking devices, active and passive.

Active GPS tracking devices
Active GPS tracking devices report location in real-time. They are compatible with smartphones and laptop computers. The limitation of most active tracking devices is that they need to be hard-wired into the vehicles they track to have a constant power supply.

Passive GPS tracking devices
A passive tracking device keeps a lot of the places your vehicle has been. It doesn’t need cell service, and it uses a lot less power than an active tracking device. Passive data can be output as points on a grid. But the user must retrieve the device and connect it to a computer to find out where you have been.

Portable tracker

9 Common GPS tracker hiding places

With trackers getting smaller every year and the ability for some of the devices to be mounted anywhere, including a vehicle with just a magnet, it’s more imperative than ever that you know how to inspect your cars and trucks for the devices. We sell devices that are as small as a car key and while we don’t sell these for the purpose of spying, an unethical spyware dealer might, but where should you look?

1. Diagnostic Port
A good place to start is the diagnostic port inside your car. It’s usually located to the lower left of the steering wheel. Simply unplug the tracking device from the port. It won’t cause any damage to your car to disconnect the device.

2. The Underside of Your Vehicle
Look for any suspicious boxes with or without antennas that attach to your car with a magnet or tape. The fuel tank is a common spot for a person to hide a GPS device.

3. Wheel Wells and Bumpers
Inside the wheel wells and under the front and rear bumpers are also common hiding places for devices. Use your hands to extend your reach. Keep in mind that devices can be attached by adhesives or with magnets.If the device is wired to your car be careful and check your manual before cutting any wires, or have your mechanic remove the device.

4. Roof
If your vehicle is tall or you have a sunroof, it’s possible for a stalker to hide a device in plain sight right on top of your car or inside the sunroof retraction slot.

5. Inside and Under Seats, Floor Mats, and Carpet
If you suspect a criminal has gotten into your car or if your ex has keys, then they might have hidden a tracker inside your vehicle under the seats, floor mats, or the interior carpet. They might have even hidden one inside the upholstery of your seats!

6. Under the Dashboard
You might not see a device under the dashboard, but it’s a good idea to look for any suspicious wires there. You’re going to have to remove some pieces of the underside of your dash, so if you’re unsure, have your mechanic look here and remove any devices they find. While you are looking under your dashboard, don’t forget to check your glove box, under the seats, and under the floor mats. If your antique car includes an ashtray, look there, too.

7. Your Hatchback and/or Trunk
Since most GPS trackers have to connect to satellites to work, they usually aren’t going to be in your trunk, but they might be in the rear part of a hatchback, and it never hurts to check the trunk.

8. Under the Hood
Common hiding places for tracking devices under your hood include behind the radiator, next or between batteries, in air ducts, or even in the air filter.

9. Plugged into Your Car’s Data Collector
Modern cars have data collectors, usually located between the driver’s legs on the underside of the steering wheel. If there’s something plugged into the dash at the midpoint of the driver’s seat, that’s a reason for immediate concern.

You Can Make Detection Easier with a Bug Sweeper

Bug sweepers won’t help you find passive GPS trackers, but they are a great way to find an active GPS tracker transmitting data by its cell phone connection. When a bug sweeper detects an active signal, it will buzz, beep, or vibrate to let you know you need to look very carefully for a tracking device.
Some tracking devices aren’t active unless your car is in gear or moving. It’s a good idea to work with a partner to drive your car slowly while you run the bug sweeper to detect any tracking devices.

What to Do if You Find a Device on Your Car

It’s unlikely you’ll find any devices on your vehicle, but if you do and no wires are connecting them to your car, you can easily remove them yourself. Many devices are attached with just a magnet which means you can just pull them off with a firm tug. There are some types of GPS trackers that are hard-wired to your vehicle. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you have a newer model vehicle that’s difficult to service yourself without highly specialized tools and training, have your mechanic remove the device. You don’t want to short anything out or shock yourself inadvertently.
However, what do you do if you discover the tracking device is hardwired into your car’s electrical system?

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This is a situation where you need a mechanic’s help. First, it’s important to make sure that what you discovered actually is a GPS tracking device. Your mechanic will be able to identify it. It’s also important not to cut wires that can cause a short that affects the rest of your car’s electrical system.

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