Do you suspect a tracking device has been implanted on your car? If YES, here are 7 guaranteed DIY ways to detect a GPS tracking or listening device on your car.
Hidden vehicle trackers are tiny devices that rely on the global positioning system (GPS) in addition to cellular networks to keep track on the location of a car or truck in real time. Even though not all GPS devices are designed to be hidden, a lot of them are small in size and get can even go unnoticed to the undiscerning eye. In fact, many of these devices are smaller than a deck of cards.
Like almost all technological inventions, GPS tracking devices can be used for good and for bad. Law enforcement agencies have been known to use these devices, with an appropriate warrant, as do private investigators.
Why are Tracking Devices Installed on Vehicles?
Frankly, you are not likely to find yourself in a situation where someone is keeping a tab on your movements. However, if you have got a jealous partner or an overly controlling parent, they may track your whereabouts without having to follow you around or pester you with several phone calls.
There are a number of reasons vehicle owners might want to use some type of vehicle tracking system, although most of them don’t call for hiding the device. These reasons can include;
- Fleet companies use GPS tracking devices to locate company vehicles
- Taxi companies use tracking devices for taxi dispatching
- Suspicious spouses use trackers to determine their significant other’s location or parents can use it to keep tabs on their children.
- Helping you find where you parked
- Theft recovery
- You own a company.
- You have an important, responsible, or secretive job.
- You are a scientist, politician, journalist, witness, attorney, judge, police officer, or local government official.
- You are getting divorced.
- You are petitioning for sole custody of your children.
- You are a suspected activist or terrorist.
- You have logged into certain websites.
- You file for disability or workers compensation.
- Your friend, neighbor, or relative is under suspicion.
- You have recently made a substantial insurance claim.
- You are very wealthy or possess something valuable.
- You are a celebrity.
- You are the victim of a stalker.
- Someone believes they can get ransom money out of you if they access or capture your personal information.
With a GPS tracking device placed somewhere in your car, someone else can easily monitor your movements. In the US, the FBI uses this method to keep watch on those who have a criminal past or those they are trying to clamp down. If you are not a criminal or you are not in the US, then the FBI has no business with you.
But that doesn’t mean someone else cannot track your movement with a GPS device. If you are feeling worried that someone else may be tracking your movement, there are ways by which you can easily find out. Here, I will explain how you can detect a GPS tracker hidden in your car:
Understanding How GPS Tracking Devices Work
First, you must bear in mind that a GPS tracking device would need to “see” the sky in order to work perfectly. Although GPS signals can penetrate plastic materials that are not very thick, they hardly can penetrate metal. So, the device must be placed in a location that will protect it and still provide a fairly direct communication route with the satellites above.
GPS trackers designed for use in cars can be found in big box stores like Walmart, electronics stores like Best Buy, and specialty stores that cater to private investigators. They can also be purchased online at virtually any retailer that deals in electronics like GPS devices and surveillance equipment.
All car GPS tracking devices can be categorized as active and passive. Active trackers use GPS to determine location and transmit that location via a cellular connection, while passive trackers record and store location data.
Active GPS tracking devices transmit real-time data about its location. The unit has a device that operates much like a cellular phone and transmits data anytime the unit is in motion, or at set intervals in some cases, such as once per minute. While some can be hardwired into the vehicle for power supply, most are battery operated.
Battery-operated tracking devices usually have a sensor that determines when the tracker is in motion and initiates power and signal transmission at that time, then turns off after it has not moved for several minutes. Tracking data can be sent to an internet-connected computer or to a smartphone, making it quite convenient.
Passive GPS tracking devices on the other hand store waypoints onboard. They do not transmit their location, but instead operate like a handheld GPS device. When the vehicle is in motion, the GPS tracking device collects waypoints at set time intervals as coordinates that must later be plotted.
The unmonitored devices are less expensive because they don’t require a subscription for their monitoring activity but need to be retrieved and downloaded to obtain the tracking information. Due to the fact that tracking devices use GPS or cellular technology to determine location, a subscription or service agreement typically needs to be arranged in order to receive data from the tracking device.
Some types of vehicle GPS trackers are designed to draw power from a vehicle’s electrical system, some however are powered by batteries and as such, they can be more difficult to detect. Most are still possible to detect, with the right tools, but others will require a visit to a professional.
Understanding How Listening Devices Work
A listening device, (also known as a bug or a wire) is usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter and a microphone. Listening devices are commonly used in carrying out surveillance, espionage and police investigations.
Of course, listening is one of the best ways to gather information. Our sense of hearing is one of the senses we rely on when communicating with other people. Overhearing an exchange between suspects, such as an important plan, location or details of a past event, can strengthen a case against a criminal, and recording these exchanges can prove even more valuable for future evaluation or evidence.
In espionage, covert listening is one of a spy’s most important skills. Using the right kind of listening device, you can gather sensitive information. The longer you stay undetected, the more information you’ll be able to collect. However, these days, listening devices can be purchased from the internet, installed in cars and then used to spy on people.
A listening device can be anything from a box the size of a pack of cards, to something the size of the head of a pin – and that’s just the range of commercial available devices, not the range available to government and the police. The size of listening device is largely dependent on how much the listener is willing to spend. The smaller device, the higher it will cost you.
In a noisy environment, a listening device will need to be placed closer to the target conversation. In low noise environment however, most modern listening devices can be placed anywhere within in a car and they can make a good recording of a conversation even if it is being whispered.
A recording listening device uses very little power. This means that it can easily run from a battery, which makes it possible to put it just about anywhere. Recording devices, especially those which only record when sound or motion is detected, can be hidden pretty much anywhere they fit.
If the listening device will be installed in your car for a long term, then it will need to be wired into a power source. So, where in your car should you look for a hidden GPS tracking or listening device? You will start from the front and work your way backwards to the rear end of the car. Here are the parts you should check:
7 DIY Guaranteed Ways to Detect a GPS Tracking or Listening Device on Your Car
If you suspect that someone may have hidden a GPS tracker somewhere in your car, you’ll need some basic tools like a flashlight, mechanic’s mirror, and a creeper or mat of some kind to help you slide under the vehicle. In instances where a simple visual inspection isn’t sufficient, specialized equipment like electronic sweepers or bug detectors may also be necessary.
Since hidden GPS trackers can be so small, they can be tucked away just about anywhere inside a car or truck. You’ll want to focus on places where such a device could be hidden quickly, but that won’t always do the trick.
While the most discreet trackers are battery powered, simpler units are designed to plug directly into a vehicle’s data connector. So if you are able to locate the data connector, which is usually found under the dash near the driver’s legs, and it has something plugged into it, that’s an immediate reason for concern.
One of the difficulties involved in locating a hidden GPS tracker inside a car is that it may blend in with other components. For instance, small modules like the one that runs the power door locks may easily be confused for something more nefarious.
The basic steps involved in locating a hidden GPS tracker on your car are:
1. Check the exterior: You want to check all the locations where a tracker could be hidden. A tracking device placed on the exterior of your vehicle needs to be weatherproof and compact.
- Check the wheel wells: with the aid of a flashlight, check the two front and rear wheel wells. Use your hand to feel in areas that aren’t easily visible. If a tracker is located in the wheel well, its magnet will need to be attached to a metal part, so look behind plastic covers that don’t require removal.
- Look at the undercarriage: using a mirror that is mounted on a pole, have a look underneath your car. This is however not as easy as it sounds. You should note that if there is a tracker underneath it will likely be as dirty as the undercarriage and as such it will not be easy to spot.
- Look behind your bumpers: even though most bumpers out there don’t have many spaces to hide a tracker since access is tight, but it is an ideal location if there is space inside.
- Inspect under the hood: raise your hood up and check if there is any tracking device tucked into the strut towers, the firewall, behind the radiator, or hidden among the battery, air ducts, or other components. It is unlikely that a tracker would be under the hood as it would be exposed to temperatures that could damage its delicate electrical componentry.
You should note that a tracking device needs to be accessible to the party who installed it, so it will typically be in a location where it can very quickly and inconspicuously be removed. You should pay close attention to those parts that are close to the edge of the car.
2. Inspect the interior: Some GPS tracking devices are simple in nature and they require to be plugged straight into the data port underneath the driver’s side of the dashboard. Check if there is a small black box plugged into the data port. If you should find one, simply plug it out.
- Check in the trunk, specifically in the spare tire compartment. It could be located under the spare tire or any other nook or crevice here.
- Check under all the seats: with the aid of a flashlight, check to see if there is anything that is out of place such as a small electrical module without wires attached or with a couple of loose-hanging wires. If you are not sure of what constitutes an abnormality, compare the undersides of both front seats to determine if something is abnormal. You can also check the edge of the seat upholstery for lumps that may hide a tracking device. Check under the rear seat as well if it is movable. In addition, check if there has been any tear.
- Inspect the underside of the dashboard: there may be the need to strip the cover underneath the driver’s side dash to check if there is any GPS tracking device. Once you have access, look for a magnetically-attached device, though this is the location where a wired device is most likely to be found as well. Check for modules with wiring that isn’t neatly wrapped into the vehicle’s harnesses.
On the passenger side, the glove box can be removed in many cases to inspect for tracking devices placed there. Under the dash, other accessories like remote starters or power door lock modules may be wired in. Before you remove a device that you suspect to be a tracking device, you should know exactly what you are doing. You can check for a brand name or model number on the device and search it online. It may be a component you don’t want to remove.
- The consoles (and more): If your car has a sunroof, a GPS tracker can be installed there, where it can communicate with the satellites above through the opening in the roof. Check for any strange objects or wires. Open up every place you can (but avoid forcing anything open).
Also, check under your carpets and under the front and rear seats for strange wires. Trace all wires to their sources to confirm that they are not from external sources. While doing this, exercise caution to avoid disconnecting your wires or damaging your seat heating equipment.
3. Locating a Hidden GPS Car Tracker with a Bug Sweeper: electronic sweepers (also known as bug detectors) are handheld devices that are capable of detecting electromagnetic signals like those used by radio transmitters and cell phones. You can buy this type of equipment from places where you can purchase a GPS tracker or you can build your own if you are tech savvy and have the appropriate spare parts at your disposal.
Since sweepers rely on detecting transmissions, they can’t detect passive GPS trackers. However, they can be a great help in finding well-hidden active trackers. When you get an electronic sweeper, you should switch it on and then walk slowly around your vehicle. Depending on the sensitivity, you may have to hold it near all of the locations mentioned in the previous section.
Depending on the model of the bug detector, it will typically light up, vibrate, or buzz to let you know when it detects a signal. That’s your cue to go over that area with a fine-toothed comb.
In some cases, you can come across a tracker that only transmits when the car is in motion. When the car stops, the trackers becomes passive and as such it cannot be detected by bug detectors. So if you don’t detect anything at first, you may want to have someone else operate the vehicle while you keep an eye on the sweeper.
4. Seek Professional Help: Some GPS trackers are harder to find than others, but with the right counter-surveillance tools, finding even the most expertly hidden GPS tracker is possible, especially if you know where to look. If you are still suspicions that there may still be a GPS tracking device in your car after you have done the preliminary checks by yourself, then you should seek out the services of a trusted professional car mechanic.
What to Do When You Find a Hidden GPS Tracker
A lot of GPS tracking devices are powered by batteries and are held on by magnet or tape. If you should encounter this type of tracking device, all you have to do is to pull it out and you are done. The same is true of trackers that plug into a diagnostic connector or the cigarette lighter socket.
In other cases where a GPS tracker is hard-wired into power and ground, you may want to seek professional assistance. Simply cutting the wires may do the trick, although wires cut like that may short out in the future. It’s also important to make sure that the component you’re cutting out is actually a tracker, which is something a professional will know.
Now what if you found nothing? If you do all these checks and still find nothing, this means nobody is tracking your car. But if you are still not convinced, ask someone else to check for you. If it’s the same story, then you can rest assured that you are not being watched.
What to Do When You Find a Hidden listening device
A lot of listening devices are powered by batteries and are held on by magnet or tape. If you should encounter this type of listening device, all you have to do is to pull it out and you are done. The same is true of listening devices that plug into a diagnostic connector or the cigarette lighter socket.
You can also opt to leave the listening device for a while long while feeding the person on the other end with false information to your own advantage.
In other cases where a listening device is hard-wired into power and ground, you may want to seek professional assistance. Simply cutting the wires may do the trick, although wires cut like that may short out in the future. It’s also important to make sure that the component you’re cutting out is actually the device, which is something a professional will know.
Is It Possible to Find the Person Listening When You Find the Device?
If a device is transmitting, then it is possible to identify the approximate range it will possibly have and as such, this may give you an idea of how you can track the receiver. This, however, is not always possible. An IP listening device which is tapping into your WiFi network may be impossible to trace, and a device with a strong transmission signal may create such a wide potential reception area that a search would be impossible.
United States law prohibits anyone other than law enforcement officials from installing, using and maintaining listening devices to hear or record someone’s conversation without their permission. Any type of audio surveillance requires a warrant.
In conclusion, GPS trackers come in all shapes and sizes, some more discreet than others. Even though installing most modern GPS tracking devices in a car is quite an easy process, finding and removing it is hardly ever easy. However, because of how GPS trackers work, there are several places on a vehicle where you should always look if you suspect that someone is monitoring your location with a GPS tracker.