Fleet managers have many tools at their disposal to help them keep track of their vehicles and drivers, chief among these is a GPS fleet management system or vehicle tracking system.

Civilian GPS have been available since the mid 1980s, although they really took off after the US government allowed improved accuracy for civilians in 2000. Since then, many companies and public services have benefited from vehicle tracking systems in terms of the logistical improvements and increased efficiency they provide.

Today, the market is flooded with vehicle tracking companies offering products that are often difficult to tell apart. The choice of products is very broad, ranging from very simple and cheap devices to full bells and whistles solutions.

The features that you will get will depend on what you fork out, so before making a decision about which features you need, we will walk you through which features are available.

What follows is a comprehensive list of features and functions that you might find on a vehicle tracking system, to help you decide which are most important to your business.

1. Data Gathering (vehicle hardware)

1.01 Live Tracking

A feature found on all active or real-time tracking systems, giving you the live locations, speed and direction of all vehicles in your fleet. Most systems actually update every 20, 30 60, or 120 seconds –  higher frequency is associated with higher cost. These types of systems dominate the market today, while passive systems tend to be used only for covert surveillance.

1.2 Current Fuel

One of many features that usually relies on a connection to the vehicle’s CAN bus. Helps you plan which driver to send to a job – the closest driver might need refuelling, and the filling station might be in the other direction.

1.03 Real-time fuel economy

Another feature that depends upon CAN bus integration, it can be a useful metric which shows you how fuel efficiently each vehicle is being driven. Check out our article about using vehicle tracking systems to save on fuel costs.

1.04 Engine/Oil temperature

Yet another CAN bus feature, this can be an invaluable fallback safety measure in case that the driver misreads the engine temperature gauge. It also allows for reposting on historic and average temperatures during operation – which could help to diagnose any potential engine faults early and lower fleet maintenance costs.

1.05 Cargo temperature

Refrigerated trucks need to keep their cargo at the right temperature – this is an early warning control that can literally save your bacon.

1.06 Tyre pressure

It might seem over the top, but underinflated tyres have a big effect on the handling of the vehicle and affect fuel economy. Being able to warn a driver about dangerously underinflated tyres could prove a lifesaver.

1.07 Accelerometers

Mostly used to detect harsh acceleration, braking and cornering – a symptom of an aggressive driving style which is both dangerous and fuel inefficient. It is also sometimes used as a means of improving positioning accuracy through dead reckoning calculations, which is useful in cities where urban canyons might obscure line of sight to a sufficient number of satellites.

1.08 Driver ID

Allows you to track drivers and record their historical data regardless of which vehicle they are driving. This is recorded either by the driver inserting a card into a dashboard terminal, or a PIN code.

1.09 Crash Reporting & recording (Cobra)

A feature of Cobra’s fleet tracking system – an accelerometer determines whether a crash has taken place, and stores all relevant data about the incident (such as the vehicle’s speed, road position, time of day etc) while also sending an alert to base. It has proved useful in crash investigations where it has been used as evidence to prove the fleet driver was not at fault.

1.10 Frequency (accuracy) of reporting

Packets of data are periodically sent from the vehicle’s on-board tracking unit to the tracking company’s server via the mobile data network. Each time a packet is sent, there is a connection fee associated with it that it payable to the mobile network provider. In addition, there is a fee associated with the amount of data sent in each transmission. The frequency of transmissions can be anything from once every 10 seconds to once every two minutes. Increasing the frequency of reporting will increase the accuracy of vehicle tracking devices, but it will come at a cost.

1.11 Torque

Measures the engine’s torque.

1.12 RPM

Stores data from the rev counter of the vehicle, including average and max RPM. This could be used to determine if a particular driving style is putting stress on the engine and causing greater wear and tear.

1.13 Throttle position

Measures the throttle position at any point in time.

1.14 Idling

Records engine idling. This data could be used to highlight some cases when fuel could be saved by switching off the engine rather than leave it idle for extended periods of time.

1.15 Braking frequency

High braking frequency can be a sign of tailgating – a dangerous driving style which is also fuel inefficient.

1.16 Speed

Measures average and maximum speeds, and reports on cases of excessive speed or when the speed limit of a particular stretch of road is exceeded. For more information, read our article about speed tracking systems.

1.17 Mileage

A useful metric in determining total miles on a particular route or by a particular driver. Useful in cross-checking timesheets, or when separating business miles from personal miles for cars in the grey fleet. Read our article on vehicle mileage trackers.

2. Added In-vehicle Functionality

This is often in the form on extra hardware in the cab, or a function of the device that provides a particular driver aid.

2.01 Remote Control / Remote Immobilisation

At first glance it sounds like the best feature ever, but sadly this does not allow you drive your fleet vehicles from the comfort of your office. It does allows you to turn the engine immobiliser on and off remotely, in the event that you are alerted that the vehicle has been taken without authorisation. In order to avoid causing traffic collisions, the immobiliser will only kick in when the vehicle comes to a stop, such as at a junction or set of lights.

2.02 Panic Button For The Driver

Another common feature of modern vehicle tracking systems is a panic button. This can be activated by the driver in the event of an emergency. Panic buttons help to give the driver with peace of mind and the company a quick response time in the event of the theft of the vehicle or the goods within.

2.03 Two-way communication to driver

This allows despatch to send messages to drivers about pickups or jobs on their routes, and also allows drivers to give feedback about the messages. This happens mostly in the form of text messages being displayed on a screen in the cab, and the driver can select from a small number of canned responses.

2.04 Driver alerts

These are audible in-cab alarms that feed back to the driver that certain customisable limits have been exceeded. They can refer to speed, RPM or braking braking frequency. Such a system might seem intrusive, but it can help your drivers stay on the right side of the law whilst also raising awareness of the fuel efficiency of their driving.

2.05 Integration with satnav devices

Garmin & TomTom are well known for their sat navs already, so its no surprise that their fleet tracking systems incorporate sat nav functionality. Systems from Fleetmatics, Teletrac and Tracker are also able to integrate with Garmin sat nav devices.

2.06 Traffic alerts

Getting up-to-the-minute traffic updates can be extremely useful when you’re out and about; it helps your drivers finish on time and lets you know who is actually the closest person to assign to a job.

2.07 Thatcham-certified hardware

Some systems, such as Scorpion Track, use in-vehicle hardware that is Thatcham approved, which can lead to lower insurance premiums.

3. Data Reporting (backend Software)

3.01 Accurate Mapping and Route Tracks

 

A basic map visualisation from open source project OpenGTS, which uses OpenStreetMap as a basemap
A basic map visualisation from open source project OpenGTS, which uses OpenStreetMap as a basemap

The basic feature of a fleet tracking system is the accurate mapping of a large number of vehicles. This tracking is usually done with locally installed software on company computers or through a web application. A fleet management company will be able to advise you on the best software option after evaluating your tracking needs.

To provide pinpoint images of your vehicle as well as roads in general and particular premises. This is a function of the software or web-interface that comes as part of the vehicle package. Many companies use Google Maps as their basemap, which has the added advantage of Google’s Streetview functionality. All tracking solutions will come with some kind of mapping functionality – although some might be slicker than others, this is unlikely to be an important factor when making a buying decision.

Route tracking records historical routes in the form of breadcrumb trails.

3.02 Report Generation

A real advantage to vehicle tracking devices, this feature logs and stores all the daily activity of your vehicles, as well as monitor driver performance, and various other statistics that could prove immensely valuable to your business efficiency and profit margins.

All systems, from the most basic to the most feature-rich, will have some way of reporting on the data. Some will be more user-friendly, some will be more customisable, others will have more automation. The only way to really know is the play around with the software yourself. Most companies will offer you a free demonstration when you get a quote.

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3.03 Configurable Alerts

Some systems allow the opportunity to configure your own alerts – typically this involves emailing you when some event occurs. Such events might be when a vehicle has begun its journey or finished it, or when a package has been delivered.

3.04 Configurable SMS Alerts

As above, but the alerts get send to your phone as a text.

3.05 Geofencing

Also known as border control, this feature allows you to define the areas where your vehicles should be operating, and if any should stray you will be notified via an alert.

3.06 Remote Assignment of Driver Itinerary And Destination Directions

Much like a standard consumer satellite navigation system, vehicle tracking systems can guide fleet drivers to their destinations. Some vehicle tracking systems allow a controller to update a driver’s itinerary for the day and re-route their destinations. This helps many companies specialising in deliveries and call outs ensure that cancellations can be dealt with promptly and drivers can be re-rerouted due to any unforeseen circumstances.

3.07 Automated timesheet generation/ duty of care reporting

Some systems allow for the automation of certain reports – a huge timesaver if your company produces weekly timesheets or duty of care reports.

3.08 Web apps

Many modern vehicle tracking systems software are now presented via a web app – meaning they are viewed through a web browser interface. This has the advantage of being able to use your login details to access your dashboard from anywhere with an internet connection.

A screenshot of the Quartix Android app

3.09 Smartphone apps

Some vehicle tracking systems allow you to log in to your dashboard to monitor your fleet via a smartphone app. Even without a dedicated app, other systems that use a web interface will still be accessible through the smartphone’s browser, although the experience may not always be as slick. Systems with web apps include Quartix, Phantom, and Navman.

Fleetmatics have no less than 8 different apps in the Android play store alone – including specific apps for drivers and fleet managers.

3.10 Bundled fleet management software

This comes with Online AVL Complete from Navman.

3.11 Fuel card integration and reporting

As seen with Fleetmatics and Transpoco.

3.12 Stolen vehicle recovery

SmarTrak‘s UK based call centre alert the police in the event that one of your vehicles is stolen, and liaise with police on your behalf to ensure that the vehicle is recovered and returned to you.

3.13 Private journey mode

If you have a grey fleet, where the vehicles are owned by your employees, or if you employees have access to the company vehicle outside work time for their private use, then being able to switch to private journey mode is very useful. In the interests of employee privacy, it will not record the location of the vehicle, but will record the mileage and duration of the trip; Box tracker employs such a system.

The Next Step

Companies are usually happy to discuss your needs in detail and will often undertake a study of your company in order to determine the best set-up for your needs. Research the options and ask questions and your company could not only be making large savings but your workforce will directly benefit.

Filling out our simple online form allows you to get multiple quotes from top suppliers in less than a minute, taking the hassle out of shopping around.

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Author - Nigel Vaughan

Nigel has over 10 years experience in digital marketing, and loves tech and all kinds of electronics. A keen cyclist and cycle-tourist, he has cycled through 25 countries worldwide.

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