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How To Build A GPS Vehicle Tracking System: 2017 Guide – Guest Article

Randy RayessRandy Rayess

The shipping industry was the first to implement a vehicle tracking systems because companies needed to monitor their trucks moving at any given time. In recent years, this instrument managed to turn vehicle-related entrepreneurship into efficient and fully controllable service. Due to taxi service development, a car tracking system became an irremovable part of standard vehicle equipment. Furthermore, a price of such system can seem quite astonishing for business owners. So, how to build a GPS tracking system that will coincide with your budget? That’s the question we are going to talk about.

How a GPS Vehicle Tracking System Works

A GPS uses the Global Navigation Satellite System network (GNSS) to get data about the time, vehicle speed, and its location. The GNSS includes various satellites which transmit information to GPS gizmos by using microwave signals.

There are two ways of the GPS tracking system functioning:

Active tracking records vehicle positions and sends this data to a centralized database using a modem. It is also known as 2-Way GPS or a real-time positioning. Active tracking is especially useful for commercial purposes because it allows checking object location in the exact time.

Passive tracking records vehicle position in particular time points. Trilateration method allows calculating location of the auto in time between recorded points. This way of tracking requires additional storage for recorded data, like a memory card or device internal memory.

How Much Does It Cost to Create a GPS Vehicle Tracking System

Costs of building a tracking device and setting all necessary hardware will not exceed $1200.

Necessary components for developing a vehicle tracking system and their cost:


A GPS-based vehicle tracking system (VTS) uses a GSM modem and a GPS module for determination of vehicle location. This system also allows performing some car controlling actions such as starting an engine and locking/unlocking car doors.

Necessary hardware for building a GPS VTS

The following elements will help you build your GPS tracking device. Basic components for VTS hardware are:


Microcontroller unit contains a CPU in addition to ROM, RAM, and I/O ports. Criteria to choose the right MCU:

GSM modem

A GSM module is compatible with an ordinary SIM card and it operates like a cell phone using mobile data transfer. It’s compatible with 400 MHz, 900 MHz or 1800 MHz frequency.

GSM modems support such services as:

GPS module

Satellites transmit information to the GPS receiver about the time and the location. GPS modules are more efficient outdoors because they require a clear sky view without obstacles.

Creating a software for a GPS VTS

This kind of the VTS means sending an SMS with simple commands to the modem using a mobile phone or a computer. Every command in digits, i.e. 111 or 444, corresponds to a particular required action such as getting the location or starting an engine. The GSM module receives a command, processes it and sends it to the MCU to get a command accomplished.

Choosing the right programming language

Various languages are convenient for programming the MCU. Some of them are Assembly and C. Software in Assembly has fast performing time and C software is easy enough to build a vehicle tracking system. Then it is necessary to design a web page with a map or create a car tracking app for monitoring vehicle location by entering longitude and latitude received by the MCU from a GPS receiver and displayed on a LCD.

Web-Based VTS

The web-based VTS consists of tracking devices placed on a car, a web application, and a central server system. Such system can be useful for shipping companies and organizations that provide passenger transportation services because it allows monitoring unlimited number of cars and receiving complex data. Necessary hardware:

VTS software development

The components, which support the system functionality, are:

Web design

On this stage web application goals are:

Database design

The database architecture is following:

Desktop application

The software application transmits commands to the GSM/GPS device. The device sends data and identification information to the application server through GPRS. Then the application defines a method and transmitting data protocol.

Pros and cons of such system

Benefits of the VTS

Disadvantages of the VTS

As you see, there are different ways of VTS development using a mobile app, a simple mobile phone or/and a computer. Both mentioned systems can track a location of stationary or moving vehicle in real-time. Main advantages of presented systems are their low cost and accessibility of necessary components and that makes them popular among the regular users.


Lolita Rogers is a technical writer with five years of experience in IT. Her prime area of expertise is Mobile App Development.

CoFounder at VenturePact Passionate about software, marketplace startups & remote work. Previously at SilverLake Partners, Ampush and Wharton.