With over six million trailers on the road in 2021, fleet managers have more responsibility than ever to keep assets, inventory, and drivers safe. GPS trailer trackers are a hot topic in trucking because they enable fleet managers to ensure safe and smooth operations.
This guide covers the features, benefits, and costs of GPS trailer tracking systems so you can pick the best solution for your fleet. Or skip ahead to see the best trailer trackers for 2021.
What is a GPS Trailer Tracker?
A GPS trailer tracker – also known as an asset tracker – is a device that lets you track the location and status of your trailer or trailers via your smartphone or computer. GPS trackers enable cargo to be accounted for at all times.
Trackers are small enough that they can be installed discreetly on top of a trailer where they will be able to send and receive a clear signal from satellites and cell towers.
GPS systems share position, navigation, and timing data. This information is incredibly valuable when monitoring fleets, which carry cargo across vast geographical areas. No matter the size of the fleet, GPS trackers allow fleet managers to see the whereabouts of all trailers in a single picture.
How Trailer Trackers Work
Trailer trackers are powered by a battery or a solar panel. For powered trailers, a GPS tracker can be connected to a trailer’s 12 or 24 volt DC system.
The GPS device is mounted directly to a trailer and will send “pings” to the fleet manager’s interface. Pings can be sent in real time, every few minutes, or once a day. Many GPS trackers either let you adjust the ping rate or will automatically pause the pings when a trailer is stationary – which saves battery life.
Benefits of Trailer Tracking
GPS trailer trackers can improve safety and security, make your fleet run more efficiently, and save you money overall. Here’s how:
Safety and Security
Fleet managers have an obligation to ensure that assets are safe. By monitoring trailer location, you know if inventory and drivers are where they are supposed to be, and when they finally end up in the correct destination. Or your GPS tracker will show if any of your trailers have gone off route and landed somewhere that they shouldn’t be.
Prevent Trailer Theft
More than ever before, fleet managers have to make an effort to protect cargo – April 2020 saw a 107% increase in cargo theft compared to the previous year, with the average value of cargo lost in each incident exceeding $105,000.
If the thought of trailer theft keeps you up at night, know that GPS trailer trackers are one of your best defenses against stolen cargo. If you do experience trailer theft, real-time tracking improves the odds of recovery. Such peace of mind is invaluable, especially if your insurer doesn’t cover stolen cargo.
The logistics of the trucking industry are notoriously complex. Coordination between drivers, shippers, and receivers is of the utmost importance. GPS trackers improve operational efficiency by allowing fleet managers to monitor which trailers and thus keep trailers in use. Doing so can minimize trailer turn times, saving thousands of dollars per trailer per year.
Minimize Driver Detention Time
When trailer turn-times are minimized, so are driver detention times (which costs between $25 and $100 per hour). Not only does this cost trucking companies a huge sum of money, but the drivers don’t like it either. Detention time puts added pressure on drivers to get to their next destination on time and often doesn’t cover what they would make if they could stay on the road.
Better Route Planning
When you dispatch your fleet, you have to account for weather, traffic, distances, and the availability of other trailers. GPS tracking systems let you gather historical data and calculate which routes are the safest, most efficient, and most cost-effective.
Better Customer Service
Improved efficiency translates to better customer service. By providing accurate ETA’s, you improve your client’s logistics; they won’t spend time waiting around for a delayed shipment. Plus, tracking your trailers ensures that your client’s inventory is treated with care- you know that your drivers are working within the speed limit and not going off route.
The amount of money that a GPS trailer tracker can save greatly outweighs the cost of the trailer tracker itself.
Insurance is always a massive cost. Because GPS trackers are so effective in improving the safety of assets and drivers, insurance companies are often willing to reduce premiums for fleets that utilize a GPS tracking system. By accurately being able to track the mileage of each trailer, you’ll know that you aren’t paying insurance on unused mileage.
GPS Trailer Tracking Features
There are a lot of trailer trackers on the market. With rapidly advancing technology, there are always new features to look out for. Trackers with more features increase the cost of the device and the service. So which features do you need — and which can you get by without?
Frequency of Location Data
Some trailer trackers can send you real-time updates on the whereabouts of your trailers, while others are limited to “breadcrumb” trails where pings are only sent every few minutes or hours. You can potentially save a lot of money if you don’t need real-time tracking.
A favorable feature in GPS trackers is the ability to change the ping rate. Sometimes you might not need or want real-time updates. If you have a large fleet, it might be more efficient to get only once-a-day pings on each of your trailers so that you are not overwhelmed with information.
Powered vs Unpowered Tracking Devices
The more information a device sends, the more power it uses. Devices that can be externally powered by 12 or 24 volt systems – as opposed to solar or battery-powered devices – are more likely to be able to send real-time information.
While it is possible to send real-time location data via a battery-powered GPS device, this will make the battery run down more quickly. Keep this in mind if you want real-time tracking on unpowered trailers. Solar devices may not receive enough power to keep up with real-time updates.
Quality of Location Data
Quality of location data can differ depending on the type of trailer tracker, and the area the trailer is moving through. You want to be sure that your tracker will send you the most geographically accurate information possible.
4G vs 5G Compatability
With GPS tracking, there is little to no performance difference between 4G (also known as LTE) and 5G. Today, there are far more 4G towers than 5G towers. This will change with the constant installation of new 5G towers, but 4G connected devices will suffice.
Of course, 5G devices are compatible with 4G towers, so choosing 5G over 4G will not create any limitations. Most 4G and 5G devices can even fall back on 3G towers.
Remote Location Tracking
GPS devices communicate via cell towers and satellites, but they require a cell connection to transmit information about a trailer’s location to your user interface. When a trailer enters a remote location that is out of range of cell towers, the GPS will continue to track and store location data.
However, you will not receive an account of where the trailer is until the trailer is back in cell range. For the best remote location tracking in the United States, choose a device that has a strong cell coverage (AT&T network is a good choice) and which connects with government-owned satellites.
2m CEP Accuracy
CEP stands for Circular Error Probability, and it measures the accuracy of location data. If you mounted a GPS device with a 1-meter CEP accuracy, then the true location of your trailer would be correct half of the time and would be in error by one meter half of the time.
In general, you want CEP accuracy to be within two meters. Having accurate location data is especially important in the crowded world of modern truck depots. Accurate position data eliminates the need to search for trailers — which saves a lot of time for drivers and fleet managers.
GPS Trailer Tracking Alerts
You aren’t always watching your trailers. Most tracking services will send alerts when a trailer goes off route, or when it hasn’t moved for an extended period.
Geofencing and Landmark Alerts
An advanced feature of GPS tracking services is the ability to set a geofence with triggered alerts. When a trailer leaves a designated area, you will receive a notification. Geofencing enables passive management of fleet activity so you can focus on more important tasks.
With other systems, you can use landmarks to trigger an alert when a trailer arrives (or leaves) at a specific destination. As an example, you can set a landmark alert to get a notification whenever a trailer arrives at a customer’s facility. This could also notify your customer of the arrival, if you have an integration with your TMS set up.
Trailer Tracking Integrations
The right system for your fleet will sync with your third-party integrations. Location information is great, but trailer trackers can do so much more.
When integrated with sensors and systems, trailer trackers help fleet managers make well-educated decisions about dispatching and asset utilization.
Choose a trailer tracking system that integrates with your TMS. A transportation management system streamlines the shipping process, so adding trailer tracking data can further optimize truck dispatch and timing.
Before you decided on a trailer tracking solution, check that your TMS system will integrate with it (or how much it will cost in custom programming to connect the systems).
These days, many GPS devices can connect with sensors that give information beyond location. Accelerometers are a standard internal sensor in most trackers, as they tell the device to send more frequent location updates when the trailer is in motion.
But GPS devices can transmit even more information to the fleet manager when they can connect with external sensors. These sensors may include
- Ambient temperature sensors
- Door detectors
- BLE (Bluetooth low energy) sensors
- TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system)
- Alert lights
Keep in mind that most devices cannot store such accessory information when the GPS has lost cell connection. So if your device is connected to a temperature sensor, it may not store the temperature data when the trailer leaves cell coverage, nor will it send you the historical temperatures when it re-enters coverage.
If you need to prove cold chain compliance, you’ll need to make sure that such temperature data is stored internally in memory should the trailer leave cell coverage.
ELD (Electronic Logging Device)
The ELD mandate went into effect in 2016 and mandates that operators of commercial motor vehicles use electronic logging devices to record hours of service. ELD devices also monitor engine hours, location, ignition status, and miles driven.
Can ELD devices replace GPS? Not necessarily. ELD devices only measure within ten miles of accuracy to protect driver privacy. But the ELD mandate does not forbid the use of highly accurate GPS trackers.
ELD devices and GPS tracking devices are often used together to gather a more holistic level of information about a tractor-trailer. This allows fleet managers to make more informed decisions about vehicle and trailer maintenance.
With the 2019 deadline to become fully ELD compliant, many GPS tracking services are working towards building their own FMCSA approved ELD devices. Of course, GPS and ELD devices made by the same company should work together seamlessly. So look out for GPS tracking services that have their own ELD devices.
GPS Trailer Tracker Durability
The durability of a tracker device is one of the most important features to look out for. If the device breaks, it won’t do any good at all.
Most trackers are mounted on the outside of a trailer and are exposed to the harsh and extreme elements of nature. To ensure that you get a device that is fully weatherproof and waterproof, opt for devices with an IP67 rating or higher. This guarantees that the connections in your device are 100% protected against dust and sand, and will function for at least a half-hour when fully submerged in water.
GPS devices are also vulnerable to tampering. Some externally powered GPS devices will send an alert if they become detached from a trailer battery, which indicates that they have been tampered with. However, tamper alerts are not an option for units that are battery or solar-powered. Opt for devices that are fixed to the trailer with screws as opposed to magnets, which are much easier to remove.
The installation of GPS trailer tracking devices often requires a large upfront investment. At the same time, a lot can go wrong. The hardware might fail prematurely, maybe the device service just doesn’t get the coverage that you need. Before you make a purchase, be sure that the tracker comes with a one-year warranty at the very least. A good warranty indicates that the company stands behind its product.
Battery-powered GPS devices should have a battery life of at least one year and should send a warning to the fleet manager when the battery is due for a recharge. Much of the time, the battery life depends on how many pings are sent. For example, some batteries have a life of 5,000 pings. If the battery is sending real-time information, it will wear down a lot faster.
If you have a powered trailer, you can choose a device that can connect with the trailer battery and send real-time updates when externally powered. When the trailer is unpowered, the device will run off of a rechargeable lithium battery.
The device you choose should have a long enough battery life that you don’t waste time and money on recharging. If your fleet is deployed for long distances over long periods of time, you may want to explore solar-powered devices.
Trailer Tracking User Interface
The user interface is the knowledge center that synthesizes all the information from the GPS devices. Because you’ll spend so much time inside the system, it’s important that it is comprehensive, but also user friendly and intuitive. A good interface will boost productivity and efficiency, and make your life as a fleet manager easier.
The dashboard is a reporting system that takes location and timing data and turns it into reports that help you analyze your fleet and find ways to improve logistics. At the most basic level, the dashboard should show you all of your trailers in a single picture, as well as the location history of each trailer.
The dashboard should also display data such as the last activity, the time and location of any triggered alarms, and the battery level of the device.
Trailer Tracking App
Does your tracking software come with an app? Your fleet doesn’t stop moving when you’re away from the office. An app lets you monitor your entire fleet on the go. That way, you can be more responsive to security and safety alerts.
GPS Trailer Tracker Pricing
The costs of GPS trailer tracking varies depending on the features that you need, and the size of your fleet.
Typically, you pay a flat fee for the GPS hardware upfront, and then you pay monthly for the GPS communication service. Pricing is per vehicle per month, but larger fleets can get bulk discounts on the hardware and cost of service.
The cost of the GPS tracking device generally falls between $20 and $50. Of course, some devices fall outside of this range. Pricing depends on the power supply, the battery life, the durability, the frequency of updates it is capable of sending, and what you pay for the associated GPS communication service.
Some GPS tracking companies offer free hardware when you sign up for a long-term contract. If you have a large fleet, not paying for hardware can save a lot of money. At the same time, you must be entirely sure that this service fulfills your requirements.
On the contrary, some GPS tracking companies will have you pay a large upfront price for the hardware ($200 and up per device) but will supplement that cost with a few years of no-charge GPS communication service.
GPS Communication Service Pricing
The average cost of monthly service ranges from $10 to $40 per month, per trailer. This cost also covers the cost of the user interface software. If you have a large fleet, you can often negotiate a discounted cost of service.
The service cost is largely based on how many pings it sends back to the user interface every day. You will pay significantly more for real-time tracking.
The majority of GPS trailer trackers are easy to install. They generally mount via a simple system of screws and magnets. Many fleet managers do not have a problem with installing the devices themselves.
Some GPS device providers offer a professional installation service. This may be a good option for externally powered tracking devices that need to be connected with a trailer battery. The cost of professional installation usually depends on the number of units to be installed.
Some GPS service providers charge a one-time per-vehicle activation fee. Keep this in mind before you commit to a service.
Best GPS Trailer Trackers for 2021
You’ve decided that you want to install a GPS trailer tracking system. These are all excellent options for your fleet:
The Linxup ATLT trailer tracking device is our top pick for long battery life. It’s rugged and waterproof (IP67 rated) and comes equipped with a flash memory device in case the trailer ever ends up out of cell range, as well as an accelerometer. The connection is with 4G cell towers.
Linxup has an extremely intuitive interface and mobile app on which you will receive still and idle location alerts and usage habit reports.
Power source: Internal replaceable AA batteries with a minimum of three-year lifespan.
Location Update Frequency: Default of two pings per day. Can change to one ping per day to save battery. Recovery mode lets you receive a ping every ten minutes.
Pricing: The pricing is $39.99 per tracker device and $14.99 for communication service. After ten devices, the service price goes down to $13.99 per device per month.
SkyBitz Kinnect should be your choice if integrations with accessory data are what you’re looking for. The Kinnect collects information from most wired and wireless sensors and has built-in Bluetooth to connect with smart sensors. From this single device, you can monitor tire pressure, temperature, cargo, and doors.
The Kinnect uses that AT&T 4G network. It is equipped with a three-axis accelerometer and will send motion and stop and start reports. SkyBiz also offers AI inventory management — called SmartTrailer — which takes clear, volumetric pictures of the inside of a trailer and can accurately measure and monitor the utilized capacity.
All SkyBitz trailer monitoring and reports can be accessed from its app (available on iOS and Android).
Power source: Solar-power with solar-rechargeable battery.
Location Update Frequency: TBD
CalAmp TTU-730 Asset Tracker
The TTU-730 from CalAmp is an excellent option for fleets that travel far over long periods. This device is rugged with an IP67 rating and has a CEP accuracy of two meters. Like the SkyBitz, it has a three-axis accelerometer. The TTU-730 can operate internationally, as it can switch cellular carriers. It uses a 4G network with a 3G fallback.
Power source: Internal battery with a five-year battery life.
Location Update Frequency: Variable.
Pricing: The hardware costs $290.00 but includes three years of service. After three years, it costs $20 to renew the service.
Rhino Fleet Tracking
Rhino Fleet Tracking offers up to 365 days of location data storage. The company also has 24/7 live support for fleet owners, should you have any issues with your device. The devices come with standard features such as geofencing and idle-time alerts and will create driver scorecards out of the gathered data.
The interface is cloud-based and truck locations are overlaid on a Google Map, making it easy to understand the location of each trailer. Also, note that Rhino Fleet is in the process of developing its own FMCSA compliant ELD system that will integrate with its GPS device.
Power source: Connects to the trailer’s power system.
Location Update Frequency: The default ping rate is every two minutes.
Pricing: $39.95 per unit and $19.95 per month for service.
Trak-4 GPS Tracker
The Trak-4 is a good option for fleets on a budget. For the price, it hosts an impressive list of features. With the Trak-4 service plan, you can set geofences and receive motion alerts. The most interesting aspect of the Trak-4 are the customization options because of its full source code and open documentation. The Trak-4 is very developer-friendly.
Power Source: A rechargeable battery that lasts up to 18 months.
Location Update Frequency: Every minute or hour.
Pricing: The device costs $119, though you can get it for $49 with their frequent sales. If prepaid annually, service costs only $6.99 per month for hourly pings, $9.99 per month for pings every 10 minutes, or $14.99 per month for pings every minute.
Final Thoughts on Trailer Tracking Solutions
Before deciding on a tracking system for your fleet, make sure that you know your requirements. Note if your trailers are powered or unpowered, how often you can change the batteries, and how often you need location updates. You can likely get by without every feature that GPS systems offer, but you want to satisfy basic tracking needs.
GPS trailer trackers have a large upfront cost of both money and time to research your options. But the right trailer tracking solution will be one of the best returns on investment that you make as a fleet manager. Not only does GPS tracking improve operational efficiency and lower operational costs, but it will give you peace of mind.
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Elisa is a digital marketer and freelance writer specializing in the areas of business, sustainability, and sailboats.