With an apparent increase of motorhome/campervan thefts, security is a hot topic on Facebook groups/forums and GPS trackers are a commonly discussed option. Approved trackers, professionally installed and monitored, are often mandated by insurance companies for high-value vehicles. But cheap self-install options are available.
Some will say GPS trackers are a waste of time since you can buy gadgets to detect or interrupt the GPS/GSM signals (technically true). Other systems also use a VHF radio system for tracking but with the right equipment these can also be blocked.
Determined/professional thieves will have the necessary tools – mechanical and electronic – to defeat most anti-theft systems including trackers. However, it’s noticeable that a common tactic for van/motorhome thieves is to steal a vehicle and then park it somewhere out of the way for a few days to check whether it’s being tracked. If it’s not found after a few days they then return to ‘collect’ it – this suggests that many thieves do not actually disable trackers – if they did then they would just steal the vehicle and disappear. So in many instances a tracker, even a cheap one would help owners recover their vehicles.
Choosing a GPS device
When considering a GPS tracker for our camper van my criteria were:-
- I didn’t want to pay hundreds of pounds for a professionally fitted tracker system – I’d argue the benefits are marginal.
- I didn’t want to pay an annual ‘monitoring’ charge – I’m capable of monitoring it myself.
- A stand-alone device with an internal battery power supply – so no need to hard-wire into my van and I can transfer between vehicles
- Can track location as and when I want/need to
- Can alert me when my van moves
|There are a number of Chinese-manufactured GPS tracker devices, mostly under the brand TKSTAR or a clone thereof. UK suppliers often re-brand the same version (e.g. Re-wire).
I chose the TKSTAR TK905 – there are cheaper TK102/TK103 variants that require hardwiring and a more expensive TK915 has a larger battery. I chose to purchased direct from Amazon rather than a Chinese import from Ebay as Amazon deliver the next day and make it easy to return if you’re not happy with the product (no need to return it to China!). Click on the Amazon link to see more details and user reviews.
- Small stand-alone device – no wiring 9cm x 7cm x 2 cm, 168g
- Waterproof with magnetic base for fixing to vehicle (not tested waterproofing)
- 5000mah internal battery with micro-USB charge port
- Has internal GSM and GPS aerials – so no extra wires/aerials to fix
- Can be activated/administered via SMS message or via the TKSTAR app
- Range of tracking modes – real-time (every 30s) to power-save/stand-by modes to save battery
- Shock, movement or overspeed alert trigger options
- Geo-fence alert option – alert if leaves defined area
Getting Going with a TK905 GPS Tracker
All you need to get going is a basic PAYG (Pay As You Go) SIM card. Cheap PAYG SIM options include Giffgaff (which uses the O2 network) and 1p Mobile (uses EE network, with cheap texts/data but you need to add £10 every 3 months). I chose an Asda Mobile PAYG SIM card as, a) it uses the EE network which I find provides better coverage than O2; b) you only need to send one text every 6 months to keep the SIM active. Texts are 4p and data 5p per 1Mb.
Set-up of the TK905 was straightforward using the included instructions and involves sending a few simple text message commands to the TK905 tracker device. I’ve detailed step-by-step instructions for setting up the TK905 below.
Basic use of TK905 GPS Tracker
For basic operation you can request a location update at any time by either:-
- Dialling the GPS Tracker number (the number of the SIM card you inserted) – you’ll hear two rings before the call hangs-up and then the TK905 will send you an SMS text message with its location, or;
- Text G123456# to the tracker – it will respond with a text message with the location details [123456 is the default password of the device]
On the right is a sample of a location text you’ll receive.
Most mobile phones will automatically recognise the GPS coordinates in the text message and create a clickable link or mini-map which will open a map showing the vehicle location – so no need to re-enter the coordinates into Google Map
For location positioning the TK905 uses GPS satellite signals if available – the more GPS satellites it can receive from the more accurate the location. If GPS signal not available (e.g. paked underground) then it will use LBS which uses the mobile network for a ‘tri-angulation’ approximation of the location (accuracy will vary).
TK905 GPS Tracker Options
The TK905 has a number of more advanced modes that can trigger an alert in different scenarios. It’s these options that turn a reactive tracking device into a proactive monitoring device. For example, the TK905 can alert you if your vehicle starts moving – either by vibration detection, speed detection (over X km/h), or movement by a certain distance. See SMS Commands below for more details.
The TKSTAR GPS app
TKSTAR have their own free app which can be linked to the TK905 tracker. See below for instructions on how to set this up. The app wont win any awards but it is free and includes:-
- Real-time tracking show current (or last registered) location on map
- Historical route allows you to plot a location track and replay it on map
- Geo-fence – allows you to define a geo-fence around a location. You can save the geo-fence and receive notifications if the device enters or leaves.
- Issue command – allows you to send command settings via the app rather than SMS (but not if it’s in sleep mode in which case you’ll need to send a text message)
- Alarm settings – allows you to define which types of notifications you wish to receive on your phone.
Using the TK905 in practice
With a plethora of options available, in practice I find the following functions the most useful from a balance of peace of mind, security and convenience:-
- Use the TKSTAR GPS app to create/save a geo-fence around where your vehicle is mainly parked, e.g. at home or in storage – this means you’ll receive an alert if the vehicle leaves the area you marked. You can set and forget this and will receive an alert via the app each time your vehicle leaves or enters the geo-fence. You can save multiple geo-fence locations, e.g. I have one for home and one for our van’s storage location.
- For additional peace of mind I when leaving my van whilst on a trip I sometimes enable the Shock setting – this acts as a remote alarm as will trigger an alert if there is movement or vibration. It’s sensitive enough to detect a door opening/closing so will likely register an alert if someone is trying to break into the vehicle. Note, you’ll need disable this before you drive-off to prevent repeated alerts.
- Ad-hoc location request via text for checking on the tracker and battery life.
Fitting/Siting in your vehicle
You’ll want to hide the GPS tracker device in your vehicle. The unit is small and has a magnetic base but I wont go into detail over where you may fit it for obvious reasons. The fact that it has its own power gives you more flexibiliy on where you place it, though remember it still needs to receive GPS and GSM mobile signals.
I’m rather happy with the TK905 GPS tracker. It’s easy to set-up and use, offers a free app and for £40 to buy and less than £10 a year on a SIM card I have additional peace of mind and another layer of security over and above my current alarm/immobiliser. I’m not sure the battery will really last the claimed 90 days (more likely a month or more if you don’t use the app and it’s in sleep mode) but thats ample for my needs.
If I’d bought a brand new motorhome then I would likely fit a professional alarm/tracker, or be mandated to for insurance purposes. But for many people a cheap TK905 GPS tracker or similar is absolutely a viable and worthwhile option, for both peace of mind and greater chance of recovering your pride and joy should you be unfortunate enough to have it stolen.
As for the naysayers who’ll chime in with ‘but trackers can be blocked’, well it’s a bit like saying don’t bother locking your vehicle as locks can be picked/forced. And the fact that many vans are stolen then parked up for a few days suggests those thieves are not using blockers. A tracker won’t stop your van/motorhome being stolen, but a cheap TK905 GPS tracker may increase your chances of it being recovered.
If you’re interested in purchasing one or read more user reviews click on the Amazon link below.
*As an Amazon Associate I may earn commission from qualifying purchases
Below I’ve detailed step-by-step instructions for setting up a TKSTAR GPS tracker and SIM card.
Setting up the SIM Card
- Activate SIM card – If you’ve picked up a new PAYG SIM card for your device then first you’ll need to activate the SIM card. This usually involves dialling a number to the mobile operator so you’ll need to put the SIM into a mobile phone for the initial set-up. NB. I had to dig out an old mobile as my current mobile is locked to O2, so bear this in mind.
- Add Credit – For Asda Mobile you dial 2732 and follow-options for registering your SIM card where you can register debit/credit card. I then added £5 credit. Send BAL to 2732 to check your credit balance.
- Disable Voicemail – I’d also suggest that you disable voicemail at this stage. This is because of one the options to trigger a location alert is to dial the tracker – the device answers, disconnects and then sends you a SMS text message with its location. Some users have experienced problems when voicemail is active. For Asda Mobile text VMSOFF to 2732 to deactivate voicemail.
You’re now ready to set-up your TK905 GPS Tracker. And don’t forget to make a note of the SIM card’s mobile number – I suggest you save it in your mobile’s address book under GPS Tracker or similar.
Setting up your TK905 GPS Tracker
- Insert SIM card into the TK905 tracker – note it takes a full-size SIM card but adaptors for mini/micro SIM cards are included. The device is turned on/off when a SIM card is inserted/removed.
- Restore factory settings – text begin123456 [reply ‘begin ok’]
- Register an admin number (i.e. your own mobile phone) that the device will respond to. It is possible to register up to 5 numbers. Text admin123456 07xxxxxxxx to the device (where 123456 is the device password and 07xxxxxxx is your own mobile number]). Device will reply [admin ok’].
Note, the default password for the TK905 is 123456 – there is a command to change this if required. Though no-one else would be able to access your tracker without knowing the mobile number of the SIM card.
That’s it – you’re ready for basic operation.
To request a location simply either:
- Dial the GPS Tracker number – it will ring two times and then hang up. A few seconds later you’ll receive a SMS text message with the location details, or
- Text G123456HASH to the tracker – will respond with a text message with the location details
- Use the TKSTAR app (see below)
The TK905 has a number of more advanced modes that can trigger a location alert in different circumstances. It’s these options that turn a reactive device into a proactive monitoring device. For example, the TK905 can alert you if your vehicle starts moving – either by vibration detection, speed detection (over X km/h), or movement by a certain distance.
- SHOCK – sends an alert (“sensor alarm!”) when the device detects vibration (this is sensitive enough to detect if the van starts moving/driving or even if a door is opened/closed). Text “shock123456” to set and text “noshock123456” to cancel
- MOVEMENT – sends an alert (“move alarm!”) if the vehicle moves from a stationary location (vehicle has to be stationary for 3-10 mins before you can set this). Text “move123456” to set and “nomove12356” to cancel
- SPEED – sends an alert (“speed alert!”) when the device exceeds X km/h – so can be used to detect the vehicle moving (its recommended to set to a minimum of 50km/h (30mph) to avoid false alerts from inaccurate locations positioning). Text “speed123456” to set and “nospeed123456” to cancel.
- GPS Mode settings – Real-time (30 sec updates), Power Saving mode (1 hour), Standby mode (12 hour). The different modes also affect the battery-life. I tend to use the low-power modes – I would likely only switch to real-time updates if my van was stolen.
Download the TKSTAR app from Apple or Android app store
You’ll need to send GPRS123456 command to the TK905b to turn on GPRS mobile data
You’ll then need to set the APN details on the tracker device (which tells the device how to connect to the data network). The APN details are specific to your mobile network and can easily be found on the internet.
|Action||Text Message to Send||Device reply|
|Turn on GPRS||Gprs123456||Gprs ok|
|Set APN||Apn123456 apnname||Apn ok|
|Set APN Username||Apnuser123456 username||Apnuser ok|
|Set APN Password||Apnpasswd123456 password||Apnpasswd ok|
For Asda Mobile the APN details are:
On the TKSTAR app login using the IMEI number of your device (the 10 digit number on the rear of the tracker), and the device password (123456 by default).
It’s not the most user-friendly app but it is functional and includes:-
- Real-time tracking show current (or last registered) location
- Historical route allows you to plot a location track and replay it
- Geofence allows you to define geofence around a location. You can save the geo-fence and receive notifications if the device enters or leaves.
- Issue command – allows you to send command settings via the app rather than SMS
- Alarm settings – allows you to define which types of notifications you wish to receive on your phone.
One thing to note is that the tracker can use both GPRS mobile data and SMS channels to communicate. To save battery the different modes can put GPRS mobile data channel to sleep – so you may see that via the app that the tracker appears ‘off-line’. It will either wake itself depending on your setting (e.g. shock/move/speed) but even when its asleep you can still text or dial the tracker and it will respond.