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Ask Slashdot: Inexpensive Anti-Theft Vehicle Tracking System? 296

New submitter Chuckles08 writes "I'm about to complete the purchase of an electric scooter that is worth over $5,000. Since I'll be parking it on a college campus, it will be vulnerable to theft. I'd like to install some kind of tracking device on it but the solutions I've seen so far seem quite expensive. Are there any reasonably priced and effective solutions out there? Ideally, I'd like to be informed by text message if my scooter moves without my knowing. I'd like to then track the scooter's movements." And anything small enough to work for a scooter might be very useful for car owners, too.
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Ask Slashdot: Inexpensive Anti-Theft Vehicle Tracking System?

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  • Easy! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:34PM (#38109304)
    a "Made in the USA" sticker.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:38PM (#38109354)

    You won't find a cheaper way to cover the loss and there is no way to prevent it from being stolen for a reasonable amount of money. As it can be lifted into a truck, taken out and dismantled and any anti=theft system defeated before you can finish reading this response...

    • I tend to agree with this. I always laugh at people wasting time installing 'the club' on their steering wheel. It jsut screams "Im desperate and have no means to recover from losses."
      • by ironjaw33 ( 1645357 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:55PM (#38109496)

        I tend to agree with this. I always laugh at people wasting time installing 'the club' on their steering wheel. It jsut screams "Im desperate and have no means to recover from losses."

        It's not that it's impossible to dismantle such anti-theft systems but that the anti-theft systems provide enough incentive for the thieves to move on and steal the low hanging fruit. Given two identical cars parked next to each other, where one has a club and the other doesn't, which one will the thief steal?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:05PM (#38109568)

          If I'm the thief, the one with the club. Just to prove a point, and to mess with the statistics.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:07PM (#38109584)

          Given two identical cars parked next to each other, where one has a club and the other doesn't, which one will the thief steal?

          The one with the club. It's easier to steal a car with a club than without, as it means the thief does not need to carry around a long pry bar to break the steering wheel lock, as the club will provide the necessary leverage once it has been cut apart with a small hacksaw blade.


          • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

            In addition to this the club signals that the car lacks an alarm.

        • In this case, I'm more inclined to pessimism than usual about the utility of technological anti-theft systems.

          A ~$5k electric scooter is a fairly atypical piece of kit. This isn't a generic "ISO standard bike for getting around campus" or "some massively popular compact car", either of which can disappear or turn into parts even in the hands of a complete n00b; but where getting GPS-tracked or otherwise running into an unexpected security system might discourage/catch a low end opportunistic operator.
        • It's not that it's impossible to dismantle such anti-theft systems but that the anti-theft systems provide enough incentive for the thieves to move on and steal the low hanging fruit. Given two identical cars parked next to each other, where one has a club and the other doesn't, which one will the thief steal?

          Depends on the car... which one's in better condition, and is more likely to have more saleable parts? A good car thief is going to have all the tools he needs to remove the steering wheel, club and all, within a minute or two, and the club itself won't actually serve as much of a discouragement.

          If you want to prevent somebody from stealing your car, get a car that's harder to steal. Subaru, for example, has a very good reputation for not getting stolen, because even back in the 1980's, they were designing

      • I had an amusing encounter recently with two dumb surfers.

        (I don't know if there is a Two Dumb Surfers joke genre', but if not I'm starting one now.But this isn't a joke - it really happened.)

        I was walking through a S. California beach parking lot, and I noticed a nice 50's pickup truck all tricked out. Not quite a "low rider", I guess these are called "cruisers". So, I assumed they were admiring the vehicle.

        As I walked past, one called out to me: "Excuse me, sir, can I ask you a question?" I say sure. "How

      • by tgd ( 2822 )

        I've never seen a club on anything but a total piece of shit that no one would steal, anyway.

        Although I had a coworker who used one so her kid couldn't drive the car.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      You won't find a cheaper way to cover the loss and there is no way to prevent it from being stolen for a reasonable amount of money. As it can be lifted into a truck, taken out and dismantled and any anti=theft system defeated before you can finish reading this response...

      If you can track it on the truck that would be good enough.
      Most thieves will not start tearing it down on site.

      A cheap add on smartphone with a minimal dataplan and a free find-my-phone app or child tracking app would report its last position.
      Permanently wired to the battery and hidden under a plastic part (seat) it would likely survive long enough to provide a location of the
      chop shop it was taken too.

      I rather suspect it is the casual thief might (as opposed to the professional) might never discover such a

      • by taskiss ( 94652 )

        You won't need a data plan, just have it attach to every free wi-fi net it can and check a mail account for a message like "where are you?", and when it sees that, reply with gps coordinates.

        • You won't need a data plan, just have it attach to every free wi-fi net it can and check a mail account for a message like "where are you?", and when it sees that, reply with gps coordinates.

          I looked into the find-my-android type of apps for both ipod and android. They all depend on SMS texts for their communications and won't use wi-fi. If you phone is subscribed to some service that records the IP (ddns,org, or maybe a web server you own) that the IP info might be traceable.

      • I think if you got a pay-as-you-go phone plan with SMS, you could SMS the device when it's gone missing and it could reply with gps coordinates in response. Then you don't have to pay the monthly nut for data plan service? Not sure how pay-as-you-go works, but I think the minutes/service expires every few months but still cheaper than a monthly data plan..

        That said, for a $5k bike, I wonder if theft insurance (not accident insurance/injury, which is much more expensive) would be cheaper than either of these

    • I came here to say the same thing.

      A tracking system is going to be spendy and probably useless. Do you really think the cops are going to make recovering your scooter a high priority? Do you really think you're going to go all Internet Tough Guy and break into someone's garage to get it back? (Remember, you just admitted to being a Scooter Guy so we all know that won't happen.)

      Just insure it against theft. If it gets stolen, you should have the money for a replacement within a week. The deductible will

  • choose pink (Score:5, Funny)

    by GreatDrok ( 684119 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:39PM (#38109364) Journal

    Noone is going to steal a pink electric scooter. Maybe put some flower stickers on it.

  • No good for car (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:39PM (#38109368)
    If your car was stolen, you don't want it back. Trust me.
    • As with most things, it depends. My parents' Neon was stolen in '98 and taken for a joyride, but otherwise left intact and unmolested except the ignition had to be replaced, and we used it another 10 years afterwards. My brother's car was also stolen, but after being recovered it was fine until he sold it.

      Don't know how "creative" the thieves were who stole your car, but it certainly doesn't apply to thefts everywhere.

  • Buy a dog. (Score:5, Funny)

    by apparently ( 756613 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:40PM (#38109374)
    It is a known fact that burglars skip over houses that have dogs in them in favor of houses without dogs. The same should hold for your scooter. As an added benefit, if you pick the right breed, the coolness of the dog will balance-out the total uncoolness of the scooter and you might still have a chance at getting laid.
  • lojack (Score:5, Informative)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:41PM (#38109388)

    Chances are that the insurance company will pick up a significant portion of the tab to have the vehicle lojaced. I was looking into it when I was going to buy a motorcycle and the cost after insurance company rebate and discount makes it quite inexpensive. Plus they have a good record for recovery and ever car that's lojaced increases the likelihood that a vehicle thief is going to be caught red handed and sent to prison.

    • Re:lojack (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:07PM (#38109586)

      I have used LoJack [] on my car for about 15 years now. One benefit of LoJack is that there is no recurring fee (other than battery check / replacement), and it is supported by most law enforcement agencies.

      The disadvantage of LoJack for something like $400 vs a DIY thing for $200ish (all told after you pay for EVERYTHING related to it) is that you can't play with it and do your own location of your scooter when it isn't really stolen.

      If you value the play factor, you might consider getting one of the GPS kid tracking cell phones, but monthly fees will get you up to over $400 before you finish 4 years of school, even for the cheapest of cell phones.

      If you want to go full nerd on it, you can get a HAM foxhunt type solution with or without GPS. If you're honest about what you spend on such a setup, you'll be far above the cost of a LoJack which is essentially the fox transmitter, with the local Police picking up the tab on the hound locator/receiver for you.

  • by craftycoder ( 1851452 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:44PM (#38109400)

    Building one for $130 would be easy enough. You would have to pay a monthly for cell service though.
    An Arduino, a voltage regulator, a GPS module, and a GSM module would be the essential parts. Stick them in a weatherproof enclosure and conceal it on the scoot. You would be good to go. You would need to write a little code to get it to squawk its location to a webserver somewhere so in case it was stolen you'd know where it was hiding. I'm not sure how much the retail version are but I'd bet they are similarly priced. Economies of scale are a bitch.

    • by Stevecrox ( 962208 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:06PM (#38109576) Journal
      Wouldn't it be simpler to get an old Symbian phone and write an app?

      A Nokia N95 has GPS and it very low power compared to modern phones (week between charges), you get a cigarette charger hooked up to the battery to keep it charged and then write an application that listens for text messages. Upon recent of the text message he phone would text/email it's number. Then all you would need is a water proof case and a pay as you go sim card.

      A quick check on ebay shows them going for £40. I'm getting a Honda CBR 600 RR next week I might do this.
    • by Zadaz ( 950521 )

      Yes, but there is really nowhere to conceal anything on an electric bike.

      If you're spending $5K on the bike spend another $200 on a very good bike lock and use it. The current crop of electric bikes are hilariously ugly and heavy. No one is going to steal one on a lark, and you're not going to be able to stop a professional thief with a lojack.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      If you can add a phone to your cell plan and pay cell service, why in hell would you want to build something?
      The phone companies will GIVE you an entry level smart phone and there is an APP for that.

  • GPS Tracker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:44PM (#38109406)

    Instamapper provides a tutorial for a pretty cheap tracking option. It is basically free, except for the hardware cost ($35 or so) and the data cost (10/month so so). You may need to worry about weather-proofing but that could probably be taken care of with a zip lock bag. Check it out, this may be exactly what you are looking for.

  • by ldm ( 676254 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:45PM (#38109412)
    Find a Xexun TK-102 on ebay, they will report back their position via the mobile network (you supply a SIM card, and can send it a request for the current position, it will text you back). You can get large extended battery packs too, or you could wire it into the bike's power. They work well enough for us to track drivers at work. Just make sure you get a genuine Xexun one, the others are less reliable and tend to lie about their position, in my case being offset by about 4 miles. There are separate car sized ones, but I have not used them.
  • There are GPS trackers that incorporate a GPRS (or similar) uploading function. Some of these are smaller than a pack of cigarettes and contain a backup battery (in case the thief figures that disconnecting the primary battery will disable any alarm).

    These will report in continuously (any time the tracker changes location), so you'll have to either turn it off or filter the messages in the event of authorized use.

    The down side is that you will have to pay for a wireless plan that supports this minimal com

  • Child GPS locator (Score:4, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:51PM (#38109456)
    How about one of the GPS kid locators? I despise them for tracking your kid, but for your scoot? Maybe. I've seen some for $200 or so. Mount it on the bike somewhere hidden...reports back to your smartphone.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    less than 30 euro

    the downside: chineese documentation

    • Don't worry, there's help: "Using Google Docs to do OCR of the manual, and then Google Translator to translate the manual to English, here are the results []."

      Awesome features, too, like coma dialing: "Set voice messages to send QA1 start monitoring, live sound that coma dial your phone."

      The actual downside: "positioning will work only in China, using ChinaMobile network."

    • DealExtreme have quite a few options [] to choose from. You put a SIM card in them with a data plan and they send their GPS location to an IP address of your choosing at a set interval.

      For personal use you can point the device to the servers at []. They can show you the real time location and history on Google Maps, you can set up a geofence alert (tells you when the device leaves certain boundaries), etc.

      One member created an Android app [] to make configuration easier for a particular model (

  • Garmin GTU-10 (Score:5, Informative)

    by pem ( 1013437 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:54PM (#38109480)
    I have two, on things I don't want to get lost.

    Garmin has two plans. The simple one lets you draw virtual fences around where it's OK for the thing to be, and alerts you when it leaves the area, and also lets you poll for location at any time.

    The more full-featured plan (basically $10/month) also will automagically poll and keep history, so you at least know where the thing was when the thieves realized that it had a GPS tracker on it and ripped the thing off.

    I built a little 12v -> 5v converter for the one of these I have on a device that has a battery, and hooked it in permanently, so every time the main device is switched on, the GPS's battery gets recharged.

  • by mrbester ( 200927 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:54PM (#38109486) Homepage
    Become a person of interest to the FBI and they'll track you with their superior equipment free of charge.
  • FBI (Score:5, Funny)

    by codegen ( 103601 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:55PM (#38109492) Journal
    Get yourself on the terrorist watch list. The FBI will install one free of charge.
  • by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:57PM (#38109504) Homepage Journal

    Get a ham license, an old 2m handheld and a GPS puck. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @01:59PM (#38109516)

    Unfortunately that may collide with the goal of low-cost.

    There's been plenty of reports about people using their home-made tracking systems and getting zero interest from the police. You should go for one that has proven to have credibility with the police (which basically means a brand name and existing relationship that the company has invested in to build).

    Alternatively, if you go for a home-made one, it might work because a scooter is big enough not to hide easily. In that case if it's ever stolen you should NOT call up the police and say you have a homemade tracking device - rather just track it down yourself, and when you see it parked somewhere, call up the police and say you randomly spotted it and is absolutely sure it is yours.

  • While you could... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    While you *could* get a method to track your now stolen scooter, what is the point? Are you seriously gonna retrieve it yourself? Dangerous. Get the police to do it by giving them the data? Difficult as that still requires the police getting a search warrant on probably cause assuming the police would cooperate with you.

    Either way, it's an expensive solution that creates alot of hassle if it does get stolen. Quite simply, insurance is your best bet. The relatively low cost and reliability is much better. Yo

    • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @03:43PM (#38110216) Homepage

      The world has evolved to the point where crime is considered to be just a cost of doing business. There are criminals and there are victims, and that is pretty much the way of it. The police aren't terribly interested in non-violent crime, especially when it is something that can easily and cheaply be replaced. There is way, way too much violent crime for them to spend a lot of effort on stolen stuff.

      Also, this is a significant way for people to gain access to things they otherwise would not be able to afford. Once someone figures out there are few real consequences to stealing there are a lot of opportunities out there. Grab something and the chances are the original owner (or shopkeeper) is just going to (a) write off the loss on their income taxes and (b) get reimbursed by the insurance company.

      The one aspect of tracking down a thief is that sometimes they are very protective of their lifestyle. You aren't going to be able to convince the police that you have successfully tracked down "your" thief and there is little proof from standing around looking that a particular item is in fact yours. You want to risk being branded as a thief by trying to read the serial number off some hard-to-see spot on someone else's scooter? Should you successfully find your former scooter are you ready to confront the new owner mano-a-mano? Consider they may be armed - are you going to be? And if armed, are you ready and willing to use deadly force to recover your scooter if the new owner is ready and willing to use deadly force to prevent you from taking it? If not, it is best to forget about recovery.

      Insurance is the new way to deal with such involuntary wealth transfers, at least for affluent people. If you are poor, you wouldn't be buying good stuff anyway. If you think you can't afford the insurance but can afford the scooter, you might want to consider what lengths you are willing to go to over your property.

  • It occurs to me that you could get a really cheap ("free") smartphone with GPS (not a Samsung, their GPS is crap), hide it somewhere on the vehicle (where it can still get signal) and track it with Latitude. Dunno what to do about notification. There's probably an app for that.

  • Sounds like a job for the Sparkfun UberTracker []! It grabs GPS coordinates and sends them out via email using the cell network. It polls the GPS at a programmable interval (as much as once per minute or as little as once per day). Not sure if it can be programmed to start sending coordinates upon being moved though, so you may have to just activate it whenever you park the vehicle. Total cost: $325 + shipping.

  • []
    I don't have one, as I'm holding off to see what my new job's commute will be like, but it looks pretty interesting to me anyway.

    • by xaxa ( 988988 ) []
      I don't have one, as I'm holding off to see what my new job's commute will be like, but it looks pretty interesting to me anyway.

      That has a pretty limited range. A normal electric bicycle at least lets you pedal if you decide to go further than you have charge for.

      • by rthille ( 8526 )

        Yeah, though you can gang extra battery packs onto them. It doesn't have that high a top speed either, and I'd probably be faster on my (pedal) bike, but would arrive all sweaty.

  • Just buy a few suspicious chemicals and/or read some carefully selected books at the library and they will tag your vehicle for tracking for you. Just check it periodically for modifications, remove it, re-purpose it and you're done.

  • A tracking device will only help aid in recovery *after* theft, it won't prevent the theft in the first place.

    Since you already likely have to carry some sort of insurance, it's cheaper to just ensure you have coverage for theft, ensure that the front wheel is locked, and keep the make / model / VIN / photo / insurance info handy in case you ever have to make a police report.

    I'm speaking from experience, my scooter was stolen a few years ago -- Vespa LX-150. The insurance company cut a check, I bought a new

    • ...less any policy excess, then you got raped on all insurance policies on all vehicles because you suffered a theft, the thief was free to steal again, and some chump bought a stolen bike. Insurance is the very last line of defence.
  • Just buy a minivan and lock your scooter in it once you arrive at your destination.

  • If it were me, I'd replace the $5000 scooter with a $500 bike and a $20 u-lock. Replace it when it gets stolen.

    • Better uses for $5000, so get a crapo bike or scooter off Craigs List.

      They will steal a wheel anyway if they need a tire.

      In fact buy 2 off Crags List.

  • by amanicdroid ( 1822516 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @02:44PM (#38109840)
    Have you considered a giant ball of yarn? Tie one end to a pole and the other to a fender. If the bike gets jacked just follow the string.
  • and hidden, a cheap prepaid cellphone with GPS tracking turned on should do the trick. P.I.s use them to track surveillance subjects all the time. Just be sure to turn the ringer off.
  • Next to a straightforward disk lock or chain, generally considered the best and most cost-effective "in event of theft" option amongst the motorcyclists I regularly converse with.

  • "Keep track of your valuables with the universal A-GPS locator from Zoombak." [] $100 plus T-Mobile service fee. Check T-Mobile coverage.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @03:15PM (#38110060) Homepage

    Of you can afford to waste $5000 on a electric scooter then you can afford to pay insurance on it and let it get lifted and then replace it.

    a $800.00 used 250cc-500cc motorcycle will do far, far, FAR more than what this scooter can and still get 100+mpg. Plus you wont look dorky and it wont get stolen. A ninja 250 sportbike is dirt cheap even brand new, less than $4500.00 if you find an honest kawasaki dealer. Plus it has enough power to put a set of givi saddlebags on it so you can carry a LOT of stuff.

    Can you get your money back on the electric toy scooter?

    • Yeah, I was going to say this too. I'd go, though, for a Suzuki GS500 (40-60mpg). That's a great beginner bike, with plenty of power and pretty easy handling. I'd say any bike of around 500cc is a good started. The 250s just don't have the oomph that's handy for brief periods on the interstate or on busy highways. Yet a 500 is generally still light enough to maneuver into tight parking, etc. Scooters aren't the best investment for two-wheeled transport; they're underpowered and over-priced. That said, the f
  • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @03:16PM (#38110064)
    An insurance policy that covers theft and vandalism is your better bet, especially on a college campus.
  • Then tie it to your pit bull
    Wire it to your Tasser
    Plant an IED in it
    Take off the muffler
    Wrap it in 30' of 13/16" continuous length XIP IWRC wire rope and 18-pound Kryptonite lock
    Leave it parked in the most public place, climb a nearby tower with a sniper rifle, and pick off the first five people who try to take it.

    Word will get around.
  • first, steal someone else's scooter. use it as long as you can. then, when 'yours' eventually gets stolen, its just the universe keeping parity. you won't feel so bad. maybe it was someone just like you!

    (what? like, your idea is better.)

    there's no way to protect stuff anymore. alarms, etc, don't work. if you live or work in a bad area, that's just how it is. don't own nice things - or don't get attached to them. when I lived in boston, my car got broken into almost once a year for all the years I w

  • an electric scooter that is worth over $5,000

    Why? For $5,000 you could buy a bike that will last the rest of your life, buy it a lojack, you'd combine some daily exercise with your commute, and you might even have some money left over.

    Unless your commute isn't safe on a bicycle or you live well over 10 miles from campus I can't imagine any good reason to buy a scooter, other than as an eco-hipster penis extension.

    And come to think of it, a commute of more than ten miles and/or not safe on a bicycle wouldn't be much more pleasant on a scooter...

  • Buy a used iPod Touch (under $100 USD) and wire it to charge off of the scooters battery, then you can use "Find My iPod" service if the scooter is ever stolen.

    Just hide the iPod someplace it is not likely to be found right away.

    • Buy a used iPod Touch (under $100 USD) and wire it to charge off of the scooters battery, then you can use "Find My iPod" service if the scooter is ever stolen.

      Which will work great if the thieves haven't left your house yet. I'm pretty sure no model of iPod Touch has more than WiFi for networking, nor do any of them have GPS function that isn't tied to said WiFi, nor will they even acquire an unknown WiFi network without user input. All which would make them completely useless as a tracking device.

  • Surprised to see noone has opted the easiest solution yet!

    Make some random calls to people in Saudi Arabia, Soedan, Ethiopia, etc.
    Make sure to mention words like bomb, white house, infidel, plane etc etc.

    If some one steals your bike, just call the FBI and ask them where it is.


  • One method - and kinda fun too - get your Technician class ham license and setup an APRS tracker. Hams have been doing this since when, 1998 or so. It's pretty much 'ancient' tech. But robust as all get-out. Not only can you track your scooter - but you can do other things too. Better part? Once you've got it up and running - no air charges. [] []

"Open the pod bay doors, HAL." -- Dave Bowman, 2001