DIY Friday: Build Your Own Stolen Vehicle Tracker

You may have heard about OnStar’s anti-theft device:

What happens is this — if you report your car as stolen, you can then call OnStar and have them work with law enforcement to use the car’s GPS system to find where your vehicle’s located. OnStar will then have the police make visual contact with your vehicle and once they’ve determined it’s safe to do it, will shut down the drivers ability to manually control acceleration. Basically, they shut down the accelerator, causing the vehicle to coast to an idle speed — but not causing the driver to lose steering or braking control. At the point in which the vehicle comes to a stop (or close to it — idle speed) — the police can then apprehend the "perp.

For those of you without OnStar, there are stand-alone alternatives, such as LoJack and Inilex. While neither of these will physically slow down a vehicle (think how different the OJ chase scene would have been if OnStar had been around then!), they can be used effectively for theft recovery.

But here’s the Catch-22. With the economy in a slowdown, crime is up. But with the economy in a slowdown, your cash is down. 

What do do? DIY.


The DIY SPY has a "Retro GPS tracker which, when combined with their tracking software, can be used to determine where a vehicle has travelled. Unfortunately, it appears you have to retrieve the unit to download the data, which makes it less than ideal for recovering stolen vehicles, but not a bad item to have in any modern PI’s bag of tricks.

If you want to go even cheaper, you can build your own "Ghetto Lojack" for $30 by picking up a cheap boost mobile phone at Target and combining it with the Mologogo website, which we first blogged about here.

If you’ve got the dough, and the REI outfit to match it, you could always get a SPOT personal locator beacon (with their great slogan: "live to tell about it") for $170.

Need more info? Detailed instructions for a Smart Car Surveillance System using a mobile phone can be found here; and here’s an open-source solution for your iPhone or laptop.