3 March 2000

Trackers on the trail

Youve probably read about

them, been told about them,

but how do vehicle tracking

systems work – indeed, do

they? Andy Collings

attended a demonstration to

find out more

TAKE this scenario: You stroll into the machinery shed one morning to discover your valued ATV is absent – its been nicked.

"Oh, not again!" you exclaim. But, yes, even after all your concerted efforts to prevent its theft – bolting it to the floor, clamping the wheels, putting the dogs kennel by it – your ATV has been stolen, yet again.

This time, though, you feel there is a chance for its recovery for, concealed somewhere among the cowling of your ATV, is a Tracker system.

You return to the office and make a phone call to the security systems head office and give them the details of your stolen ATV. The company activates the ATVs tracking device, which then proceeds to transmit an inaudible signal – a signal which can only be detected by a suitably equipped police car or police helicopter.

As luck would have it on this day, a patrolling police car detects the signal and, by using directional radio, is able to home in on the unsuspecting thiefs premises.

By lunchtime, your ATV is returned to you and the thief is behind bars. Job done.

"OK," you say, "But is this fact or fiction?"

Honda ATV main agent, Stowmarket-based Fieldens, believes such systems can provide its customers with a good chance of seeing their machines again should the worst happen, and is now offering the Tracker system as an option.

"Over 300 ATVs are stolen from farms each year – about 5% of annual sales," says sales manager, David Williams. "The vast majority are never recovered and even if they are, identifying the owner of a particular machine is difficult – thieves tend to destroy chassis numbers."

Mr Williams adds that with such an alarming "epidemic" of ATV thefts, some customers are now reluctant to buy replacement machines. "They just think it will happen again – what ever precautions they take," he says.

The Tracker unit is fitted by Fieldens to the ATV in a concealed part of the machine. Power is drawn from the ATVs battery but, should the battery be disconnected by a thief, the unit will still continue to transmit.

"The unit uses a very small amount of electricity," he says. "But even so, we recommend that ATVs are operated for at least an hour a week to keep the battery charged."

Once activated – the Tracker system uses a UK-wide network of high power transmitters to do this – the signal from the ATV can be received at ground level at distances of up to seven miles. From the air, this distance is extended to over 20 miles.

"We can tell which area the ATV is in initially by knowing which transmitter was used to activate it," says Mr Williams. "From then on it is use of police vehicles or helicopters that pinpoint its exact location."

In Suffolk, where the system was demonstrated last week, the Bury St Edmunds traffic division has the vast majority of its cars fitted with the Tracker identification system as do the UKs other 51 constabularies.

A display unit mounted on a patrol cars dashboard informs the officer which direction to take, while the strength of the signal determines how close the stolen ATV is.

Traffic policeman, Ian Playle concedes that without good local knowledge of roads, it is not an easy task to home in on an ATV emitting a signal, particularly in built-up areas where signals can be distorted. "The ideal situation is to have two or three cars – or even a helicopter – working together to provide some triangulation," he says. He points out that the Tracker system is also used extensively in cars, vans and lorries; to date, 4500 vehicles have been recovered using the system.

"And there is often the bonus of discovering a whole range of stolen vehicles when a thiefs premises has been located," he adds.

So, what does it cost to have a system which could help to ensure a stolen ATV is recovered?

There are two methods of buying Tracker. One is to pay £250 for the unit plus a fitting charge of £120, and then an annual fee of £84.25. The second is to pay the £120 fitting charge and a one-off charge of £504.46 which avoids any annual fees for the lifetime of the ATV. Units cannot, says Fieldens, be removed from old machines and refitted to new ones – each ATV has its own identity.

Tracker also receives the support of the NFU, which is prepared to reduce insurance premiums by up to 20% for ATVs equipped with such a system. &#42

Its a fair cop. PC Ian Playle moves in having pinpointed the whereabouts of the "stolen" ATV.

In-car detection system for the Tracker. The circular dial indicates direction, and the strength of the signal is recorded on the vertical display at the right of the unit.