Seven GPS trackers on test

There is nothing more annoying and upsetting than finding your tractor, handler, stock trailer or ATV has been nicked. However technology, in the form of GPS trackers, has come galloping to the farmer’s aid.

In the past, the exact location of a stolen vehicle was generally anyone’s guess.

Now, once a machine has been stolen, a concealed tracking device about the size of a paperback will start beaming back its location.

This could be because the owner spotted the theft and switched on the tracker remotely. Or because the unit itself has detected that it is moving. Or even because it has strayed outside its geofence – an electronic perimeter that you set up yourself.

These units can work to an accuracy of 5-30m and, if well installed, are moderately hard for thieves to spot. And some set-ups can track stolen items even if they are hidden in a shipping container.

Some GPS tracker units can be fitted by the farmer, others are installed by the firm you’ve bought the tracker from. Some are battery powered, others use the vehicle’s own electrical supply.

Equally, you can choose to manage the recovery yourself or get a tracker firm to do the whole thing for you.

Either way, you will get a text to tell you the machine has moved and many units will let you see exactly where your vehicle is on a computer or smartphone screen. Moreover some of the systems include a telematics function that shows where the vehicle has travelled in the past 24 hours, its engine hours and speed.

That means you can look on your computer screen and see exactly how much of Long Field Bert has ploughed.

You can also keep an eye on the whereabouts of younger (or older) family members who may be otherwise hard to pin down.

The test

We fitted seven different GPS tracker systems on a Deutz-Fahr Agrofarm 100 tractor on a farm in Warwickshire. Most were installed by the company’s own fitters, but Farmers Weekly staff put on a couple of the self-fit models.

We then hid what must be Britain’s most-monitored tractor in a barn at the other end of the farm. Access is solely via fields and muddy farm tracks, so it seemed like a pretty good approximation of where a thief might hide a tractor or 4×4.

We tried each of the tracking systems in turn, first by using each key feature one-by-one, such as setting the geofence, the time parameters, and the various methods of establishing contact, via email or via text message. For the call-centre-linked models such as the Tracker and the MTrack, this meant triggering the “stolen” feature to monitor how this would work in practice.

For the Kramp Farm Alert, the Agri-Track, the Visionaire and the TractorGuard, this was a farm-office-based exercise, using either the link that came through via email or text to determine the position either using the tracker’s online mapping or typing the co-ordinates into Google to pinpoint the position of the vehicle.

All the systems found the tractor without too much trouble; the main difference revolved around the features provided. Here is our verdict on the seven test models:

MTrack

Power: Battery (life: five years – when set to wake-up every 12 hours)

Notification: Call centre 24/7 monitoring and alerts up to four phone numbers. The company says it aims to get an agent to you within two hours to recover the vehicle.

Fitting: Self-fit.

Geofence? Yes.

Telematics? Yes.

Insurance discount: The MTrack is the only battery-powered unit to be Thatcham approved, and gets a 12.5% discount from the NFU Mutual.

Cost: £285 for the wireless version, £325 for the wired one. Annual subscription £108.

Contact: 01329 663 812, www.mtrackonline.co.uk

Features: The MTrack is an off-the-shelf product designed to be interchangeable between vehicles or machines.

It claims to give the simplicity of a self-fit device with the backup of an established call-centre used to dealing with recovering stolen vehicles. The unit can be armed in various ways, but the simplest is to use the straightforward key fob. The unit also “checks-in” every 12 hours (this can be altered) to make sure it hasn’t been moved.

Up to four contacts can be listed and each is phoned or texted in turn, should the alarm be triggered.

The unit continues to track until it has been recovered and, should the vehicle be loaded into something such as a container, that’s when the RF location tracking facility comes into its own.

Verdict: Straightforward and easy to use, the MTrack is designed for those who want call-centre backup alongside something they can use on multiple machines without the hassle of rewiring.

Arming remote
Several units have a useful key fob that automatically activates when you get within a certain.

Agri-Track Sentinel

Power: Hard-wired into tractor.

Fitting: Installed by Agri-Track.

Notification: Text, email and phone call to owners.

Geofence? Yes, able to set exact fence of farm.

Telematics? Yes.

Insurance discount? Check with your insurance adviser.

Cost: £495, then £199 annual subscription.

Contact: 0845 467 7128, www.agri-track.co.uk

Features: Sentinel allows owners to track equipment in real time and promises accuracy of up to 1m. It can also be bespoke-designed to suit your farming system, so if you don’t need certain features you can specify what you do need.

Like Farm Alert and Visionaire, if the vehicle is stolen or moved out of hours the owner receives a text or email with the exact location of the machine and continues tracking it until it’s reset. Telematics data is also stored and things such as geofences and time limits are all set via the online software.

Verdict: Although expensive, this is a bespoke tracker designed to deliver what you want from your tracker and fleet management tool. It also uses sophisticated map software that allows you to set exact geofences round your farm.

Emily Padfield fits a GPS tracker
Some of the units are fitted by the tracker companies, others are self-fitted.

Tracker Plant

Power: Hard-wired into tractor.

Fitting: Installed by Tracker-approved specialists.

Notification: Call centre and Tracker will contact you to alert you of the theft.

Geofence? Yes.

Telematics? Yes.

Insurance discount? Thatcham-approved, and attracts a 12.5% discount from the NFU Mutual.

Cost: Installation £385 plus annual sub of £160.85.

Contact: 0845 602 2356, www.tracker.co.uk

Features: Tracker Plant is the top-of the-range offering from Tracker and uses GPS as well as VHF to locate stolen equipment, a little like the MTrack’s RF locator. However, Tracker is the only manufacturer to have a network of receivers, plus locating devices in police cars and the Plant model is also able to provide a whole list of fleet management options.

Verdict: Perhaps the best-known name in tracking, Tracker has branched out to offer a sophisticated fleet management tool as well as a police-supported network to track down stolen machinery.

But if it’s purely security you’re after – go for the cheaper Tracker Retrieve option.

GPS tracker unit
Careful siting of the unit is important if it is not to be easily found by a thief.

Carrotech Visionaire

Power: Hard-wired into tractor.

Fitting: Install it yourself; using the wiring diagram, or use a registered fitter.

Notification: Self-managed from the farm via a web-based interface.

Geofence? Yes.

Telematics? Yes.

Insurance discount: Contact your insurance adviser.

Cost: £250 one-off fee; £66 a year for data SIM card, which includes 5MB data a month and 10 texts. After the 10 texts, cost is 8p a text. Customers can use own SIM card if they wish.

Contact: 0845 557 5594, www.visionairegps.co.uk

Features: The Visionaire tracker unit wakes up and alerts the owner when the ignition is turned on. Likewise, if the vehicle is towed or moves out of a geofence.

The system can be armed using several different methods, including a rocker/key switch fitted to the tractor, a key fob or time and location settings. It also offers a telematics service, which enables owners to monitor things such as engine hours, ignition on and off times, speed and real-time position status.

It’s also possible to set remote immobilisation on certain vehicles, if the unit has been hard-wired into the ignition system.

Verdict: This is a good all-round device that allows you to keep an eye on where your machine is and how it’s being used. The security settings are thorough and the interface is easy to use.

Visionaire tracker screen
Visionaire like some other units shows where the vehicle has been over the past few hours or days.

Kramp Farm Alert and Standalone

Power: Farm Alert is hard-wired and Standalone is battery powered (five years in standby mode).

Fitting: Self-fit or local dealer. Transferable.

Notification: Self-managed from the farm.

Geofence? Yes, set using boxes drawn on the website.

Telematics? Yes, on Farmfleet.

Insurance discount? Depends on your local insurance broker.

Cost: £395 for Standalone, Farm Alert and Farm Fleet. The Farm Fleet offers telematics-type options and costs up to £1 a week to use. No sub for Standalone and Farm Alert.

Contact: 01767 602 602, www.kramp.com

Features: The Farm Alert tracker starts tracking automatically if the vehicle moves out of the timed periods or if it moves outside the geofence. Once it’s tracking, it’s possible to interact by text from your mobile.

It’s also possible to have an immobiliser fitted to the device that can be hard-wired into the fuel valve or forward/reverse shuttle. You can arm the geofence remotely by texting “fe” to the number of the SIM card. The Farm Fleet unit offers telematics-type functions such as engine hours, speed, position and ground covered.

The Standalone and Farm Alert unit is completely transferable between vehicles, and for the purpose of the test we fitted the former to an Ifor Williams stock trailer. It comes with a key fob that automatically activates if you are within 10m of the unit and the unit automatically alerts if it leaves the area or is moved outside a set time period.

Verdict: Having tested both the hard-wired and battery-powered versions of the Farm Alert, we were impressed by the level of detail available for fleet management. We also liked the accuracy of the Standalone unit and the fact that it’s so easy to fit to trailers.

TractorGuard Tracker

Power: Hard-wired.

Fitting: Self-fit or local dealer.

Notification: Only by text.

Geofence? No.

Telematics? No.

Insurance discount? Depends on your local insurance adviser.

Cost: Full kit, including pay-as-you-go SIM card costs £299+VAT. No sub.

Contact: 07815 796 643, www.tractorguard.co.uk

Features: To locate your machine, simply text it with a command and it will send a return text with longitude and latitude that you can either look up on an OS map or online using any search engine. It’s also possible to immobilise the vehicle, be it quad or tractor, as long as the tracker has been wired to include the ignition.

By texting “stop” the vehicle is immobilised and by texting “start” it’s in work mode once again. A movement sensor within the tracker box alerts the owner if the machine is moved without the ignition on (for example a quad that’s being put on a trailer). And, should the quad or tractor turn over, a tilt sensor texts the owner.

Verdict: We found the Tractor Guard unit very simple to use and ideal for quad and utility vehicles. A great feature is being able to remotely immobilise vehicles should you want to without having to log on to a computer. It’s also good value.

Police officer comes up trumps in our tractor tracker challenge

We were curious as to how Tracker’s VHF system worked in practice. Tracker is the only company to have a VHF system and a network of receivers, and it is the only one that involves equipment fitted into police cars.

PC Pete Hayes from Greys Mallory Traffic Base at nearby Warwick was happy to take up our challenge to find the Deutz-Fahr tractor that we had hidden in a barn at the other side of the farm.

Under normal circumstances, the tip-off that a Tracker-equipped car had been stolen would have come first from the company’s network of aerials on TV masts.

Triangulating in on two or three of these can get the local police force to within three to seven miles of the vehicle; however, we were able to skip that bit by getting PC Hayes near (but not that near) to it.

“We have four aerials on the roof of the car,” he says. “Plus a compass and signal strength bar on a display in the police car. You basically circle around where you think the vehicle is until you’re sure.”

Having to find a tractor that was hidden in the middle of farmland sounded like it would be a relatively tough task for a two-wheel drive car driven by someone who didn’t know the area in that much detail. To start with, we had one or two fruitless trips down farm tracks but had to turn back because the car could go no further.

But by the time PC Hayes had done his full circle, he had a good idea of where the tractor was and was able to head down a track and find it lurking in an old brick barn. Time taken was about 30 minutes and probably would have been less had he known the locality.

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