CarLock has been present on the market since 2014 and is specifically focused on providing vehicle security and protection service.
Over the years, the core product development has seen many challenges and major improvements while the brand has gained trust among the existing and potential customers. To demonstrate how the CarLock GPS car tracker has evolved over time and what its benefits compared to other car security-related products on the market are, the CarLock team decided to create a special subpage with an article revealing an in-depth story behind the brand.
The first part describes the existing car security solutions available when CarLock entered the connected car security market, outlining their main disadvantages and shortcomings that contributed to the development of a more advanced and reliable car security solution.
The second part addresses the most popular car theft practices and demonstrates how the CarLock GPS car tracker helps its users react promptly in the event of any modern-day car theft cases.
The final section is dedicated specifically to the car tracker development and its improvements over the span of 5 years.
1 ANTI-THEFT SOLUTIONS BEFORE CARLOCK GPS CAR TRACKER
1.1. STEERING WHEEL LOCK
The steering wheel lock functions as a visible theft deterrent system. Fixed on the steering wheel, it immobilizes its movement and prevents the possibility of the car being stolen. The tool usually includes a physical key for the system to lock. However, some locks can also be digitally coded.
Most steering wheel locks are brightly colored, which increases their visibility and prevents possible break-ins. As the system comes big in size, it is generally hard to break while it’s almost impossible to remove it without noise.
Despite its numerous benefits, this solution also has several disadvantages. Since it only disables the car from being manipulated via the steering wheel, it does not prevent the possibility of towing the car away. Furthermore, the installation often takes time and so does the removal. Also, not every company provides universal products, which requires time to find the right fit for a certain vehicle brand.
1.2. CAR ALARM
A car alarm is an electronic system installed in a vehicle, serving as a theft-deterrent and preventing unauthorized access into a vehicle. The most basic version of a car alarm combines at least three main components: a sensor, a siren, and a control unit. Sensors are installed in various parts of a vehicle and are activated by any vibrations and movements sensed on or inside the vehicle. Once the unusual movement is detected, sensors activate a siren, a noise-making feature. Many modern-day alarms come in a variety of more sophisticated forms and are equipped with advanced features such as a mobile notification system that provides notifications in the event of a theft-attempt.
The worrying aspect regarding car alarms, however, is the fact that people are becoming immune to car alarm noises due to a rising number of false alarms activated on a daily basis. This is especially the case in highly populated urban areas, where alarms can be activated just by passing trucks and other vibrations. False cars alarms, therefore, undeniably add to noise pollution. What is more, professional thieves familiar with car-stealing methods are capable of disabling most alarms in just seconds.
1.3. GPS CAR TRACKER/TRACKING DEVICE
A GPS car tracker is a small navigation device equipped with a GPS receiver that enables determining the position of the object the tracking unit is installed into. The position of the monitored object is determined with the help of reference points - the satellites that send information to the ground. Each tracking device is in charge of sending signals to satellites which then transmit the location details to a server. This makes it possible to display a specific object on a map, which can be done by any authorized person.
GPS tracking systems generally include the following crucial components: a tracking unit, a server that receives tracking information from satellites, and a user interface that enables displaying the location of the monitored object.
The demand for car tracker solutions has increased in recent years, primarily due to a dramatic rise of vehicle thefts in urban areas. GPS car trackers are primarily being used for security reasons - to obtain a car’s location and enable vehicle tracking in case of a theft. GPS car tracking systems also serve as a great fleet monitoring solution that facilitates vehicle tracking for any large car or truck fleet company. Moreover, car trackers can also be of great relief for parents of teenagers, especially if a car tracking solution provides reports of teens’ actions behind the wheel.
Back in 2013, only passive vehicle GPS tracking systems were available, meaning that the monitoring was possible only for the time when the vehicle was moving. Our aim was to build an active car tracking system that would be capable of providing real-time information and vehicle monitoring even when a vehicle is stationary.
2 WHAT WAS MISSING - MOTIVATION TO CREATE THE CARLOCK GPS CAR TRACKER
2.1. Loud real-time phone notification
When CARLOCK entered the connected car market, only cheap car tracking solutions that provided basic functionalities were available for purchase. The existing GPS car trackers, mainly used by B2B fleet management companies, could only notify users of any changes via SMS, which might easily be ignored, and did not include the alarm feature that would be activated if any unusual event were detected on a vehicle. However, GPS vehicle tracking systems at that time provided call alerts directed via special calling centers. The calls were actually received any time the GPS system detected a possible issue, but customers were generally not favorable towards that kind of indirect communication.
As soon as Android and iOS operating systems enabled push notifications, CarLock engineers added an advanced real-time notification system to the CarLock app with the possibility of allowing loud alarm-sound alerts. In addition, a new notification system was designed to provide details regarding to every event that has triggered the alert.
2.2. Real-time location
At the time when CarLock car tracker was in development, most traditional anti-theft solutions, such as factory alarms or steering wheel locks, could not provide real-time location info. GPS tracker solutions that were able to do so were rare while the updates they provided at the time usually came with a long lag time, e.g. on a 5-minute basis or even later. The CarLock car tracker, however, enabled real-time notifications with a possible delay of max. 1 minute and the refresh rate of 30 minutes if the vehicle is stationary. Besides, the system also records the whole trip history, which provides access to the history of all notifications detected for any vehicle.
2.3. User interface via an easy-to-use mobile app
The GPS car tracker solutions once available on the market were mostly customised for fleet management, providing SMS notifications but not enabling any form of monitoring via mobile app. To check the vehicle location or manage the account, the user was required to log in via a personal computer. The CarLock team thus aimed to develop a more comprehensive system that would enable vehicle monitoring and account management simply via the iOS or Android app on the phone.
3. TYPICAL THEFT PRACTICES AND HOW CARLOCK CAR TRACKER DIFFERENTIATES FROM OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
3.1. CAR THEFT WITH THE STOLEN CAR KEY
The simplest way to steal a car is to get its original key. This is usually one of a few non-invasive techniques, mostly suitable for older vehicles that still use regular old keys and are therefore unable to be hacked from the distance. This is often not an easy task since owners usually try to do their best not to leave their keys in visible places. However, if a criminal somehow gets access to the original key of the targeted vehicle, they can easily enter the vehicle and quickly drive it away. With the original car key having been stolen, the car anti-theft recognizes the criminal as the user, which, therefore, does not trigger the alarm.
3.2. CLONED KEY ATTACK
Another method that is also used for older vehicles is a cloned key attack. It usually happens near casinos or car repair shops, where car owners leave their vehicles for a longer period of time along with original car keys. This allows relatively easy access to owners’ car key fobs that can be stolen and cloned using a key fob duplicator. This machine actually enables copying the essential data to be used on another key fob. Once the key is cloned, the criminal returns the original keys to where they were stolen from and enters the car using the cloned car key fob to steal the vehicle. Since the cloned key fob contains the exact same data as the original one, the car is tricked into recognising it as the original was therefore responds to the “door lock” message.
3.3. OBD PORT THEFT AND RF JAMMING
Over the recent years, a great number of expensive vehicles have been stolen all over the world with the help of key cloning, usually performed via the OBD II port. The OBD II port is basically a computer-based diagnostic system available in any car model manufactured after 1996. It is generally located under the car's steering wheel and allows the repair technician to access the vehicle’s diagnostic information. This information is obtained via professional OBD readers any dealership and car repair shop usually uses. However, basic OBD readers can nowadays be purchased by anyone for less than $100. This somehow enables access to the most secure vehicle information practically to anyone.
Unfortunately, the OBD key cloning process has become a rather easy task and can be performed by professional thieves in just seconds. The hardest part of the process might be getting into the car without the alarm being activated. This might be done by smashing the side window using the end of the spark plug. Corners of side windows are actually considered “black spots” and breaking this part does not trigger the alarm.
As soon as the thief obtains access to the OBD port, the OBD reader can easily be connected to the OBDII port, which enables extracting a unique car key code within just seconds. This way, the programmed remote control can easily unlock the car and enable the thief to drive it away. The sad truth is the car key coding information is often not encrypted and thus easily accessible via the OBD II port.
However, nowadays, many thieves use even more advanced methods, such as jamming technology, to get into the car without causing any physical damage on a vehicle and easily access the OBD port. Jamming attacks can actually be performed on any car that uses wireless key fobs and work by disrupting communication between the key fob and the receiver inside the car. The jamming process requires a device that operates on the same frequency as the car remote, which can easily disturb the door lock message. Moreover, many cars nowadays do not come with manual key locks, which, in the case of a jamming attack, totally disables the user to safely lock the car.
3.4. SMART KEY RELAY ATTACK
Smart key car theft, also called the “relay attack”, has become one of the most frequently used car-theft strategies in recent years, and has drastically contributed to the increasing rise in car theft cases, especially in areas with cars being parked close to houses during the night.
The process is relatively simple and involves two thieves working together. It does not require expensive professional tools, but only two radio-frequency-based gadgets - the relay amplifier and transmitter - that are available for purchase on the black market. One of the thieves first places the amplifier as close as possible to the house to detect the signal from the key fob. If the signal is successfully detected, it is then sent to the transmitter placed next to a vehicle. The transmitter actually works as a key fob and fools the car into recognising alternative signals as the ones coming the original key fob. This can all be done in less than a minute and as soon as the car is unlocked, it can easily be started and driven away.
How CarLock GSP car tracker can help?
Traditional car alarms might not or even cannot detect any of the above-described advanced theft methods. The reason lies in the fact that the factory alarm automatically disactivates any warnings once the key signal is detected - even the one transmitted via the transmitter during the relay attack process. The CarLock car tracker, on the other hand, detects any unusual car vibrations and will notify the user even if the car engine is started or vehicle has been moved. It also provides advanced trip tracking and enables its users to track the routes the car has taken. It is, therefore, considered highly effective vehicle protection that enables car users to react promptly once notified of any unusual activity being performed on their vehicles.
4. HOW OUR GPS CAR TRACKER EVOLVED OVER TIME
4.1. THE BASIC FUNCTIONALITY OF THE CARLOCK CAR TRACKER (SECURITY ONLY)
The initial version of the CarLock car tracker, launched in 2014, was designed in such a way that enabled it to easily connect with the OBD diagnostic port of any car manufactured after 1996. It came with an easy-to-use mobile app that enabled push notifications (“vibration detected” notification and other security notifications). The first app version included only the security features as well as the vehicle location info that enabled the user to monitor where the vehicle was 24/7. The first app update, which was released just a few months after the official product release, also enabled crash detection, SmartLock (beta) as well as the most requested feature - multi-vehicle monitoring. The latter enabled users to easily monitor and manage all the cars via one CarLock account. The feature allows users to add multiple cars to their accounts, easily switch between vehicles as well as receive notifications for each of the vehicles. Later on, the car tracker app was also upgraded with the paid back-up SMS as well as the call notification option. This is especially useful if the cellular data connection in a particular area is bad or if the CarLock user wants to avoid high roaming prices while travelling abroad.
4.2. ADDED LOG HISTORY AND TRIP HISTORY
The next update of the car tracker app brought some great improvements in terms of additional advanced features. The log panel was implemented, enabling the display of a list of past notifications as well as the exact date and time a notification was received. Along with the notification log, the trip history log was added as well. This vehicle monitoring feature is able to log any trip that has been taken and provides the details on the distance, date and time of each trip separately.
At the same time, the “virtual mechanic” functionality was added to the car tracker system. This feature enables active monitoring of a vehicle’s electrical systems and provides notifications in the event of a low battery or any unusual battery drain. The CarLock team was aware of the fact that extreme weather conditions have a drastic impact on the battery performance. If the car's battery is failing, which is especially common on cold winter mornings, it’s almost impossible to start a car and this often results in getting stuck at most inconvenient times. The new feature, thus, enabled detecting low battery level and triggering the alert if the battery voltage falls below the critical level. It always keeps the CarLock users up-to-date on their vehicle battery and provides a simple chart displaying periodical voltage readings. This way, the GPS car tracker users can also see whether their car battery is fully charged or failing.
4.3. DRIVING SCORE AND HARSH DRIVING NOTIFICATIONS
Due to an extremely high rate of car accidents among teenagers, The CarLock car tracker team decided to introduce a functionality that would help parents keep their teenage kids safer on the road. Teenagers are actually more likely to be involved in a car crash than drivers of any other age group. This is primarily due to the lack of driving experience as well as many other factors, such as speeding, overconfidence, use of mobile phones and being prone to numerous other distractions. In later development stages, CarLock, car tracker therefore introduced the driving monitoring functionality that provides notifications in the event of reckless driving behavior. Thanks to this special feature, the CarLock users can be alerted if harsh acceleration, harsh braking or harsh cornering are detected when someone is using their vehicle. Besides the possibility to track teenage kids, this is also a useful feature for fleet management as it allows fleet business owners to monitor how their employees are performing behind the wheels of the company vehicles.
The driving monitoring functionality also provides the average driving score that is calculated based on the driving behaviour. All the harsh events are accessible in the log and can be displayed simply via the app on the smartphone.
4.4. CAR TRACKER ADD-ONS - CABLES
The CarLock GPS car tracker generally easily plugs into the OBD II port and usually does not require additional tools to be installed. However, since the location of the OBD connector varies from one vehicle brand to another, plugging the CarLock car tracker directly into the OBD II port can sometimes be challenging - the device could either be too visible or even obstruct the pedals while driving. For these reasons, the CarLock team added two special types of cables to allow the installation of the CarLock GPS tracker basically in any vehicle. The OBD slim extension cable is a perfect solution if the OBD connector is overexposed, as it allows moving the CarLock device away from the critical area. The OBD power adapter, on the other hand, is a great solution for placing the GPS car tracker away from the location of the OBD II port. This installation option also enables the CarLock users to fit the CarLock device to any older car manufactured before 1996 and even motorbikes with a 12V battery.
4.5. CAR TRACKER ADD-ONS - CARLOCK TAG
CarLock car tracker security features belong to most important and one of the mostly demanded CarLock functionalities. However, security alerts can be quite annoying if they’re turned on in case the car owner is using the car themselves. Until recently, vehicle monitoring needed to be disabled manually via the CarLock app before the vehicle was started, which might take quite a bit of time. For this reason, CarLock developed the CarLock Tag, a special hardware extension of the CarLock car tracker system, which was released at the end of 2017. The CarLock Tag is actually a small Bluetooth device that connects to the CarLock phone app. It automatically enables and disables CarLock security alerts based on the car owner’s distance to the vehicle. It therefore disables car monitoring before the car is started and thus helps avoid false alarms. The CarLock Tag is otherwise compatible only with iOS devices. Extensive testing was performed on Android phones as well, but the Android system proved to be fairly unreliable in the CarLock Tag detection process.
4.6. CARLOCK PORTABLE
Over the recent years, it has become evident that using the CarLock GPS car tracker system in its basic form cannot help in several specific situations. Hard-wiring is a great solution to place the device in a hidden place in almost any vehicle, but this option cannot be applied to tool chests, trailers or any work machinery. For this reason, the CarLock team developed a battery-powered product variant, the CarLock Portable device (US only), which does not require any installation and is therefore a great alternative to hard-wired options. The Portable device connects to the phone app and alerts its users in the event of any unusual movement detected or in case the object leaves the geofence zone. Besides the GPS tracking option, it also works as a personal tracker and can be used to track kids' whereabouts. As it includes an SOS button, parents can even be notified of any emergency situations. In addition to this, it is also designed to track baggage and luggage during travels within a wide range of supported countries.
The CarLock Portable can be purchased along with the portable magnetic case that offers great protection and enables attaching the device to any vehicle, trailer, machinery and other valuable possessions.