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Fleet Tracking 101: A Guide For Fleet Managers

Fleet tracking is essential for success in the 21st century. Learn how tracking your vehicles can help your business be more productive and efficient.

Fleet Management
fleet tracking

If you’re new to the fleet management game, fleet tracking may seem like an enigma. But once you understand the basics of the technology and how it works, you’ll see just how useful it can be for helping your business become more productive and efficient.

In this article, we discuss the theory, practice, and key features of fleet tracking so you can implement it into your workflow for maximum results.

Table Of Contents

The Different Types Of Fleet Tracking

fleet tracking technology

Basic Fleet Tracking

At its most basic, fleet tracking is just what it sounds like: following the course or progress of your vehicles while they’re on the road.

In the latter half of the 20th century — before the use of modern mobile technology — businesses tracked vehicle location via phone calls.

When a driver stopped driving (for fuel, for a mandatory break, for a customer appointment, etc.), they reported their whereabouts to the main office. Fleet managers could then plot their movement on a map to get a sense of their general location.

Then, as the 1990s rolled to a close, the global positioning system (GPS) and its associated technologies became more accessible, affordable, and practical for everyday use.

With GPS, fleet managers could now see a near real-time view of the location of their vehicles — and, sometimes, even other data such as speed and direction of travel — without any input from the drivers.

Fleet Tracking With Telematics

In the early part of the 21st century, a new technology combined with GPS and the growing cellular network to provide even more potential for fleet tracking. What was that technology? Telematics.

Telematics is a set of systems and add-ons that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and onboard diagnostic (OBD) equipment to plot a vehicle’s movement on a computerized map. Once the components are installed, the telematics hardware processes more than just location.

It also collects and analyzes a vast array of information about the vehicle itself, including:

  • Position/location
  • Speed
  • Distance traveled
  • Total mileage
  • Trip time
  • Idling time
  • Harsh braking
  • Rough driving
  • Seat belt use
  • Fuel consumption
  • Engine data
  • System faults

The onboard computer then transmits the data via a cellular network into fleet management software, where you can view and export reports, gather intelligence about your fleet, set performance and safety benchmarks for your drivers, and much more.

Suddenly, fleet tracking was about more than just vehicle location. It now encompassed all manner of systems data that fleet managers could use to improve the way their fleet operates.

Advanced Fleet Tracking

advanced fleet tracking

As we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, fleet tracking has evolved even further beyond the simple act of gathering data about vehicle location, system operation, and driver behavior.

It has now become a full-fledged system of communication between fleet manager and equipment operator.

With the addition of optional integrations, such as dash cams, electronic logging, dispatching and route management, remote diagnostics, and weather alerts, fleet managers can provide real-time support for drivers no matter where the vehicle is located.

Such advanced capabilities make it easier for both managers and drivers to:

  • Do their jobs correctly the first time
  • Avoid delays
  • Control costs
  • Maintain compliance
  • Focus on more important business issues
  • Maximize vehicle activity
  • Provide quality customer service and support

However you choose to implement fleet tracking, basic GPS, telematics, and advanced fleet options translate into a more streamlined, more productive workflow, whether your fleet vehicles travel across town or across the country.

How Does Fleet Tracking Work?

cell towers for fleet tracking

As we mentioned in the previous sections, fleet tracking relies heavily on a series of fundamental technologies, including:

  • GPS
  • Telematics
  • Wireless communication (i.e., cellular and Wi-Fi)

Here’s how these technologies coincide to make everything work.


It all starts when you install a GPS unit and/or onboard diagnostic equipment (telematics) on a fleet vehicle (be it a work truck, work van, semi, or construction equipment).

This equipment records, stores, and transmits telemetry — or computer-based information — about the vehicle.


When the vehicle is on the road, the onboard monitoring equipment records location and, if installed, vehicle diagnostic information.


The system then transmits the data via a satellite (for basic GPS service) or cellular/Wi-Fi network to a central server.


The servers interpret the data and display updates in near real time when your business connects via a desktop or mobile app.

Key Features Of Fleet Tracking

fleet tracking on a cell phone

1) Easy To Use

Fleet tracking systems should be easy to use — for both drivers in the cab and administrators in the office.

If a driver can’t quickly find necessary information or access the tools they need to do their job, the technology won’t be worth their time and effort.

The same goes for the interface on the fleet manager’s side of things. An overly-complicated system can make your job even more difficult (the exact opposite of what you want from a fleet tracking system).

The software should have the option to provide all manner of highly technical data if you so choose, but it should also be flexible enough that non-tech-savvy team members can put it to use quickly and easily.

2) Syncs With Fleet Management Software

Regardless of the type of fleet management software you use in your office, fleet tracking systems should sync up and start providing data without a lot of extra effort on your part.

Today, many fleet software packages — be they the management side of things or the tracking side of things — have cloud components. These components can facilitate communication between the field units that supply the data and the in-house systems that interpret it.

As you continue to research fleet tracking, keep in mind that not all systems are created equal. Some only give access to a few basic variables, while others give access to every variable you could think of.

Be sure to choose the option that gives you the information to run your fleet better, but also has the potential to grow — and provide more data — as your business does.

3) Provides Different Levels Of Access

woman driving a truck

The best fleet tracking software will also include different levels of access — often called user restrictions — so you have the ability to control who on your team can access, view, and enter the information you collect.

For example, you may choose to restrict driver access to the items that are only relevant to their everyday tasks (e.g., pre-trip and post-trip inspections, navigation, communication, etc.).

Similarly, you may choose to provide your dispatcher with access to all the tools the driver has, but restrict things just a bit so that they don’t get bogged down in some of the other analytical tools and sensitive data that you, as fleet manager, might use.

4) Enables Real-Time Communication

We mentioned earlier how modern systems can function as a communication tool and a fleet tracking tool at the same time.

Take advantage of this by choosing software that allows for real-time communication between you and your drivers.

With such an option enabled, you can send notifications about updated route information, appointments, maintenance issues, and other necessary items without distracting the driver from the task at hand — navigating safely to their destination.

Similarly, some fleet tracking software allows drivers to respond to your notifications via direct message, SMS, or phone call.

All of this back-and-forth keeps drivers in the loop so they can be as efficient and productive as possible.

5) Allows For Geo-Fencing

Geofencing is a unique feature of modern fleet tracking that allows you to create a virtual geographic boundary (a geofence) around a certain area.

If one of your fleet vehicles crosses that boundary (either entering or exiting), the software will notify you and even remind the driver that they’ve taken the vehicle “out of bounds.”

For example, if your fleet operates on a specific north/south route (e.g., Interstate 75), you can set a geofence around that corridor. If a driver takes a vehicle outside the marked area, you’ll both receive a message indicating that they’re outside their defined path of travel.

Similarly, you could set up a geofence to keep vehicles out of a certain area rather than in a certain area.

The ability to set boundaries around where your vehicles should and shouldn’t go can help you bring order to the chaos and keep drivers on the best routes to maximize fuel consumption and minimize equipment wear and tear.

Fleet Tracking And Cost Management

Fleet Tracking And Cost Management with coast

Fleet tracking provides a wealth of insight into how each vehicle operates and how they all contribute to the success of the whole.

But you’ll need to do more than just track your vehicles and gather data. You’ll need to control driver expenses while they’re on the road.

Coast can help with controls and visibility that work for your business through a fleet card and expense management platform that empower you with real-time information related to your fleet.

For more information on how Coast can help you control fleet costs and streamline your fleet management program, visit CoastPay.com today.