Dude, Where’s My Car?

Someone just stole your car. They took it right underneath your nose, and you have no idea where it is. Luckily, you have a GPS tracker installed and can pinpoint the exact location of the vehicle that thief drove away with.

Having a GPS tracker in your vehicle becomes extremely useful when something unexpected happens. Taking the necessary precautions to ensure a secure tracking system can save a lot of time and money if the car suddenly disappears.

Helping to solve the vanishing vehicle problem is the bright, young team at Cooking Hacks who created a step-by-step tutorial showing how to create a homemade GPS tracker. Their design is Arduino based and has a GPS+GPRS shield with an antenna attached to continuously pick up the location of the vehicle. Making a call to the Arduino inside triggers an SMS message to be sent back with the specific GPS data of where the tracker is stationed at. Information is then set to a server and inserted into a database, which can be accessed by opening up a specialized Android app.

We’ve seen similar ideas before, like this GPS tracker for stolen bikes, but this project by Cooking Hacks is unique because of its mobile phone integration with Google Maps. Not to mention, their video for the project is fantastically awesome.

If you have developed a system like this, be sure to let us know in the comments; and don’t forget to check out their video after the break.

62 thoughts on “Dude, Where’s My Car?

    1. How unfortunate that a device no bigger than an iPhone can EASILY and CHEAPLY jam GPS. What does this device do if it never again acquires satellites once it starts moving on the steal? How precise will the location measurement be with the famously available $20 gps jammer car thieves use?

    1. Yep th video is a welcome change but the sound track was a bit heavy. The script suggesting that the thief traveled to Alaska and Hawaii yo practice his trafe was interesting was interesting.

          1. actually latest statistics in UK show that +50% of cars stolen are open without actually physically touching the car. it’s all remote via computer. if someone is capable of doing that, how easy is to press a button on a cheap gps jammer? -.-

  1. Was looking into something similar for a robotics project in the event it was stolen. Decided to split the GPS and SMS boards up tho. Since it will ultimately end up being cheaper and while I need the GPS for navigation now, I can always add in the SMS later.

  2. I’m currently working on an app for a cheap android phone to be placed in my motorcycle. It’s more autonomous as it starts to send coordinates as soon as the bike is moved (thanks to the on board accelerometer).
    The tricky part, tho, is to let the phone know that it’s me on the bike
    Still working on that point

    Just know that you can buy a cheap gps tracker for $30 on ebay ( Coban and others).

    1. What about putting an NFC tag near the phone while riding it?
      I have no Idea what bike you have and where the phone is located but if the Tachometer-plastic housing is big enough, you could put the phone there and
      put an nfc tag on your keyring…

  3. Pretty cool but I wouldn’t actually recommend making one. You can buy a GPS tracker which will SMS you google map links for $15 (seriously) from HK. Or $20 with a relay and option to remotely disable the vehicle.

    Not only is it cheaper but it’s much smaller and better made to stand up against bumps and vibrations of a vehicle.

    1. Exactly. This has been commercial for twenty years – practically every non-owner-driven 18 wheeler has one. Twenty dollars a month and unlimited free texts to boot. Also see the amateur radio “APRS” system, and see http://aprs.fi/ for an example with google maps.

      Still, nice hack, plus bonus points for the homemade ski mask. Stylin’.

          1. Depends on the specific model and price. There are many available in the $15-$30 range that include a GPS module and you text or call them and they text back the google url, no middle-man website required.

  4. A technician class ham license lets you use APRS. Trackers designed for near space balloons and other projects are pretty cheap. No service plan required, and even if the GPS is jammed, you can figure out approximate locations based upon which other stations are hearing, repeating, and gatewaying your messages, then foxhunt the 2 meter TX signal.

      1. A few years ago, you could get a cheap phone, this was before smart phones and it was a pay as you go type, either install some type of program or run a program that was built into it, can’t remember. Think it was some type of Java program you had to install. Anyway, once this was set up, you could go to a web site (free) and track the phone on a map. It would also tell you speeds. It was very cheap, say 10 bucks a month. Buy a cheap charger to keep it running and it would go for some time. I built a small weatherproof box to store the phone and charger in with two wires coming out for power.
        With enough patience, the cases could have been removed from phone and charger and the space would have been halfed, maybe fit inside a cigarette size box.
        Point is, there are easier, cheaper, more effective ways to go than what the scope of this project consist of.

  5. I recall reading in another forum where an Amateur radio operator living in Nebraska has his car that had an APRS beacon operating stolen, nad with the fre to use APRS network was able to help law enforcement recover his car. I’m an amateur radio operator. Chances for the rest of mu life my vehicle will be in the functional safe beater category, so may never install a beacon just for security, although I may install one for the hell of it, but I see it being turned off most of the time. I really don’t see a need to tell the world I’m not home. Nice project, however in my case the cost of the cell phone service onto a savings account to replace a stolen beater.

  6. Propably easiest way would be to use android phone, and let google do the tracking. Just enable all tracking things and android device manager, put it in watertight box with a charger and you are good to go.

    1. Is there anybody out there?

      For reals though, I know its a noob question but can someone reply.

      I Live in California, would I need to purchase a SIM card from a phone carrier? Can I get one online from another source?


  7. Could be done better, you can connect your car to database, send data after unwanted movement of the car and even disable it manually. Also connect it to 12V battery in car (of course leave battery – as it could be needed)

  8. Nice one. I may advocate the evil but similar solutions do exist and in a slimmer form. But this coud turn more interesting doing some little tricks like tethering the tracker to the owner’s phone and when it gets separated over 500 meters to start sending alarms and sms. This way can save some sms. And maybe a better place to find and an indestructible waterproof case. Plus a few ideas…

    1. Actually this is better, since you just call it and it will reply with coordinates.

      Basically the GSM is only working the entire time and once it receives a call it activates the GPS, and on FIX it sends coords to the phone number.

  9. I see this has been asked a few times already, but does anyone know the answer?

    Where do you get the SIM card to put in the GPRS module? If I go to my ATT provider, will they treat it as a second phone and up-charge my plan accordingly? What is a cost-effective way to do this – bearing in mind that data will be in the order of a few kilobytes a month? Do people use their own cell phone provider, or are there other providers specifically for this kind of thing? (I searched the web, but this detail always seems to be left out of this and similar builds. It may be obvious to some, but not all ;-) )


    1. usually pay as you go card. And you charge it each 6 months to not get blocked by the provider. (you need to check it your provider. Some block the sim card if there were no money charging in 6 months, some wait a year).

      In larger scale (say, you own a security firm) you have a deal with one of the provider for 30-40 sim card, and you pay one sum per month.
      Each country has its set of provider companies (vodafone UK, Orange, etc).

  10. Will the police actually take your GPS readings seriously. I would think they would want an official lojack or similar. In my stolen car experiences the police first think you misplaced your car. Refuse to believe you until an hour of driving around looking for it (even though you assure them it was parked outside your house), then write up a report for 45 min and say to call your insurance company. (that was what happened to my old roommate. He never saw that car again). From my understanding the police need to call lojack to initiate the location (that may be a misunderstanding on my part) and that they won’t call until they actually believe the car is stolen.

    1. I found it hard to believe. Stolen vehicles are often used to commit crime. If you can tell the police where it is, the police has a lot of incentives to recover it.

      Your old roommate most definitely does not know the whereabouts of his missing car. Does the car has LoJack?

  11. I am pretty sure there is already an app for that. All you need is an old Android cell phone. You need a basic plan with SMS. Text your phone and it will answer back with its location. Cheap android phone can be found for less than $30 new. Plan at $5 a month or less.

  12. I think that inside the car will be a very bad GPS signal :P

    custodiumtracker.com yet avalaible through Personal Robotics , integrated, compact and small GPS tracker & finder open hardware, Arduino IDE compatible for your personal GPS projects.

  13. Seems like I remember seeing a ‘passive’ radio like device in the tv show cops years ago. As specially equipped detective cards drove around, a radio would emit the signal at the particular frequency that then powers the ‘passive’ client radio which acts as a beacon.

    If I remember right a lot of high end construction equipment is equipped with something similar. Why do all cars not have something like this by default? Of course there would be implementation concerns, one being when to announce ‘Im stolen’. This could be as easy as driving patterns or some other interfacing scheme (not pressing the correct pattern of buttons, operation with lack of identifying rfid, etc. Of course while taking into account guest drivers.)

  14. Completely OBSOLETE device from coolinghacks. a) Better buy an android cheap phone and connect to the car. YOu have even more features than this hardware. b) Car theft uses jammers to block GPS signal, so this device is 100% useless in real life. FOr kids only

  15. A thing that I never understood is why pseudohackaday has this kind of stupid articles and why would someone do things like this. I mean, it costs way much more time and money then just buying an actual much cheaper and working product that does the same but in a much better way.

  16. Where is the satisfaction of doing something by yourself? I think these Cooking Hacks guys just want to show an example of use, not to sell a product …. and not like other people…

    This is Hackaday Pedro! If you are interested in products for your car you should look on ebay. ;)

  17. Arduino is a Simple and inexpensive developing platform. Making a tracking system by interfacing GPS and GPRS on arduino platform is a very nice and useful project that can be installed on any vehicle that help in retaining the lost vehicle’s positions in few seconds.

  18. Very cool GPS tracker for car. If you have this tracker in your car you can get exact location of your vehicle. If someone stole your car, you need not to worry because you have GPS tracker installed in your car. You can get your car back no matter where it was hidden.

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