Turning A Tile Into A Car Tracker

Using a Tile as a car tracker

A Tile is a small Bluetooth device which you can put on your keychain, for example, so that you can find your keys using an app on your phone. Each Tile’s battery life expectancy is one year and after that year you’re expected to trade it in at a discount for a new one. Right away your hacker senses are tingling and you know what’s coming.

Hacked tile with buck converter
Hacked tile with buck converter

[Luis Rodriguez] had switched to Samsung SmartThings and had accumulated box of these Tiles with dead batteries. So he decided a fun project would be to put a Tile in his wife’s car to track it. Given that it’s using Bluetooth, the range isn’t great for car tracking, but the Tile’s app can network with other user’s apps to widen the search area.

Since the Tile’s battery was dead, he cracked it open and soldered wires to its power terminals. He then found a handy 12 volt source in the car and added a DC to DC buck converter to step the voltage down to the Tile’s 3 volts. Finding a home for the hacked tracker was no problem for [Luis]. He was already using an ODB-II dongle for a dash cam so he tapped into the 12 V rail on that.

You’ll be surprised what you can find by hacking these small tracking devices. Here’s an example of hacking of a fitness tracker with all sorts of goodies inside.

Our thanks to [Maave] for tipping us off about this hack.

40 thoughts on “Turning A Tile Into A Car Tracker

  1. It seems to me that, once you opened Tile, battery replacement is a better idea than soldering permanent power supply. It’s standard battery with tabs, it looks like CR2032, so for less than a buck you get 1 year runtime and keep portability.

  2. I like this but it seems it has two possible weaknesses.

    1. I assuming this will be using the tile app to inform its location. Which it means it must be in range of an owner of a smartphone user with tile running on their phone. If this is buried in the car the range is limited I will have to test this with my tiles. It certainly will not give a constant location without constantly clicking on the app, which might be ok.

    2. Once the Tile people get wind of this type of thing they can shut down access to this tile’s location by saying it is a year past battery life therefore don’t allow it to be located.

    Just some thoughts again I like reusing something like this. Also Tile’s discount for a returned Tile is not that great.

          1. I assume they mean the no name ones from China? You want to use one of the top 5 trackers, otherwise not enough people are using the app for you to be able to find your tile when the time comes. So Tile, Airtags, and whatever the other 3 or so are.

      1. They don’t/haven’t though, people have been hardwiring tiles without replaceable batteries for years. They can’t even detect if the battery is truly low, it is time based. If your tile reports its battery is low you can just go into the app and say you replaced the battery and it won’t bother you for another year.

  3. “He was already using an ODB-II dongle for a dash cam so he tapped into the 12 V rail on that.”

    Which come in BT and WiFi versions with a greater range. Hmmmmm.

  4. quote: “Given that it’s using Bluetooth, the range isn’t great for car tracking, but the Tile’s app can network with other user’s apps to widen the search area.” — anyone know what apps this is referring to? and how big of a range we’re talking, here?

    1. Like Michael Brown says, it uses the Tile Tracker app. The Tile ecosystem supports crowd-based tracking so that you don’t have to be in range of your Tile. Anyone with the Tile app is also helping to locate other Tiles. So for example, if the car is parked in a shopping center, anyone who walks by it with the Tile app on their phone will be providing an updated location. It provides some tracking but like Doug Leppard says, it won’t be updating the location on a moving map display unless the wife’s phone has the Tile app installed while she’s driving the car.

      1. ahh, i see. thank you. i misread the quote, i guess. to me it sounded like it was some 3rd party app that works with the Tile and extended the range somehow. thank you for clarifying!

  5. The buck converter might not be the most efficient given the low power draw. Linear can be more efficient for low power. If this is only on when the key is in then no problem.

    1. Very true. Although he probably doesn’t care about the SMPS’s 10uA quiescent current.

      I did the same thing, not to track my wife, but the tools in my truck. One tile was destroyed so I could know where to drill the rest. The battery is left installed and just connected an 10V zener and very high value resistor in series to a 12V cigarette plug source.

      So far they’ve lasted 3 years and a few months.

      The only problem is that downtown is the only place it’s useful. I loaned a friend some tools (5min outside the city) and the Tile app only showed them once in six months.

        1. Interesting idea hiding it in stuff that has power supplies. You could see what house it went to assuming it was a co-worker that ran tile app. So what do you do? Go to HR and ask who lives at xxx address this person walked off with our expensive meter?

  6. Everybody with any take-it-apart skills thinks of replacing the battery in their Tile. I tried that and made such a huge ugly mess of it that I tossed the whole thing and bought the replacement deal from Tile. Someone with more mechanical skills could do a decent job of it, possibly without losing any fingers while getting it open.

    Unfortunately. the Tile replacement deal is not that financially attractive any more. IIRC, it was originally 50% off for the replacement. Even that wasn’t such a great deal because the shipping is pretty significant. Now that the price has gone up and the deal is no longer 50%, I’m not getting a replacement. They need to make money to stay in business, but their business model is not compatible with my brain. :-) You just throw away the old one; you don’t even send it back so they can pretend to recycle it.

    1. Why couldn’t they just put a battery compartment in? With a screw if it needed to be fairly secure.

      Is it just a stupid business model where they think they’re tying you to a “subscription”? In practice it’s just going to mean people get pissed off with it and the system will die within a few years.

  7. Yes ofc. It’s theft tracking, not wife tracking. I’m his friend, her car got a tracker first because it’s the main car. His car sits in the driveway most of the time.

  8. I never paid much attention to Tile, but from the one ad I remember seeing I had assumed it must have cellular tracking and was impressed that they got any significant battery time from such a small package. Finding out it was Bluetooth all along and just a half-assed mesh network that only exists if enough other people are constantly using tile … Son, I am disappoint.

  9. Yea its funny reading all these comments haha. My wife did agree to it. Her car is the main car used. Its not live tracking. Plus she has the app too and it would notify her that im tracking the car. I also realized today that it helps me find my car park location when google fails to help me. I ordered another buck converter already for my car. Maybe a motorcycle one next but ill try the linear method pointed out in the comments since that battery is smaller.

  10. Tile makes a new version with rechargeable battery now… can even be purchased with Marlboro’s reward system. I found it interesting enough to donate my rewards to one. Will update on its usefulness once it arrives and is used.

  11. I had a car stolen at a valet parking lot that was never recovered. I want to put a Tile in the replacement vehicle and I want to make sure that nothing will tip off a thief that there is a Tile in the vehicle if it were to be stolen. No tones or ringing. Is that possible?

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.