The Easy Way to Track a Cell Phone or Even to Track an Automobile

Do you want to add cell phone tracking to your phone for theft protection? That is easy to do with several different apps available for iPhones and Android phones. The app I installed recently is available free of charge. If the phone is lost or stolen, I can open a web browser on any computer and see where the phone is at this moment. I can then call the police and tell them precisely where the phone is located. It even works when the phone is not stolen but simply lost when it slipped down between the cushions in the living room couch. Even better, from my web browser I can lock the phone, erase all personal data on the phone, make the phone sound an alarm, and even display a message on the phone’s screen. Not bad for a free app!

I am so pleased with the app that I have even installed it on a super cheap Android cell phone that I leave in my automobile. If anyone steals the car, I can track the car and the phone almost minute-by-minute, and I can then tell the police where to find the vehicle and where to apprehend the criminal. I’ll describe automobile use in a minute.

For cell phone tracking and remote locking, I installed Prey, a free, open-source application that can be used for both computers and mobile phones. After I signed up for the free service and synched my device(s) with Prey’s web site, I sat back and relaxed. The day that my phone goes missing, all I need to do is find a computer, open a web browser, log into my Prey account, and start tracking.

Prey is an anti-theft tracking software program for a laptop, phone, and tablet that lets the owner remotely locate, lock, wipe, and recover the device if it is ever stolen or is simply missing. The owner can do this by logging into the Prey Project’s web site and seeing the precise location displayed on Google Maps. The owner also can trigger actions like sounding an alarm or showing an onscreen message to let the thief know he is being watched. On a cell phone or a laptop with a built-in camera, it is possible to even take a picture of the thief’s face if he is holding the device in front of that face. Not bad for a free app!

Prey runs in the background and does not track the phone’s location unless you tell it to. Nobody can track a cell phone or computer with Prey until you open a web browser, connect to the prey Project web site, log in with your user name and password that only you know, and give the command to start tracking.

Prey is available for Android or iOS mobile devices, as well as any Macintosh, Windows, or Linux PC. The free version will track up to three different devices and store a maximum of 10 reports per device. The producers of the Prey app also offer Prey Pro, an optional product that will track up to 500 devices (great for corporations) and will store up 100 reports for each device.

I first installed Prey on a cell phone and on my laptop computer. I don’t have any need for the Pro options, so I am still using the free service.

You can learn more about Prey at and more about Prey Pro at You also will probably want to read the frequently asked questions (FAQs) at

Add tracking to your automobile

I own a vehicle that the insurance companies report as a high-theft vehicle. That is, car thieves love to steal automobiles like mine. I installed a rather sophisticated vehicle tracking device that plugged into the OBD-II connector under the dashboard several months ago. Every vehicle sold in the U.S. since 1996 has an OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) connector under the dashboard, near the steering column. If your car displays a Check Engine light, the mechanic plugs a testing device into the OBD-II connector to diagnose the problem. Installation of the tracking device required about ten seconds. Even I can do that! The tracking device is out of sight and out of mind most of the time.

The device I purchased was relatively cheap at $79.99 plus an additional $19.99 per month for the tracking service. It worked well with one glaring exception: the device would drain the automobile’s battery within a few days if the vehicle wasn’t driven most every day.

The GPS tracking device was powered by the vehicle’s electrical system through the OBD-II connector. Driving the vehicle regularly keeps the battery charged up. However, I travel frequently and often leave my automobile in airport parking garages or parking lots for 5 to 14 days at a time, occasionally even longer. Leaving the GPS tracking device plugged in would drain the automobile’s battery within 3 or 4 days.

Did you ever return from a long trip late at night, possibly in the rain or snow, wander through a dismal-looking parking garage or parking lot to find your automobile, only to discover it had a dead battery? That is not a pleasant experience! I know as it happened to me three times.

The final time that happened to me was when I arrived at my home airport about midnight after a 7-day trip. Of course, the car battery was dead. I have AAA service, so I called for a jump start and was informed I had already received too many jump starts. AAA refused to provide another jump start. I called a local tow service but, of course, had to pay $75 for a service call. Even worse, the first truck that was sent was a large wrecker that was too tall to enter the parking garage!

The driver called his employer, and about 45 minutes later a smaller truck arrived and successfully started my vehicle. When I finally got into my car, I reached under the dash, unplugged the tracking device, and threw it into the nearest trash can.

The following day I called the company that provided the tracking service and canceled my account. The not-so-helpful customer service rep suggested that I should simply unplug the device before going on a trip.

What? The primary reason I purchased a tracking device was to provide protection when I wasn’t around for an extended period of time. Airport parking lots and parking garages are favorite locations for automobile thieves. I am not about to stop theft protection at the time I need it the most!

A better (?) solution

After installing the Prey anti-theft tracking software in my cell phone, I got to thinking that the combination of a cheap cell phone plus the Prey app could also provide theft protection for my automobile. Even better, it can provide that protection without draining the car battery.

The ideal service to use, in my opinion, is the cheap cell phone service offered by Republic Wireless. I already owned a Republic Wireless phone that I wasn’t using very much, so it was a no-brainer for me. However, if you do not already own such a device, you will need to purchase one. The company sells Android cell phones for $99 for a Moto E 1st generation; the price goes up to $399 for the Moto X 2nd generation phone.

You can read more about Republic Wireless phones and service at

Of course, the higher-priced phones are nice for a device you wish to carry in your pocket or purse; but, for automobile tracking, I’d suggest the cheapest phone available: $99 for a Moto E. For automobile tracking, you won’t need the larger screen or other extra features of the more expensive phones. Besides, the Moto E is a bit smaller than the more expensive models and is therefore easier to hide in your automobile.

You will also need to pay $25 a month for the Republic + 3G service that includes sending and receiving data over the cell network. Republic Wireless uses the Sprint cell phone network, so Republic Wireless cell phones will work anywhere that Sprint cell phones will work. Even better, Republic Wireless does not require being locked into a service contact for one or two years. Instead, you can cancel at any time without penalties.

Installation is simple. Order the phone online at Upon arrival, open the box, activate the service, and then install the free Prey app by downloading it to the phone. You won’t need anything else other than a charging cord that plugs into an automobile’s electrical system. You probably already have one or more power outlets in the dashboard and maybe in the center armrest console. One of my automobiles also has a power outlet in the trunk.

Cell phone on the dashboard. However, I put mine in the center console where it is out of sight (and impossible to photograph for a picture in this article!)

Next, choose a place for the phone in your automobile, preferably in the trunk or glove box or some other location that is not obvious to a would-be thief. Since a cell phone’s battery only powers the device for two or three days, you will also need to connect the device to a power source. Ideally, it should be a power source that is switched on and off when the automobile is started or stopped. After all, you don’t want to run the automobile’s battery flat by leaving the cell phone connected all the time!

Most automobiles have power outlets that do go on and off when the automobile is started and stopped. However, there are a few exceptions. A few automobiles have power outlets that are connected to the car battery all the time. Using one of the always-on outlets in an automobile that is parked for a few days could result in a dead battery, the exact problem I wish to avoid!

In my case, I installed the phone at the bottom of a rather deep center arm console. I then placed some pens, pencils, tissues and other junk typically carried in automobiles on top of the cell phone.

I was fortunate that the center console in my automobile also contains a power outlet that is switched on and off by the ignition key. I purchased an in-vehicle power cord and used it to connect the cell phone to the in-console power connector. Such power cords are available in all sorts of stores for $10 to $20.

By using the switched-on/switched off power connector, my cell phone remains charged as long as I drive the vehicle every couple of days or so. Still, if leave my car in the airport parking garage for a trip, the cell phone’s battery will eventually go flat although the automobile’s battery remains fully charged. Therefore, I still do not have total protection all the time. Of course, I never had total protection with the other tracking device, either. At least the new method doesn’t drain the automobile’s battery and therefore doesn’t leave me stranded in a parking garage in the middle of the night! However, I soon found a method of keeping the phone charged for a week or more.

Even better, if a thief does steal the car and start the engine, power is applied to the cell phone immediately. Within a few seconds, the cell phone wakes up and becomes fully operational again.

For even a bit more security and convenince, I found an external battery pack designed for any device powered by a USB connector that will power a cell phone for a week or more. Best of all, it can be charged by the vehicle’s electrical system. A number of companies produce such battery packs.

InstaBoost Power Pack

I use a Pilot InstaBoost 400-Amp Car Battery Jump Starter. It is an expensive solution at $129.98, but it is multipurpose. That is, it is useful for many more things than simply powering a cell phone. Even though it is about the size of a laptop battery or a woman’s wallet, the Pilot InstaBoost battery pack will even jumpstart a car with a dead battery. It also charges all sorts of devices, including my primary cell phone that I carry with me, should it ever be dead at an inopportune time. Finally, it even includes a built-in flashlight, a handy thing to have in an automobile on a dark night. If left plugged into the power connector in the automobile, the battery will always be fully charged, and the flashlight will always be operational.

I plugged my Pilot InstaBoost into the switched-on/switched off power connector in the automobile’s center armrest, then plugged the cell phone’s charging cable into the Pilot InstaBoost. At this time I cannot say how long it will keep the cell phone charged and operational; all I know is that mine hasn’t gone dead yet, even after a 5-day period of not starting the automobile. I am sure the exact number of days will vary a bit, depending upon the power consumption of the cell phone being used.

I purchased the Pilot InstaBoost 400-Amp Car Battery Jump Starter from Amazon at but have also seen it advertised for sale from many other retailers as well.


I see two major benefits to this cell phone method of tracking an automobile:

  1. I always have a cell phone in the automobile available for emergency situations. I especially like that when another family member is driving he or she can call for help wherever he or she might be. The cell phone provides peace of mind.
  2. Even if the automobile has been parked for a long time and the cell phone battery is dead, once the vehicle is started, power is applied to the cell phone again, and it starts operating and reporting its location within a minute or two. This is true even if the internal battery is dead at first. If a thief steals the car with the dead cell phone, the phone awakens when power is applied and immediately reports its position. The Prey software detects that it has been stolen and sends an email alert.

All in all, I am happy with my new tracking system. To be sure, it is a few dollars more expensive than the previous GPS tracking system. However, I feel it is worth the extra cost. Not only do I have vehicle tracking, but I also always have a cell phone available in the vehicle for emergency purposes. The battery pack keeps the cell phone alive and also provides a flashlight, a general-purpose charger for other uses, and will even jumpstart a vehicle with a dead battery. Best of all, my new system never leaves me with a dead battery in my own vehicle when returning from a long trip.

If we ever have a major disaster in my area, such as fire, flood, hurricane, blizzard, or earthquake, I can maintain communications with my cell phone by pulling the Pilot InstaBoost battery out of my car and using it to keep my cell phone charged for a week or more. Where I live, cell phones have proven to be much more reliable than traditional telephones during major outages; so, I like the idea of having a fully charged cell phone available at all time. In fact, I now have two cell phones available: one I normally carry in my pocket plus the Republic Wireless cell phone that I leave in the car. Both work well for making phone calls and for email, surfing the web, and for GPS uses.

You might not want to exactly duplicate my set-up, but I encourage you to create your own solution. You can reduce the risks of theft significantly.

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