Vehicle tracking jamming uncertainties

Carte Blanche featured vehicle tracking and jamming techniques on its programme on the 21 of April. However, as per usual with those types of programmes, there was a bit too much hype and too little fact. COVER received some feedback from Cartrack and from Tracker, to get the real story around jamming techniques.


Cartrack advises motorists to carefully compare different vehicle tracking offerings on the market and avoid cheap underperforming systems

The Carte Blanche feature (21 April 2013) on vehicle tracking jamming devices set the cat among the pigeons and has understandably caused great concern among consumers who were not given a full or accurate picture.  Cartrack Operations Manager Jerry Pierce believes there is a number of inaccuracies in the report that need to be clarified. 

On the issue of signal jammers, Jerry says that while they do exist and to a degree they may work on GSM (cellular) signals, in Cartrack’s experience they have yet to find any of these devices during the course of their recovery operations.  Backing up our experience that such devices are not prevalent and/or are not a thief’s solution to combat tracking systems, is our 95% audited recovery rate – this would not be achievable if jammers were a successful tool being used against us.  “These units are not very powerful and would work for a limited radius only.  However, a criminal who has just stolen a vehicle needs to stay in contact with his accomplices in terms of their movements, potential road blocks or approaching tracking and SAPS vehicles, so it would be absurd for them to cut themselves off from using their only form of communication in this regard, which is a cell phone.

“Another important factor which was not mentioned anywhere in the feature, is the fact that quality tracking devices make use of a combination of technologies from GSM, Radio frequency (RF) and GPS for tracking.  “It’s important to remind motorists that most quality stolen vehicle recovery solutions don’t rely on a single technology platform such as GPS, GSM or RF technology alone, and would use a combination of technologies.  We advise consumers to choose a system that provides a more resilient and robust solution and, better still, one that delivers multiple means of tracking and communication,” explains Jerry.

The jamming devices featured in Carte Blanche are geo-specific with a two-metre radius at best and only work on cellphone technology. This means the jammer has to be within a two-metre or less radius of the tracking device and it has to be activated continuously in order to block the signal effectively.  How this is going to be done while the vehicle is being driven to a rogue installer to firstly find the device, remove it and dispose of it seems entirely impractical.  The reality is that our experience shows us that the criminal act of jamming is not common at all.  Most criminals do not worry about jamming the device.  Thieves  are more likely to better use their time to get away and dispose of the vehicle as soon as possible .  

Essentially, the real issue here is the response times and the quality of the installation and recovery team of your tracking company.  Cartrack recovers many vehicles within 15-20 minutes and arrests many of the suspects in the process too, so orchestrating such an elaborate jamming plot in such limited time seems a stretch at best.   

“Jamming is not prevalent at all and we certainly have never found any of these devices during our recoveries.  However, we have already made provision for the potential of this practice with our new generation systems that have work-arounds to protect against signal jamming devices.

“Vehicles that are not recovered are more likely a result of the thieves finding the unit themselves and stripping it out, rather than a result of jamming – this usually happens when there is a long delay of more than an hour or two before the vehicle is reported stolen.  It’s also one of the reasons why Cartrack invests heavily in having our own in-house installation and recovery teams that we are fully in control of, and not outsourced third party teams of installers, recovery agents, vehicles and helicopters.  We also change our strategies all the time to ensure we stay ahead of criminal syndicates.  A key aspect of successful recovery is response time, and response time directly correlates to the sophistication of infrastructure and human capital sitting behind your tracking device,” says Jerry.

But the real issue here is the promotion of cheap tracking systems to consumers in a bid to gain market share, without warning them of the pitfalls.  “Unsuspecting motorists are being duped into a false sense of security and left vulnerable with the influx of cheap vehicle tracking systems coming into the market.  Consumers need to be very aware of what exactly they are buying and whether the cheaper system will actually respond as promised in their time of crisis.  Alarmingly though, some  vehicle tracking providers are in fact registered with various ‘professional’ bodies and while they have a range of reputable products available, are now introducing ‘cheap and cheerful’ products in a bid to win market share.  Instead of diversifying and offering better value-add products and services that require investment into research and development, some providers are causing enormous damage to the industry and to consumers with the introduction of cheaper, under-performing systems .

As Cartrack, we urge consumers to ensure that they ask pertinent questions when it comes to their vehicle tracking and recovery systems including:

  • Does the system provide real time tracking and monitoring?  Anything less than this means your vehicle is likely to be ancient history in a theft or hijacking situation.  Knowing where your vehicle is after the fact is hardly helpful.
  • Can I test the system at any time?  Most cheap systems cannot provide you with a means to test on demand and verify that the system is in fact working.  This means that your only interaction with the system will be when you need it, and then you can only hope that it’s operational.  There is zero user-interface.
  • Does the tracking operator pro-actively test the units are functioning on a regular basis and make an effort to check/repair faulty systems?
  • Does the tracking company have sufficient confidence in its recovery systems to provide audited recovery stats and/or a non-recovery warranty?
  • What technology platform does the system run on – most reputable providers use a combination of GSM/GPS and RF location, which means that there is a vast network coverage area, a vehicle can be tracked to within  meters of its location and continual monitoring is available if required.  Cheap systems usually run on radio frequency only with very limited capabilities and vehicle location details provided by operators can range from “we cannot tell you where your vehicle is unless you report a theft” to vague positions or even kilometres out from reality. 

Consumers are advised to carefully interrogate and compare the different vehicle tracking offerings on the market.  Cheap systems are not equivalent to the sophisticated vehicle tracking products available on the market, and it’s irresponsible to market them as such.  At all times, you need to balance value, quality and reliability with cost.  When it comes to your safety and security this is one time where price really does equate to quality and you get what you pay for.  

Cartrack has been independently and officially audited with a vehicle recovery rate of 95%.  Not only is this currently one of the highest recovery rates in the market by a far margin, but Cartrack is also the only vehicle tracking company in South Africa to open its recovery books for official auditing by an external auditing firm.  “It means that in times of distress, our customers can breathe a little easier knowing that they have a credible and capable partner to help them through even the most frightening scenarios.  It’s also one of the key reasons why Cartrack is the preferred vehicle tracking company for many leading insurers and brokerages.  

Based on its outstanding recovery rates, Cartrack also recently launched a first in South Africa with a R150 000 warranty offer for clients who have a Cartrack stolen vehicle recovery (SVR) system installed in their vehicle.  With its recovery rate of 95%, Cartrack is the only vehicle tracking company in South Africa’s history to ever offer clients up to a R150 000 payment in the unlikely event that they are unable to recover a client’s stolen or hijacked vehicle. 


During last night’s screening of Carte Blanche there was a segment that focused on the vehicle tracking industry and, in particular, the latest modus operandi being employed by vehicle thieves and hijackers. The segment concentrated on three particular issues: industry insiders (such as technicians) who help crime syndicates locate and destroy tracking units (they, in fact, interviewed one such person), the fact that ‘jamming devices’ can, in some alleged instances, block certain signals emanating from vehicle tracking units and, finally, how some motorists are taken ‘hostage’ so that vehicle criminals can locate and destroy the tracking device before it is activated.

Tracker was disappointed by the one-sided nature of the segment and feels that a far more balanced view needs to be represented. As such, the company would like to raise a number of key points:

1. Jamming devices

‘Jamming devices’, as they are known, have been around for probably a decade already. While they may be effective in certain circumstances, they have their limitations and can be particularly unreliable. Furthermore, Tracker does not believe that a general jamming device that can be (illegally) bought from a local retailer has any meaningful effect on our Stolen Vehicle Recovery RF devices. In fact, we have arrested a number of criminals in possession of these jamming units. Furthermore, we have employed several covert measures to counter the possible effects of signal jamming and are confident that this is by no means a major factor in the small percentage of vehicles that Tracker does not recover. It’s also important to bear in mind that Tracker’s recovery rate has remained consistently high over the years, despite these jamming devices being freely available. That, on its own, tells a story.

While no product is fool proof and every technology has its limitations, nobody can question the simply massive role that vehicle tracking has played – and continues to play – in helping to reduce crime in South Africa. If the tracking industry was to vanish overnight, we have no doubt that vehicle crime and other related violent crimes would soar. We disagree strongly with Carte Blanche’s implied suggestion that the vehicle tracking industry no longer adds value to motorists. With Tracker alone recovering more than 500 vehicles a month which leads to some 100 arrests (working in tandem with the SAPS), this is not only absurd, but misinformed.

While we certainly support Carte Blanche’s efforts to expose matters of public interest, we do not agree with any programming that can provide violent criminals with potential means to commit their crimes. Jamming technology may well have some effect against certain other vehicle tracking and security technology and, for this reason, we feel that the show’s content was counterproductive in trying to build a safer South Africa.

Tracker strongly believes that any technology, company or intervention that makes it difficult for thieves to exist should be welcomed and encouraged or, at the very least, be interrogated in a balanced manner. As a case in point, not a single statistic was quoted in the show that proves what an effective role the tracking industry is playing in helping to keep down crime. Neither was a single case mentioned where the industry has saved the lives of scores of motorists.

It’s also worth remembering that vehicle tracking isn’t solely about Stolen Vehicle Recovery. It’s also about safe travelling, roadside and medical assistance, efficient and cost-effective (Green) motoring and a number of other factors.  One should also consider the many millions that are being saved in both motor insurance premiums and the cost of having to replace stolen vehicles.

2. Industry insiders

No industry in the world can claim to be exempt from criminal infiltration. From the American Government to the biggest and most admired companies in the world, there will almost always be bad apples in any large grouping of people. However, Tracker is very proud of the security measures and protocols that it has put in place to safeguard both its staff and its customers. Not only does Tracker run regular screenings and Polygraph tests on our installers and other Tracker staff members, but we employ a number of countermeasures and security protocols (organizational and technological) to ensure that our business is among the most secure of its kind anywhere in South Africa.

3. Motorists taken hostage

While there are unfortunate events where motorists are sometimes taken hostage by vehicle criminals, these incidents remain in the minority of cases. Most vehicle criminals understand the added risks (and increased charges they face) when taking motorists hostage and would rather get the vehicle away from the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. Furthermore, Tracker has saved the lives of several motorists who have been taken hostage in the past and these subsequent arrests have ensured that these hijackers are placed behind bars and are unable to repeat their crimes.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our many valued customers and partners who support and agree with our viewpoint on this matter.