VehiclesVehicle TrackingActive vehicle tracking systems vs passive tracking systems

Active vehicle tracking systems vs passive tracking systems

If technology leaves you a bit cold then learning about the different types of van tracking systems may just start your eyes glazing over, and there are lots of products on the market just to add more confusion to the picture.

The best way to think about tracking systems is to divide them into the two categories of active and passive.  Does your business need or would it benefit from real time data so actually knowing where a vehicle is at any given moment or can you wait for a van to come back to base before you download data?  This is really the key difference between the two systems.

Passive tracking systems

Passive tracking systems collect data like location and the speed of the vehicle and then store it in a device which is then downloaded when the vehicle comes back to the office.  The device is removed and connected to a computer to view all the relevant data.  Put simply, this system is perfectly adequate for businesses who do not need access to this data on a real time basis.  Passive tracking systems are useful to track mileage and can offer other information; the key factor is that it is historical, even by as much as one day.

Active tracking systems

Active tracking systems do not require a manual download from a device on the vehicle, instead satellite systems – usually GPS – send the data directly to base via wireless networks, keeping those in the office completely up-to-date with vehicle movements in real time.  The benefits of this are self-evident for businesses who rely on a lot of vehicle journeys such as courier companies or businesses selling and delivering goods.

Being able to monitor and if necessary, change where a vehicle is heading, to re-route it due to delays or change a pick-up or delivery at a moment’s notice is a huge benefit to many businesses in the service sector or who operate public transit systems.  Reducing time wasted, lowering fuel bills, improving customer service and tracking a stolen company van are just four immediate bonuses that spring to mind.  An active tracking system can also set up a geofence which is a pre-defined area within which a vehicle must stay.

Active tracking systems tend to be more expensive to run as there is an ongoing software requirement in order to provide real time data which is not the case with the passive equivalent.  Most businesses lease these products partly to spread the cost which makes it more palatable but also to keep abreast of tech developments and upgrades particularly where the software is concerned.


If you need to know where your vehicles are at any given moment, then active tracking systems are definitely the way to go.  Both active and passive tracking systems provide useful data and metrics about journeys, fuel usage and emissions so the deciding factor really comes down to whether or not you need the instant availability of information and whether that is a priority for your particular business.

Written by

Mark Hodgson
Mark Hodgson
Mark Hodgson is one of our expert writers. Mark is our lead researcher and editor who writes our main guides and expert topic coverage. He’s passionate about helping entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses with practical advice delivered clearly. Mark’s worked for a number of business magazines and titles and has started two small businesses himself, so has first-hand experience in setting up, managing and growing a small business and shares his expertise with our readers.

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