Vehicle location systems can transform potential disasters into manageable situations within minutes. Ask David Sajasi, vice president of Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car in Los Angeles. When he realized that an overdue customer used a fraudulent driver's license to rent a BMW X5 SUV, Sajasi located the vehicle using and disabled the car's ignition.

"They actually made the credit card. They changed the name and they made the driver's license the same," says Sajasi. The card did not turn up as fraudulent until a second check was performed a week later, after the dishonest customer and the car were long gone.

When Sajasi located the car online, he knew that he could prevent the car from moving by disengaging the ignition. "Fortunately, no damage was done," he says. "We got our car back without a scratch on it." Loss was averted and profits were saved.

Within minutes, vehicle tracking systems can locate stolen vehicles that otherwise would be lost in the vast urban landscape. Even the most cunning thieves can be caught with tracking systems, since the technology will work even if the vehicle is re-plated or re-registered. Rental fleet operators no longer have to wait passively for their vehicle to be returned if it is stolen. Vehicle location systems empower operators to take decisive steps toward reclaiming their property.

How Vehicle Tracking Systems Work

Vehicle tracking systems typically combine global positioning system (GPS) technology and cellular technology. GPS is a worldwide radio navigation system comprising a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations. GPS uses these "man-made stars" as reference points to calculate positions.

Created by the U.S. military in the 1980s, GPS technology was introduced to private industry in 1995. GPS can pinpoint the exact location of a vehicle within minutes. When GPS is combined with wireless communications, the resulting hybrid technology is often referred to as telematics.

Vehicle location devices are typically installed in a car in less than an hour. The black box blends in with other machinery, leaving a would-be thief unaware of its presence.

For rental operators, telematics can provide a number of services that help to protect and maintain assets. These services can be used to prevent loss and to extend customer services. For example, if a renter locks his or her keys in the car, the doors can be opened remotely by the car rental operator. Or if a car turns up missing, its exact location can be determined within minutes so the car can be retrieved.

Some systems also boast such capabilities as speed monitoring. If the vehicle exceeds a preset speed limit, the auto rental operator is notified. Another plus on some systems is the ability to remotely trigger the vehicle’s horns and lights. This comes in handy when a customer can’t find the car in a crowded parking lot.

Vehicle tracking is sometimes linked to the Internet so operators can locate their vehicles online. For example, AirIQ provides a Web site that operators can visit when necessary. Using an access code, a rental operator can retrieve information on all the company’s cars armed with tracking devices. Through the Internet, several branch offices of the same company can access the same tracking information.

Telematics technology provides plenty of technical capability. Still, operators must use their business savvy to apply this technology in a way that increases revenue, creates new marketing opportunities, and prevents damages.