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From Barcode to Bluetooth

Which vehicle tracking system is best for your business? Barcode readers might work for some, while others might prefer location services via an RFID network. Another option is a reusable Bluetooth-OBD module system that doesn’t require additional infrastructure yet provides even more data than one gets from decoding a VIN.


Decoding Vehicle Tracking Systems for a Better Understanding of True Value

Since 1981, every vehicle has been assigned its own barcode known as a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This 17-character code must be somewhere on the vehicle and must follow a format standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Today, you can scan these VIN barcodes with a smartphone or hand-held device. 

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Although a boon to inventory managers everywhere, barcode technology has limitations. Barcodes, for instance, can only be scanned one at a time, and barcode readers or scanners have to maintain a clear line of sight with each code tracked. As a result, basic barcode technology has been replaced by RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems. 

RFID Systems

RFID relies on near-field communication. Barcodes are designed to be scanned one at a time; multiple RFID tags, on the other hand, can be scanned all at once. 

RFID tags are either passive or active. Passive tags react to an antenna sending a signal that’s powerful enough to wake up the tag, which then sends a signal back. Because of its lack of battery, a passive tag’s range is within 10-60 feet of the target. 

Conversely, active RFID tags include a battery and have a much broader range that can extend longer than a football field and as far as a half-mile. 

Which begs the question: how do you narrow down exactly where a specific car sits when casting such a wide net? Especially when all it takes to spoof an RFID system is to remove the tag from the car and, say, hang it on a tree. 


Passive tags are inexpensive, at 5 to 10 cents per tag; active tags can run from $15 to $25 each. Passive RFID tags are not reusable and both types must be manually assigned. Plus, a dealership will still need to invest in an antenna system, as well as wire their lot for power. This infrastructure investment comes with a warning: if one component of an RFID system goes down, the entire chain can come down, resulting in costly service calls and replacement parts, as well as valuable sales time lost.

Bluetooth Systems

A Bluetooth app for vehicle tracking can leverage the computing power carried inside a smartphone with technology and data already present in each vehicle’s OBD (on-board diagnostics) system. The innovative process sounds simple: an encrypted module that communicates via Bluetooth is plugged into the OBD port.

Turning a smartphone into a mobile scanner could be the perfect answer to the “where’s my car” question. As a dealership’s sales reps walk around the lot, they pick up information about vehicles they pass from the OBD module, ensuring each vehicle is on the lot. The data is then gathered into a cloud database, which is accessible by the dealership.


By marrying OBD with Bluetooth, there’s no infrastructure cost similar to what’s required with an RFID system. Also an OBD can’t be spoofed: the physical car is actually there in real-time, and not maybe there based on an old report. 

Another advantage of a Bluetooth-OBD system is the amount of information tracked, going beyond VIN details and location; for instance, it can tell if the car’s battery is low or if there’s an engineering code that must be addressed before presenting the car to a customer. 

The real beauty is, the OBD plug-in modules are reusable: when the dealership sells the car, it can simply move the module into another vehicle.

And the Winner Is?

So, which vehicle tracking system is best for your business? Simple line-of-sight barcode readers might work for some. Others might find location services via an RFID network offer enough vehicle details for their needs. Still others might choose a reusable Bluetooth-OBD module system that doesn’t require additional infrastructure yet provides even more data than one gets from decoding a VIN. 

The answer is a judgment call based on the size of your inventory and the size of your budgets. 

Thanks to today’s inventory tracking options, dealerships, auction yards, lending institutions and consumers all win.

Click here to view more solutions from Mark Sargeant and AutoMap.

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