One of the major local players in the vehicle tracing business is Tracker (www.tracker.co.za), a company owned by the previous VenFin (33%) with a significant black empowerment partner (25%).
Tracker has more than 300 000 subscribers and differs from its competitors in that it is not local technology and the tracking concept is different. The American system is however working in 24 countries worldwide and has been available in South Africa since 1996.
Although Tracker has its own recovery team (figures provided show 1100 vehicles and 42 aircraft), the prime recovery mechanism is making use of the SAPS (although how effective this is with an already overworked and understaffed force with less vehicles than required must be in question). Besides this, Tracker locating units are located at all major border posts, a very effective mechanism to prevent vehicles being taken immediately out of the country. Tracker is probably the cheapest option in terms of insurance-recognised systems and this could be one reason for the high take up of the system.
Tracker makes use of radio transmitters where the signal is transmitted via satellite to activate the unit in the event of theft. Tracker has in fact its own unique, dedicated radio satellite network system that covers 98% of the nation's population. Areas not covered include a large part of the Northern Cape and other small pockets throughout the country but these are scheduled to be equipped shortly with satellite/radio coverage.
The products offered start with the Tracker Retrieve where, when a vehicle is stolen or hijacked, the user must call the 24/7 National Control Centre to activate the device. Unique passwords are used between the customer and Tracker's staff during the activation of Tracker in order to ensure that the call is legitimate. Tracker Retrieve makes use of the full tracking network although it is the entry-level device.
Tracker Alert acts like a silent guard and once armed by the driver it will keep watch on the vehicle. Any unwarranted movement of the vehicle will be detected and the operators at the Control Centre will be automatically informed and will then turn on the tracking system. Again, procedure dictates that they will first try to contact the owner before activation.
Tracker Locate works with either Tracker Retrieve or Tracker Alert, and allows the owner to keep track of his vehicle at any time just using their cellphone. It will send back an SMS message that will provide information such as car status, location, speed etc. The owner can also log on to the Tracker Locate website where the vehicle's position is displayed on a road map.
Police coverage is ensured by fitting tracking computers to many police vehicles and aircraft. Police units specifically addressed include the Anti-Hijack unit, the Dog unit, the Air Wing, the Highway Patrol, the Vehicle Theft Unit and the Flying Squad. Tracker is the only fully-comprehensive stolen vehicle recovery system to make use of the vast police resources. Tracker operates 28 of its own support teams, and 49 border posts are now equipped with tracking computers.
Testing that the Tracker system is fully operational is very easy. A PIN number is obtained from the Tracker Call Centre and then one can use a cellphone to call Tracker Selftest. This is a service that is provided free of charge from selected BP petrol stations, and the reply from Selftest is an SMS that will confirm the operational status of the system. Testing of the functioning of the system is essential to ensure that what one is paying for each month is in good working order. Unlike some of the other tracking and recovery services, Tracker does not carry out testing on your behalf.
Tracker has a very good retrieval record, the system having recovered more than 26 000 vehicles since its inception in 1996. The system has also allowed the police to arrest close to 6000 people for vehicle theft or hijacking, while some 260 chop-shops have been located and shut down.
Tracker does not install panic buttons and there is no identification on the vehicle that it has been fitted with one of their devices. These are two of the precautions taken to prevent further injury to people that are hijacked.
In terms of fitment centres Tracker has its own network but has also licensed a large number of independently-owned fitment centres with well-trained staff. The electronic modules used by Tracker are manufactured locally, using DigiCore, amongst other suppliers.
Tracker enjoys a high success rate and has a large number of clients. By December 2005 it had recovered more than 26 000 vehicles in its nine years of operation. Tracker has got together with insurer Santam to offer clients a deal that includes a full refund of all Tracker subscriptions paid by the client, after a valid theft or hijacking claim has been finalised.