Hardwired GPS Trackers: Pros and Cons versus Plug-n-Play Devices

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There are two main types of GPS tracking devices for fleet vehicles. The first is hardwired tracking devices. This type of tracking device requires a three-wire connection to the vehicle. The other type of GPS tracking devices is known as plug-n-play, or PNP. Plug-n-play devices connect directly to a vehicle’s OBD-II or JBUS port.

Each type of device has its own strengths and weaknesses and is better suited to certain use cases. Understanding your business’s requirements and seeing which type of device is best suited to your specific needs will help you select the ideal hardware for your company. Picking the right GPS in-auto device for your business will help you get the most out of your GPS trackers in the long run. In this article, we will outline the pros and cons of hardwired tracking devices and plug-n-play GPS tracking devices for fleets.

Hardwired GPS Trackers


One of the pros of hardwired GPS trackers is their secure installation. This type of device requires at minimum a three-wire installation of power, ignition, and ground wiring. Hardwired trackers are positioned underneath the hood/dash of the vehicle and well out of sight of any occupant.

Additional security is provided by notifications that alert you if the device loses power for any reason—like being removed. In addition, professional installers will leave a tamper seal letting you know if anyone has tried to access the device without authorization.

Another benefit of hardwired tracking devices is the additional data and features. When used with a wiring harness, hardwired GPS trackers allow you to unlock the vehicle's doors, remotely engage or turn off the motor, enable/disable a vehicle’s starter, or monitor the vehicle’s components such as the status of the PTO or Beacon Light.

These devices also give you access to input monitoring and electronic logging devices. You can even ID drivers by assigning key fobs to them that need to be inserted before turning on the vehicle.


Now for the downsides of hardwired tracking devices. The first drawback that comes to mind is the installation downtime required for hardwired devices. Installation can take up to an hour per vehicle for a professional installer. Self-installation can take even longer, however it's relatively easy. If you can hook up a car stereo you can probably install a hardwired GPS tracker. This vehicle downtime should be taken into consideration if you choose to implement hardwired tracking devices on your fleet.

Another related negative to hardwired tracking devices is that they are difficult to transfer between vehicles. As with installation, you should plan for vehicle downtime when you need to transfer a tracking device from one vehicle to another.

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Plug-n-Play GPS Trackers 


Plug-n-play GPS trackers have many benefits. One is that they can be easily self-installed. PNP tracking devices do not require hardwired connections and are simple to install. They can be used in any vehicle with an OBD-II port. The OBD-II port is positioned in different places depending on the year, make, and model of the vehicle. However, it’s generally located under the dashboard inside of the cab. With PNP you just need to plug your GPS device into the OBD-II port to install and start immediately receiving data from the vehicle.

Another benefit of plug-n-play devices is that they are portable and easily transferred between vehicles. This comes in handy when you need to replace a vehicle in your fleet. There’s virtually no downtime when transferring PNP devices. All you need to do is unplug the GPS tracker from the vehicle you’re retiring and plug it into the replacement.

An invaluable benefit of having a plug-n-play GPS tracking installed on your fleet is the ability to receive engine diagnostics. PNP tracking devices automatically download information from the vehicle’s engine via the OBD-II port. This is standard-issue data with PNP tracking. Plug-n-play tracking devices don’t require any additional accessories to be installed in order to access engine diagnostics.

One feature available in some PNP devices is in-cab driver coaching. Some devices can inform the driver if incorrect driving behavior occurs like speeding, aggressive braking, or excess acceleration.


One major downside to plug-n-play devices is that due to their simple installation they’re also easily removed. Generally, the OBD-II port PNP device slot is exposed which lets the driver access it. Sometimes it can be accidentally dislodged, other times it is removed with malicious intent. It’s possible to install the device under the hood of the dashboard, but this negates the benefit of PNP’s simple installation. 

Another downside of plug-n-play devices is they lack external ports. There is no way to add additional vehicle monitoring beyond what comes preset. With PNP you are unable to add information on things like the vehicle’s snowplow being up or down, if doors are open or closed, or if seat belts are engaged. 

Hardwired vs Plug-n-Play GPS Trackers

Each type of GPS tracking device is better suited to certain situations. Get to know your business’s needs before deciding on which GPS tracker is right for you. For example, if you want a tracker that is virtually tamper-proof that your employees cannot alter: a hardwired GPS tracker is probably the right choice. On the other hand, if you go through vehicles quickly and want to avoid downtime then a plug-n-play GPS tracker with quick installation is probably the best fit.


Both hardwired GPS trackers and plug-n-play devices have their strengths and weaknesses. Hardwired GPS trackers are hidden in a vehicle's dash and provide extra security. They also give fleet managers additional vehicle monitoring. However, their long installation time can be expensive and adds to their cost.

Plug-n-play devices are easy to install. This is both a strength and a weakness. While this does allow for quick transfers of PNP devices between vehicles, they’re also easily removed or tampered with. By now you will hopefully have a better understanding of the pros and cons of both hardwired and plug-n-play GPS trackers and be able to understand which type suits your business’s needs.

Fleet management requires team leaders to understand all aspects of the business. Here at Azuga Fleet™ we understand this is no easy task. Let the Azuga team go to work for you with smart solutions you can implement within your fleet today. Learn how our team can help improve fleet safety, streamline asset tracking, and save you money.