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What is LoJack, and How Does It Work?

A Look at One of the Oldest and Most Successful Stolen Vehicle Recovery Systems

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Many police cruisers are equipped with LoJack tracking equipment

LoJack may not help deter thieves, but it does make it a lot easier for the police to track down stolen vehicles.

Image courtesy of Scott Davidson, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

LoJack is a neologism that was coined as a play on the term “hijack.” It’s also the name of the company that coined the term, which uses it to refer to a handful of theft recovery services. The original service centered around stolen vehicle recovery, but LoJack also offers products that can assist in the recovery of:

  • laptops
  • cargo shipments
  • heavy equipment

In addition to these theft recovery services, LoJack also offers a product that can assist in finding lost children, Alzheimers patients, elderly people who suffer from dementia, and other potentially vulnerable loved ones.

How Does LoJack Work?

LoJack for laptops is software based, but all of the other products rely on two main components. One of these components is a radio transmitter that can be installed in a car, truck, motorcycle, or any other vehicle. The other part of the system is a series of radio receivers. These receivers are operated by local police forces, and they are very widespread. Police forces in 27 states and Washington DC use LoJack, and it is also available in 30 other countries.

If a vehicle that has LoJack is reported as stolen, a remote command can be sent to activate its transmitter. The LoJack system in the vehicle will then start broadcasting on a set frequency, which allows police in the local area to home in on its location. The broadcasting range of LoJack can differ depending on the position, height, and composition of buildings and other obstructions, but police cars within about a 3-5 mile radius will typically be able to receive the signal.

When a police tracking unit receives a signal from a stolen vehicle, a few different things happen. The tracking unit will indicate the general direction that the signal is coming from, which allows the police officers to home in on the stolen vehicle. The tracker will also access the LoJack database that contains information about vehicles that use the system. That will provide the police officers with the VIN, the make and model, and even the color of the vehicle. Using that information, the police are then able to track and recover the vehicle.

Is LoJack Effective?

The efficacy of LoJack can depend on a number of factors, but it does increase the recovery rate of stolen vehicles. The average recovery rate for stolen vehicles in the United States in 2010 was barely over 50 percent, and many of those cars and trucks were severely damaged before the police found them. According to LoJack, vehicles that use their tracking system are recovered about 90 percent of the time. Since the police are able to track the vehicles in real time, many of those recoveries are also much faster than they might have otherwise been.

However, LoJack has a few inherent weaknesses. Since the technology relies on short range radio broadcasts, the signals can be blocked either intentionally or unintentionally. Radio jammers are capable of completely obscuring broadcasts from a LoJack system, and even parking the vehicle in certain parking structures can make it difficult for the police to track. Of course, other stolen vehicle recovery systems can also be bypassed with very similar methods.

Are There Any Alternatives to LoJack?

There are a lot of stolen vehicle recovery systems on the market, but none of them work the way that LoJack does. LoJack is the only system that uses short range radio broadcasts, and it’s also the only commercial tracking system that local police forces use.

Some of the alternatives to LoJack include:

  • Mobile IQ
  • Smart Tracker
  • VectorTrak
  • Zoombak

Most OEMs also have their own stolen vehicle recovery or vehicle tracking solutions, many of which are integrated into the navigation or infotainment systems. These systems can typically be activated after a theft like LoJack, though they usually track the vehicle via its cellular radio. Some of the OEM alternatives to LoJack include:

  • GM’s OnStar
  • BMW Assist
  • Toyota Safety Connect
  • Lexus Enform
  • Mercedes-Benz TeleAid
  • Mopar EVTS
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