How to Attach a GPS Device Underneath a Car

In my new release (The Next Right Thing), the opening scene shows my protagonist, a female private investigator, attaching a GPS device underneath a subject's vehicle.  Being a private investigator, I've done this myself multiple times, so I know the drill.  I figured others writers depicting similar scenes might appreciate some tips on how this is done, as well as the legal issues.

Therefore in today's post, I'll provide some article links on GPS devices, and wrap it up with an excerpt (the opening scene) in The Next Right Thing that shows the protagonist, Las Vegas PI Cammie Copello, crawling under a pick-up truck to plant such a device.  

Articles on Locating GPS Devices on Vehicles

Some of these articles  explain where to look for a GPS device--these are the best areas to place such devices, of course.  Legal issues are critical for any real-life or fictional PI to know as well.  Even if you're writing an amateur sleuth, it's good to understand the legalities that could put your character in jail.

To read an article, click the link.

How to Tell If You Have a GPS Magnet on Your Car by Colleen Collins, eHow

Real-Time GPS Device

Real-Time GPS Device

Private Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow by Erik Eckholm, New York Times

Where to Look for a GPS Bug on Your Car If You Think You're Being Tracked by Adam Dachis, lifehacker

How to Attach a Tracking Device by Palmer Owyowng, eHow

Book Excerpt: A Fictional PI Attaches a GPS Device

In this scene, PI Cammie Copello attaches a GPS device underneath a pick-up truck.  Note that she's attuned to the make and year of the vehicle (older trucks often have steel parts that make attaching magnets so easy).  My husband-PI-partner and I used to study the type of vehicle we'd be attaching a device to, which entailed such research as visiting used car lots, speaking with auto body shops about parts attached to cars after they are repaired, and of course looking up information on the Internet.

The Next Right Thing: Opening Scene

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera.jpg

Cammie eased her 2006 silver Monte Carlo, named Phil after the fictional private eye Philip Marlowe, next to the dirt-crusted red pick-up she’d been following for the last hour. The subject--Ray “Rebel” Nathan--had strolled his six-two, cowboy-booted self into the burger dive a few minutes ago. If he was picking up to-go food, he’d be out in ten minutes, maybe less.

Cammie had to move fast.

Earlier, she’d slipped the GPS device and its battery pack inside the pocket of her jean jacket. She double-checked the bulky parts with a quick feel, then slipped out the driver’s side. Standing between Phil and the pick-up, she blinked against the surging winds while quickly scanning the area. Across the parking lot, several teenagers squealed and laughed while chasing a plastic bag the wind had wrested from their hold.  A late-model Dodge Charger droned by.  Its driver, an older dude with a skinny gray ponytail, puffed on a cigar.  Trails of blue smoke and the 70s Bee Gees hit “More than a Woman” wafted through the half-open driver’s window.

More than a woman.  Being a female in the private eye business often felt like that, plus some.  A woman had to be more resilient, sharper and often tougher to last in this male-dominated profession.

Dude turned right onto Boulder Highway, the Bee Gees’ trilling vibratos merging with the drone of noon-day traffic.

Cammie quickly moved to the front of the pick-up and plunked her butt down on the asphalt.

The device clattered out of her jacket pocket.

Cursing under her breath, she snatched the metal GPS unit and its egg-shaped antennae.  After quickly verifying their connecting wire was intact, she shoved them back into her jacket.  Leaning back, she grabbed the grill with both hands and pulled herself underneath the pick-up.  Her legs stuck outside the front of the vehicle, but they were only visible from the Boulder Highway, a mash of speeding cars, honking horns and exhaust.  It’d take someone with a sharp eye to see her limbs--and if they did, who’s to say they didn’t belong to the owner of this truck?

Carefully, she inched the device from her pocket.

She’d always figured life for most people was a rush of events and faces, racing by like the Boulder Highway traffic outside. But whenever she was battling high emotions, time had a nasty habit of snagging her, pinning her like a fly.  Caught, she’d grow aware of every movement, sound, subtlety.

Like right now.  Battling her anxiousness, time had slowed to a crawl.  The stench of twenty different fluids from the engine stifled her breath.  The heat from the asphalt seeped up like steam through her clothes.  And that relentless Las Vegas wind swirled around her like a ghost, its chilly breath caressing and prodding her with things she didn’t want to think about…it’d happened so long ago, it no longer mattered…go away, go away…

A blustery gust of wind rattled past, chasing away the ghost. Particles of dirt spit at her face, stung her hands.

Time sped up, snapped to the present.

She pressed the GPS unit against the bumper, reassured by the clank of magnet against steel.  Gotta love these older trucks and their metal parts.  She lightly tugged the electrical wire connecting the unit and antennae until the wire was taut – didn’t want it to drag, catch on anything in the road while the truck was moving.  She positioned the antennae to the back of the grill, moving it back and forth until she hit a sweet spot where it’d easily pick up satellite signals.


She smiled, her body tingling with that familiar rush of relief and satisfaction after successfully fastening one of these babies.  Maybe her uncle thought she should’ve stayed in law school, but what he didn’t get was that she dug the thrill of investigations.  What lawyer got to crawl under cars, track missing people, find someone’s long-lost sibling or high school sweetheart?  A PI’s work was the most exciting game in town.  Better than any eight-to-five.

After scooching from underneath the truck and carefully rising to her feet, she nonchalantly looked around as though absolutely nothing unusual had just happened.  She eyed a few parked cars, a woman in a blue jogging suit scurrying into a store, her cell phone glued to her ear.  A burst of the teenagers’ shrieks and laughter momentarily crested the wind, although they were no longer in sight.

No Rebel, either.  Still inside buying his greasy burger.

Oh so casually brushing dirt off her jeans, Cammie got back into Phil and drove off.


Across The Boulder Highway from the burger dive, she parked in the lot in front of the Firelight Lounge at Sam’s Town. From here, she had an unencumbered view of Rebel’s pick-up.  Time to relax, check the GPS tracking software on her smartphone, double-check everything was hooked up correctly and getting signals.

Plus she knew Rebel Boy would likely next be heading down the highway to his paramour’s apartment and Cammie was in a primo spot to slide into traffic and follow.  Her client, Rebel’s wife, didn’t know the girl’s name, or her address, but had plenty of reason for suspicion.  Lipstick on his tidy whities was the clincher.  Then a friend who worked at Sam’s Town had reported to the wife that Rebel’s truck had been seen tooling east down Boulder Highway almost every day around lunchtime. 

Cammie plucked the elastic rubber band that confined her curls in a thick knot. Ruffling her hair loose, she checked the time on her smartphone.  Twelve-twenty.  Must be eating his lunch before his noontime tryst.  Too cheap to buy girlfriend a burger, too?

Distant sirens wailed.  As their screams pulsed louder, she surveyed the highway for their approach. Two fire engines, horns blaring, careened down the highway.  Cars pulled over to let them pass.

More sirens joined the ruckus.

A police unit, lights sparkling, charged into the burger lot across the street.  Another bolted into the Firelight Lounge lot, bouncing over a speed bump.  Several white Crown Victorias--unmarked vehicles--trailed the police unit into the lot, all them bouncing over the same bump.

The first unit screeched to a halt.

Right.  Behind.  Her.

She froze, stared in her rear view mirror at the police vehicle with its blue, white and yellow lights swirling.

“This is a felony stop,” a male voice barked over a loud speaker.

“Keep your hands on the dashboard, continue facing forward, do not move. I repeat, do not move."

End of Excerpt

The Next Right Thing is available in both print and ebook formats.  To order your copy, click here.

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