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What is Fleet Telematics, and How Does It Work?


If you’re a business owner or fleet manager, we don’t need to remind you how critical vehicle tracking is. Whether you own just a few small trucks or operate a fleet numbering in the dozens, monitoring and analyzing the real-time data collected by their onboard software can make an outsized impact on your fleet management strategy – not to mention your bottom line.

The technology making this level of data collection possible is known as telematics. Today’s fleet telematics software solutions are incredibly advanced, and once integrated with a vehicle’s internal computing system, they can start feeding back data you might not have realized was even possible to collect. Driver braking too hard or not wearing their seatbelt? You’ll know all that and then some thanks to telematics.

We wanted to dive a bit deeper into the world of telematics, including how it works and the myriad ways it can help improve your business. If you’re looking for one of the easiest ways to improve your fleet’s efficiency and boost ROI, read on.

What is Telematics?

Cars on a highway overlaid with telematics data

Vehicle telematics is essentially a form of asset tracking by means of advanced telecommunications software. The technology partners with GPS information and automotive sensor data to paint a picture of driver performance, route and vehicle efficiency, regulatory compliance, and other metrics, giving fleet managers and operators unparalleled insight into everything from fuel usage to driving habits. It goes without saying that today’s telematics systems are one of the most potent tools a fleet manager can have in their arsenal.

The sheer scope of the data that telematics can track and report on is impressively diverse. Here’s just a quick snippet of the kind of information a telematics system can collect from a vehicle:

  • Accelerometer readings
  • Aggressive braking instances
  • GPS data
  • Fuel usage
  • Engine diagnostic data
  • Idling trends

This data can inform fleet maintenance needs, and fleet telematics systems can also assist with compliance procedures, including recordkeeping and reporting. Here are a few legal responsibilities that telematics can lend a hand with:

Ultimately, a comprehensive telematics system can enable real-time data collection from individual vehicles across your fleet, then stitch it all together to show you at a glance where you’re doing well and where there’s an opportunity for further operational efficiencies. From everything from compliance and fuel usage to driver safety and sustainability, telematics makes it possible to track the parameters that matter most to your business easily.

How Does Telematics Work?

Modern telematics is possible thanks to the high-tech computing systems built into modern cars and trucks. At the heart of such a network is the powertrain control module, or PCM. This unit acts like the brain of your engine – it’s fed critical information from all major mechanical systems in order to determine an appropriate response. Braking hard? The PCM might tap into the ABS. Aggressively accelerating? Expect the PCM to adjust the air/fuel ratio and other engine parameters.

The same data being used to make these decisions is also what’s collected by vehicle telematics systems. To facilitate collection, a telematics device – also known as a black box – is plugged into the vehicle’s OBD-II or CAN-BUS port, which is a universal plug found on all modern vehicles that enables direct access into the data troves of a PCM.

Once the black box is plugged in, it will begin to monitor and relay vast quantities of vehicle data. A SIM card within the telematics device uses the cellular network to beam this data back to the hardwired computer that houses the fleet management system, where it will await further analysis by the fleet manager.

The best fleet management systems will allow you to use the resulting data to rank drivers, generate reports, review compliance issues, inform fleet maintenance practices, and more. Their computing capabilities process an overwhelming volume of data into digestible, actionable reports that paint a clear picture of the health and efficiency of your fleet.

Is Telematics the Same as GPS?

No. Though a GPS system is a key component of telematics, the two technologies are different. GPS, or Global Positioning System, uses satellites to determine the approximate location of anything equipped with a GPS receiver. Today, these receivers can be found in cell phones, dog collars, and outdoor gear, among other things. One of their most prolific uses? Modern vehicles.

Cars and trucks built for both commercial and private use are increasingly equipped with location-enabled features – think anything from factory navigation systems to telematics services like GM’s OnStar or the various cloud-based offerings or SOS functionalities now available from nearly every manufacturer. Any vehicle equipped with GPS-enabled features such as these will have its location information collected by the PCM. A fleet telematics system, once plugged into the OBD-II port, can then access this data.

For vehicles not equipped with navigation or similar features, gaining access to location data is still possible thanks to the GPS receivers embedded in most fleet telematics devices. Once plugged in, these black boxes make it easy to collect GPS data even from older models in your fleet.

Does Telematics Help with Asset Tracking?

It’s hard to overstate just how impactful fleet telematics is when it comes to asset tracking. The scope and volume of real-time data being remitted by this technology can not only provide an approximate location at any given time of any given vehicle – it can drill down to where exactly your trucks are idling, how long they spend traversing certain routes, and even how much time drivers spend above the posted speed limit.

Of course, telematics isn’t a complete asset tracking solution. Though such software is invaluable to fleet managers and others at the home office, those working on the front lines of your business – the drivers, mechanics, plant managers, and others – would benefit from a more tangible, analog solution. Physical tracking and ID labels such as durable VIN tags provide exactly that – an at-a-glance solution that requires no computers or special tools to review key asset information.

The bottom line? For a complete, full-scope solution to asset tracking, a telematics system is invaluable – but can be made even more complete with the adoption of asset tags and other physical, analog solutions.

Final Thoughts

Because telematics allows you to review and track so many operational metrics, you’ll not only have an unmatched view of where your vehicles are at any given time – you can also use this data to hone your fleet management strategy. From streamlining routes to driver coaching to fleet maintenance, the potential for telematics to dramatically reduce costs and improve efficiencies couldn’t be higher.

Questions about the article? Let us help!

Our sales engineers are experts in automatic asset tracking, tagging and identification,a nd can answer all your questions. Get in touch now.

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