If you're currently shopping for a car, buying a tracking and recovery system for your new ride may be completely unnecessary. Some cars come with them pre-installed. The most well-known example is OnStar, an on-board guidance and security system installed in more than 30 General Motors models. OnStar's got a lot more to offer than most tracking systems because its GPS option is just a small part of the package. Add in the hands-free calling, emergency assistance and remote vehicle shutdown, and OnStar can do plenty. And GM isn't the only car manufacturer with a helpful car system; BMW's Assist service offers similar options in some 2007 and later vehicles [source: BMW USA]. Both charge $199 a year to keep their services up and running.
But most of us checking out security systems probably already own a car. So, are there any aftermarket tracking systems worth looking into? Actually, yes. But because tracking and recovery systems rely on GPS and/or cellular technology to pinpoint stolen vehicles, they will come with annual service fees just like OnStar and BMW Assist. However, one affordable GPS tracking unit, Zoombak, sells for just $100 and comes with an annual service fee of about $150. Or, the company offers a $400 lifetime plan -- not a bad deal if you use it for a decade [source: Zoombak]. Zoombak is purely a tracking system, so don't expect the advanced features of OnStar like hands-free calling and emergency assistance as part of the service. Nevertheless, it did win the award for 2010's Best Aftermarket Telematic device [source: Telematics Update].
CarShield is another affordable system compared to some of the high-end security options out there: A $160 annual fee offers you assistance services like OnStar, and a $349 device for your car provides tracking and the ability to access all sorts of vehicle diagnostic information. That might sound expensive, but one of the most famous tracking systems -- LoJack -- will cost you a whole lot more. That's not to say all that cash goes to waste -- LoJack has some unique benefits less expensive security systems can't match. We'll talk about LoJack next.