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We shouldn’t speed and most of the time we don’t. But every now and then we bend the rules – whether by accident or design – and Murphy’s Law dictates there will probably be a cop with a radar gun right there to see us. Just a single speeding ticket can have long term effects, potentially increasing your insurance premiums by up to 22%.
A Radar Detector then is a great piece of kit that can provide that little bit of extra protection just when you need it most. But with so many model on the market which is the right one for you? Our automotive team are proud to present selection of the best radar detectors on the market.
The Best Radar Detector
This model from Cobra certainly has price on its side! Clocking in at well under $100, it is the second cheapest product on this list. For that price you don’t get all the bells and whistles that come with premium models, such as direction indicators. Whether you want to know if the cop with the Radar gun is behind or in front – only you will know if that extra knowledge is worth splashing out on a premium model for.
In use, this device is pretty small, tipping the scales at under 5 ounces. That means it’s nice and easy to mount on most dash or windscreens without being obtrusive. It is calibrated to detect all the standard Radar wavelengths employed by the police; it is also rated to detect laser speed detectors. That may be asking a little much for such a low price – and if it does detect a laser you will probably crash anyway, as the laser detection noise is the most terrifying, high pitched screech!
As with anything you get what you pay for – this is pretty cheap, and it will do a pretty good job. Just don’t expect miracles for a double-digit price tag.
Detects Radar & Lasers
- Weight4.8 oz
Poor Laser Detection
Whistler has an excellent reputation for producing high quality detectors that don’t break the bank. This model brings a lot of premium features to the table, for a price well below $300. That makes this model around the mid market price, but don’t let that fool you!
The fact that you get detection across all bands of radar commonly used by US Police is a great start. Add to that the fact it comes with built in laser detection too and the features are really starting to mount. Finally, 360 degree protection from both is an incredibly useful feature to have – and rounds off a trio of excellent design points in this model.
Some users have reported a higher than normal incidence of false alarms with this model, especially across K-Band Radar beam wavelength. Truth is, you’ll likely get false alarms with most models – so really you just have to decide if it is worth maybe having a few more to shave some dollars off the price tag.
360 Degree Detection
Detects All Bands of Radar
- Weight1 lb
Detects both Laser & Radar
Mid-Market Price tag
Higher Rate of False Alerts
This model from Beltronics is toward the cheaper end of the price range and as such it loses some functionality that you would expect on a more expensive model. The biggest loss is right down there in the cons list – there is no laser detection facility on this model.
Now, not all police forces employ laser speed guns anyway, so this may not be a huge loss. What you get instead is protection from detector detection. That’s right, detector detection – try saying that fast 10 times in a row!
Truth is, as Radar detector technology becomes better and better – plus more of us have it in our cars – the police are fighting back. They are now beginning to employ devices that can detect that you have your own detector. Therefore detectors that come with built in protection from that are very useful indeed.
Beyond that stand out feature you get a nice bright LED screen that is easy to see, especially in dark conditions. This is a pretty decent model with some very useful features for a low price.
Scans all Radar Wavelengths
AutoScan Increases Range
Immune to VG-2 Radar Detection
- Weight4 oz
Built in Protection from Police Detection
Lower End Price
No Laser Detection
This model from Uniden is not the most expensive on this list – but it’s not far off either! We’re talking a serious investment if you want to buy this model, so the question really has to be – is it worth it?
Well, this product does an awful lot to justify its price tag. Probably the stand out feature is the built in GPS function. This updates the detector with known speed camera positions giving it an extra edge on other devices. Add to that the high radar sensitivity and the built in, highly effective false alarm filter and you have a very, very capable machine here.
There’s also the fact that product provides complete 360-degree protection and it really does start to justify that price tag.
Extreme Radar Sensitivity
- Weight1.51 lbs
Extreme Long Range
Uses GPS Technology
Escort have a reputation for making some of the best Radar detectors on the market – and this model keeps up that proud tradition by bringing a number of excellent and useful features to the table.
Firstly, the detector itself is extremely sensitive, providing 360 degree protection from both Radar and Laser speed guns. Having the ability to detect both – and with a high degree of sensitivity – is a really useful feature.
What tips it over many other similar models however is the built in GPS system. Now, this uses a preloaded database with thousands of permanent camera locations. However, it also communicates (via GPS) with other Escort detector users. This creates a constantly updating, real time map of camera and speed gun locations. This can even help to protect against temporary speed traps set up on the fly by single police officers parking up by the side of the road.
That is just a fantastic level of protection, from a device which is expensive, don’t get me wrong – but it’s the not the most expensive on this list either.
Extreme Long Range Sensitivity
- Weight1.4 lbs
Extremely Long Range
Detects Radar and Laser
Auto Learn Features Connects you to Other Drivers
Our second entry from Whistler and our cheapest detector on the list – you’ll get change from a $50 bill with this model. Don’t just write this one off and scroll past though – we here at Car Bible like a good bargain, and this one is a prime example that sometimes you can get a little more than you pay for.
With this model you are looking at detection capability across all Radar bands employed by the police today. In addition, it also detects laser speed guns and provides 360 degree protection from both. It also employs cloaking tech to protect itself – and you – from being detected in use by the police.
The downside is that it is all in a pretty basic model, with no direction indication and patchy false alarm elimination at best. However, for the price, it will certainly do a decent job.
Detects all Radar Bands
Detection Cloaking Technology
- Weight5.4 oz
Lot of features for a Low Price
No Direction Finding
Very Basic Model
Yes, this one may look like the love child of Mickey Mouse and RoboCop, but it is those sticking out ears that are the USP of this model. They are external mounted antennae, and this is the only model on the list to employ that feature.
What’s more, one faces backwards whilst one faces forward. This completely unique antennae array install is designed to provide outstanding performance in detecting both Radar and Laser speed guns.
It is also has a lifetime guarantee against becoming obsolete. The design as you see it originated in 1992, and has not changed since – Valentine One very much going with the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mantra. You can even send your model back to Valentine to be updated with new software as and when required.
Yes, it’s not cheap – but this is a superb device that really is an outstanding long-term investment that should serve you well for years to come.
Built in Antennae
Full Band Capability
Full Laser Protection
- BrandValentine One
- Weight1.65 lbs
Forward and Rear Facing for 360 Degree Protection
Say hello to this shiny Mac-Daddy, the newest model brought to the market by industry leaders Escort. It takes everything from the popular Max line of detectors and brings it all together in one incredibly small package – just 1.76 ounces! The price however is not so small – this is in fact the most expensive item on the list.
Built in antennae arrays (forward and rear facing) provide 360-degree detection for the full bandwidth of Radar and Laser speed guns. Internal processing power has been boosted to the max for incredible fast decision making – this little beauty sifts though a wealth of data with amazing speed and accuracy to pinpoint threats for you quickly and efficiently.
The display is easy to read, with a lovely separate display of directional arrows to point you toward (or away!) from any lurking cops or speed cameras.
It really does do it all, and do it extremely well – but that price tag is eye watering. Still, if you want the best you have to be prepared to pay premium fees for it.
Built in Antennae – Front & Rear
Fast Acting DSP Technology Processes Information Fast
Simple Communication Including Direction Arrows
- Weight1.76 oz
It does Everything, and does it Well!
Expensive. Very, very expensive.
Best Radar Detector Buying Guide & FAQ
There we are – our list of the best Radar detectors on the market. But how can you “detect” (good one, huh?) which is the best device to go for? As we said up top, and as you will have seen in the product guide, prices really vary across the board with theses devices, with some stating at $50 for a budget model, premium models going for north of $600 and most devices somewhere in the middle - $350 being about the average price.
That is quite an investment all right. However, as with many of the products you buy for your car, you really need to look at the long-term here too. The fact is that traffic citations – especially speeding tickets – are big business for the cops. Seriously – they issue around 41 million tickets a year – that’s 112,000 every single day!
Tickets raise billions of dollars of revenue every year too – yes billions, with a B. Police Departments and local government are not going to voluntarily turn down that revenue stream. So if you don’t want them dipping into your bank account then you need to take steps yourself to cut down on the chances of getting a ticket.
Driving safely and obeying the speed limit is of course the easiest way to achieve this – and that is the method we heartily endorse above all others. But at the same time, mistakes can happen, the speedometer needle can creep just the wrong side of the speed limit and – WHAM! A big, fat, speeding ticket for a momentary loss of concentration.
Even if you’ve never got a ticket in your life, chances are you will at some stage – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got at least one ticket! So look at a Radar Detector as being like a little extra protection when you need it most.
But how to choose the right one for you? Well, first up you need to know how they work…
How Radar Detectors Work
So there we’ve looked at the best detectors on the market. We’ve talked about the cost, we’ve talked about some of the features that are important, but there may be one question you’re still asking yourself…
….so just how do these things work then?
Well, luckily it’s pretty simple – though it is slightly different for Radar and laser detection.
So Radar First
It’s easiest to think of a Radar speed detector as a flashlight. As it shines it’s light onto your car, the car is illuminated. If you are holding the flashlight, you can now see the car. The further away it is the less light bounces off the car and back to your eyes, right?
A Radar speed gun fires a pulse of microwave energy at the car instead of light. Some of that pulse of energy bounces back from the car and is received by the Radar speed gun. Depending both on how much energy and how fast it comes back, the Radar Speed Gun can calculate the speed of the car.
Radar detectors on the other hand are equipped with sensors that can detect these microwaves. They will ping you with a noise and, depending on the features included on the detector, can point you in the direction the microwave pulse is coming from.
The other thing to bear in mind is that these pulses of energy can operate across different frequencies. That’s why in the product list above we mention this fact, and point out the detectors that work across different frequencies.
Lasers work by firing pure light energy at your vehicle, then measuring how quickly that light energy returns. This means that Laser speed guns are more accurate and much faster than Radar versions.
However, they also need to be held completely still in order to work properly. This usually means they are mounted on tripods or something similar – making them less mobile and harder to deploy than Radar speed guns.
Again, a detector that is set up for lasers will detect that energy in and around the vehicle’s general vicinity, again alerting you when it detects it.
Is it Illegal to Have a Radar Detector?
Helpfully, every single one of the 50 states in the US have different rules when it comes to Radar detectors, so it pays to double check the rules both in your state and also in any neighboring states you may drive through.
Broadly speaking, radar detectors are only outright banned in two places in the US – in the state of Virginia and also in the District of Columbia (Washington DC).
In addition, they are also banned in large trucks in the states of New York and Illinois, and there is a Federal (i.e. nationwide) ban on their use in any commercial vehicle. So no matter where you are, do not use a Radar detector in a commercial vehicle.
Don’t be tempted to use it in a prohibited vehicle and/or state assuming that you’ll never get caught. The Police are very well able to detect their use, so don’t risk it! Even models that boast stealth modes or protection from detection may not be 100% accurate – and using them when you’re not allowed to can lead to serious legal issues and everything form fines driving bans – even jail time.
So again, check your local laws before buying or using a Radar detector and if in doubt, don’t use it!
Radar Detector Features to Look Out For
So what features make a stand out Radar detector, and what should you bear in mind whilst making your decision?
- Budget – Perhaps more than any other consideration, you need to decide your budget before you start shopping. We’ve laid out a range of options in the list above, with models that give you change from a $50 bill all the way up to premium models costing $400 to over $500.
- Attachment – You need to attach the model to your car! Some models are designed to sit on the dashboard, we find they can be hard to see properly and hard to adjust. All the models above are designed to attach to the windscreen via suction cups. Bear in mind the size of your vehicle too – don’t obstruct your vision through a small windscreen with a huge detector!
- Lasers – All the above models are designed to find Radar speed detectors, because they are by far the most common type you will encounter. Some are also designed to work with Laser detectors. It’s worth deciding if you want a model that does both, as they will generally be more expensive. Many police departments don’t bother with laser detectors because they are more expensive and harder to deploy.
- 360 Degree Protection – This is a useful feature that will provide protection from your vehicle being targeted from all directions. If a model does not 360-degree protection, it will only alert you to upcoming speed traps – nothing from behind. Again however, it will probably increase the cost of the model to have 360-degree protection. Bear in mind that tinted glass will affect the ability of the radar detector. So if your back and/or side windows are heavily tinted, it might be a waste of money to buy a 360 model, as it probably won’t work very well.
How Far Can a Police Radar Detect your Speed?
Smaller is better if you want to avoid being speed checked! Because both Radar and laser devices work by firing energy (in the form of microwaves or light) at your car to judge speed, the bigger the target the larger the bounce back will be.
So a big target like a truck can be speed checked from up to a mile away – actually beyond the field of vision of a human being! So if you’re a truck driver, you may be being speed checked by a cop you can’t even see.
A smaller target like a sports car has to be much closer – more like about 500 feet maximum distance.
Our Top Pick for Best Radar Detector
So, the first thing to say before we get to our top pick is that the selection we made will not be for everyone. There is no such thing in the world as a one size fits all product, and the list of models above reflects that.
We have created that list in the hope there will be something for everyone, and that matches their own specific requirements. So if the price is key there are detectors from the full price range of less than $50 to over $500 and everything in between. There are detectors for both Laser and Radar, and some which just specialize in Radar only (many police forces after all don’t use laser speed guns).
So go take a look at some of the key features as we discuss in the piece above. Decide which ones are indeed key for you, and run that past the product guide. You’ll be surprised that a model you overlooked previously actually provides everything you need – and maybe for a lower price than the one that initially caught your eye.
Now, on to the top pick. I’ll level with you, I was tempted to simply pick the final model, the Escort Max 360, as the top pick and knock off and grab a beer.
But that that just seems like cheating. Yes, it is the best model on the list and if you want a truly premium machine that benefits from years of design experience by all means go for it. It just seems like cheating to pick the most expensive model on the list – anyone can go straight to the premium item and call it the best.
So that’s why my top pick is the Valentine One Radar Detector – and not just because it has cute cyber Mickey Mouse ears. Ok, that is a little part of it, but this model also has an excellent build quality and a totally unique design. It provides outstanding protection from both Laser and Radar and it’s easy to use.
It’d not cheap either, don’t get me wrong! But it is a bit cheaper than the Escort max 360, whilst delivering nearly identical results. So that’s why it’s our top pick – but again, just because it’s ours doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be yours too!