When the weather warms up, the feet on the gas pedals get heavier. Even with gas prices at crazy record highs, and speeding will empty your tank significantly faster than sticking to the speed limit, people see that long straightaway on a clear sunny day and can’t resist punching it.
While we certainly can’t endorse such behavior, we can give you a little help to keep you out of traffic court with these eight great radar detector choices. Though it may seem too good to be true, the best radar detectors really can help you avoid a ticket, which is why this technology is banned in certain states.
Intrigued? Keep reading to find the best radar detector for your vehicle.
How Do Radar Detectors Work?
There’s no single “eureka!” moment for the invention of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging); the first experimentation with radio waves goes back to the late 19th century. Military usage became widespread in World War II — the British used it to great advantage during the Battle of Britain; the Americans unfortunately ignored the readings of the radar station at Pearl Harbor.
A radar gun is a relatively simple device radio-wave transmitter and receiver that sends a radio wave toward an object, which then reflects the wave back to the gun. Based on the frequency change of the radio wave, the gun calculates the speed of the object, and works whether it’s moving toward the gun or away from the gun. (No, you’re not safe after you pass the speed trap.)
Lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) guns use bursts of infrared lasers to do the same job as the radar gun, but with much greater speed and accuracy. Lidar units can also be automated, with a camera that takes a picture of your license plate when you’re busted.
Radar detectors pick up radio signals, concentrating on the frequencies used by radar guns — mainly K, Ka, Ku and X. But there are so many radio signals in the air, from AM/FM radio to garage door openers to automatic doors at stores, that there are always going to be false-positive signals. The best radar detectors are the ones best at filtering out this background noise and sticking to the signals that mean you’re being targeted by police.
Newer radar detectors also have a Laser alert, but unfortunately that usually only goes off when you’ve been targeted, by which time it’s too late. The best defense against those are the crowd-sharing apps that come with many radar detectors, or ones like Waze.
Before Buying Radar Detectors, Also Consider…
A few pertinent facts:
- Radar detectors are illegal in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
- They are not allowed to be used on military bases or in federal parks
- They cannot be windshield-mounted in California and Minnesota, which pretty much eliminates everything except models that can be hardwired into your car
- Laser jammers exist, but they’re illegal in 11 states and D.C., so be sure to look that up before you go shopping for one.
Short of these restrictions, the best radar detectors can save you from expensive speeding tickets. To help you stay out of traffic court, here are eight stellar picks to help you run from the gun, thwart the speed traps, and keep your lead foot from crushing your driving record, your checkbook, and your insurance rate.
1. Uniden R7
When it comes to the best radar detectors for civilian use, Uniden is the name to know. Its models routinely win best-of awards by the armful, and the R7 is our favorite of them all. It has the longest detection range on the market, which means maximum warning time and protection. The directional arrows on the display lets you know if the officer is ahead of you, complete with band type and signal strength, and when you pass them by. It comes pre-loaded with a red-light camera and speed camera locations — two of the hardest types of traps to evade — and continuously updates its database and firmware. It even has an integrated GPS that learns and remembers false alerts, everything from those unmanned speed signs to automatic door openers in stores. (Who knew, right?)
Before long your regular commute will be virtually free of those annoying false alarms. If there’s a fuzzbuster on the market that closely approximates a cloaking device, it’s the Uniden R7. Yes, it’s an expensive product, but if it saves you from just one speeding ticket, then it’s already paid for itself.
2. Escort iXC
Escort, another big hitter in the radar-detector field, takes the silver with the Escort iXc. For a little less than the Uniden R7 you get many of the same protections, including a robust database of permanent camera locations which is constantly updated in real-time. The Escort iXc also can access the data of other Escort users, so you’re also always looped in to the location of temporary traps. The iXc gives you omnidirectional coverage from both radar and laser speed guns, and delivers the threat information on a bright and easy-to-read alphanumeric screen.
3. Cobra RAD 480i
BEST BUDGET RADAR DETECTOR
The old “you get what you pay for” saw is more true with radar detectors than most other electronic gadgets. A solid and effective radar detector for under $300 is rare indeed, but one for $150 was almost inconceivable before the Cobra RAD 480i showed up. Is it as powerful and robust as the Uniden R7? No, not even close, but modify your expectations along with your price point — the Cobra RAD 480i has front and rear detection for all radar bands and laser guns, and an astoundingly good detection range. This detector punches well above its weight limit and will absolutely save you from a ticket or three.
4. Radenso XP
For a palm-sized device, a radar detector can be maddeningly confusing to operate. So many bands and alerts and sounds — is a speeding ticket that bad? Yes, it is, so if you want a radar detector that’s easy to grok, the Radenso XP is for you. It’s out-of-the-box friendly, requiring next to no settings or adjustments before it’s slapped onto your dashboard or windshield. And despite the simplicity, it’s a very capable unit, particularly against red-light cameras and speed cameras.
5. Valentine V1 Gen2
Do you read car magazines? If so, then you’ve seen the face of Mike Valentine hundreds of times over the years, on ads for his Valentine V1 radar detector. The V1 has been a stalwart for almost 30 years, and a longtime favorite of car enthusiasts — a seriously tough crowd to please, and not averse to putting the pedal to the metal. So it was big news indeed when Valentine, at long last, unveiled the successor to the venerable V1.
The Valentine V1 Gen2 has built-in Bluetooth and is equipped with technology found in military chirp radars to help find targets at distance. New low-noise amplifier tech helps detect weaker signals and also traps local oscillator output, making the Gen2 nearly undetectable. It also includes the K-band verifier which sorts out false hits from automatic door openers. Our favorite feature, though? Valentine is rewarding loyal customers by offering to upgrade their V1 to the new Gen2 tech. You can do far worse than trusting the brand favored by car nerds for nearly three decades.
How well is the Gen2 selling? So well that it’s on backorder, with new shipments scheduled to begin in early July. That’s an inconvenience on one hand, but also a solid endorsement of the Valentine V1 Gen2 — follow the gearheads and wait in line, it will be worth it.
6. Radenso Pro M
BEST STEALTH RADAR DETECTOR
The Radenso Pro M might be small and affordable, but it overdelivers in a big way when it comes to features. Able to detect unwanted radar activity from miles away, the Radenso Pro M also has the ability to alert you to red lights and traffic cameras. But one of the best reasons to pick one of these up is the fact that it can go stealth and make itself undetectable to radar detector detectors (yes, those are absolutely a thing).
7. Uniden R3 Extreme Long Range
A half-step below its cousin the Uniden R7 in features and a full step below in price, the Uniden R3’s main appeal is clearly spelled out in its name: extreme long range. It also has 360-degree Eagle Eye detection to thwart a comprehensive list of bands and varieties of speed-busting waves: laser, X- and K-bands, Ka wideband, and POP mode radar guns, along with false-detection K- and Ka-band filters. The R3 announces threats in a clear voice to allow you to keep your eyes on the road, and the color OLED display is easy to read for someone sitting shotgun. The R3, like most of today’s high-end detectors, has an updatable database, but this one must be connected to a PC via the included mini-USB cord. But that’s a minor inconvenience at best for a unit that performs as well as the R3.
8. Cobra RAD 380
In your search for the best radar detector under $200, you are sure to encounter more than your share of budget models. To be frank, most of them suck. And the only thing worse than driving without radar protection is driving with the false sense of security provided by a bad radar detector. The money you skimped on will pale in comparison to the price of your speeding ticket. So when we found a rock-solid detector for a hair under $100, we were stunned. But we shouldn’t have been, because it’s a Cobra.
The Rad 380 has all the features you look for in the best radar laser detectors — 360-degree coverage, solid range, anti-false-alarm filtration, DSP-boosted processing time, updatable firmware, and a clear color-coded display. It just has them in more modest doses than the more pricey members of the Cobra line. Maybe this isn’t the model for you if you’re planning on doing a Cannonball Run remake or some Fast and Furious driving (and please don’t do that), but if you just want a solid layer of protection on the highway at an unbeatable price, look no further.