Three best radar detectors
Driving on busy roads demands a lot of concentration. Even when you're fully alert, your speed can creep up, and depending on where you are, that could result in a ticket that costs you hundreds of dollars.
Radar detectors are an effective way to monitor your speed. They give you one less thing to worry about, allowing you to concentrate on conditions and the sometimes erratic behavior of other road users.
Some of the technology can be confusing, so we've put together this radar detector buying guide with all the relevant details to clarify things. We also suggest several models that will satisfy the needs of most drivers.
Considerations when choosing radar detectors
Radar bands: There are three radar bands in use by law enforcement in the United States: KA-band, K-band, and X-band. Some manufacturers confuse the issue by saying their devices pick up more, but that's just marketing hype.
KA-band is the most common, used in about two-thirds of states. K-band is used in around one-third of states. X-band is now quite old technology and is prone to false alerts. Few states still use it (a list is available online). In areas where it isn't used by traffic cops, many owners simply turn the X-band off.
Until relatively recently, radar detectors offered differing coverage. Now almost all cover all three bands, and we wouldn't recommend buying one that doesn't.
Laser detection: Because laser light is a narrow directional beam it's more difficult to detect effectively. Cheap detectors often only have a single forward-looking sensor. Better models offer 360° coverage, though sensitivity can be low on budget models.
GPS: Devices fitted with GPS calculate speed much more accurately than your dashboard instruments, giving more responsive alerts. They can also "learn" radar/speed trap locations, as well as areas that give false alerts that they can ignore in future.
Radar detector features
App compatibility: Smartphone apps work with some radar detectors via Bluetooth, giving access to a database of known positions and allowing people to share not just radar and laser use but also red light and speed camera locations. Fees usually apply.
Fitting: some models are designed to be permanently installed. This is neat and secure, but it limits the device to a single location. Many fit to your windshield via suction cups and/or a quick-release bracket, making it a breeze to move from one vehicle to another. Cordless detectors are a relatively recent development that makes this even easier.
Radar detector detectors: These are used by law enforcement to catch people using radar detectors illegally. Some radar detectors combat these by shielding themselves, others by simply switching off if they sense one. However, these technologies are constantly developing. A radar detector that hides today may not be hidden tomorrow.
Audible alerts: Voice warnings are available, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Directional alerts: A few devices can display arrows to tell you the direction the radar/laser is coming from.
City and highway modes: City driving increases the chances of false alerts simply because there are more devices around that might set off your radar detector. This feature combats the problem by reducing the sensitivity of the detector. There's a danger that it could lower the level of protection, but digital signal processing should ensure that strong signals like radar are still picked up.
Radar detector prices: The cheapest radar detectors we've seen start at just $25, though we'd look at about $60 as the entry level for a reliable device. At the top end of the spectrum, you can pay as much as $500 for a fully featured model. Whether they're worth it or not depends on the amount of time you spend driving and how heavy your right foot is!
Q. Are radar detectors legal?
A. They are legal for passenger vehicles except in the District of Columbia and Virginia. They are illegal in commercial vehicles throughout the United States.
Q. What is LIDAR?
A. Light detection and ranging, a type of laser that bounces a pulse of light off your vehicle and calculates speed based on the time the light takes to return. Lidar uses a much narrower beam than radar, so cheap radar/laser detectors may not pick it up.
Radar detectors we recommend
Best of the best: Escort iX Long Range Radar Laser Detector
Our take: Fast, accurate, and comprehensive early warning system.
What we like: Sleek, straightforward display. Sophisticated feature set includes GPS plus smartphone and Bluetooth compatibility. Superb range.
What we dislike: Expensive, but could save you money long term.
Best bang for your buck: Cobra Performance Radar/Laser Detector
Our take: Low-cost solution delivers a full range of features.
What we like: Alerts on all bands. 360° coverage. Immune to several radar detector detectors. Bright display. Tough to beat for the money.
What we dislike: Excessive false alarms. Modest range.
Our take: Multifunction device offers good balance of performance and value.
What we like: Simple setup. Easy-to-read display. Clear audible difference between alert types. Good range.
What we dislike: More false alarms than expected. Some concerns about build quality.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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