Are Radar Detectors Worth It & Do They Still Work in 2021?

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More than 112,000 speeding tickets are issued every day. That’s nearly 41 million speeding tickets a year.

About one in five drivers will get a speeding ticket, but there is something you can do to make sure you’re one of the four who do not: invest in a radar detector.

The cost of a speeding ticket varies by state. In Maine, you’ll pay about $129, but in Louisiana, the fine is closer to $175. A speeding ticket in New York or Mississippi will likely cost you $300, but that’s nothing compared to Nevada, where the fine is near $1,000.

If you’re curious about whether radar detectors are worth it, in most cases, yes, they are. If your radar detector saves you from getting one of two speeding tickets, it ends up paying for itself. But to understand how worth it these gadgets really are, we’re going to take a deep dive into everything you need to know about radar detectors.

How Does a Radar Detector Work?

The word radar stands for radio detection and ranging. Radar is a basic way to determine how far away an object is and how fast it’s moving.

When law enforcement uses its radar guns to measure a vehicle’s speed, the gun releases a concentrated radio wave at the vehicle. To determine speed, the radar gun calculates how long it takes for the radio wave to return to it and displays the vehicle’s speed on screen for the police officer to see.

A police radar detector senses the signal from the radar gun. It scans the area around your vehicle for electromagnetic frequencies, hones in on the nearby signals, and warns the driver that a radar gun is in use in the area. When a radar detector alarms, you know that there’s a police officer monitoring cars’ speeds nearby, so you can slow down and avoid getting a speeding ticket.

How Do the Wavelengths Work?

A radar gun sends out a concentrated radio signal when in use. This signal can be in various bands: X, K, Ka, or Ku. Each of these bands is a little different.

  • X-band: The X band is the original radar gun band. It’s usually between 10.5 and 10.55 GHz and is really easy to detect, even from far away.
  • K-band: This band is the most common, and it runs between 24.05 and 24.25 GHz. The wavelengths of the K band are smaller than the other bands on this list.
  • Ka-band: The Ka band is a combination of a basic Ka band, a wide Ka band, and a superwide Ka band. Because of this combination, a Ka band is more difficult to detect. It operates between 33.4 and 36 GHz.
  • Ku-band: The Ku band is most common in Europe. It operates at 13.45 GHz and is very easy to detect.

A radar detector picks up on these signals when they are anywhere around you and alerts you, even if your car is not the target. How effective the radar detector is at picking up various wavelengths depends on whether it is compatible with the radar gun that the police are using. If the radar gun and the radar detector operate on the same band, the detector will be very effective.

Another thing to consider is how radar detectors catch the signal. If the police point a radar gun at the car in front of you, the signal scatters as it bounces off the car, and your detector senses it and alerts you. But radar detectors also pick up on signals when the radar gun is pulsating continuously. So, when you are driving, and near the fringes of the area where the radar gun is monitoring, it will alarm to let you know that you’re entering a speed trap, giving you plenty of time to slow down.

Do Radar Detectors Detect Police Laser Guns?

Most modern radar detectors will also detect laser guns. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while laser is detectable, it’s a much faster and more direct detection method so even though your detector will alert you, it might be too late if the police officer shot it at your car.

All of the radar detectors we recommend also include laser detection.

Are Radar Detectors Still Effective?

Radar and LIDAR detectors are constantly evolving, but so is police technology. As such, it’s always a bit of a game of cat and mouse when it comes to avoiding speeding tickets. Often, radar and LIDAR guns are used in combination to catch speeders, which makes it hard to detect speed traps.

How effective a radar detector is will largely depend on your driving conditions. For example, if you drive in a city where there are frequent traffic signals, stop signs, and false alarms from surrounding traffic and automatic doors, a radar detector isn’t going to be very effective.

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time driving on open roads, you’re more likely to lose track of your speed or miss a speed limit sign, which can be costly. In this case, radar detectors are very effective.

In the long run, you’re better off spending a little bit more on a modern radar detector with updatable software to make sure you’re always protected now and in the future.

What Makes a Good Radar Detector?

The most important things to look out for in a good radar detector are range and field of detection. The higher the range a detector has, the sooner you’re notified of a potential sped trap. The higher field of detection, the more likely you are to be alerted of threats behind you and on your sides. This is why it’s important to get a radar detector with at least two antennas (front and back), or ideally, 360-degree protection.

It’s also crucial that you buy a radar detector that supports all common radar bands as well as laser detection. Most good, modern radar detectors will do this, just don’t cheap out too much.

You also want a radar detector with upgradeable firmware so you can be sure you’re protected in the future and always have modern software on your device. Some more expensive detectors can update this automatically over Wifi, while the less expensive models you might have to plug into your computer to update.

Other features you might want to look out for are Bluetooth connectivity, false alert filtering, Stealth mode (so police can’t detect your detector in states where they’re illegal), and built-in dash cameras (like the Cobra Road Scout).

How Much Should I Spend on a Radar Detector?

There are many expensive radar detectors out there that have many awesome features, but you don’t always want something complicated. Some simple and affordable options are just as effective.

But you also don’t want to buy a cheap radar detector as it may not have the protection you need. That extra $50 or $100 could end up saving you thousands in the end. We usually suggest not spending less than $100 on a radar detector (with a few exceptions), but the $300 price range is usually the sweet spot for those looking for a good budget radar detector. If you have more to spend, there are some great options in the $500-$600 price range, which come with many advanced features for those with a lead foot.

What Are the Best Radar Detectors?

The best radar detectors have a high field-of-vision, a high range of detection, upgradeable firmware, false alert filtering, and any other features that are important to you. If you’re looking for something cheap and simple and are on a budget, we recommend the Cobra RAD 380:

If you can manage to spend just $50 more, we would highly suggest upgrading to the Cobra RAD 480i, which has more features and better detection:

Although this is not always true, in general, the more you spend on a radar detector, the better it performs. In other words, you get what you pay for. Our favorite brands and those we can say are worth the money are Escort, Cobra, and Uniden. Each upgrade is usually worth the cost with each of those brands if you can use the extra features and have the budget.

In the $300 price range, you really start to hit the sweet spot of range and features for the price. We think the best radar detector under $300 is the Uniden R3, which hits the nail on the head in the price vs. performance department:

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Uniden R3 EXTREME LONG RANGE Laser/Radar Detector

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Last update was on: March 24, 2023 8:27 pm

More expensive radar detectors also have advanced features, like false signal rejection and effective filtering, to determine real radar from interference. If you’ve had experience with an overly sensitive radar detector, you know how annoying these false alarms are. Getting a radar detector with the ability to distinguish true police radar from junk signals is worth the investment.

The Uniden R7 is a phenomenal unit but starts to hover around the $500 range. While that can be too expensive for some, it’s absolutely worth the upgrade if you can afford it:

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Uniden R7 Extreme Long Range Laser/Radar Detector

Last update was on: March 24, 2023 8:27 pm

Another thing to consider is whether the radar detector has features that inform you of the traffic environment around you. For example, Escort and Cobra have apps (Escort Live & iRadar, respectively) that connect to communities of drivers that flag things like speed cameras, road construction, and speed traps so you always know what’s ahead. If you go with a basic model, consider using it in conjunction with an app like WAZE for a better overall picture of what’s on the road ahead of you.

The Escort MAX 360c runs about $600 but comes with just about every feature you’ll need to feel safe on the road today and for years to come:

If you live in a state or area where radar detectors are illegal (or you want some extra peace of mind) and can manage $750, the Escort Redline 360c is worth every penny. In addition to loads of other great features, it has a Stealth mode which makes the radar detector invisible to police radar detector detectors:

Who Needs a Radar Detector?

Anyone who drives a lot can benefit from a radar detector. But, there are some cases where it makes more sense to get one. Here are some examples of who can benefit from a radar detector:

1. You just bought a high-performance vehicle.

All cars are not equal when it comes to speeding tickets. Some are far more likely to get caught than others. Whether people who drive these cars are speeding more than others on the road, or the police are prejudiced against cars known to go fast, if you have a Ferrari, Corvette, GT, or Charger, you’re more likely to get ticked.

If you have a vehicle built for speed, you sometimes don’t realize how fast you’re going. Getting a radar detector can help you pay more attention and possibly avoid a ticket.

2. Your state doesn’t have a lot of speed signs posted.

In some parts of the country, it’s hard to know what the speed is. If you’re driving on an unfamiliar highway with not a lot of traffic, you might have no idea how fast you’re going. For people who drive on unfamiliar roads and don’t always know how fast they’re supposed to be going, a radar detector can help avoid expensive fines.

3. You drive on a lot of highways and open roads.

If you spend a lot of time on long stretches of highway, a radar detector is a good investment. Not only does it help you get some familiarity with the speed of unknown roads, but it also helps you stay alert while driving on seemingly endless miles of highway. You’re also considerably more likely to speed on an open road than you are when there aren’t red lights and stop signs and crosswalks around you.

4. You already have more than your fair share of speeding tickets.

If you have a few points on your license and are in danger of losing it if you get another ticket, a radar detector can save you from this fate.

So, Are Radar Detectors Worth It?

In most cases, radar detectors are worth it. If you frequently drive through areas where police use radar guns to catch speeders, then you’ll likely benefit from using a radar detector. Depending on where you live, a radar detector pays for itself if it prevents you from getting one or two tickets.

To help you figure out if a radar detector is worth it to you, ask yourself these questions:

  • What speed detection do the police use in the areas where you frequently travel?
  • Do you live in a state where radar detectors are legal?
  • How many speeding tickets have you gotten in your life?
  • How many speeding tickets would you have to avoid getting for a radar detector to pay for itself
  • What kind of roads do you typically drive on? Do you frequently travel on interstate highways and open roads?

If you feel like a radar detector is a sound investment, there are plenty of great models out there. For best results, choose don’t go with a cheap radar detector. Invest a little more and get a reliable radar detector with a good detection range and 360-degree radar detection coverage to help you avoid as many speed traps as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Radar Detectors Legal?

The legality of radar detectors is something that’s widely misunderstood. Radar detectors are generally legal, but there are some exceptions. For example, under federal law, vehicles over 10,000 pounds are prohibited from using a radar detector.

Every state has its own laws when it comes to radar detectors. They are illegal in Virginia and Washington DC, and if you are caught using one, the police will confiscate it, and you’ll have to pay a hefty fine.

That said, some states have laws about where and how a radar detector must be mounted, usually to ensure that the view through the windshield isn’t obstructed. Before you get a radar detector, make sure you know the law in your state and any states you may drive through frequently.

Where Do I Mount the Radar Detector?

Most people prefer to mount their radar detectors on their windshield. While windshield-mounting is often the most convenient and effective place to mount your detector, it can also be distracting and block your line of sight, which is why it’s illegal in some states.

The best place to mount a radar detector (in the states that allow it) is under the rear-view mirror; this way, it has the best line-of-sight forward and backward and blocks as little of your line-of-sight as possible.

Our favorite way to do this is with BlendMount mirror mounts, which create mounts specific to your vehicle, so it’s like the radar detector was installed from the factory.

If you live in a state where windshield-mounting is illegal (California and Minnesota), the best place to mount the detector is on the dashboard, as far forward as possible.

What Other Techniques Do Police Use to Catch Speeders?

We already mentioned two ways that police catch people speeding, other than radar.

The first is LIDAR, which uses a laser. The beam from a LIDAR gun is much narrower than one from a police radar gun, which means that it’s easier for police to target a speeding vehicle. LIDAR is often combined with other techniques, like pacing, where the police car follows you at a set distance to determine how fast you’re going, and VASCAR, or visual average speed computer and recorder. VASCAR is a computer that uses time and distance to measure the speed between two reference points.

Another tactic police use to catch speeders is a radar gun in instant-on mode, also called POP mode. This is when the radar is on but not transmitting a beam, so there is nothing for a radar detector to pick up. The radar gun can clock your speed in less than a second, so the radar gun doesn’t have to be on too long to catch you speeding.

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