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Published Jun 29, 2022 11:05 AM

A solid radar detector can make you more aware of what’s going on around you while you drive. It’s no secret that with the proliferation of more powerful engines and often even quieter cabins, it’s easier to go faster now than it has been in previous years. Imagine you find yourself, in a newer SUV, going up a hill and the speed limit is much lower than if it feels safe to drive. You spot the highway patrol car going the other way and you get a “slow down” wave. Maybe you get lucky and the officer doesn’t flip his lights on and turn around. A robust radar detector tells you when radar is in use, and gives drivers the opportunity to make adjustments to their speed accordingly. The best radar detectors can detect all the commonly used methods for checking a vehicle’s speed, and they do it far enough out to give you time to react. 

How we chose the best radar detectors 

As an automotive journalist of more than eight years, I’ve written for some of the biggest names in the business, and I bring that experience into my favorite space: aftermarket. Whether it’s modifications to the hard parts or to the technology in the cabin, I’m interested in learning more and finding the best the industry has to offer. For this list of radar detectors I wasn’t able to get hands-on, so I used a method of aggregating reviews from across the internet on Amazon, rdforum.com, and the hands-on reviews from Vortex Radar. 

I eliminated a number of the cheaper units right off due to poor testing results, and cut out a number of brands that were outlandishly priced. I then assembled a wide range that covered the gamut of prices out there that represented good quality for their feature sets. If there were a few radar detectors in a certain price range, I compared to see what had the most useful features and selected the best in each set. The radar detectors, and companies, represented on this list all have a history of supporting their products as well and can be thought of as a good place to start your research and shopping.

Things to consider before buying a radar detector

The situation has changed for the majority of the country and, though there are still departments that use officers set up on the side of the road with a radar gun, more often than not they can check a vehicle’s speed while driving down the road, even going the opposite direction. That being said, the laws surrounding their use have changed as well and radar detectors aren’t legal to use in every state, so do your homework before hanging one on the windshield of your car. 

We’re absolutely not suggesting or condoning speeding, but we all make mistakes. When a modern minivan makes nearly 300 hp, not to mention the instant torque of today’s electric vehicles, it’s easy to find yourself going with the flow of traffic, even if that flow is above the posted limit. 

Legality

Before buying, and using, a radar detector you should make sure your state, or the states you’ll be driving in, have not outlawed their use. As of the time of publication, only Virginia and Washington, D.C., have banned the devices themselves but several others limit the use of devices mounted to the windshield. If you’re in a commercial vehicle, however, or on a military base, their use is prohibited across the nation. Check state and local laws before purchasing and using one.

Features

There’s a lot that goes into making a radar detector and, like many devices, you do get what you pay for. I’ve included a few budget choices as well, but think of it as a compromise, where you hear more false alerts or are getting less precise information. Though not ideal, you can balance the need for features with where you spend most of your time driving. If you’re spending a lot of your time on the highway, or in rural areas, you could skip the GPS feature. If you’re in a city, then GPS and robust filtering can help avoid false alarms every time you pass a gas station or speed sign.

Bands

You’re going to start seeing a lot of acronyms, and different letters, but the very best radar detectors will cover all the relevant bands. Simply put, if your detector beeps, it probably means something bad. X band is one of the oldest frequencies still in use, though it has been retired by most departments. This is more common in rural areas, but can often be ignored by your detector if desired. More commonly used today are the K and Ka bands, which are harder to detect at longer distances. The downside, and why good filtering and GPS are important, is that many other sources of radar operate on the same frequency. That includes automatic doors and blind-spot monitoring systems on other cars. A new technology called MultaRadar (or MRCD/MRCT/photo radar) uses the K band, but modulates the frequency it uses, making it impossible to detect if your radar unit isn’t equipped to.

The best radar detectors: Reviews & Recommendations

Best overall: Uniden R7

Uniden

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Why it made the cut: Offering an excellent value, the Uniden R7 features an amazing range, GPS for logging common false alarms, and it doesn’t require a separate mobile device to utilize the GPS.

Specs

  • Directional arrows: Yes
  • GPS: Built-in
  • Connectivity: N/A

Pros 

  • Great detection range
  • Built-in GPS
  • Redlight/speed camera alerts

Cons 

  • Not completely undetectable to radar detector detectors
  • Mute button on side of unit
  • No Bluetooth/phone app integration

Uniden makes some excellent radar detectors but the company’s R7 is the best value overall. The upgraded R8 adds a few nice features over the R7 but it also adds a few hundred dollars to the price tag. That said, the R7 gets you a solid collection of features that makes it one of the best radar detectors out of the box, especially for the price point. The unit features directional arrows, multiple brightness settings, and a built-in GPS. The onboard GPS allows you to easily mark false alarms and set alerts for school zones and speed traps automatically. 

The built-in GPS eschews the need for it to connect to a smartphone for location services. But that also means the Uniden R7 must be updated via USB cable. That means you’d have to separately run an app like Waze to take advantage of data aggregation with other users. The only other downsides are the awkward side-button placement of the mute button (which you use to silence false alarms) and a mixed bag when it comes to detectability.

Best connected: Valentine 1 Gen2

Valentine One

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Why it made the cut: The Valentine V1 Gen2 is the latest version of the radar detector you probably remember from “back in the day,” but with the tech to keep up in 2022.

Specs

  • Directional arrows: Yes
  • GPS: via phone
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth

Pros 

  • Beautiful magnesium case
  • Old-school LED is classic, and easy to see
  • App integration is top-notch

Cons 

  • GPS-enabled features require phone
  • Retro looks not for everyone

The Valentine V1 Gen2 is neck-and-neck with the Uniden R7 for range and is a popular choice. The retro style is heavily reminiscent of the previous version and is wrapped in a high-quality magnesium case instead of the plastic common in many other units. The unit pairs with an app on your phone to enable a whole suite of crowd-sourced information, like GPS lockouts, muting at lower speed, and a display of which frequency has been detected. You can fine-tune a lot when it comes to this setup, so it’s fun for people who like to make tweaks to the setup they run. Android power users, I’m looking at you.

This is probably a skip if you don’t plan to pair it with your phone as it won’t have access to many of its attractive features. On the plus side, even without pairing with a phone, the arrows (which Valentine pioneered) help identify the direction of the source of the suspected speed-check. Though it seems a little basic at first glance, it’s helpful when identifying the source of a threat, especially if it’s to one side and you’re on a two-lane road, since it’s likely to be another car’s blind-spot monitor or the automatic door of a convenience store.

If you don’t have a problem bringing your phone with you to enable the extra functionality, then the Valentine V1 Gen2 is a fantastic choice. Additionally, tying that functionality in with a mobile app gives Valentine the opportunity to keep the unit relevant for longer, especially when the competition is often limited with what’s baked into the hardware from the factory.

Best stealth: Escort Redline 360c

Escort

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Why it made the cut: If you want the absolute best with all the bells and whistles—and money is no object—then the Redline 360c should be on your shortlist.

Specs

  • Directional arrows: Yes
  • GPS: Built-in
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi

Pros 

  • Massive array of features
  • Excellent false-alert filtering
  • Mobile device integration

Cons 

  • Expensive
  • Suffering from availability issues

The Escort Redline 360c is easily the most expensive model on this list but taking a look at its capabilities should explain why. It offers excellent long-range detection, built-in GPS, undetectable to radar-detector detectors, and can be expanded with Bluetooth phone connectivity. The firmware also automatically updates over Wi-Fi. To top it off, the unit has a full complement of arrows so you know the direction of the signal, and high-quality OLED displays that share signal type and intensity. If you want even more information, then connecting to a phone app allows you to get real-time alerts from the community of Escort radar detector users. The unit will auto-learn as you drive and operate it, automatically filtering out common false alarms.

The main downsides to the Redline 360c are related to availability and price. Though listed for less than $800 on their website, the units were several hundred more on Amazon and in limited supply. Escort notes the issue on their website, which is likely due to the microchip shortage plaguing the country. 

Do note that there is another radar detector from Escort called the Max 360c, which is not the same as the Redline 360c. Though the primary distinction is the “detectability,” as the Max 360c is not “stealth” when it comes to radar detector detectors.

Best mid-range: Uniden R3

Uniden

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Why it made the cut: If you want radar detection, but can’t justify the eye-watering price tag of the segment leaders, the R3 gets you a good range with a limited feature set.

Specs

  • Directional arrows: N/A
  • GPS: Built-in
  • Connectivity: N/A

Pros 

  • Built-in GPS allows manual marking
  • Low-speed muting
  • “Stealth” to some detection devices

Cons 

  • More false alarms
  • No phone connectivity
  • Limited speed camera detection

When you start chasing the low-price leaders there’s a lot to lose, but you don’t lose as much with the Uniden R3. The R3 can detect well at long range and even has a built-in GPS, allowing users to manually mark false alarms, improving the detector’s capability on the roads you frequent. GPS allows the R3 to mute automatically when the vehicle is at low speeds and has access to a database of stationary/marked redlight and speed cameras. The R3 can detect all the common bands, as well as laser and MultaRadar. The R3 is also only detectable at closer range on the commonly used RDD devices. 

You will have to accept some compromises. The unit lacks directional arrows (common for the price) and is more limited in its ability to detect speed cameras. Additionally, the lack of Bluetooth means you’ll have to run an app like Waze separately to get real-time updates to threats. More expensive models offer that natively. All this translates to more false alarms than the best units. More alarms can be annoying since you don’t want to have to get on the brakes for every blind-spot monitor and automatic door you pass. 

If you want detection capability on a budget, and don’t mind marking your own locations, or running another app on your phone for real-time alerts, then the Uniden R3 is a great affordable choice.

Best budget: Cobra RAD 480i

Why it made the cut: The Cobra RAD 480i is capital-A affordable, above all, but it gets passing marks from reviewers and covers the basics.

Specs

  • Directional arrows: N/A
  • GPS: N/A
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth

Pros 

  • Detects all the bands police use, and radar
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • The price is right

Cons 

  • Lacks built-in GPS
  • Detection range lacking

The Cobra RAD 480i doesn’t have a fancy color display or directional arrows but it does the basics. The Cobra can detect radar and laser at a helpful distance but its real strength is in its Bluetooth connectivity. On its own, that wouldn’t be enough to set the Cobra apart from the rest, but on the back end Cobra shares data with Escort, since both brands are made by the same company. That means insights and live data come from a wide user base tied to the more expensive Escort units but at a bargain price. 

A subscription is required but, for an entry price of less than $200, it might be worth the downsides for some users. Pricing for the subscription runs $49.99 per year, or $4.99 per month. The lack of built-in GPS means you’ll need your phone paired and running Cobra’s app to benefit from the tracking and marking features. But, pairing a radar detector with a robust app and community means more coverage than is possible with apps like Waze alone.

Each unit gets a 1-year subscription with a purchase, so some buyers may want to consider a radar detector like the Cobra RAD 480i to see if it’s useful for them before stepping up to something with higher upfront investment.

FAQs

Q: How much does a radar detector cost?

A quality radar detector can be had for between $300 and $800, though usable units can be had for cheaper. Radar detectors are one of those items that usually follow the age-old “you get what you pay for” rule. You can find expensive models out there that underperform compared to their high price tags, but you won’t find them on this list. When you get the cheaper stuff you’re usually losing out on certain features, so weigh your anticipated use with the feature set before buying.

Q: Are radar detectors still worth it?

Radar detectors are a tool that can give you valuable information, and boost your situational awareness so you can hopefully avoid getting a speeding ticket. As I covered earlier, it’s much easier to go well over the posted speed limit with today’s more powerful vehicles, so if you find yourself in something modern and often notice yourself over the limit—or perhaps you’ve been issued a few reminders—then a radar detector may be the right tool. Don’t speed and follow the laws.

Q: Can cops detect radar detectors?

Yes, some. Not long after the invention of the radar, and then the radar detector, came the descriptively named radar detector detector, often referred to as RDD. Though radar detectors are only banned in two states (several others have laws against obstructions on windshields) they are illegal to use in commercial vehicles throughout the country. Some units claim to be “Stealth” and are undetectable to these RDD units. Many of the more expensive units can operate “invisibly” but the cheaper units are typically detectable at long distances if the police have an RDD, though the device only gives them a general area where a unit is being operated, not which particular vehicle has a radar. Though, a black box hanging off the windshield can be a giveaway.

Q: What is the best radar detector for the best price?

With a sale price often below $500, the Uniden R7 balances range, accuracy, and a useful feature set, and won the top spot for this list as the Best Overall radar detector. The R7 has a built-in GPS, letting you automatically (or manually) log your false alerts, which helps the unit only alarm when there’s a genuine cause for concern.

Final thoughts on the best radar detectors

Running a radar detector can be incredibly helpful for drivers looking to improve their situational awareness, whether you’re addicted to speed or you just drive a new car and enjoy jamming out and losing yourself a bit too much. If you decide to buy one of the best radar detectors remember to think about how you’ll use it, and where you’ll spend the majority of your time driving, then match your radar detector’s features accordingly.