From the May 2021 issue of Car and Driver [Ed. note—This story was updated in June 2022.]
There's no good answer when a police officer asks, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Better to make the effort and spend the money upfront to avoid that interaction in the first place, we say. While navigation apps such as Waze can reduce your chances of being caught in a speed trap, radar detectors have never been more effective at sniffing out Smokey. What's the best radar detector on the market?
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Our Top Picks
Escort Max 360c
Radenso Pro M
- (Video) Best Radar Detectors 2023: Tested by the experts
We couldn't test them all, but we managed to gather three heavy hitters for this test. Valentine's V1 Gen2 is the first major redesign since the V1 debuted in 1992, and at $499, it's cheaper than the original when accounting for inflation. For a steep $650, the Escort Max 360c is loaded with features, including directional arrows and a GPS antenna. Radenso, a relative newcomer, has garnered a strong following with its top model, the $450 Pro M.
We kept our tests simple, measuring front and rear detection distance and how well each sensed radar around a corner. While police radar guns shoot X-, K-, and Ka-band frequencies, we stuck to Ka band, as it's the most difficult to detect at a distance.
To see how well each weeds out false alerts, we then switched the detectors from their most sensitive mode to their most selective and rolled through Ann Arbor's strip-mall gauntlet. Without filtering, this drive is essentially a continuous, nine-mile-long alert due to the motion detectors everywhere. Two of the three models offer GPS lockout for this kind of thing; it works by logging location and frequency. You have to push a button for the Pro M to remember irksome spots. But for the Escort, drive past a no-good automatic door three times, and in theory you'll never hear that false alert again.
It's easy to get mired in test results when all you want to know is, "If I stick this on my windshield, will I get a ticket?" Any of these detectors will greatly reduce your odds of a chat with the roadside tax collector. Which one you want depends on how you expect a radar detector to behave.
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Escort Max 360c
Escort Max 360c
$650 at Amazon$650 at adorama.com$650 at crutchfield.com
Highs: GPS lockout, slick magnetic mount, easy to mute with power-cord button.
Lows: Expensive, arrow function is less useful than Valentine's.
Verdict: A balanced compromise of range and filtering comes at a price.
The Escort exists in the space between the Valentine's high sensitivity and the Radenso's adept filtering. With six false alerts on our suburban route, the Max 360c wasn't much quieter than the V1 Gen2. Fortunately, it has GPS lockout and can learn to ignore fixed-location triggers.
The Max 360c gave ample warning in all three of our scenarios. Escort began parroting the V1's hallmark arrows back in 2015, but they're not as useful here. If the V1's arrows point out the threat in real time, the Max 360c's seem like they're on a five-second delay. That lag makes it difficult to know exactly where—and what—the radar is coming from.
We like that you can slide the Max 360c on and off the EZ Mag mount with one hand, and the power-cord mute button can be handy, depending on where your car's 12-volt outlet is located. You'll pay a premium for the feature-packed Max 360c. Just know that not all of those bells and whistles work as well as the competition's.
For updates on this generation of radar detectors from Escort, we just reviewed the Max 360c Mk II, which you can read here.
Radenso Pro M
Radenso Pro M
Now 22% Off
Highs: Excellent out-of-the-box filtering, GPS lockout, great price.
Lows: Little rearward protection, questionable mount durability, confusing menus and controls.
Verdict: A quiet radar detector with good threat detection.
The Pro M is significantly quieter than the others, but we trust it to pick up police radar. In our false-filtering test, the Radenso rang out just twice compared with six and seven times for the Escort and Valentine, respectively. All three detectors can be programmed to ignore whole radar bands, but only the Radenso allows the user to adjust the strength of filtering for each type. That lets you reduce sensitivity to, say, the rarely used X band without muting it entirely.
The Radenso has strong frontal range, and it matched the Escort in the 90-degree corner test. But its rear coverage is a relative weak point. The Pro M's tiny size is a boon for driver visibility. Its lowest-in-test price is another selling point, but the Radenso does feel cheaper than the others. You adjust its angle on the windshield by bending the metal bracket it mounts to, and there's no app to assist with adjusting settings. Pick the Pro M if you want a reliable detector that minimizes the number of false alerts.
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Valentine V1 Gen2
Valentine V1 Gen2
Highs: Longest range in test, easy to update, simple display.
Lows: No GPS lockout, picks up more false alarms than the others.
Verdict: There's no better companion for speeding in unfamiliar territory.
The fanatical customers who swear by the original V1 often prefer a noisy detector to a selective one. So when we say that the V1 Gen2 squawks more than the Max 360c and the Pro M, we recognize that some people will see that as a perk. Valentine often leaves it to the driver to use the directional-arrow display to home in on radar sources to determine what's a threat and what isn't.
Setup is easy with the phone app, which can also function as a covert display if you don't want lights on your windshield. While the V1 Gen2 offers only a trivial advantage in frontal range, it picked up radar coming from the rear at two miles, more than half a mile farther than the next-best model, the Max 360c. And the V1 Gen2 gave a mile's notice in our simulated police trap of a blind 90-degree corner, while both the Escort and the Radenso gave half-mile warnings. The V1 Gen2 is the radar detector for those who would rather have too much information than trust the filtering algorithms to get it right.
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FAQs about Radar Detectors
Are Radar Detectors Legal?
For the most part, radar detectors are legal for use in personal vehicles in all U.S. states—but there are exceptions. Radar detectors are prohibited for use in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia. In Puerto Rico, radar detectors are legal in all passenger vehicles but illegal in commercial vehicles. North of the border, radar detectors are legal in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but illegal in all other provinces.
Under federal law, the use of radar or laser speed detectors is illegal nationwide in all commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds. This includes most 18-wheelers. In commercial vehicles under 10,000 pounds, radar detectors are allowed—except in Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Radar detectors are always illegal to use on any United States military base.
California and Minnesota have laws against devices attached to a windshield that obstruct the driver’s view. No matter where you live, we’d advise against attaching any device to your windshield that a motor officer might construe as obstructing your view. It’s a judgment call, and we’d prefer not to give the cops any reason to judge us or our vehicle.
Do Radar Detectors Work?
Indeed they do. Whether yours is powerful or high-tech enough to reliably detect police radar every time is only part of the problem. There’s no nationwide standard for police radar; an officer in rural Nebraska may still use 30-year-old X-band guns (don’t ask us how we know), while urban police will use Ka-band radar or even laser guns. You better hope you don’t come across a Smokey using a laser device. Technically they are lidar guns, providing a virtually instant readout of your speed. Lidar is more difficult to evade than traditional radar. They are undetectable unless they are on and already measuring your speed, and by then it’s usually too late. Crowd-sourced apps such as Waze are much better at alerting you to a cop using a lidar gun than a windshield- or dash-mounted radar detector.
Conventional radio radar is relatively easy to detect, and a basic radar detector should have no problem picking up these signals. Hopefully, your detector sounds the alarm in time for you to scrub enough speed before the radar gun can accurately measure how fast you were going. More sophisticated modern detectors take a more active role. Not only do they detect police radar and alert you to its presence, but they use an internal transmitter to emit a similar radio signal, mixing it with radio noise to prevent an accurate speed reading on the officer’s radar gun. Additionally, modern radar detectors often include a light-sensitive panel that detects laser beams from lidar guns, and some filter noise from motion detectors at businesses, blind-spot monitors on other vehicles, and even other radar detectors. More on that below.
It's important to note that no radar detector is 100 percent effective; there’s no guarantee that even with a radar detector on your dash, you won’t get a speeding ticket. Radar technology is constantly improving and being upgraded—and so are radar detectors. Think of your cellphone from just a few years ago versus the smartphone in your pocket today; much like your old phone, your old radar detector may already be obsolete. Consider upgrading to one of the newer models spotlighted above.
Are Radar Detectors Worth It?
Well, that’s subjective. Radar detectors can cost anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to $700 or more, so it’s no small investment. A lot of drivers swear by them, insisting their radar detector has paid for itself many times over. Others say they’re a waste of money and that fastidious scanning of traffic for brake lights and a roof-mounted gumball is better practice.
We’re not here to tell anyone how they ought to drive, but if you drive fast speeding tickets are a very real risk. If you tend to speed regularly or just have bad luck with speeding tickets, a radar detector could be a solid investment.
Things That Set Off Radar Detectors
In addition to how they work and the type of signals they detect, a major difference between older radar detectors and newer, higher-end devices is the number of false alerts given. False alerts can be caused by anything that, like police radar, uses X-, K-, or Ka-band frequencies. This includes traffic monitors and roadside electronic warning signs to emergency vehicles. Modern radar detectors use advanced processing to filter out false signals.
The advanced safety systems so common in many modern cars are among the biggest sources of false alerts these days. These include things like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and blind-spot-monitoring systems. Such systems typically use K-band radio frequencies to determine how far away an object is from a vehicle, so just being near another car could set off your radar detector.
Automatic door openers are another source of false alarms—not just garage-door openers but also the auto door openers used by retail storefronts. If you’re using an aged radar detector, simply driving past your neighborhood grocery store could set the thing off. If you’re getting more false alerts than ever, that’s a sign your radar detector may have outlived its usefulness. Consider upgrading to one of the devices above.
K.C. Colwell is Car and Driver's executive editor, who covers new cars and technology with a keen eye for automotive nonsense and with what he considers to be great car sense, which is a humblebrag. On his first day at C/D in 2004, he was given the keys to a Porsche 911 by someone who didn't even know if he had a driver's license. He also is one of the drivers who set fast laps at C/D's annual Lightning Lap track test.
What is the number 1 radar detector? ›
The Radenso DS1 is essentially a souped up Uniden R3, improving upon that platform and addressing its main weaknesses. The test results have been very impressive, besting the competition in long distance range.Where should radar detectors be placed? ›
A radar detector is best mounted as high up in the vehicle as possible so that the detector has a good range of radar detection. The most common and the standard location for mounting the radar detector would be on the front windshield of the vehicle, near or around the center of the rearview mirror.How many bands should a radar detector have? ›
The radio waves of the police radar gun put out different types of radar bands – X band, K band, or Ka bands. These bands can be compared to three different radio stations. That is why radar detectors are tuned to detecting these specific bands.What states in the US are radar detectors illegal? ›
Using a radar detector in a privately owned passenger vehicle is legal in every state except Iowa, Virginia, and Washington D.C. However, there are some gray areas regarding the laws in Virginia and the District of Columbia.How do cops beat radar detectors? ›
With laser, the officer can specifically target your vehicle in much the same way a sniper with a scope does. Since police laser is a highly focused beam of infrared light which barely encompasses the front of your vehicle even at a far distance, it makes advanced detection by other detector owners very difficult.What radar do most police use? ›
K-band is the most widely used band of radar, not only by the police but also by other sources. K-band is being emitted by automatic doors, security systems, and cars with collision avoidance and lane departure warning. The third band of police radar is called Ka-band.Can you use two radar detectors at once? ›
Don't run multiple detectors at the same time in the same car. It's a risk with little benefit. If you really have both permanently mounted and hardwired just leave one on and the other off unless/until you want to swap them. Leave only one on at any time and be happy.Can cops pick up your radar detector? ›
Absolutely they can, and it's easy. All they need is a radar detector detector. What is a radar detector detector? Simply put, a radar detector detector (RDD) is a device that detects the presence of a radar detector.How far can a radar detector detect a cop? ›
Practical radar range is far less, often no more than a quarter-mile and sometimes less than 700 feet, at least if the officer is following the rules.What band is a cop on a radar detector? ›
K-band is a more common police band, yet it is also emitted from non-police sources such as vehicles equipped with driver's assistance packages (Audi's Collision Avoidance system, for example). Ka-band is the newest radar band in use, and it almost always indicates the presence of a police officer.
Why doesn't my radar detector go off when I pass a cop? ›
A. Radar detectors can detect radar but not police vehicles. There's a good chance the police car wasn't radar-equipped (90 percent carry no radar). Or if it was, most officers shut off the radar while they're out of the car on a traffic stop or when using it in instant-on mode.What radar is best for long range detection? ›
S-band radars are often used for specialized applications, such as seeing through heavy weather or precipitation and for long-range bird detection.Does anyone still use radar detectors? ›
Yes, radar detectors are still very effective. The latest radar detectors can detect even the most current advances in police radar gun tech. As a result, the best radar detectors can detect even the latest radar and laser devices used by law enforcement. Keep in mind that radar detectors have limitations.Are radar jammers legal in the US? ›
Radar jammers are illegal across the U.S., primarily because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the frequencies used in radar guns. Violators can be faced with heavy fines and jail time, even on a first offense!Do laser jammers work? ›
Laser jammers work by detecting a police officer's laser gun, then shooting back a return signal to confuse the gun. This temporarily prevents the laser gun from being able to detect speed, usually for around 10 seconds.What blocks a radar detector? ›
Laser is actively used all over the country and so for full protection, you'll need a laser jammer to complement your radar detector. Laser jammers not only detect when an officer is shooting you, but they also actively jam the laser gun, giving you enough time to slow down and disable the jammer.Do police need proof of speeding? ›
When a policeman states that he thinks you were speeding this is merely his opinion that you were speeding. In order to be convicted a police officer must also provide evidence which corroborates his opinion that you were speeding.What can affect police radar? ›
Power plants, generator sub-stations, transformer sub-stations, transmission lines and pole transformers are strong sources of interference. This type of interference usually causes a buzzing or humming of the radar audio Doppler and/or false speed readings.Are police radars 100 percent accurate? ›
Accuracy and Acceleration Limits
Under ideal conditions most police radars are accurate to about ±1 mph. Microwave moving mode radar also measures patrol vehicle speed to an accuracy of about ±1 mph. Moving mode target vehicle accuracy is ±2 mph.
The AN/SPQ-9B is an X-band pulse-Doppler frequency-agile radar that scans out to the horizon and performs simultaneous and automatic air and surface target detection and tracking of low flying anti-ship cruise missiles, surface threats, low-and-slow-flying aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and helicopters.
Do radar sensors interfere with each other? ›
Radar interference is a well-recognized challenge. As they all use the same allocated frequency spectrum, multiple radars may transmit at the same time and frequency. If they also share a common visible path, they will interfere with each other.How many detectors do I need? ›
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, including the basement. One fire detector should also be installed inside of every bedroom and outside of each sleeping area.Do radar detectors give you enough time to slow down? ›
Radar detectors and laser detectors work for you in the sense that they will give you enough time to slow down as you will know that a particular area has speed guns.Which type of radar detector is best? ›
- Escort MAX 360c MKII : Best Overall.
- Uniden R8 : Best For Speed Cameras/MultaRadar.
- Valentine One V1 Gen2 : Best Undetectable.
- K40 Electronics Platinum100 : Best For Customization.
- Uniden R3 : Best Value.
- Radenso XP : Best Value Runner-Up.
- Sale. Uniden R1 Radar Detector. $299.99. $249.99.
- Radenso XP Radar Detector. 2Review(s)
- Radenso Pro M Radar Detector. 1Review(s) $449.99.
- Escort Redline EX Radar Detector. $599.95.
- Uniden R7 Radar Detector. $599.99.
- Escort Redline 360c Radar Detector. $749.95.
A: Short answer, Yes. The R7 is fairly good at blocking out a wide range of RDD's but IS detectable by SPECTRE RDD's. When the R7 was tested by SPECTRE devices, the detections were inconsistent and had to be close in order to pick up the signal. The Escort Redline EX does block out All RDD's.Can cops detect radar detectors? ›
Radar detectors usually leak a very weak signal, and this is what RDDs can detect. They are designed to detect these leaked signals. Some police officers use these devices, especially for places where radar detectors are illegal.