Best Inexpensive Radar Detectors
There are only two places where you can't use a radar detector in a private vehicle: Virginia and Washington DC. But the rest of you drivers, listen up: a good cheap radar detector may (and we stress may) affect your annual speeding ticket count. The performance of radar detectors -- that is, whether they truly work -- has long been the subject of still unresolved debate. With police speed enforcement technology evolving every year, manufacturers are forced to regularly pump out new models just to keep pace. So we've researched a crop of cheap, top rated radar detectors to help guide your decision about whether, and which, to buy.
Beltronics Vector 955
The Beltronics Vector 955 doesn't come with the same classy features that its midrange cousins do, but it outperforms most other cheap radar detectors. It features voice alerts, an auto scan feature, and three city modes. Its band response leans toward K and KA bands, but users and experts say it's a...
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With a backlit LCD display, the Whistler XTR-695SE is one of the top choices among low-cost radar detectors. It comes with a 2.5mm audio out-jack that lets the XTR-695SE power a remote speaker, or, for motorcycle riders, a helmet headset. The overall performance quality is high, according to experts and...
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Cobra XRS 9955
The Cobra XRS 9955 is a decent radar detector for frugal consumers. It includes a USB port that can link to an optional GPS module to consult its database of red-light camera and speed camera locations and warn of them in advance. Experts say this model has trouble detecting K and KA band radars.
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Cobra XRS 9945
The Cobra XRS 9945 is capable of using GPS like its sibling XRS 9955, but this model requires an optional locator that costs about $120. Test results reported on product review sites note that this detector doesn't pick up the older X band very well, but it can pick up K and KA signals about 30,000 feet...
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Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435
The RMR-C435 is affordable and features a lot of extras, like VG-2 and VG-3 Immunity that shield the detector from police devices designed to spot the detector, and a laser scrambler. Many users insist the detector doesn't work, that it has problems with the X, K, and KA bands and the jamming and...
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Cheap Radar Detectors Buying Guide
Radar detectors are designed to pick up police radar signals that may lie ahead on the road where you're driving. Ideally, you get enough advance warning to adjust your speed to the legal limit before the radar gun picks up your vehicle.
|Radar Detector Bands|
|Radar Detector Range|
|Radar Detector Mounts|
|Radar Detectors Reviews|
While a handful of detectors have proven their mettle, the majority of radar detectors exceed most frugal consumers' budgets. High-end models, which start at around $400, are usually packed with lots of features like GPS support, false-alarm prevention, and alerting you to red-light cameras. These costly models generally pick up fewer false alarms and tend to be more accurate. Indeed, many experts and users claim that in this product category at least, you get what you pay for. In other words, cheap radar detectors are more cut and dried and just not as reliable. Still, we found several detectors costing less than $200 that are rated highly by consumers and experts.
The features to look for in a top rated radar detector are range, alert control, false alarm prevention, mounts, and band support. Range is the most important because it relates to how far away the detector can pick up a signal. False-alarm control enables the detector to distinguish between a false alarm and a reliable radar signal. The mount is essential because an improperly placed detector won't pick up a radar signal as quickly. Alert control indicates how the detector alerts the driver to an upcoming radar gun; if a detector has no audio alert, you could miss the notification altogether. Finally, the band support for each product is different, and each state uses different types of radar. It's important to identify which bands (i.e., the type of signal emitted by the radar gun directed at a vehicle) your state uses and then make sure the radar detector supports them before hitting the road.
A detector is only as good as its reliability. The top rated radar detectors that we found are the Beltronics Vector 955 (starting at $139) and the Whistler XTR-695SE (starting at $152). Users and experts generally say that the Vector 955 is one of the best values in the radar detection field; it scores high in field tests and remains an amazing deal for its price point. The Whistler XTR-695SE also tests very well with users and experts, and boasts a feature that lets you plug the unit into an audio system for better alert notice.
Other good cheap radar detectors we added to our list are the Cobra XRS 9955 (starting at $163) and the Cobra XRS 9945 (starting at $122). Both Cobras sport similar features, as they're siblings in build; the XRS 9945, however, includes optional support for GPS features, such as red-light camera detection.
We also came across a model you might want to speed by: the Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435 (starting at $125). Users and experts agree that claims attesting to the RMR-C435's ability to scramble a laser radar signal are not backed by evidence. It frequently has failed field tests, making it one of the least useful detectors in the low-price range.
Radar Detector Bands
The problem with comparing cheap radar detectors and their features is that many companies design the extras to be manufacturer-specific. For example, Cobra has added a feature called Spectre I Undetectable to the Cobra XRS 9955 (starting at $163). This feature is said to provide complete immunity to police using Spectre 1 radar detector-detectors, which are deployed in states where radar detectors are illegal. No other company produces a radar detector, cheap or otherwise, with this specific technology. Bottom line: the important features to look for in cheap radar detectors are those that are more generic, such as range, bands the device picks up, false alerts, types of alerts, and mounts.
Radar Detectors Bands.Radar detector bands are simply radio signals emitted by certain devices, such as radar guns, garage-door openers, and radar detectors themselves. Radar detectors are designed to pick up a variety of bands because police radar guns use several different radio signals to catch speeding vehicles.
The four radar detector bands most commonly used throughout the country are K, KA, X, and Laser. The X band is the oldest and generates a lot of false alerts by radar detectors, but Radardetector.org says it still makes an appearance in New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, and Mississippi. The K band is used by slightly less than a third of today's radar guns, and causes some false alerts in radar detectors. The bulk of the radar gun arsenal relies on the KA band, which produces a small number of false alerts in radar detectors. The Laser band, or LIDAR as it's sometimes called, is becoming more widespread and ranks very low on the false alert meter. On the other hand, LIDAR signals can't be detected as quickly as X, K, and KA bands. Some radar detectors, cheap and otherwise, contain a laser scrambler to combat police LIDAR, affording the driver a brief moment to slow down. But many experts, like those at RadarBusters.com, argue that these devices don't actually work and say manufacturers' claims can be misleading.
Every cheap radar detector on our list is capable of picking up any of these bands. However, some are better at detecting signals on certain bands. For example, the Cobra XRS 9945 is very good at picking up K and KA bands, detecting them approximately 30,000 feet away, but it doesn't notice the X band until about 10,000 feet away. (This functionality has a lot to do with a radar detector's range, which is explained below.) Some cheap radar detectors attempt to filter out the pulse rates of other LIDAR signals that don't emanate from police radar. The increasingly popular LIDAR-based adaptive cruise control and lane-departure systems found in some newer cars can cause false alarms on radar detectors even though these features don't interfere with the police radar guns. Experts at Laser Veil note that the LSID feature on the Whistler XTR-695SE helps filter out these non-relevant signals.
Radar Detector Range
Cheap Radar Detector Range.Range is everything when it comes to radar detectors because a device that doesn't pick up a radar gun soon enough means you won't have time to slow down before getting nabbed. A good formula for determining if the radar detector range is adequate is to take the specified capture area and multiply by six. As Radar Busters notes, the farthest away a radar gun can spot an approaching car is about 1/4 of a mile, or 1,320 feet; multiply by six and you get 7,920 feet, or just about 1.5 miles. This is the average distance at which a good cheap radar detector should be able to pick up radar ahead, although hills and slopes can affect the radar detector's range. Each model states its average range in the manual, but most manufacturers don't advertise this. You can check out radar detector range test sites on the Web to see what experts are finding when testing the models in the field.
By way of example, Radar Test clocked our two choices for best cheap radar detectors, the Beltronics Vector 955 (starting at $139) and Whistler XTR-695SE (starting at $152), at 28,000 feet and just under 25,000 feet, respectively, for X-, K- and KA-band frequencies (see discussion of bands below). The same site also clocked the Cobra XRS 9955, one of our picks for good cheap radar detector, at just under 25,000 feet; the Cobra XRS 9945 (starting at $122), the other good cheap radar detector on our list, averages about 30,000 feet for the K and KA bands, although the older X band is detected only at about 10,000 feet. An older Beltronics model, the Vector 940 (starting at $140) has been noted to pick up signals at about 10,000 feet, while the Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435 (starting at $125) has produced similar results.
Radar Detectors Alerts.If you can't see or hear the alerts from a radar detector, then it's not very effective. All the detectors on our list come with some sort of audio alert, be it a loud beep or a voice signal. Some cheap radar detectors, like the Beltronics Vector 955, Whistler XTR-695SE, and Cobra XRS 9955, have a voice-activated feature. Others, like the Beltronics V940 and Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435, feature just tone (beep) recognition. Some cheap radar detectors also feature an audio output that allows users who are riding motorcycles or driving convertibles to plug the device into their speaker systems. The Whistler XTR-695SE provides this capability.
Radar detectors also use their display to alert drivers. Each of the cheap radar detectors on our list features an LCD screen that displays the type of alert it's meant to pick up. But a safety heads-up here: you shouldn't be keeping an eye on your detector when driving, which is why audio alerts are so critical.
Radar Detector Mounts
Radar Detector Mounts.Although it may seem as though the mount included with a cheap radar detector isn't important, it's actually essential. An improperly placed detector not only misses signals ahead, but may not pick up signals at all. For example, many radar detectors, including all the low-cost models we researched, come with windshield mounts that attach via suction cups; the Beltronics Vector 955 is also quick-release. Users posting reviews on Amazon caution that this radar detector mount style works fine in normal weather, but really hot or cold temperatures can affect the mount's performance. And another user also commenting on Amazon about the Whistler XTR-695SE says releasing the unit from its windshield perch is often quite challenging. If a more permanent arrangement appeals to you, BlendMount sells a base for about $80 that attaches to the rear-view mirror (check to see if your car's mirror is suitable) and works with Beltronics and Escort radar detectors.
Regardless how the device is mounted, take care to adjust the angle so that it points straight ahead. Experts at Radar Detector suggest that you mount it low, but not too low; the best position is aimed just above the windshield wipers and close enough to the driver so he or she can reach the device to adjust the modes or access the volume controls. An expert at Laser Veil notes that reflections on the Cobra XRS 9955's glossy screen make it difficult to see if not mounted properly.
Radar Detectors False Alarm Control.There's nothing worse than driving along, possibly speeding (ee-gads!), and having your cheap radar detector start raising hell for no reason. Radar detectors often pick up signals, or bands, that other electronic devices, like garage-door openers or even other radar detectors, emit. False alarms were the bane of early models and often turned off potential buyers. But manufacturers are now tackling this issue head-on. As Auto Anything notes, today's radar detectors come equipped with smart software that minimizes the frequency of false alarms.
The cheap radar detectors on our list feature modes for city driving and highway driving. City mode dampens weaker signals consistent with frequent false alarms. The Cobra XRS 9955 boasts three different city modes for better filtration, as do the Beltronics Vector 955 and Whistler XTR-695SE; the Beltronics Vector 940 and Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435 have just one city mode each.
Highway mode, which is generally the default setting on the cheap radar detectors we researched, is best for open-road driving where fewer false alarms occur. It removes all filters and alerts the driver to any suspicious signals, and provides the maximum advanced warning for higher-speed driving. Always check the user's manual to know which filtering mode your radar detector is set for.
Radar Detectors Reviews
Radar detectors are only as reliable as their range and ability to filter out false alerts. That being said, there's also a level of human error when it comes to using these devices. In radar detectors reviews, one user may pan a product for not working at all while another says it acquitted itself perfectly; indeed, it's possible the first user wasn't following the product's best practices guidelines. For example, radar detectors reviews note that an improperly mounted detector won't pick up radar gun signals as well as a properly mounted detector. Also, it's important to find out which types of radar guns are used in your area so you can better assess which model to buy; for this reason, reviews are a necessary but not sufficient guide. Just remember that none of these models work every time. But after reading scores of positive and negative radar detectors reviews, we made our picks based on the evidence at hand.
Radar Detectors Reliability.Reliability is everything when it comes to radar detectors, otherwise you're figuratively driving blind. Habitual speeders will find themselves inundated with tickets if the detector wimps out or they don't heed its warnings.
Experts and users laud the Beltronics Vector 955 as one of the most reliable and best radar detectors on the market, especially given its modest price point. An expert radar detectors review by Radar Test notes that this model may lack lots of bells and whistles, but it consistently gave fewer false alarms and performed well on curves, where it's harder to pick up even a strong signal. A consumer's review on Amazon reports that the Beltronics Vector 955 saved his hide more than once and that it usually picks up signals nearly 1.5 miles away.
The Whistler XTR-695SE is considered another one of the best radar detectors at the lower end of the market, according to Radar Test. This model usually catches signals around 25,000 feet away and tests out with a low rate of false alarms. In its radar detectors review, Laser Veil finds that the Whistler XTR-695SE is one of the best radar detectors of KA band signals and has proven to be quite reliable in a variety of situations. An expert review at Top Ten Reviews, seconds that assessment and reports the Whistler XTR-695SE can detect all radar bands and eliminates most false alerts. Although the XTR-695SE isn't as powerful as higher-end models, it identifies threats with enough range to alert the driver in time.
Radar detectors reviews by Radar Test conclude that the Cobra XRS 9955 has one of the longest ranges but is one of the most susceptible to false alerts prompted by other detectors. These experts report it has a bit of trouble picking up the X band but is more challenged by the K and KA bands. On the other hand, a user posting a review at Computer Shopper asserts that this model works well when faced with a constant radar signal up ahead; when a police officer pulls out a radar gun quickly as you approach, however, the Cobra XRS 9955 doesn't seem to notice until it's too late. The Cobra XRS 9955 isn't the only laggard on this performance dimension -- most cheap radar detectors aren't able to pick up signals at the last second.
Experience with the Cobra XRS 9945 seems to depend on the radar gun's signal. A radar detectors review on Viewpoints, for example, reports that this model has served him well many times except in the presence of laser (i.e., LIDAR) signals; as is the case with many cheap radar detectors, the Cobra XRS 9945 apparently doesn't pick up the laser band until the radar gun is actually shot at your vehicle. It also shows some weakness in the X band but has a decent range in the K and KA bands. Other issues surface in users' comments posted on Amazon, where one grouses that the power cord is a bit short and the unit itself a bit too heavy to stick properly on his windshield.
Experts and users report a bevy of problems with the Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435. One review posted on Amazon suggests company advertisements are misleading and say that the laser scrambler feature does nothing. Radar detector reviews we found at Buzzillions make similar claims and add that the RMR-C435 typically fails to do its job. One user posting a radar detectors review on Overstock.com writes that the Rocky Mountain Radar RMR-C435 only picks up a signal half a mile away, while other models of equal value afford you the usual 1.5 miles to slow down.
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