Speeding tickets are the worst. There you are, minding your own business with the music blaring and the wind in your hair — and then it happens: Those familiar red and blue strobes advance on your position and you suddenly realize you’re driving nearly 15 miles over the limit. No matter what excuses you offer up, the mustachioed police officer stares back at you, emotionless, writing you a citation before wishing you a good day.
What if you knew the exact location of a speed trap miles before you reached it? Not only could you avoid tarnishing your driving record, you could also save yourself hundreds of dollars. There is an extensive selection of radar detectors on the market, many of which tap into the latest speed camera databases or feature the ability to learn the location of potential traps on the fly. Here are our picks for the best radar detector available to any and all drivers.
Escort Max 360
Why should you buy this: It’s the most accurate and feature-packed radar detector available
Who’s it for: Drivers who want the most ticket protection possible
How much will it cost: $650
Why we picked the Escort Max 360:
The Escort Max 360 is the spendiest detector on our list, and for good reason. This windshield-mounted lookout is packed with nearly every feature available on a radar detector today, including dual antennas, directional arrows that point out threats, and smartphone compatibility to help you network with other speedsters in your area.
At the heart of the device lies a powerful digital signal processor (DSP), which uses a microchip to automatically recognize and prioritize radar bands typically used by law enforcement, ensuring that random signals from automatic doors and blind spot detection systems don’t interrupt your commute. In addition, the Max 360 boasts a GPS-powered AutoLearn feature that cuts down on false alerts by logging frivolous emissions and ignoring them the next time you drive by. Escort is so confident in its abilities, it will even pay for your first ticket if you’re cited while using it. You’ll be able to stretch your Chevrolet Corvette‘s legs a little bit more.
Another thing that sets the Max 360 apart is community-based protection. It uses Bluetooth to link itself to smartphones, giving users access to a community-based ticket protection program called Escort Live. Escort Live is a free app for Android and Apple Devices, one that notifies you of nearby alerts, red light camera locations, local speed limit data, and even your own over-speed violations.
The best affordable radar detector
Cobra ESD 7570
Why should you buy this: It’s a great radar detector at an even better price
Who’s it for: Lead foots on a budget
How much will it cost: $65
Why we picked the Cobra ESD 7570:
The Cobra ESD 7570 won’t break the bank, but it still packs a serious punch. Sleek-looking and compact, it mounts to your windshield using suction cups and features an easy-to-read display that shows data clearly even in bright sunlight. The display is broken up into color-coded sections for the various bands used by law enforcement so you immediately know what you’re up against.
The city/highway mode comes in handy. In densely-populated areas, store alarms and other signals can sometimes set off a radar detector. Turning on city mode reduces these false alarms. On the highway, especially out in rural areas, signals almost always come from law enforcement; a cactus won’t set off a detector. Highway mode takes that into account, too.
The 360-degree detection, called LaserEye, detects signals regardless of where they’re coming from. The ESD7570 will inform you even if the signal is coming from behind your car. It also provides safety alerts when it detects the presence of an emergency vehicle (such as an ambulance) or when it senses you’re approaching a railroad crossing, among other potential hazards.
The best mid-range radar detector
Valentine One V1
Why should you buy this: It’s been a top performer since the ‘90s and shows no signs of slowing
Who’s it for: People who want to know exactly where the cops are coming from
How much will it cost: $473
Why we picked the Valentine One V1:
The Valentine One V1’s interface and display look like they’re from the ’90s because they are, but the product is one of the best radar detectors on the market. Packed with two radar antennas, impressive range, and laser detection, the ol’ V1 helps keep your driving record clean as a whistle. Perhaps the device’s greatest feature is its directional notifications of upcoming radar signals. While most radar detectors on the market merely alert the driver of radar signals in the local area, Valentine One’s model informs the driver of the exact direction the radar signal is coming from. Utilizing a front and rear radar antenna, drivers can see exactly where a speed reading is coming from and what kind of band is in use. If the arrow on the top activates and the Ka category lights up, a police speed trap lies ahead. You’ll know you’ve passed it once the arrow pointing down lights up. Valentine One held a patent on arrow indicators until 2011, and the new Escort Max 360 features a similar system.
Even a radar detector as impressive and helpful as the Valentine One comes with a few annoyances. While not completely damning of the product as a whole, it does tend to overachieve when it comes to searching for radar signals — even non-police radars have a tendency to set off the device. However, such a hiccup on an otherwise great product shouldn’t steer you away from making it your go-to radar detector. In fact, most people would rather have a radar that overcompensated at its job than one which fails to alert you of even the most obvious speed traps.
The device also gives you the ability to turn off the X or K band detectors, though proceed with caution as some police officers still use the lesser-utilized K band from time to time. With reliable, straightforward alerts and its unique arrow display system, the Valentine One Radar Locator is at the top of its class.
The best long-range radar detector
Why you should buy this: The Escort iX warns you of speed traps well before the cops see you
Who’s it for: Speedsters who frequently travel through remote areas
How much will it cost: $499
Why we picked the Escort iX: Though its name suggests it’s an old Ford equipped with BMW’s all-wheel drive system, the Escort iX is actually a radar detector tailor-made for long-range detection. It’s well suited to remote areas, like the Nevada desert or the Great Plains, because it detects speed traps from far away. When it goes off, you know there’s a law enforcement officer in the vicinity. The iX’s early warning gives you enough time to slow down to a more permissible speed, and its easy-to-read display tells you exactly how much speed you need to scrub off.
The iX’s multiple sensors detect X-band, K-band, and SuperWide Ka-band, even if the officer uses pesky-instant on technology. It’s smart, too. Intelligent AutoLearn Technology relies on GPS and frequency data to reject false alarms and learn their location so it doesn’t go off the next time you drive past them. It also features a built-in IVT filter, which reduces false alarms caused by in-vehicle technology like adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems. This wasn’t a problem a decade ago, but it has become a real issue as cars get more and more advanced.
Users can sync the iX with the Escort Live application to receive crowdsourced real-time alerts of speed traps, red light cameras, and other traffic-related threats. The app is compatible with Android and Apple devices, and it’s free.
The best-looking radar detector
Why should you buy this: It’s the sexiest radar detector on the market — with functionality to match
Who’s it for: Drivers who want top-flight radar protection in a sleek, attractive package
How much will it cost: $529
Why we picked the Beltronics GT-7:
The GT-7 is the best-looking radar detector on the market right now, but Beltronics’ flagship is much more than an attractive windshield ornament. Bolstered by a powerful digital processor, the GT-7 acts like a bouncer for radio signals, kicking false alerts to the curb to make sure every chime and whistle you hear comes from a legitimate law enforcement source. Beltronics is owned by Escort, and consequentially many of the features showcased on the Passport Max2 and Max 360 are available on the GT-7. For example, the device is compatible with the Escort Live ticket protection app — which tracks speed traps and other high-risk locations in your area — while also granting access to a red-light and speed-camera directory called the Defender Database.
The GT-7 is essentially a plug and play product, but the user experience can be tailored to the individual driver’s needs. Three different modes of operations are available — Highway, Auto, and No X — each of which adjusts sensitivity and range based on a variety of parameters. The Auto setting is quite clever, as it logs the types of signals it’s detected most recently and instinctively adjusts sensitivity in response. Furthermore, the quick and accurate GT-7 offers “Over-Speed” alerts to let the driver know when he or she has passed a pre-set velocity, assuring that you slow yourself down before the flashing lights appear in your rearview. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
How we test
Our testers evaluate these accessories in real-world conditions, taking them to known areas of frequent radar detection as well as environments that trigger false signals. They are also scored based on ease of installation, interface usability, available additional features, demonstrable accuracy, and connectivity to a crowd-sourced “spotter” community.
Here are some common radar detector terms you may not know:
- DSP: Short for digital signal processing, which utilizes a microchip to automatically recognize and prioritize radar bands typically used by law enforcement.
- K-Band: A common frequency for handheld radar guns, operating between 24.05 and 24.25 GHz.
- Ka-Band: The most popular frequency used by cops today, generally operating between 33.4 and 36.0 GHz.
- Laser: To catch speeders, many police have made the switch from radar to laser. While expensive, laser guns are far quicker and more accurate at measuring a vehicle’s location and speed.
- Laser defuser: A technology which detects police radars and jams the signal emitted by police laser guns. Note laser jammers are illegal in some states.
- X-Band: A catch-all radar band used by everything from traffic sensors to law enforcement to automatic supermarket doors. It operates from 10.5 to 10.55 GHz and is one of the easiest bands to detect.
Updated: We’ve added the Escort iX to the list.
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