We’re not saying you should think of speed limits as ballpark suggestions, but we know that pushing in the accelerator a little more than usual on a straight, empty stretch of highway is tempting. The trade-off is that getting caught is usually expensive. That’s where the radar detector comes in.
It’s a device that normally mounts to your windshield with suction cups, scopes out the road ahead, and warns you if it detects a radar or a laser. You can usually slow down in time, but remember that speeding is always a risk unless you somehow figure out how to cover your car with an invisibility cloak.
The best radar detector currently on the market is the Escort Max 360. Our reviewers have driven with dozens of radar detectors attached to their windshield in all conditions. We choose Escort’s Max 360 because it is straightforward, reliable, and affordable. Its bang-for-the-buck proposition is unbeatable, too.
Thousands of hours spent keeping an eye on radar detectors have taught us there are good alternatives to the Escort Max 360. We’ve selected the best runner-up, the best-looking detector, the best mid-range detector, and the best affordable detector, among other picks. Let our in-house team of speed-loving reviewers help you find the radar detector that best suits your driving style and budget.
Best radar detectors for 2020
- The best: Escort Max 360
- The runner-up: Uniden R7
- The best affordable radar detector: Whistler CR70
- The best mid-range radar detector: Escort Passport 9500iX
- The best-looking radar detector: Radenso Pro M
What is a radar detector?
It’s an in-car device, like a portable GPS or dash camera, that’s specifically designed to warn you of police presence and the use of speed detection hardware. Radar guns, or the devices police use to gauge a driver’s speed at a distance, operate exclusively on specific radio waves, and radar detectors warn you of the presence of those radio waves based on their proximity.
What to know before you start shopping
Picking a radar detector can be a tough decision since they aren’t exactly cheap, and there are a lot of different models on the market. When it comes to radar detectors, it’s a strong case of you get what you pay for in terms of functionality and accuracy.
Cheaper models tend to be less accurate and more prone to false readings, while more expensive and top-range radar detectors can offer directional indicators, GPS functionality, and smart technologies that can identify false radar signals. False signals may come from other sensory systems using similar radio wave-based detection, such as automatic sliding doors at the local supermarket or even blind spot detection systems on some newer vehicles.
To make your hunt for a radar detector easier, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top radar detectors on sale today.
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 24.25GHz.
- Ka-Band: The most popular frequency used by most police today, generally operating between 33.4 and 36.0GHz.
- 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 that detects police radars and jams the signal emitted by police laser guns. Note that 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 10.55GHz and is one of the easiest bands to detect.
The best: 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 best ticket protection possible.
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the Escort Max 360:
Although there is a newer version of the Escort Max 360, called the Escort Max 360c, we still stick with the Max 360 since it can be purchased for about $500 at certain retailers. Prices may have come down, but the Max 360 continues to be our choice and for good reason. Quite simply, the updated Max 360c doesn’t really improve on the previous model’s functionality too significantly to make it worth its premium price. The original Max 360 was already so good to begin with. It comes 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 that it will even pay for your first ticket if you’re cited while using it. That may let you 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 speed violations.
The runner-up: Uniden R7
Why should you buy this: It’s a powerful detector that pays for itself quickly
Who’s it for: Motorists who like to drive fast without thinking twice.
How much will it cost: $427
Why we picked the Uniden R7:
Inspired by the Valentine One V1, the Uniden R7 stands out from the pack because its dual antennas tell you exactly which direction the radar signal is coming from. Its color screen shows you whether the threat is coming from ahead, from behind, or from the side, and it notes which type of signal is picked up, which can make a big difference. You can see the strength of the signal, too, so you know if it’s too late or if you’ve got time to slow down. The R7 also remembers and mutes false alarms, meaning you don’t need to worry about the local bank’s alarm system setting it off.
It’s smart, too. It is pre-loaded with the location of red light and speed cameras, and it sounds the alarm when you get close to either. Free firmware updates ensure it stays current by keeping up with the infrastructure. It’s not quite as powerful as the Escort Max 360, and it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s a competent detector that works well as an all-arounder.
The best affordable radar detector: Whistler Z-15R
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: $70
Why we picked the Whistler Z-15R:
The Whistler Z-15R won’t break the bank, but it still packs a serious punch. Sleek-looking and compact, it mounts to your windshield using suction cups, like nearly all radar detectors, and it 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 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.
The best mid-range radar detector: Escort Passport 9500iX
Why you should buy this: The Escort Passport 9500iX 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: $234
Why we picked the Escort Passport 9500iX: Though its name suggests it’s an old Ford equipped with BMW’s all-wheel drive system, the Escort Passport 9500iX 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 GPS-powered technology that reduces false alarms caused by in-vehicle technology like automatic door openers.
Users can sync the iX with the Escort Live application to receive crowd-sourced 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: Radenso Pro M
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: $450
Why we picked the Radenso Pro M:
Radenso’s Pro M is the best-looking radar detector on the market right now, but it’s much more than an attractive windshield ornament. Bolstered by a powerful digital processor, it 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.
The Pro M relies on GPS technology to remember false alerts, so you won’t have to hear them twice. It’s also pre-loaded with the location of over 6,000 red light and speed cameras across America, and you can update it for free by plugging it into your computer. It comes with a one-year warranty, which is standard, but Radenso is so confident in the Pro M that it offers a one-year ticket-free guarantee. If you get a laser-detected speeding ticket while using its detector, and the right conditions are met (you weren’t drunk or going more than 25 mph over the speed limit, for example), it will pay for it.
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