If you’ve never bought a radar detector, or had a cheap one that underperformed, you might be thinking to yourself… “are radar detectors worth it?”.
A great question to ask and not something that is cut and dry like some other questions. There’s some nuance in the details, but if you wanted the short and simple answer to it, it’s YES. But, if you want to know WHY that is… you’ll have to keep reading to see exactly what I mean.
As a former resident of Virginia, the strict radar detector laws in that state made me very picky as to what I should buy.
I operated in that state for almost 10 years using a variety of radar detectors, and heck, at one point… I got hit with a ticket and started to wonder, “What’s the point!?”.
Briefly... How Radar Detectors Work
Another question hardly anyone is asking is, “how does a radar detector work?”. When getting a 100 dollar one and a 500 dollar one, you’d think the function would be mostly the same across the board. You’d be right, but the effectiveness of the ways radar detectors function across the price spectrum will vary vastly.
Imagine a police officer sitting on the side of the road, using a radar gun to measure speed. THAT radar gun will send out different frequency band waves at whatever it’s pointing at.
When the waves reach the target and bounce back to the radar gun, it measures the returning frequency in how long it took for it to come back and then calculate a speed. This whole process happens in milliseconds and is impossible to see unless you break down the process from start to finish.
To simplify it, the best radar detectors scan for the various radar frequencies (X, K and Ka band) far more frequently and are tuned to be far more sensitive.
BAD quality detectors while they do the same thing, it comes down to the scanning and processing power to detect frequencies quickly, which most cheap ones can’t do.
Different Types of Radar Frequencies
Not all radar frequencies are created equally, in fact, one of the 3 most popular ones hardly gets used at all. Let’s outline them and talk about the different types of frequencies you can spect them to be under.
- X-Band: This frequency used to be popular across the states. Today in 2023, hardly any police cruiser uses X-band due to the bulky setup and outdated tech. Frequencies range from 8 GHz to 12 GHz, with most law enforcement operating at 10.5 GHz.
- K-Band: This one is tricky, not because it’s no commonly used, in fact it’s the opposite. K-Band when used can easily be confused with a false alert. The radar frequency can be used with cars blindspot monitoring systems, automatic door openers, and actual police radar. The band waves are narrower than X-band and on average, the frequency ranges between 24.125 and 24.155 GHz.
- Ka-Band: In almost all cases, about 9.9 times out of 10, this frequency comes from a police source. The frequency here ranges between 33.4 and 36.0, with the majority of state police and troopers utilizing the Ka-Band frequency. The hardest one to detect is 35.5 GHz frequency, one that is used by Virginia State Police (sneaky b*stards).
What makes a GOOD radar detector
So how affective are radar detectors and what makes a GOOD one. That’s exactly what I’ll answer here.
Typically, a good radar detector will run you at least 200 dollars on the used end. What that radar detector will do is give you pretty good sensitivity and scanning cycles.
A GREAT radar detector will usually run at least 400 dollars and anything after that will be more than sufficient.
Properly built radar detectors that are ACTUALLY worth it have a good number of features, one of which would be band segmentation. Being able to select which Ka-band frequency to scan for and which to ignore can help you improve performance when it comes down to it.
Another feature that is worth noting is the ability to turn ON and OFF things like: certain frequencies (X, K and even Ka band), change colors, tones, update firmware, add or remove filters, to name just a few.
I have a review written on the Uniden R3, it’s a good value that when bought used, is an exceptional band-for-the-buck.
If you wanted to go ALL OUT, i’d say the Uniden R7 and R8 would be better, especially with the arrows which let you know which direction the threat is coming from.
Tips and Tricks for Making Your Detector MORE Effective
To make your radar detector worth the money, you need to get a good one. If you went with any of the above, you are all set. However, you need to keep in mind that there’s a few important things to keep in mind that will allow you to maximize the effectiveness of your radar detector. Starting with the first tip:
- Mount your detector high. Anywhere close to the rear view mirror (or in the grill for remote setups), allows for better clearance for picking up radar signal. This would be an especially great thing to do if you live in Virginia where detectors are now allowed (see my guide on ways to hide your detector).
- In addition to mounting high, make sure you have a stealthy radar detector. This mostly eliminates the possible issue of having an RDD sniff out your detector.
- Turn OFF and segment frequencies where necessary. If you live in places like California where almost exclusively Ka-band is in use, to avoid the detector working harder and scanning for more bands, turn off K and X band all together (do it at your own risk).
- In addition, if you know in the area Ka-band is used within a very narrow band of frequencies, segment the ones not in use, out.
- When traveling, have a rabbit in front of you. No not an actual rabbit, but a vehicle is traveling at your speed or faster that is in front of you. In the event that the officer uses instant-ON and snags the speed of a vehicle, they will snag the vehicle in front of you first and you’ll have a bit more time to slow down.
So what does it come down to?
What it actually comes down to is being able to use radar detectors properly and not buying the cheap-o detectors. If you invest highly into a detector that has a good reputation, you IMPLEMENT techniques for proper use, what will end-up happening is that you’ll probably never get a ticket.
The more simple answer would be to just stick to the speed limit, but that’s too boring of an answer. I hope you enjoyed this.