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Buying guide for best cobra radar detectors

For drivers who want to stay away from speed traps, a radar detector is a common choice to pick up the signal of a radar gun. A common detector monitors the area surrounding a car, picking up the radar or laser signals guns use to bounce off of moving vehicles to determine speed. Cobra makes some of the best radar detectors available.

When buying a new radar detector, a large range of detection capabilities should be high on the priority list. Regular detectors can pick up the most common police gun frequencies like X and K. Newer detectors, however, have expanded to keep up with evolving radar gun technology, so you can find different models with greater capabilities as well.

As you start your search for the best radar detector, check out this handy guide for help. We've included important information, considerations, and features you should know to make the best decision. Our list of top radar detector models will also give you a good place to start to find the right one for your needs.

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Radar detectors have limitations when it comes to speed enforcement protection. Many police forces use aircraft-based or specialized speed detectors that don't rely on the radio or laser bands typical radar detectors pick up.

Key considerations

Frequency detection range

The main purpose of a radar detector is to actually detect the signals radar guns put out when measuring the speed of a car. Ideally, this detection will happen long before a radar gun has your vehicle in its sights.

A radar gun usually works by broadcasting a continuous, consistent signal. When a car passes through the gun's sights, its body bounces a portion of that signal back while changing the frequency. By measuring the difference between the original frequency and the new one, the gun can automatically determine the speed of the car.

Most radar detectors listen for X, K, Ka, or laser bands before getting close to the gun itself. If the gun is always active during use, there is enough signal to pick up before the car will start to bounce it.

Additional detection capabilities are also possible. For example, some radar detectors include VG-2 Alert and Non-Detection features that mask the use of the detector. These detectors are usually designed for people living in states where such radar detectors are illegal and police use radar detector detectors in addition to the radar guns.


In some ways, a radar detector is nothing more than a microphone picking up the "noise" radar guns emit to determine speed. Instead of sound waves, however, radar detectors can pick up the different radio waves radar guns use. Still, like a microphone, the radar detector's sensitivity will determine how effective it is at picking up signals long before the gun detects the car.

Radar detectors with a higher sensitivity (usually measured in decibels or dB) can pick up weaker signals. Common on higher-end detectors, a high sensitivity level extends the range of the detector, giving you more warning ahead of time before reaching the radar gun. In general, a detector with 10 dB is good enough for everyday use against most radar guns.

The placement of the radar detector can also affect its sensitivity. Commonly, radar detectors mount onto the dashboard where there are fewer obstacles between it and incoming radar signals. Remote radar detectors, on the other hand, mount behind the grille of the car to remain out of sight in a place where there is no glass in the way.

Cord vs. cordless

Like any electronic device, radar detectors must have a constant supply of power in order to work. The type of detector largely determines the type of power supply it will have. In most cases, you can choose between corded and cordless options.

Corded radar detectors are a common option for anyone looking for an easy-to-install, easy-to-use solution for their vehicle. As long as your car has a 12V outlet, you can keep the radar detector plugged in and mounted to the dash so it naturally works without needing a recharge.

The cordless option is the best route to go if you want the freedom to move the detector around. This is especially beneficial when using a single detector between multiple vehicles. Cordless models are also easier to hide or install anywhere in the car since they aren't limited by their distance to the cigarette lighter socket.

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Did you know?
A radar detector's selectability is a measure of how well it can pick out radar gun signals from background noise. A high level of selectability is good to have in urban environments.



A good radar detector needs to communicate vital information to the driver without creating a distraction or danger. The indicators on a radar detector communicate this information without forcing you to look at the detector itself for a significant period of time. This is why you will rarely find a radar detector with a digital screen or readout like on other devices.

Visual indicators usually come in the form of simple directional lights that activate when a signal is detected. With a quick glance, it's easy to see what direction the signal is coming from in relation to the car so, you can alter your course accordingly if needed.

If you want to avoid having to look at the visual indicators, you can also look for a detector with built-in voice updates. An audio indicator will "read out" the vital information through a built-in speaker or the car's audio system if the appropriate connections are available.

Additional detection capabilities

Radar detectors have become more and more advanced in recent years as radar guns have also developed in sophistication. As a result, it's easy to find models with greater detection capabilities that extend beyond the usual radio frequency or laser scanner.

Some new guns, for example, include new "POP" instant-on technology that uses a low-frequency signal that's harder to detect. Unless the radar detector has POP radar detection built in, it won't detect the radar gun on the usual frequencies.

Beyond detecting radar guns, a few options present red light cameras and other speed traps as they come up along your route. This information is usually stored in the detector's memory or accessed through a wireless connection, which may require a subscription fee to work.

Cobra radar detector prices

Cobra's line of radar detectors is pretty extensive in terms of features, capabilities, and pricing. The price tag largely reflects the sophistication and feature set of the detector itself. Highly capable detectors are more expensive, but you can find a good radar detector anywhere within Cobra's pricing.

At the budget end, under $100, Cobra offers a few basic models that can pick up radar and laser signals. The design of these models is also basic with a small body and simple visual indicators on the front.

Between $150 and $500, radar detectors increase in capabilities and helpful features. For example, you can find detectors with wireless connectivity, GPS lockouts, voice alerts, and red-light/speed-camera locations.

Above $500, Cobra's radar detectors are feature-rich with a higher sensitivity level. The common detection capabilities include more radio and laser bands so different types of radar guns are detectable with one device. Voice alerts are more common as well.

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Did you know?
A signal strength indicator will give you information on how close a radar gun actually is. The stronger the signal, the closer the radar gun is.


  • A radar detector isn't an invitation to break the traffic laws and not get caught. While they can help warn you in a pinch, there are other speed enforcement tools police use to catch lawbreakers on the road.

  • Mount the radar detector as low as possible in your car for the best detection results. You can use Velcro to mount it on or under the dash.

  • You can expect most radar detectors to have a range of one or two miles. Knowing this, you can get a rough estimate of how close or far away a radar gun is based on the signal strength.

  • Avoid buying a concealed radar detector unless you have experience working on your car or can hire a professional to install it behind the grille.

  • Some visual displays are easier to read at night than others. Choose a bright display if you plan on using the radar detector in darkness or low light.

Other products we considered

Cobra's extensive radar detector line gives you plenty of choices to find the right fit for your vehicle and driving circumstances. The Cobra Rad 500G, for example, is another middle ground detector that offers higher-end features for a lower price than other models. One of a few with a built-in GPS for its price, the Rad 500G can feed you red-light locations automatically as you drive. On the lowest end of the Cobra's price scale, the Cobra RAD 250 offers a great OLED display with voice alerts and long-range detection capabilities.

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Many radar detectors come with city and country driving modes. Since there are more signals in urban environments, a city driving mode tries to filter out unimportant signals to reduce the number of false alarms.


Q. Are radar detectors legal to use?
This depends on the particular state you drive or live in. Some states completely prohibit their use, while others allow them. A few states that do allow the use of radar detectors still require them to be out of sight (off of the dashboard).

Q. What bands/frequencies should my detector have?
Most radar detectors offer a combination of X, K, and Ka-band capabilities. The X band is common on older radar guns, but most newer models use either a K or Ka band if they don't use a laser.

Q. Do radar detectors pick up police cars?
No. Radar detectors only listen for radar guns. A typical police car doesn't emit any kind of signal the detector is monitoring. The detector may pick up the car if the police officer is using a radar gun while driving.

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