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Picking a CB Radio for Your Vehicle

Updated on July 8, 2008

CB radios are one of the most popular ways drivers can communicate with each other on the road. Whether it be talking with fellow company drivers, communicating with a friend’s vehicle during a roadtrip or getting information on road and traffic conditions, CB radios have proven a valuable resource for America's motorists. If you’re considering picking up a CB radio for your vehicle, it’s important to understand a few key concepts in order to choose the best radio for your vehicle and your needs.

All standard CB radios, regardless of brand or price, are limited to 4 watts of transmission power. As CB radios don’t require a special license, the FCC has imposed a 4 watt maximum in order to prevent abuse of the CB spectrum. This imposed maximum means that all CB radios, regardless of price or size, will transmit at exactly the same power, and subsequently, be capable of the same transmission range. As a result, the largest factor responsible for CB radio performance is the antenna. Please see the related Hub on Picking a CB Antenna for your Vehicle for more information.

As all CB radios share the 4 watt restriction, picking a CB radio comes down to deciding how well a CB is suited to your vehicle as well as considering the specific radio features you’ll need.

Specific Vehicle Considerations

The vehicle you plan on using with your CB radio with will play a large role in determining which radio will you select. Different vehicles have unique considerations that should be factored into the radio decision:

Semi-Trucks: Professional drivers tend to choose full-featured radios as a CB often acts as the primary communication and information resource on the road. It’s common for big-rig drivers to “peak and tune” their radios, a process which improves transmission and reception performance. Cobra CB radios are popular with truckers, especially the Cobra 25 LTD and Cobra 29 LTD series.

Pick-Up Trucks: Cab space is often at a premium in trucks, so a compact CB radio may work best. As many trucks are used for work, a radio's PA option is often a valuable feature.

Jeeps and Offroad Vehicles: Like pickup trucks, Jeeps tend to have small vehicle cabs. Subsequently, a smaller Jeep CB radio is often preferable. Weather updates are also an attractive feature as drivers many not access to traditional TV and radio while out on multi-day trips.

Recreational Vehicles and Motorhomes: RVs and Motorhomes usually have plenty of cab space and can more easily accommodate large CB radios. Weather updates and a front-mounted speaker (for in-dash installation) or often features picked by those purchasing a CB radio for their RV. When selecting an antenna, it's important to use a No Ground Plane CB antenna if it will be mounted to a fiberglass surface.

Popular CB Radio Features

There are a number of options and features available on today’s CB radios. Outlined below are some popular features and a brief description of each:

Squelch Control - Squelch control is an adjustable feature that prevents the speaker from playing static when no transmissions are being received.

RF Gain - Allows the user to adjust the reception sensitivity. This feature can be used to block out background noise as well as to pull in weak signals.

Public Address Capability - When used with a compatible horn, this feature allows the CB radio and microphone to be used as a public address system.

Automatic Noise Limited - Improves sound quality by filtering out engine noise and other interference.

Weather Alert Capabilities - Provides access to real-time local weather conditions, alerts and forecasts.

Single Side Band (SSB) - SSB radios make use of the frequencies above and below each standard 40 CB channels. SSB allows users to talk on a wider range of channels as well as make use 12-watt transmission power.

Backlit Displays - Some upper-end models include backlit radio displays for improved operations at night.

External Speaker Output - Allows for an external speaker to be attached to the radio for improved output sound quality.

Instant Channel Access - Jump quickly to the two most popular channels (Highway channel 19 and emergency channel 9).

Conclusion

There are a number of features and considerations to weigh when selecting a CB radio for your vehicle. Make sure to select a radio with the feature set you need as well as one that fits your particular vehicle well.

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