cb radio
Automotive Technology

How to Buy the Best CB Radio for Your Car

Using a Citizens Band Radio, or CB radio, has been a hobby, a tool, and a reliable mode of communication for millions of people.

These classic two-way radios aren’t just for truckers (although on-demand truckers are still using them!).

Off-roading vehicles are often equipped with them. If you ever participate in a group trail ride, you’ll most likely be required to have a CB radio on hand. Sometimes construction crews even use them to keep in contact with each other on the job site.

If you’re looking to buy a two-way radio for your car, it’s time to do some research! Here’s some advice on how to pick the perfect Citizens Band radio for your car.

Choosing the Right CB Radio

If you’re new to the game, the number of different radios available might seem overwhelming.

But it’s important to remember that all CB radios transmit 4 watts of power. So when you’re deciding between radios, you’re only comparing different designs.

All CB radios should have relatively equal strength. The only thing that can alter the distance of your transmission is an antenna.

Here are some of the design features of different CB Radios:

The All-in-One Unit

An all-in-one radio will be one of the smallest and most convenient models.

The all-in-one radio has all of the parts of the radio built directly into the microphone assembly. If you have a small car that wouldn’t easily fit a huge radio box, then this might be a great option for you.

Off-roading vehicles or any car without a lot of room in the cab should consider an all-in-one unit before getting a clunkier version.

Full Radio

A full radio is the most classic design of Citizens Band radio.

If you have space in your car and you want a radio that is reliable, then a full radio might be the best option for you.

Pick-up trucks and other large vehicles have been known to keep a full radio set working in their car for over a decade! These radios have some serious longevity.

Ultra-Durable Unit

If you’ll be using your radio on a job site, in a mine, or other rough and tumble location then you’ll need a very durable radio set.

If your radio might be subjected to dirt, water, grit, or heavy machinery then make sure to get a radio that is specifically built to endure some wear.

Some ultra-durable CB radios are bullet proof, which can be ideal for some off roading vehicle.

Completely Portable Radio

A completely portable radio is perfect for individuals who need a radio to take on a walk. These small radios usually have detachable rubber antennas to increase your signal strength while you walk around.

You can plug the radio into a car dock inside of your vehicle and easily unplug it when you need to leave the car. It will provide adequate transmission strength when you’re out of the vehicle.

If you plan on being extremely mobile with your radio, then it would be smart to get a portable CB. You wouldn’t want to haul around a full radio set!

SSB Radio

All legal CBs transmit 4 watts of power. If you think you need a little more range than what that offers, you can legally transmit up to 12 watts of power with an SSB radio.

An SSB radio will transmit across farther distances, but the person you’re talking to will also have to have an SSB radio.

Getting the Right Antenna

Because all CB radios have to transmit only 4 watts of power by law, the only way to increase the power of your radio is with an antenna.

The good news is, there is no legal limit to how high the antenna attached to your car or handheld unit can be.

The general rule of thumb is: the longer the antenna the stronger the signal.

You’ll want to mount your antenna on your vehicle so that at least half of the antenna is above your car. This will give you the optimal range.

If you’re going to be off-roading or driving in any rough conditions then you’ll want a strong antenna. You’ll also want a flexible antenna that won’t snap in half if it gets caught.

Installation and Trial Run

Just like you wouldn’t begin a car repair project without planning ahead, don’t install your CB radio and antenna without a little thought.

Your CB antenna will need to be mounted securely to a part of your car that is metal and grounded. If the antenna is grounded then it can use the chassis of your vehicle to make a ground plane and then it can transmit signals.

Here are some good places to mount your antenna:

  • hood rail
  • front fender
  • rear fender
  • bumper
  • pick-up bed

Along with your antenna and your radio, you’re going to need a coax cable and antenna stud. Most radios will have a standard screw-on antenna stud built in. If you mount your antenna on the roof then you might need to purchase an alternative stud to connect with your coax cable.

Once you have all the pieces, it’s not too difficult to put it all together! Once your antenna is grounded and your radio is installed simply connect them with the cable.

The more daunting part is tuning your radio. It’s simpler than it sounds.

You will need an SWR meter. Most bigger radios have one built it. If you have a hand-held or compact radio then you will need an external meter.

Fiddle with the adjustable tip of your antenna until you can reach the lowest SWR rating possible. Close to 1.0 is ideal, but anything less than 2.0 will work just fine. If your reading is above 3.0 then you will have to adjust the installation of your antenna.

Test out your radio to determine its range and how hills and different landmarks will affect it. Tune into one of the 40 CB radio channels and enjoy your new two-way radio!