Cobra RAD 380 (Stopped at the light)

Cobra RAD 380 Review: How Well Does This Affordable Radar Detector Work?

Cobra RAD 380 10
Cobra RAD 380
Simple Display
Limited Feature Set
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Lightweight, easy to install, and inexpensive: these all describe the Cobra RAD 380, a portable radar detector designed to provide longer range and fewer false alerts. I spent three weeks driving with the Cobra RAD 380 across Michigan, in two different vehicles, for this review. Whether navigating the industrial areas of Detroit or the more open expanses of I-94, the little Cobra RAD 380 performed as well as expected for something in this price range.

As of this writing, the RAD 380 is available for $100 on Cobra’s website and via Amazon for the same price. In this article, I will run through the RAD 380 “spec sheet” and summarize my three-week drive as I go along.

Cobra RAD 380 In-Depth: What It Offers

The RAD 380 comes with a 12V power cord, suction cup windshield mount, a hook-and-loop fastener for dashboard mounting, and a quick reference guide. I opted for the suction cup windshield mount over the hook-and-loop fastener for my three-week drive. Unfortunately, the RAD 380 does not come with a carrying case.

Radar & Laser Protection

Cobra’s proprietary LaserEye technology means the RAD 380 can detect signals from both the front and rear. Although there are no directional arrows, the RAD 380 alerted me to a radar signal from behind on two separate occasions (that I could visibly see in my rearview mirror). The best thing when you receive an alert is to slow down. Most times, it’s probably ahead of you, but not always.

Radar Alert Settings

The Cobra RAD 380 detects X, K, and Ka radar bands by displaying the appropriate letters on the display. A giant “L” appears when a laser signal (LiDAR) is detected. The RAD 380 is also VG-2 capable, meaning it can identify the infamous “radar detector detector” signal. The factory setting for VG-2 is off, but I turned it on for fun.

Cobra RAD 380.
The RAD 380 is small and easy to install.

Visual & Audible Alerts

The RAD 380 will advise you of a radar’s signal strength via audible tones and a numeric signal meter on the display. The signal meter is easy to figure out, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. By contrast, different alert tones are used for each type of signal detected (including separate tones for each laser signal). The audible alerts may take some getting used to, but it’s not rocket science. For example, if the RAD 380 beeps slowly at first, then speeds up rapidly, it’s most likely police radar. If it beeps just once, it’s still a good idea to keep your eyes peeled, but a single beep is probably nothing to worry about.

You may find the RAD 380 will issue a slow alert as you approach a hill on the interstate. Be mindful if this happens, especially if the intensity of the alert increases as you climb the hill. Most likely, the RAD 380 is telling you there is a patrol car on the other side.

False Alert & IVT Filters

The false alert and IVT (intelligent vehicle technology) filters on the RAD 380 work better than expected for something in this price range. Like all radar detectors, it can get a little chatty around a grocery store – but I was actually surprised at the number of times the RAD 380 stayed quiet when I was driving past places like this. When the RAD 380 did issue a false alert, it was quick to mute itself automatically. Although it can be switched off, Cobra’s Auto Mute feature is a nice perk of the RAD 380.

In my experience, industrial areas and road construction zones can trigger a radar detector into issuing a false alert. The Cobra RAD 380, however, is a bit more intuitive than your average unit. While driving through Detroit’s industrial areas, like Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant and the Marathon Refinery on the River Rouge, the Cobra RAD 380 issued fewer false alerts than I anticipated.

There was one instance on my drive where I encountered extensive road construction on I-75 through Hazel Park near East 9 Mile Road. At first, the RAD 380 alerted at high volume with full intensity, but it eventually settled down after realizing I was in a road construction zone. However, if you are not driving near a shopping center or through road construction, and the RAD 380 suddenly issues an alert at full strength, be on the lookout.

City & Highway Modes

I tried not to overthink this and took each mode at face value. When I was driving in Detroit proper, I was in City mode. When I headed out on I-94, towards Ann Arbor, I switched it to Highway mode. In a more technical sense, City mode delays all X band audio alerts at lower signal strength levels. City mode reduces false alerts in urban areas where there are many sources for conflicting X band signals (like automatic doors, for example).

Cobra RAD 380
You can change the sensitivity by hitting the “SEN” button on top of the unit. The mode will display as either a “c” or “h” on the right-hand side of the screen. There are three brightness settings as well, accessed via the “DIM” button on the unit. If you opt for the lowest setting, the “c” and “h” are replaced by a red dot.

Cobra RAD 380: Range & Accuracy

One specific example really stood out during my three-week drive with the Cobra RAD 380. It has to do with the unit’s ability to decipher between false and genuine alerts simultaneously on the same stretch of road. The gallery of photos below will help illustrate this example too.

One afternoon, I was stopped at the light by the CVS Pharmacy on East Warren Avenue (near the Michigan Science Center and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History). As expected, the Cobra RAD 380 picked up the automatic doors of the CVS. In the gallery below, if you look just to the left in the second photo, you can spot the CVS.

When the light turned green, I proceeded down East Warren toward Wayne State University. I expected the alerts to subside after passing the CVS, but the opposite happened. As I moved closer to the intersection of East Warren and Woodward Avenue, the intensity of the audible alerts on the Ka band increased in tandem with the visual ones. What started as a 2 or a 3 quickly jumped to a 4 and 5. I arrived at the intersection to find that Wayne State campus police had stopped a vehicle in front of the university welcome center.

The distance from CVS to the Wayne State welcome center is about 0.2 miles (352 yards or 1,056 feet). At that distance and in that particular area of Detroit, it’s impossible to see that far ahead, even though the campus police vehicle had its flashers on. Despite picking up a false alert from the CVS, the Cobra RAD 380 was quick to decipher a real alert only a few moments later.

  • Photo 1: Approaching the CVS on East Warren Avenue. The RAD 380 picks up the automatic doors.
  • Photo 2: Stopped at the intersections of East Warren Avenue and Brush Street. CVS is to the left.
  • Photo 3: Shortly after taking off from the light. I thought the signal would subside, but in reality, the RAD 380 was sensing a patrol car ahead.
  • Photos 4, 5, and 6: The further I went down East Warren, the louder the audible alerts. By this point, the RAD 380 was displaying a signal strength of 4 or 5.
Cobra RAD 380
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Affordable and easy to use.

Detects all major radar bands, including laser (LiDAR) alerts.

Limited feature set may not appeal to radar detector enthusiasts.

Is The Cobra RAD 380 Worth It? 

With the RAD 380, what you see is what you get. It detects police radar, plain and simple. If all you need is a little peace of mind for your daily commute, there is no sense in breaking the bank. The Cobra RAD 380 will do the job.  

However, the Cobra RAD 380 will leave you wanting if you desire a radar detector with high-end tech and connectivity features. Another potential option is the Cobra RAD 480i, which builds off the RAD 380. It offers a few more features, including compatibility with Cobra’s iRadar app. With the iRadar app, you can share and receive real-time alerts (like red light cameras and speed traps) from an entire network of users.

The RAD 480i is available through Cobra’s website for $150, although, in a comparison review between the two radar detectors, we found the RAD 380 performed better.

Carl Anthony is the Managing Editor of Automoblog and the host of AutoVision News Radio and AutoSens Insights. He is a Midwest Automotive Media Association member and on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation. Like many Detroiters, Carl is holding out for a Lions Super Bowl win. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the warranty for the Cobra RAD 380?

Cobra Electronics provides a one-year warranty from the original date of purchase. The warranty covers defects in workmanship and materials. Cobra will repair or replace your radar detector free of charge (you do pay for shipping, however).

Does the Cobra RAD 380 detect lasers?

Yes. The correct name for the technology that most people refer to as laser is actually LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. LiDAR operates much like radar. Its signal spreads out like radar, though not as widely. The Cobra RAD 380 has no trouble detecting LiDAR.

My RAD 380 does not power up?

One possible explanation is a dirty power outlet or cigarette lighter socket. Make sure these areas are free of dirt, dust, and corrosion. A loose power cord or connection on the unit itself could also be to blame. Make sure to double-check the connection from the primary power source. Otherwise, the RAD 380 is designed to be maintenance-free. If these simple troubleshooting techniques don’t work, we recommend getting in contact with Cobra. 

Are radar detectors legal?

For the most part, yes. However, radar detectors are illegal in Virginia, Washington D.C., and most of Canada. Radar detectors are also illegal in any commercial vehicle weighing over 10,000 lbs. Otherwise, as a private citizen, unless you live in Virginia or D.C., it’s okay to have a radar detector in your vehicle. This guide to radar detector laws in the United States will help if you have additional questions.