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How Does a Police Scanner Work in a Car?

Having a police scanner in your car can be helpful if you need information on-the-go. Whether you’re a journalist, an outdoors person, or a civilian who likes to listen to the airwaves, you can depend on a police scanner to give you news as it happens. But how does it work exactly?

Types of Police Scanners

There are two types of police scanners you can find in the market: handheld scanners and base mobile scanners. 

Handheld scanners resemble two-way radios, and are commonly chosen for their portability. You can carry it around with you wherever you go, even when you go outside your car. For those who want a police scanner they hold like a phone, a handheld scanner is an ideal choice. 

However, this portability comes with a drawback. The range of a handheld police scanner can be limited compared to the second type of police scanner, the base mobile models.

Mobile police scanners are mounted on the dashboard of your car. They’re typically larger than handheld scanners, but they’re ideal for those who want a broader range and increased signal. They can come in compact sizes and you can also use them at home if you don’t want a permanent installation in your car. 

There are a few benefits that mobile scanners have over their handheld counterparts. For one, they don’t run out of batteries because they can be plugged into the car’s power supply or an electrical outlet. In addition, you can also purchase an external antenna to further improve the reception and range. 

But whichever type you choose, both can be used in your car. 

What You Can Listen To 

The air around us is filled with radio waves, which contain communications that we can listen to. A police scanner allows us to access the airwaves by receiving multiple signals in the VHF or UHF range.

Police scanners can tune you in to different transmissions, including the local police, county sheriff, highway patrol, fire departments, emergency services, road departments, schools, utilities, and even the military. 

Listening to these channels gives you access to vital information right in your car. Most users operate a police scanner in their car for the following reasons:


  • Get instant information on emergencies. The transmissions you listen to on police scanner may contain information that aren’t reported yet on the news. So if you use a police scanner in your car, you can be instantly updated on natural disasters, fires, and other emergency situations.


This can save you time and let you plan ahead.

  • Keep an eye on road conditions. If you’re always on the road, you can use a police scanner to listen to updates about road conditions. You’re able to know where there are bottlenecks, closed roads, or accidents so you can find an alternate route when needed.
  • Get weather updates. This can be extremely useful especially if you live somewhere where the weather is crazy. Having a police scanner in your car gives you the latest updates about oncoming storms or hurricanes in your local area 

Features to Look For in a Police Scanner

Like most electronic products, police scanners are not made equal. Some are better than others, and some have premium features as well. While the best product for you really depends on your needs, you need to know what you should look for to get the best value for your money.

First, consider the number of channels you can listen to with your police scanner. It should have at least 10 to 20 channels, but that can still be very limited unless you’re just looking to entertain yourself with the information on there. 

But that won’t be much of a worry, since most police scanners today can have hundreds of channels that allow you to listen to tons of agencies.

Secondly, you want a police scanner that can access emergency systems. For instance, the local weather or the Specific Area Message Encoding (S.A.M.E) system must be accessible to you in case of natural disasters. You can also choose a scanner that automatically connects you to these emergency systems so you don’t miss any critical transmission.

Thirdly, you may want to have a scanner that has GPS capabilities. If you’re constantly moving to new locations, the GPS in your police scanner would be able to detect that and refresh the frequencies to the area you’re in. 

Fourth, consider the range. It’s actually one of the major features you need to look at, particularly because the transmissions you get will be affected by your surroundings. So if the police scanner doesn’t have a good range, you will only get static if there are trees or buildings surrounding your location.

Finally, a police scanner should have a good search feature. It should be able to scan more channels per second especially if you listen to more channels. If you have hundreds of channels programmed in your scanner, the search feature should be speedy enough to scan everything faster and more efficiently.

Why do I need a police scanner in my car?

There are a number of benefits with having a police scanner in your car, the most important of which is you get to know what’s happening around you. Even when you’re on the road, you can listen to transmissions about emergencies, fires, crimes, road conditions, and weather updates wherever you are.

Professionals in the media, police, emergency services, and similar agencies may use police scanners as part of their jobs. However, civilians can use them too in order to stay updated on the latest situations in their neighborhoods even before the information hits the news.

When you install a police scanner in your car, the reception shouldn’t be affected regardless of where you place it. The important thing is for it to be visible and easily accessible to you. But if you want to increase the range and improve the reception of your police scanner, you can always purchase an external antenna and place it outside the car. 

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