6 Best HAM Radios for Cars in 2024 – Reviews & Top Picks
A HAM radio is a useful and fun addition to any vehicle, and mobile phones can’t replace its convenience, simplicity, and reliability. It will enable communication where there is no cellular signal, so you don’t need to rely on your network provider’s signal (or costs).
It can be especially useful for camping trips out into the wilderness, where accidents can easily happen, and it’s a vital piece of equipment in an emergency.
There is an entire community of HAM radio enthusiasts, and the deluge of information can become confusing. We have you covered if you’re looking for a HAM radio for your car and listed our favorites with detailed reviews.
Whether you are doing wilderness training, need one for emergency services, or just want to experience the interesting world of radio communication, we’ve narrowed down the options to help you find the perfect HAM radio for your unique needs.
A Quick Look at Our Favorites in 2024
|Radioddity QB25 Quad-Standby Mobile Ham Radio
|TALKCOOP KT-8900 Mobile Radio
|ICOM 2300H 05 Amateur Radio
|BTECH Mini UV-25X4 Mobile Radio
|Kenwood TM-281A Transceiver
The 6 Best HAM Car Radios
1. Radioddity QB25 Quad-Standby Mobile Ham Radio — Best Overall
The quad-band, quad-standby QB25 from Radioddity is our pick for the best overall HAM radio for your vehicle. It features a four-color LCD, 2-band VHF and 2-band UHF, and a 65-108 MHz FM radio. Being small and compact, it won’t take up too much space in your vehicle. The powerful 50-watt, quad-band antenna ensures you receive high-quality, stable signals at any frequency.
The multi-function display features a dual synchronized display mode, auto gain setting for the microphone, alarm, auto scanning, and automatic power-off. The QB25 has loud and clear audio fidelity, which is essential for accurate communication. A smart temperature cooling fan will also make sure your radio doesn’t overheat.
One small drawback is an issue with the design; the microphone connector is placed too close to the channel knob, making it difficult to turn. Besides that, its affordable price and four-channel operation make it our top choice.
2. TALKCOOP KT-8900 Mobile Radio — Best Value
The Talkcoop KT-8900 is a high-quality and affordable radio for beginner HAM enthusiasts, and it is the best HAM radio for the money on our list. It features a high power setting (25 watts) and a low power setting (10 watts), a VHF frequency range of 136-174MHz, and a UHF frequency range of 400-480MHz.
You can easily plug it into the cigarette lighter of your car with the adaptor. The kit includes a convenient programming cable to connect the radio to your computer, radio, microphone brackets, and mounting hardware.
The KT-8900 has a decent volume, though the audio output is a bit muffled. Also, manually programming frequencies can be problematic if you don’t have previous experience, even with the software and computer cable. It is also somewhat susceptible to RF interference, which can become frustrating.
3. ICOM 2300H 05 Amateur Radio — Premium Choice
If you’re looking for a high-quality and durable HAM radio for your car, the ICOM 2300H may be it. ICOM is a trusted name in the radio industry, and this feature-loaded HAM radio is beautifully designed, compact, and made to last. Fitted with a 3-inch LCD screen that can be adjusted between green or amber, you can see it in any light.
The screen displays the ICOM’s seven scan functions, which include priority, memory, and programmed options. It has a premium die-cast aluminum chassis for long-lasting durability, excellent heat dissipation, and clear, crisp audio for optimum communication quality. It stays out of the top two on our list purely due to its comparatively higher cost.
4. BTECH Mini UV-25X4 Mobile Radio
The Btech Mini lives up to its name; it’s tiny and is the perfect HAM radio if space is a concern. It has a VHF frequency range of 136-174MHz and a UHF frequency range of 400-520MHz, with high and low power settings. A multi-color, fully customizable LCD screen lets you adjust the nine colors to suit your needs perfectly. Two hundred programmable memory channels can be added or removed from the scan list.
It also features an adjustable microphone gain setting for customized audio, dual-sync display mode, and a convenient auto power-off to avoid battery draining. The ability to edit your channel preferences without programming a new channel is a great, time-saving addition. It also has the option to set the radio to start scanning immediately upon power-up, or if the scan is interrupted for transmission, it will continue when the transmission ends.
One minor drawback is the internal speaker, which has poor audio fidelity, especially if there is a great deal of background road noise. There is one common issue that has been experienced by multiple users, which is that the radio inevitably fails on one or more bands after extended use.
5. Kenwood TM-281A Transceiver
The Kenwood TM-281A transceiver offers a rugged and compact construction with a power output of 65 watts. The front-mounted speaker ensures you’ll get loud volume and clear audio, even with road noise in the background. Its backlit LCD and illuminated microphone keypads are a great feature for dark situations.
It also has a 200-channel memory, which is reduced to only 100 channels when used with the user-customizable names. It’s a perfect radio for beginner HAM enthusiasts, though it is durable and well-constructed enough that it will appeal to experienced users, too.
It can be tricky and unintuitive to program, which may put off some users, especially those new to HAM radios. Also, the microphone is heavier than a few other HAM radios, with small and difficult-to-read numbers. Although it is relatively affordable, better options are available for a similar price.
6. QYT Dual Band Mini Car Ham Radio
The QYT KT-8900D is a budget-friendly HAM radio that will appeal to users looking for a simple and affordable product. It features a VHF frequency range of 136-174MHz and a UHF range of 400-480MHz. It has a large but low-quality LCD screen and 200 channels, and it comes with radio and mic mounting brackets and a programming cable.
This radio also has a standout feature that many other radios in its class lack: a 3.5mm jack input in the back, with audio in and audio out. Programming is notoriously difficult on this radio.
The instructions are not helpful, and you’ll need to scour the internet to learn to operate it properly. The display is not bright and can be challenging to see in sunlight. Users also report a great deal of static and poor audio and microphone quality.
Buyers Guide – Choosing the Best Ham Radio for Cars
A HAM radio gives you freedom from reliance on cellular networks and is convenient and fun, and as long as you are within range, you can talk as much as you want at no cost. HAM radios are ideal for emergencies, when phone lines are down or unavailable, and experienced users often come to the rescue. HAM radios can also be interfaced and programmed with computers and can thus be used for text and images.
Bear in mind that you do need to be licensed to operate a HAM radio, and there are three types of license classes that you can apply for. Each class will require a written test, which includes theory, regulations to adhere to, and general operating practices.
Depending on which class you are licensed in, you will be limited in using certain bands and the range in which your HAM radio can communicate. These are cheap and easy tests, though, and you can get licensed with only a few days’ preparation.
When you decide to bite the bullet and become part of the niche HAM-operating community, there are several important factors to consider before buying.
What are your needs?
This is an obvious but important question, and your answer will help you choose the right one according to the activities you need it for. If you will be using it for emergency communications, you’ll want a HAM with as large a range as possible, which usually means higher power and a higher cost. Casual use, like for camping trips or for basic communication on farms or construction sites, won’t require the same range nor the heftier price tag.
The output power of your HAM is an important factor because it will affect your range of communication. A HAM radio of around 5 watts is enough for most short-range communication, but you’ll need a minimum of about 25 watts for greater distances.
While your car’s cigarette input usually delivers enough power, direct wiring to your car’s battery is required for more powerful radios. Some HAM radios have adjustable high and low power settings for greater adaptability.
Most HAM radios are pretty small and will easily fit into most vehicles. However, you don’t want it taking up too much space, and it needs to be placed where it is easily accessible, both to power it on and to adjust settings and have a clear view of the screen. Most come with mounting brackets and a bracket to clip the microphone in.
A HAM radio with more memory channels will allow you to store more frequencies. It will depend entirely on your intended use, though more is usually better. For casual communication, this likely will not be an issue.
Scan functioning lets you find the saved frequencies you need to use quickly. Different models feature various scan functions, which can be automatically started again if interrupted by an incoming transmission or automatically started on power-up.
If you use a HAM radio for anything more than fun with friends, you’ll want the most durable one you can afford. Driving on rugged and rocky dirt roads will shake your radio around and expose it to dust, so a HAM radio with a metal chassis and a quality microphone is an ideal choice.
Our top choice for a HAM radio for your car is the QB25 from Radioddity. Its quad-band, quad-standby operation, multi-function display, and excellent audio quality are unbeatable features. It is a trusted and popular radio in the HAM user community.
We found that the best HAM radio for the money is the Talkcoop KT-8900. Its adjustable power setting and programming cable make it a great value choice that won’t break the bank.
There is so much to learn about HAM radios, and the community around it is always expanding. HAM radios can be confusing to beginners, so hopefully, our in-depth reviews will help you choose the right HAM radio to suit your needs.