All CB radios, no matter how expensive or how fancy the features, operate at a maximum output of 4 watts. The CB antenna is what makes all the difference, determining the full extent of the radio's transmission power. Being such an important factor in performance, selecting the right CB antenna for your vehicle can be an intimidating process. However, comparing a few basic elements can ensure you get the best antenna for your money.
The location of the antenna's coil defines the specific type of CB radio antenna. A base-loaded model has its coil packed into a plastic housing at the base, rises into a thin steel whip and usually connects to a vehicle via a magnet mount. Base-loaded antennas are meant for easy installation but provide the least efficient transmission. Center-loaded antennas are a good mix of efficiency and power and have their coil in the middle between a steel bottom shaft and a thinner steel whip. Made from fiberglass rods wrapped in thin wire, top-loaded antennas are the most efficient of the three models and work well with vehicles from semi-trucks to pickups and jeeps. Fiberglass antennas also enjoy superior durability over their metal counterparts.
The longer the antenna, the better the transmission. Purchase the longest antenna you can afford. CB radio antennas less than 3 feet in length offer inferior performance compared to models that are 4 or 5 feet long. However, shorter antennas can be affixed to smaller, magnetic mounts without losing stability. Longer antennas require larger, sturdier mounts that may need to be permanently affixed to the vehicle, adding to installation cost and effort.
Ideally, you want to mount the CB radio antenna in the center of the vehicle's roof to achieve the greatest height and equal transmission power in all direction. If the roof won't work, the center of the trunk is the next best option, because it gives the same transmission benefits at a lower height. Mount the antenna as high on your vehicle as you can and strive to keep at least 50 percent of the antenna above the vehicle's roof line. Check your local vehicle ordinances for any laws governing antenna placement.
A CB radio antenna combines with the vehicle's metal frame to create a ground plane. Without proper grounding, a CB antenna suffers interference and delivers faulty performance. Mounting the antenna to a metal surface handles all grounding concerns. However, if you're unable to find an appropriate metal surface and must mount the antennae to plastic or fiberglass, run a ground wire to the vehicle chassis or use a "No Ground Needed" antenna, which comes with its own built-in ground plane.
Popular CB radio antenna manufacturers include Cobra, Midland and Wilson. Basic magnet mount CB antennas start as low as $20 for 2-foot models and can range upwards of $90 for 5-foot versions. Fiberglass antennas, without mounts, retail for less than $30. Even high-end CB antennas, whether base-loaded or center-loaded, rarely exceed $100.
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