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Handheld vs Car mount


Guest Patrick
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Guest Patrick

Newbie here.  Looking to get a radio and not sure how to proceed.  I travel though many states and want to be able to have emergency communication while traveling and at home. Any thought, HT vs a higher wattage, car mounted unit?   From what I understand, I can program different channels and the repeaters ahead of time and switch as needed?   Is there a chain that can be strung that you don’t have to switch along the way and still have wide range communication?  Any advice would be appreciated. 

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In the current state of affairs you are more likely to be able to contact another traveler or station using CB rather than GMRS or FRS. A hand held radio, with the supplied antenna inside the car isn't going to reach very far, probably a half mile for certain and a few miles at best. Pair it with an external antenna and you can have an average contact area of 2 to 3 miles. Moving to a mobile unit, you will have the 2 - 3 mile minimum range with a max of 10 - 12 miles with some exceptions. Your best coverage area for travel on the major routes will be cellular. If you are set on using radio, an amateur technician license with a 2 meter HH will give you the most coverage area.

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I myself tend to start with handheld radios at first, because they are portable, and easy to have with you while traveling. Coupled with information from a site like this one, you program the handheld radio with local repeaters, chat with locals, and learn more in time. The issue with handhelds is that they are lower power, often have lower capabilities from mobiles, and for GMRS, may lack a removable antenna. However, if that travel is in a car, as BoxCar mentioned, you will lose a lot of signal in and out (transmit and receive) with a handheld in a metal car.

Adding a better antenna to the outside of the car helps, but the higher power of a mobile radio will help even more for getting out. For listening, that better antenna mounted to the outside of the vehicle may be all that is needed. Either way, it is good to research repeaters and listen for frequencies actually in use in areas you travel. For a first GMRS radio, you may not even want anything that is programmable. Many of us, myself included started with "blister pack" radios that were sold in two packs, TalkAbout series, and others by Cobra, and Uniden. These are great for finding out what is local to you, but remember, trying to monitor while driving is going to cut your signal down inside a metal car. I then migrated to the Garmin Rino series of FRS/GMRS radios with GPs receiver. I still use these today, even though they are not programmable. What they are loaded with is what you get. Which includes 1/2 watt output on FRS channels, and 2 watts max on GMRS channels. In 2017, the regulation for FRS/GMRS changed and so did power output allowed, and capabilities and requirements for FRS and GMRS radios. 

My initial recommendation, until you decide to buy a mobile, would be to try a handheld in a car, with the window down, or sunroof it it has one. Then search around here in the forums for "rat tail" or counterpoise, that may help your transmit and receive signal with a handheld radio. That is the cheapest and easiest option at first. Find out if you enjoy talking with others, and can pick up other users as you travel. If you do, then a mobile might be a good idea, and external antenna on the car. You have lots of options and will get a lot of advice on here. What I now end up with is something like the picture below, but Motorola gear is costlier, and requires programming software and cables, you may never even want to get to that point. In my case, I have been in professional radio for a long time, and accrued a lot of gear over time, setting some up for GMRS use as I travel or commute. Good luck on deciding what to get.

 

GMRS radios I use.PNG

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Not to discourage you, but most GMRS users get their licenses only to talk to specific family and friends, or for a specific activity (like off-roading).  Most aren't listening for, nor will they respond to, people they don't know. It isn't personal; that's just not what they got their radios for.

You can try it, and you might make a few contacts.  I just want to set your expectations.

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My initial purchase (MXT400) pointed toward off roading and hitting a repeater if necessary.  My experience traveling to and from events (long range) has dampened those expectations during travel to and from.  Besides talking with friends that I travel with, the GMRS is of little use compared to the past use of a CB radio for chit-chat and local information.

While off road in mountainous areas it has impressed me for range, when I can reach another GMRS radio.

Most the folks I run with have the HT and don't care to talk except with people in their group off road so range really doesn't matter to them.  However we do employ higher wattage radios for basecamp communication when necessary. 

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Guest Patrick

Wow.  A lot of good information.  I had read several places It was likely to replace CB due to range and clarity.  It’s disappointing to hear people will likely ignore you.  I guess the days are gone in helping each other along the way.  What a disappointment.  

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1 hour ago, Guest Patrick said:

Wow.  A lot of good information.  I had read several places It was likely to replace CB due to range and clarity.  It’s disappointing to hear people will likely ignore you.  I guess the days are gone in helping each other along the way.  What a disappointment.  

No, people are still willing to help but the mindset is GMRS isn't meant for casual assistance like traveler information. A great many GMRS units are used as base stations and people at home usually have little information regarding traffic conditions. The major thrust of CB from back in the 70's to current time has always been a mobile installation with home base stations secondary. 

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13 hours ago, generalpain said:

Not to discourage you, but most GMRS users get their licenses only to talk to specific family and friends, or for a specific activity (like off-roading).  Most aren't listening for, nor will they respond to, people they don't know. It isn't personal; that's just not what they got their radios for.

You can try it, and you might make a few contacts.  I just want to set your expectations.

Sometimes is not that they ignore your calls, but because they have set some PL tones, your call won't even open their squelch.

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When mobile, I do both......my daily driver has a Radioddity DB20-G VHF/UHF mobile, and a Cobra 75 WX ST AM CB radio. Both have their place, but in my part of the country, it is GMRS that seems to be used a lot more now. On a road trip to Montana I only had one driver talk back via AM CB, while I had several respond on GMRS. It varies due to a lot of issues. I sometimes wonder how often people on these forums answer back someone on the radio in real life.

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On 2/8/2022 at 1:49 PM, Guest Patrick said:

Wow.  A lot of good information.  I had read several places It was likely to replace CB due to range and clarity.  It’s disappointing to hear people will likely ignore you.  I guess the days are gone in helping each other along the way.  What a disappointment.  

Watch this YouTube video by @OffRoaderX:

 

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