Are Longer Car Antennas Better Than Short Ones? (Explained)

Car antennas come in different shapes and sizes depending on the design.

Manufacturers produce some from steel and others are so tiny that you can easily miss them.

That said, does the length of the antenna really matter?

Let’s explore all there is to know about them.

Here’s the short answer to whether longer car antennas are better than short ones:

As you’d expect, signals from long car antennas can travel farther than the ones from shorter ones. However, there’s more to it than meets the eye and longer antennas aren’t always the better choice. Short antennas have higher frequencies. So, for the best experience, the antenna shouldn’t be too long or too short.

Does the Length of the Antenna Really Matter?

Their major functions are to send and receive radio signals. However, since we’re talking about car antennas, which are mainly for radio and satellite usage, our emphasis is on reception.

Both long and short antennas have their advantages and disadvantages. Still, in terms of reception, longer antennas are more helpful than short ones. This is because they can receive radio signals over a wider range.

The antenna length has always been one of the most important factors in determining antenna performance. However, this matters a lot less every day as time passes.

There are several types. Some are quite thicker than others. However, the most common types have been the really narrow ones.

Most of them have adjustable lengths though and can be shortened when they’re not in use.

How Do Long and Short Antennas Differ in Appearance?

These are the physical differences between long and short antennas:

Long Antenna

Long antennas are normally straight rods. They are usually mounted on car roofs and trunks and are connected to the car infotainment system.

There are also extending and non-extending long antennas. They can be flexible or stiff. Their lengths are typically about 32 inches long.

They’re specially designed to have longer ranges. Although some are slightly flexible, they can still break. Some antennas are like a wire which is wrapped around an insulating rod.

Others can adjust lengths based on the needed frequency to operate efficiently. They are mostly made from copper.

Short Antenna

They may be coiled or have a coil at the base. Stubby antennas are also short, with built in pre-amplifiers.

Other short antennas include the shark fin type, which is usually an integration of different antennas. If we’d consider shark fins to be antennas, then they’d be short antennas that can beat longer ones any day.

We could also classify windshield antennas as short antennas. They attach directly it onto a car’s windshield. You could simply observe it as extra lines on the windshield.

Antennas are also embedded into side mirrors and installed on trunk covers. These days there are many types of antennas that have replaced the conventional telescopic whip.

How Do Long and Short Antennas Operate?

Both long and short antennas have their unique functions. Let’s see how engineers put them to use:

Long Antenna

Longer antennas have lower frequencies and higher bandwidths. This means signals can travel over longer distances.

Radio stations operate at lower frequencies and their signals can easily connect to longer antennas. Stay with us.

Ever noticed how radio masts in broadcast stations are a lot higher than cell phone towers? You don’t find radio masts everywhere, yet their long heights enable them to reach a wider range at lower frequencies.

Cell phone towers, on the other hand, are a lot shorter and operate at higher frequencies. Therefore, many towers are needed to reach a wide range of people. Now you get it.

This is also why cell phones don’t have visible antennas, but cars do.

Short Antenna

We would explain this in the simplest terms possible. Stay with us.

Every radio signal has a wavelength. The higher the frequency of the antenna signal, the shorter the wavelength. Short antennas have the highest frequencies and the shortest wavelengths.

Antennas focused on higher frequencies are shorter. This helps to match the length of the waves they send or receive.

Therefore, shorter antennas have higher frequencies and lower bandwidths. In simpler terms, their waves can’t travel far compared to longer antennas.

Why Do Some Cars Have Long Antenna?

Some cars have long antennas because they provide better reception over wider ranges. However, modern cars have shorter antennas than older vehicles.

So if longer antennas truly make a difference, why do modern cars have shorter antennas today? You’ll find out in a short while.

Although older vehicles had longer antennas, manufacturers always sought for new ways to shorten antenna length whilst still maintaining efficiency.

This is because people viewed the long protruding antennas as part of an ancient car design. The long whips are also susceptible to damage from windstorms, snow or neighbors.

That’s even why they designed most antennas with the ability to be shortened when not in use. These are the extending antennas, you know. That brought a partial solution to their problems.

These days, manufacturers have found much better ways to reduce excessive length whilst maintaining optimum performance. Keep reading to find out how.

Antenna Design

Car antennas are supposed to deliver optimum performance without being an eyesore. However, their length is crucial and there may be capacitors & coils at the bottom of the antenna.

The shorter ones are less efficient and they need extra electronic devices to step up their signals. History has taught us that technology aims to get smaller by the day.

So although longer antennas naturally have longer ranges, manufacturers preferred to use devices to amplify short antenna range.

These devices enabled them to use short length antennas without negative effects. It’s another strategy manufacturers used to modernize antenna looks.

Another strategy was to use spiral antennas instead. These antennas could appear shorter even though they were really long.

How Long Should a Car Radio Antenna Be?

Two decades ago, this would’ve been an easy one. However, these days, there are so many innovations in information technology.

So many, in fact, that the length of an antenna doesn’t have much of an effect anymore.

This rule only applies to new car models with super modern infotainment systems. In older models, we still need longer antennas to have a properly functioning radio. The standard 32 inch rod still has its use.

Related: Do Car Antennas Go Bad Over Time? (Checked & Explained)

What Difference Do Shark Fin Antennas Really Make?

First, shark fin antennas eliminate the fear of damage. With shark fin antennas, you can be almost certain your antenna wouldn’t get damaged.

Their design leaves little room for negative wind effects, as wind simply brushes over them because of their impressive aerodynamics.

Believe it or not, this more than helps the fuel efficiency of cars since they create less drag.

They also have a more pleasant and classy view, hence they fit in with the modern look of new cars. Because of their nature, they also last longer than long antennas.

For performance, they are also overachievers and they deliver in terms of navigation, too. They are also cost friendly since one antennae serves the needs of several combined. Other than that, they’re easy to install too.

They’ll likely get better reception due to better gain. So while shark fin antennas aren’t really antennas, they get the job done.

What Difference Do Windshield Antennas Really Make?

Windshield antennas have similar advantages to shark fin antennas. They are mostly embedded in the rear windshield. This makes way for a neater, seamless design.

Other than the defoggers, you’d notice more lines on a car’s rear windshield. That’s the antenna smartly positioned.

Another reason shark fin and windshield antennas are effective is because cars now require more than one antenna. You’d agree that it is not practical to mount multiple long rods on the car roof or trunk.

These days, other than the radio, cars need satellite navigation and other intricacies. New methods make it possible to mount several antennae in style.

Otherwise, we’d just have different rods on different parts of cars that’ll make them look like hedgehogs.

Related: 4 Cars Without Apple CarPlay (With Pictures)

Final Thoughts

Simply put, the longer the antenna, the more signals it can catch. Of course, these results are under normal circumstances without electrical amplification. However, circumstances can hardly be described as normal anymore.

So although longer antennas were more effective in the past, the automobile industry has since moved on. They have become obsolete as short antennas now provide the same, if not better, quality in reception.

Modern cars also have satellite radios and other impressive features. This means in the last decade, radios haven’t been the most important parts of car infotainment systems.

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