Best Underground Cable, Pipe & Wire locators
Whether you’re a professional contractor, utility company, or another user of cable locating equipment, buying the correct unit for your needs is a very important step.
With the wide range of underground cable locators on the market today, knowing which to buy can be complicated.
To help in that search we have pulled together 5 top-rated locators covering a series of price points and functionality.
For a summary of each of our top picks, head to the tables below. For in-depth reviews on each device, plus a detailed buyer’s guide, keep on reading.
Best Utility Detector: RIDGID 21893 SeekTech SR-20 Locator
- Passive Radio Trace:4 kHz-15 kHz, 15 kHz-36 kHz
- Large LCD screen graphically displays representation displaying proximity signal, signal strength, target line and guidance arrows to quickly identify distortion and help map difficult locates
- Omni-Seek technology increases accuracy and efficiency when searching in passive mode- continuously searches passive power and radio bands to locate and avoid unknown metallic lines
- Trace any pipe locator frequency from 10 Hz to 35,000 kHz* while utilizing plumbing camera snakes, sonde (beacons), and wire transmitters for better underground utility location and pipe line tracing
- 3 antennas offset 120 degrees from each other in each housing and 2 gradient antennas (8 total antennas) make it easier to pick up the signal regardless of orientation and angle
The RIDGID 21893 is our top pick utilities locator because it balances professional features and cost in a manner that sets it apart from the competition.
With its large LCD screen, Omni Seek technology, and in-built continual depth feature this is a tool that gets the job done. Highly recommended.
Best Cable Locator: Greenlee 501 Tracker II
- ACCURATE TRACING: Trace the path and determine the depth buried conductors (wires or metallic pipes)
- VERSATILE: Included options for direct connection, inductive clamp or inductive antenna allow work on active or dead systems
- RECEIVER: The lightweight receiver provides audible and visual indications of signal strength
- TRANSMITTER: Transmitter output and receiver sensitivity are fully adjustable for maximum accuracy
- RANGE: High frequency transmitter provides range up to 4000-Feet and depths up to 7-Feet
Affordability and ease of use are the names of the game here. The Greenlee 501 Tracker II Cable Locator offers great functionality for those needing a high-quality cable locator without breaking the bank.
With a decent range under the hood, three methods of connection, and both audio and visual indicators this is a tool that delivers. However, be aware that reliability does waver at depth.
Best Budget Option: Kolsol Underground Wire Locator
The Kolsol Underground Wire Locator Cable Tester is our top pick budget option for good reason.
Balancing adequate functionality at a really good price, this is a great entry-level locator for those needing to detect wires but cannot afford to spend several dollars to do so.
However, bear in mind that the accuracy levels are much lower on a device such as this. While it will give you the general area of underground wires, it will not necessarily pinpoint exactly.
Underground Locator Reviews
There are different models of underground locators available today. However, these tools can be rated based on their features, build quality, depth estimate and frequency levels, cost-performance benefits as well as warranty duration, and overall brand reputation.
Based on these rating criteria, 5 of the best underground wire, cable, and utility locators have been identified and chosen for review.
1. BEST UTILITY LOCATOR: RIDGID 21893 SeekTech SR-20 Locator, (Line Tracer and Underground Utilities)
The RIGID 21893 Underground Utility Locator comes with a large LCD screen that graphically displays the signal. From the graphic representation, you can get data such as the signal strength, target line, proximity signal, and guidance arrows.
These various parameters lead to fast detection of the underground wires, making this device best suited to commercial applications.
It uses Omni seek technology which increases the accuracy and efficiency when searching for underground wires in passive mode.
The tool is useful in tracing any pipe from the frequencies of 10HZ to 35, 000 kHz. In short, this is quite a formidable unit.
Let’s take a closer look at the features of the Rigid 21893.
Large LCD screen
The wire locator has a large LCD screen which helps the operator when locating underground wires. The readings and various parameters are displayed in a clear way, in order to aid the busy professional.
From the screen, various forms of data can be obtained such as the target line which helps in mapping up difficult locations.
Omni seek technology
Omni seek technology is useful in locating wires when the tool is in passive mode. It searches continuously till it finds the wires while avoiding unknown metallic lines.
The technology makes the wire locator highly reliable when searching in places where there are several underground wires, but your focus is only on a given line.
Wide range of frequency
As already mentioned, the Rigid 21893 works over a long range of frequencies. It can detect wires from a range of 10 Hz to 35, 000 kHz making it a highly effective device for locating underground utility lines.
Picks up the signal in any orientation
A great feature within the Rigid utility locator is the three antennas that lay at 120 degrees to each other. These are designed to offset each other, for greater coverage.
There are also additional antennas which ensure the tool can pick signal at any orientation.
Continual depth features
When wires or pipes are buried underground, the depth may change over the length of the line. The continual depth feature makes it possible for the tool to show depth changes of the signal from the underground pipes in real-time.
You get a clear visual representation of the wires as they change in depth making it easy for you to strategize on how to remove them.
DOWNLOAD THE RIDGID SR-20 SEEKTECH CABLE LOCATOR DATASHEET
- Large LCD screen
- Multidimensional audio cues
- Omnidirectional antenna system – provides signal strength and depth, eradicates distortion and interference
- Mapping display with target lines and guidance arrows
- Preprogrammed and customizable frequencies
- Is one of the most expensive locators in our top 5
2. BEST CABLE LOCATOR: Greenlee 501 Tracker II
The Greenlee 501 Tracker II is a powerful wire locator that works very well in locating underground wires. With a tracker that determines the depth at which the cables are buried, it makes it easy to come up with the right strategies on how to extract the wires.
It can detect wires on both active as well as dead systems. The receiver is lightweight making it possible to quickly move with it to remote locations where you can carry out the metal detection processes.
Accurate determination of the depth of wires
Wires can be buried underground at different depths. To quickly locate the cables you need to know the extent to which the wires have been buried.
To this end, the Greenlee 501 has inbuilt mechanisms designed to determine the extent to which cables have been buried. Using the device you will be able to detect depths accurately and with speed.
The receiver is lightweight making it both comfortable to use and easy to transport. It also comes with a sturdy case for safe storage, and to help ensure the various components and accessories do not get lost.
Audio and visual indication
The receiver with the Greenlee 501, provides both audio and visual indications of the signal strength.
The availability of such signals makes it easier for the operator to take important measurements. Furthermore, with a transmitter frequency of 447.5 kHz, it is a powerful wire locator for the money.
It is suited to both those tracking wires at home and for technicians carrying out fieldwork.
Adjustable receiver sensitivity and transmitter output
Being able to control the level of sensitivity is an important feature on any wire tracker. Using the Greenlee wire locator, you have the freedom to adjust both the transmitter output and the receiver sensitivity so that you can realize the best signal output.
The process of adjusting the sensitivity is made simple, using the main control interface on the device.
Three methods of connection
You can connect the 501 using three different methods. For instance, you can use a direct connection, inductive antenna, and inductive coupler. The tool has a wide range of up to 4000 feet, adding efficiency to the process of detecting underground wires.
Download the Greenlee 501 Tracker II Instruction Manual
- Provides both visual and audio signals indications
- Adjustable receiver sensitivity and transmitter output
- Three methods of connection
- Range of up to 4000 feet and a depth of up to 7 feet
- Some users have complained that the unit is less accurate and reliable at full depth range.
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3. Armada Technologies Pro290 Underground Wire and Cable Locator
The Pro290 from Armada Technologies is a compact tool that offers clear signals. The transmitter is inbuilt making it easy to analyze the signals as a way of locating wires.
The built-in speaker has volume controls for easy adjustment of sound so that you can get clear signals of the easy location of the underground wires.
Features of the Pro290 include:
Durable and Compact design
The Pro290 features a lightweight design that makes it comfortable to use over long periods, as well as easy to transport into the field.
It also has comes with a hard case to keep the unit safe while on the move (or checked in the back of your vehicle). This also helps with general storage, and for ensuring all the important accessories remain with the device.
Adjustable volume built-in speakers
If you are working in a noisy place, you do not have to worry about accessing the signal. The inbuilt speakers have adjustable volume control where you can adjust the volume till you reach a level so you can detect signals.
Other points to make
Other handy features include the detachable antennae. This makes the process of maintenance easier and means replacement components can be purchased if need be.
However, the absence of a digital LCD screen is a niggling factor. The device really could do with one in order to provide easier readings for the operator. Relying on audio alone makes things difficult.
Download the Armada Technologies Pro290 Instruction Manual
- Compact design
- Durable hard shell covering the transmitter
- Built-in speakers
- Detachable antennae that is easy to maintain
- No large LCD screen
Lacking in a decent digital readout, while still matching our top picks as far as price point the Armada Technologies Pro290 is a capable locator but doesn’t necessarily offer value for money. Our opinion is that there are better options available.
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4. Mastech Wire Tracker Test Cable Network Cable Telephone Cable Underground Pipe Ms6818
The Mastech Wire Tracker transmitter works on both AC/DC voltages coming in at 12 to 400V AC/DC volts on a linear basis.
There’s no shortage of data displayed on the small, transmitter screen either. Preset transmitting power, transmitted codes, the AC/DC status of mains voltage, as well as a warning symbol for mains voltage, detected, all of this is clearly presented where applicable.
It has an in-built battery making it convenient to operate in remote locations. Its LCD screen makes it very easy when working in the field.
Adjustable sensitivity on the receiver allows for accurate signal detection. The adjustment can be done manually or automatically.
For silent operation, both the transmitter and the receiver can work under mute mode. Overall the Mastech is an effective field device.
- Works on AC and DC
- Inbuilt battery
- Displays status on LCD
- Manual and automatic sensitivity adjustments
- No durable shell for protection
The Mastech Wire Tracker is another underground locator that provides quality functionality with some great features for the price.
While it doesn’t match the offering from Rigid in terms of technological sophistication, and cannot compete with the Kolsol as far as price point, this is a good locator nonetheless.
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5. BEST BUDGET OPTION: Kolsol Underground Wire Locator Cable Tester F02
The Kolsol Underground wire locator is an effective budget option when tracking and locating hidden wires. It is a versatile tool that can be used to find wires of different types and current flow.
For example, it can be applied to locate metal wires, pet fence wires, metal pipes, and electric fences among other wires. The design of the metal detector makes the process of finding wires easy, even for a novice.
Features of the Kolsol Underground Wire Locator Cable Tester F02 include:
Easy to use
The design of the wire detector makes it very easy to use. It comes with all the instructions which you can easily follow and get started.
It works very well in locating different types of wires. If you run a project where you need to discover different types of buried wires, the tool can work very well for you.
Can trace up to 3 feet deep and 1000 feet length
The wired detector works well when trying to detect wires buried in less than 3 feet deep. It has a wide range of up to 100 feet. The field is not very long, but when taking into consideration the cost of the wire detector this is to be expected.
It works very well for small projects where the general area of a wire’s location is required. It also works well locating wires with less than 24V.
In fact, when searching dead wires (which do not carry current) it most effective. However, you should avoid using the tester on live wires of more than 24 V because it can lead to damage.
Compact and lightweight
Transporting the device is easy due to its compact design. As a result, the tool is lightweight and you can easily carry it to your job site where you need wire location services.
It also comes with a handy little kit bag that keeps the unit, cable, and accessories safely together.
- Easy to use
- Works on different wires
- Wire tracer range-Up to 3 feet deep and 1000 feet in length.
- Affordable metal detector
- Does not work on live wires
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Underground Wire Locator Buyer’s Guide
A professional cable locator is a substantial investment, therefore you will want to purchase the correct unit for your needs.
To ascertain which of the many locator products available is the right one for you, here are some issues to consider.
Depth Estimate, frequencies & Power levels
These are the most important specifications to focus on. While some units will efficiently detect the presence of cables and piping, they may not provide accurate information on depth. (Some omit these details altogether).
If you are working on-site where depth estimates are necessary, you will need a cable locator with these features built-in.
Other specs to consider are to do with the receiver; check that this has the capability to operate over multiple frequencies and multiple power levels. Are more powerful unit will clearly provide better results over long ranges and difficult detecting environments.
Also, if you are an electric utility contractor, a system that has a volt-ohm meter and is able to can fault find and locate at the same time will help to substantially reduce your workload.
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Internal GPS/GNSS Receiver
An internal GPS/GNSS receiver is a very useful function that will reduce your workload. A unit that offers this will automatically add positional data to the log records.
Not only will this keep a record of how the operator was working, (great for training purposes), but also where the locator was used.
Areas, where cabling has been detected, are fully traceable as a result.
Clear LCD screen
No matter the type of work you are doing, any operator benefits from a large, clear LCD screen that gives a precise reading in all weather conditions.
It will make your job easier, while also reducing any potential mistakes caused by poor visibility and a missed reading.
A clear strike alert function is another important feature to look out for when buying an underground wire locator.
This inbuilt technology is designed to inform the unit operator that they have located something below the surface that could be problematic should digging commence.
It enables the user to log all potential underground hazards. On a locator that has the aforementioned depth estimate function, such details can also be recorded.
In some situations, overload protection is a feature an operator may need. Dynamic overload protection will assist in difficult locations where excessive signals present.
Where high voltage overhead or underground lines are present, the unit will still be able to give a precise reading despite the level of outside interference.
A unit that has a good range of aftermarket accessories available is a good sign.
Not only does this mean it has been widely accepted by the locator community, but it is also a unit that is versatile as and when your needs change.
Accessories such as 2”, 4” or 8” coupler clamps, a good stethoscope, current direction receiver, and transmitter clamps, and sondes are all worthwhile additions that a professional could use in their kit bag from time to time.
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Cost and manufacturer Reputation
As with most things you do get what you pay for when it comes to underground cable locators.
Scrimp to buy the cheapest and it is likely you are buying a sub-par unit from a less than reputable manufacturer.
We recommend that you spend as much as you can afford, to ensure that you buy the highest quality option within your specific budget.
A good company will provide a competitive warranty, and along with the superior build quality and features the unit will provide, you will end up saving money over the long haul.
Underground Pipe, Cable & Wire Locator Pricing
$100 and below: There are few cable/wire locators priced below $100, (the Kolsol Underground Wire Locator Cable being a notable exception). This is due to the sophisticated electronics required to obtain accurate readings. While suitable for home use, bear in mind that any device priced within this range will not be suited to commercial field applications.
$200-$800: This is the budget general users should really aim for. Cable, pipe, and wire locators in this price range will provide the depth, accuracy, and functionality to suit both home and professional applications. Most of the devices reviewed in our top 5, fall within this price range.
Over $1000: This is the domain of commercial applications. If you locate utility cables for a living for construction and other purposes, you will benefit from the high level of parameters that can be detected using a professional device. The Rigid 21893 falls firmly into this category.
How Does an Underground Wire/Cable Locator Work?
Underground locators make use of the electromagnetic field generated from the wire beneath the ground, in order to detect a signal and therefore location.
In cases where this is no electricity, (i.e a dead cable), the device has to inject a signal into the ground in order for the wire to generate an electromagnetic field that can then be detected.
Once the receiver detects an electromagnetic field, a voltage of varying intensities is created in relation to the strength of the detected signal.
This is represented in either audio or visual terms (or both with more sophisticated devices), that can provide the operator with depth, cable type, and location readings.
- Active – This is where a signal is injected into the ground by the locating device so an electromagnetic reading can be taken from the cable (the cable has to be metallic for this method to work). There are 3 methods that a locator can use to inject a signal into the ground.
- Direct Mode – This produces the largest amount of current and has reliable accuracy.
- Inductive Clamp – This produces less current, but is a good choice when access to cable tracking locations is restricted.
- Inductive – This produces the least current out of the 3 methods and should only be used if the other active modes are not practical.
- Passive – This is where the locating device detects the electromagnetic signal already emanating from the cable. The cable needs to be live, for this to work.
Common applications for the cable/wire locator
Individuals use an underground wire locator for many applications. The most common reasons a home user may need one is for locating pet fence wiring, sprinkler wires in the garden, power lines, and gas pipes.
Commercial application is generally for utility lines (including gas, plumbing, and electrical) in areas where proposed construction work is to be carried out. Here, the device needs to be able to pinpoint all types of cable material with high accuracy.
Pipe, Cable & Wire Locator FAQs
Q. How do I find a buried cable in the garden?
Pipe and cable locators such as the ones reviewed here are the most effective way to locate buried electrical lines and conduits. Depending on the level of features the device has, you will be able to detect both live and dead cables, as well as non-ferrous material pipes.
Q. What is the most accurate way to confirm the exact location of buried cables and wires?
Short of paying for a professional, cable locators are the most accurate method of tracking services that are laid beneath a site.
Q. How deep are underground electrical lines?
In the USA, primary buried electrical lines that run into the house are generally 18 to 24 inches deep. Primary lines that serve neighborhoods are deeper still, running between 36 to 48 inches deep.
Q. How far are water lines buried?
Buried water lines are five to six feet deep in order to help prevent cold-weather damage. This depth is generally lower than the level of frost penetration in most areas, which helps stop the water lines from freezing.
Q. Is it against the law to dig without calling 811?
The law, in all states, provides that if you are carrying out ground excavating you must call the 811 utility-locate hotlines before you begin. This is to ensure that all utilities have been adequately located and marked.
- PDF Guide: Locating 101 Handbook A Quick Guide to Underground Locating
- PDF Guide: Utility Locating Terminology & Equipment Guide
- Video: Locating Pipe & Tracer Wire: Applying Signal Using Inductive Method
- Website: How cable locators work – Principles of buried utility detection
- Utility Products: Successful Locating Depends on Knowing Which Frequency to Use