Radar Detector Buyer’s Guide

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by Jefferson Bryant  More from Author

Choosing the right radar detector.

Owning a Mustang or any other performance car comes with certain perks. Getting the thumbs up from passers-by and “oh, wow” looks always puts a smile on your face. There are also a few drawbacks, such as the look on your face as the classic blue and red lights show up in the rearview mirror. Nobody likes getting pulled over, and owning a flashy car that looks fast just gets you more attention from the badge. The real question is what are you going to do about it?

We are not condoning speeding in any way, shape or form, but the fact of the matter is that many states and municipalities have taken what is supposed to be a safety issue and turned it into a revenue stream by taxing those that get caught in their sites. Just five or six years ago, traffic fines for a 10-mph over the limit ticket was around $100 (these are Oklahoma numbers), today that same ticket will cost you $200. Double what it was just a few years ago, and these are modest increases. There is a story out of Virginia that will put a real scare in you.

The state of Virginia issued 6,996 tickets in one weekend. “Operation Air, Land & Speed” was a ticketing campaign designed to increase safety on Virginia roads and to produce revenue for the state. The officers were ordered to issue as many tickets as possible. “The purpose of the civil remedial fees imposed in this section is to generate revenue.” (Virginia Code 46.2-206.1), that is the line directly taken from the state of Virginia’s law books. Facing a 2.2 billion dollar budget deficit, they had to raise some cash, so they went with ramping up the ’ol highway tax. In most states, a 15-mph over ticket will cost you between $200 and $300 dollars. In Virginia, 15 over means you are eligible for reckless driving, which carries a fine up to $2,500. That means if you cross from a 70-mph zone to a 55, and don’t get your speed down fast enough, it could cost you $2,500. Oh, and radar detectors are illegal in Virginia.

It’s not just radar and laser that states are using, red light cameras and speed cameras posted on every traffic light are waiting to get into your wallet. You don’t have to be speeding to get busted. A couple of miles over is within the margin of error for a speedometer, but if you get zapped, there is no defense, they mail you a ticket. If you don’t pay the fine, you get a warrant, and that means you can go to jail. Nobody wants to go to jail. The City of Los Angeles had monthly revenue of over $400,000 in 2009, and Governor Schwarzenegger wants to ramp it up with speed sensors in every existing red-light camera, with fines ranging from $225 to $325. So what can you do about it? With so many states feeling the budget crunch, these events are only going to increase. You need a radar detector.

There are several bands used for radar guns in the United States; X, K, and KA. Radar is still the most widely used speed detection method, and with the advent of “instant-on” radar, which does not emit a beam until the officer hits the button. This makes detecting the radar more difficult, and it limits the warning range for the driver. The key here is to find a detector that has the most sensitivity, picking up artifacts of radar. The more sensitive the radar detection is, the more warning you get.

Laser Detection, also known as LIDAR (light detection and ranging), use a laser beam and a complex algorithm to measure vehicle speed. Unlike radar, LIDAR can be used to single out a specific vehicle in traffic. Where LIDAR suffers is that it must be aimed at a vehicle to be used. For the driver, this means that by the time your detector goes off, the officer already knows how fast you are going. That is where phase shifters come in. There is nothing commercially available to scramble radar; in fact such devices are illegal. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A RADAR SCRAMBLER/JAMMER, do not waste your money on this junk. Laser shifters, however are legal in most states and actually work. They do this by emitting a pulsed laser signal when targeted by a LIDAR gun. This pulse confuses the gun and triggers an error code. LIDAR shifting can be always on or “receive only” which stops emitting when the detector is being targeted.

Going past radar and LIDAR, there is an entire segment emerging, and that is red-light and speed cameras. Many states are relying heavily on red-light cameras to protect intersections. If you run a red light, you get a ticket in the mail. The problem with these is that they may tag you as running a red, even though the light changed while you were in the intersection. Arguing against a red-light ticket in court is an exercise in futility. Speed cameras, which have been prevalent in Europe for years, do the same thing; only they tag you when you are driving on the highway. Texas interstates are littered with speed cameras. GPS-equipped detectors are filled with an updatable database that alerts you as you approach a known red-light camera or speed camera. Most even let you note new locations, which you can upload to the database for other users. These live-databases serve to keep you protected from paying unnecessary fines.

Buying a radar detector is an investment in protecting your pocketbook and your license, so there are many things to consider. Don’t cheap out and buy a $50 radar detector, even though it may be a recognizable name brand device, it is not going to give you much in the way of actual detection. On the flipside, you might not need a $400 unit. Expect to pay $200 to $300 for a top-quality radar detector that covers all the radar bands as well as LIDAR. Just remember, radar jamming devices are fraudulent, you can’t buy a radar jammer and they do not exist in commercial form.

There are plenty of radar detectors on the market which makes it tough to choose. Options like speed and red-light camera detection are great, but you may not need them. This unit, the Escort Passport 9500iX, is a full-featured Radar/Lidar detector with Laser shifters and GPS. It does it all for a price of $499.

The proliferation of the iPhone has expanded into the radar market. Cobra’s latest offering is the iRadar. Using your iPhone as the user interface, the detector mounts to the windshield and connects to the phone via Bluetooth. The phone’s GPS is utilized to display vehicle speed as well as speed camera and red-light cam info. To keep the iPhone running, the iRadar power cable has a power plug for the phone. When not coupled with a phone, the iRadar still functions, but without the GPS.

The Blinder M47 X-Treme is a stand-alone laser jammer. If you already have a radar/LIDAR detector and want laser jamming, these are the hot ticket. This is a remote mount device, which places the four black boxes in the bumper of the car. Unlike Radar jammers, these actually work. This unit from Blinder features parking assist; it beeps as you approach cars or other objects while parking.

Considered by many radar detector aficionados to be the best detector on the market is the Valentine One. What makes this device special is the dual antennas and warning system. The V1 will tell you the direction the radar is coming from and it will tell you how many guns you are being hit with. The V1 does not have GPS for red-light cameras.

A newcomer to the radar market is the Escort Passport iQ. This combines the radar/LIDAR detection of the 9500iX with a GPS navigation unit. This is a first, and it works very well. The price is a bit on the high side at $699, but you get the best radar detector coupled with powerful and intuitive GPS navigation software, all in one device. The five-inch touchscreen is huge, which means you can see it. Best of all, it looks like a nav unit, so the cops won’t know it is a radar detector. It has a built-in laser shifter as well.

With so many states putting up speed/red-light cameras, having GPS on your detector is a nice feature. This works by alerting you as you approach the GPS coordinates. There are tens of thousands of cameras across the country, this will help keep you ticket-free. Speed traps and dangerous intersections can be marked as well.

Another option for radar detection is the remote mount. This style of detector positions radar/Laser sensors in the front and rear bumpers with a small, easy-to-hide interface on or under the dash. Some systems even go so far as to use only a series of LED lights and a couple of buttons/knobs for the interface for the ultimate in stealth installations. If you are going through Virginia and want radar protection, stealth is required. This system is from Escort, and provides the same quality detection as the 9500iX in a stealth package. Remote systems are pricey though, Escort models range from $699 up to $1,599, not including installation.



(800) 948-8438

Cobra Electronics Corporation
(773) 889-8870

Escort Inc.
(800) 964-3138

(800) 331-3030


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