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Radar Love

Automobile

  Radar Love
  How the latest weapons in the art
  of ticket prevention stack up.

by Craig Peterson

www.automobilemag.com
February 2001

Denver -

At the time of our last radar detector test nearly three years ago, most manufacturers seemed to be embellishing existing models with a bewildering array of new features, some of dubious merit, to eke out more market share. If our test results were any indication, many should have been working into the wee hours, whipping up new models with improved Ka-band sensitivity to counter a new generation of computer-controlled police radar guns using that frequency. Now that state police in dozens of states are switching to Ka-band, we set out to see if the latest detectors are better able to handle this threat.

We gathered six radar detectors for a full test. Performance varies in direct relation to price, and the street prices of our test units ranged widely, so direct comparisons between low- and high-end models would be unfair. Truth is, these detectors offer such a confusing array of features and advertising claims that model-to-model comparisons would be nigh impossible anyway.

For example, one model promises ten-band detection, a somewhat nebulous achievement in light of the fact that this country has but three radar bands: X, K, and Ka. Another claims that it is the "first to detect the new ProLaser III and L2 guns," equally suspect since both of those police laser models transmit on the same frequency as every other U.S.-spec laser and are equally detectable. Others tout their immunity to the VG-2, of little interest to U.S. drivers except in Virginia, where illegal use of detectors is enforced by use of the radar-detector-detector. Forget about so-called 360-degree laser detection as well; the devices must be used from nearly dead-on to be accurate and cease working entirely when they are more than about 45 degrees off angle. Most models receive signals from the Safety Warning System or Safety Alert transmitters, but so few are in service nationally that nearly all such alerts are false alarms from other microwave sources.

More useful are the user-programmable options now commonly found on high-end models, allowing them to be customized to the user's tastes. These include alternate sets of audio tones and city modes, different types of visual displays, and abbreviated power-up self-test sequences. Some offer band defeat to disable any of the three radar frequencies, useful in eliminating false alarms in areas where only one or two radar frequencies are to be found, including many foreign countries. Also common are voice alerts that identify threats and free the driver from having to rely solely on visual verification or audio tones for that chore.

The importance of these features is mostly up to the buyer, since a detector is mainly for preventing tickets. Take a hard look at the test scores, which are listed alphabetically, before buying. The winner of our last test, the Valentine One, is still very strong, especially in laser and X-band, but it was trounced by the slightly cheaper Bel and Escort models in Ka-band, which is growing in popularity with radar police just a quickly as X-band is waning.