Week 27, 2016: All about radar detectors, and a few great buys

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 27, 2016

Q. I read your website about life with your dog and learned you love cars and road trips as much as you love electronics. Given this, do you know anything about radar detectors? I’ve been thinking about getting one, but there are a lot of choices in a lot of price ranges.

– D. K., Chevy Chase, MD

A. First, a disclaimer. Some drivers may use a radar detector to try and get around the law and speed dangerously, and answering your question doesn’t mean I condone this. You are correct to say I love cars and road trips, but I go with the flow of traffic and have not been pulled over for speeding in over 20 years. Don’t forget that police have many types of radar and many ways to measure speed, from laser (which is pretty much impossible to beat with any detector) to aircraft, though radar is the most commonly used method of speed enforcement. If you think a radar detector will make you ticket-proof you are in for a rude awakening.

That said, if you are being watched by someone I think it’s completely fair to want to know. If you would like advance warning to remind you to check your speed, or have ever received a ticket you felt was unfair and thought you were just being fleeced, a radar detector may bring some peace of mind.

The best detectors provide better rejection of false alerts and superior detection at long ranges and around curves. False alerts can be created on the highway by blind spot warning systems and roadside traffic flow sensors, and in the city by door openers and security systems. Two enthusiast favorites are the $549 Redline from Escort and the $399 Valentine One from Valentine Research. I do not have space to go into detail about them here, but both are top performers and their manufacturers offer excellent support as well.

Last year’s surprise hits were Uniden’s) LRD850 and LRD950, now called the DFR6 and DFR7. These full-featured units are identical except for GPS memory in the $299 DFR7, which can remember 100 stationary false alert locations and mute them. Both have traffic sensor filters and their detection capabilities are competitive with the Escort and Valentine detectors, as is their rejection of false alarms. The $199 DFR6 is possibly the industry’s best buy, given its high performance without the high price.

Up next is Uniden’s $79 DFR3. Formerly called the LRD450, many consider it to be the best detector available for under $100. Overall performance is outstanding, though not in same class as the DFR6/DFR7 and it lacks a traffic sensor filter.

Whistler’s XTR-145 is a very basic detector. Under $35 on Amazon, reviewers there give it 4.1 stars and mostly positive reviews. It works, but don’t expect cutting-edge performance and features.

Please note that radar detectors are illegal in Virginia and Washington, DC. The police have devices that can detect detectors (radar detectors leak radio emissions of their own, even when manufacturers claim they are undetectable) and they will confiscate it and fine you. Turn your detector off and stow it away before entering either jurisdiction. Some states, notably California and Minnesota, have laws regarding windshield mounting. You may need to use a dash or rear view mirror mount there.

Want to learn more? Enthusiast websites vortexradar.com and rdforum.org have many detector reviews, tips on proper usage and real-world experience reports. Depending on reader interest I may test a few models myself and report my findings.