The most advanced units can “hide” from police devices.
While radar detectors aren’t for everyone, if you tend to be lead-footed, drive a car that won’t behave, love high-tech gadgets or simply like to keep track of what the cops are doing, a radar detector may be just the ticket — or a means of avoiding one.
“Where I live, if you don’t have radar you’re crazy,” says Dutton Clarke, a Maltby resident who owns Stereo Warehouse in north Seattle.
“At our house, I installed radar in everybody’s cars because they were getting cited all the time. I told them, ‘Can you knock it off?’ But the way the roads are out there, it’s really hard not to go 10 over.”
Think of a radar detector as a radio that monitors the same frequencies as police radar, allowing drivers to track speed enforcement. Prices range from about $50 to nearly $2,000, not counting installation.
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The most advanced units can “hide” from police devices meant to detect them (radar detector detectors) and utilize GPS to monitor the car’s location, speed and other variables, such as a database of known speed traps and safety cameras.
Radar detectors include corded models that mount on the windshield using suction cups, cordless versions that can transfer from car to car, and remote-mounted devices that are usually installed. Cheaper, old-technology radar detectors are far less effective than modern, more sophisticated units.
“By the time [an older one] sends an alert, the cop has already pulled you over,” says Ed Kocharov, store manager of the north Seattle Car Toys.
His top seller is the Escort Passport 9500ci, for just under $2,000.
“I get no returns,” he says of the 9500ci. “It’s that good.”
Radar detectors have come a long way since they went into use. Just ask Seattle rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot (aka Anthony Ray), known for such hits as “Baby Got Back” and “Posse on Broadway.” His current video, “Carz,” celebrates his love affair with Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other high-powered exotics.
He began using radar detectors in the ’80s and currently owns an Escort Passport 9500 series unit that he can transfer from vehicle to vehicle.
“Oh, man, have they come a long way,” he says. “It senses speed cameras, speed traps. It’ll tell you if there’s a red-light camera ahead, and sure enough, you’ll see somebody go right through it and, boom, you see a flash.”
Ray says a radar detector gives him greater awareness of traffic surveillance.
“I don’t use them to speed anymore,” he says with a chuckle. “People used to use these things to get away with something, but actually, I find it makes you more alert.”
Ray has been a longtime customer of Benchmark Motoring, a Bellevue company that specializes in high-end electronics for performance cars.
Benchmark owner Scott Whitehead says radar detectors have become amazingly sophisticated.
“Most people know radar detectors as a component that hangs off a suction cup on your windshield,” he says.
“Mostly we install radar detectors where the components are broken down and built into the car to look like OEM parts, so there’s nothing hanging off a windshield or dash panel.”
Whitehead says the biggest advance in radar detection is the GPS antenna.
“It can provide location-specific data that the radar detector can then use to modify its behavior,” he says.
The GPS can also provide comparative data to help the radar detector distinguish false alerts (such as a signal from an electronic door at a supermarket or the safety radar on another vehicle) from real threats.
“This is the only category of product we sell that learns,” Whitehead says. “It becomes more effective as you drive because it’s constantly comparing location data to the information it’s receiving.”
Whitehead sees a clear benefit to installing a sophisticated radar detection system — especially in a high-powered car.
“Nothing can put an end of your driving enjoyment like a speeding ticket,” he says.