What's so different about a remote model?
It has discreet components that are built-in, making it invisible to thieves and curious cops. A few have better radar performance than a windshield-mounted detector; two models also offer bulletproof protection against lasers.
What's the biggest downside?
Cost. For example, the Escort Passport Max Ci 360, is $3,495 (MSRP). And all remotes require professional installation.
There's not much choice either. There are only half a dozen models from three manufacturers.
Don't all remotes pretty much have similar performance?
No. For example, the low-end Whistler Pro 3700 model ($679 MSRP, with options) has poor Ka-band range. Unfortunately, that's the radar universally favored by highway patrols. Also, it offers no real protection against lasers since it's unavailable with laser jammers.
The K40 RL360i ($3,400 MSRP) is priced comparably to the Escort Passport Max ci 360 and like the Escort, has a rear radar antenna. But in performance, this Korean-built import is barely on the same planet with the Max ci 360. It's also plagued by false alarms, and in our tests we've found that K40 DeFuser G5 laser jammers are ineffective.
Are rear laser jammers worth the extra cost?
Yes. Although the bulk of laser attacks will come from the front, many officers like to sit on freeway on-ramps and target departing vehicles. This is especially common in states not requiring front license plates. The plate is the best laser target on the vehicle and if there's none in front, savvy cops will target the back of the car instead.
What features and attributes should I look for?
1. High performance For this kind of money, it would be nuts to settle for less. Get a system with world-class radar range and laser jammers that are proven effective.
2. GPS anti-false alarm software Escort uses GPS in an exclusive feature called AutoLearn to limit false alarms from roadside sources like radar-controlled door openers. Drive past one three times and the Max ci and ci 360 automatically store the signal to memory. Next time you drive past, they won't alert. Learn more about AutoLearn.
This feature is absent on other detectors. They might claim to have GPS, but Escort controls the patents. With no access to these benefits of GPS, competing models can't lock out false alarms as you drive and never seem to stop yapping. Learn more.
3. Vehicular radar false-alarm suppression Most Blind Spot Monitoring systems use K-band radar mounted in the rear bumper to warn of nearby vehicles during lane changes. Found today in cars ranging from Kias to Bentleys, these systems drive radar detectors nuts, setting them off from up to 1,000 feet away.
Nobody's yet found a bulletproof solution, but Escort has made some strides. The Max ci and ci 360 receive an IVT filter whose software aims to identify and ignore these nuisance signals.
4. Red light camera alerts
A red light camera is pole-mounted and its GPS coordinates can be logged. In theory, any detector with GPS can warn of a camera's presence. But again, Escort's stranglehold on key patents means that its models have proved most reliable in warning of cameras.
In our tests we also found that competing models incessantly bleated warnings of nonexistent cameras while missing too many of the real ones. Learn more.
Can I install it myself?
Not a good idea. If you're handy with a multimeter and experienced in mobile electronics installation, it may be possible to get it bolted-in and powered-up. But be prepared for issues that could take weeks of trial-and-error attempts to diagnose and fix.
And once you've got it installed, don't be surprised if you still get tickets, especially from lasers. To get it right, you'll need an understanding of microwave and lidar technology. A bit of electrical know-how isn't enough to guarantee that a complex system like this gets installed correctly.
A guy who's a wizard at installing audio systems or car alarms will be way out of his depth with a remote radar detector. Small wonder that many of these installations turn into disasters, even in the hands of shops claiming to be experts.
If I install it myself is there anything to go wrong?
Plenty. For example, we sold a system to a NASA scientist who insisted on installing it himself in a Dodge Ram pickup. We started getting calls from him the next day. "It goes off on lasers constantly," he complained. "Every time it's the rear laser jammer. I think the system is bad."
When we examined the installation it wasn't hard to see why he was having problems. The front laser jammers were angled skyward, for instance, making them useless. And he'd routed the rear laser jammer wiring next to the factory wiring harness. Inside this harness runs the power wire for the Ram's electric fuel pump. This electric motor generates considerable RF radiation, which was bleeding into the laser jammer wiring and setting it off.
Veteran installers know these things; amateurs don't. The NASA egghead saved a few bucks on the installation and ended up with a worthless system. After adding the cost of our labor to fix his mistakes, the few bucks he saved had disappeared.
How much does installation cost?
Installation is labor-intensive and shop hourly rates vary from as little as $110 to over $190. Remote systems have dozens of components, all of which must be installed right if the system is to work correctly.
To gain access, merely running the wires throughout the vehicle requires the removal of the bumper covers, front spoiler, grille and many of the interior trim panels. And that's before the detector installation even begins.
Why can't a shop give me a fixed price for the installation?
Any shop quoting a fixed price for the installation without seeing the vehicle first is one to be avoided. Too many variables. These systems are called "custom-installed" for a reason: each is different. The number of hours involved depends in part on vehicle make and model; some are reasonably straightforward while others—rear-engine Porsches and mid-engine exoticars, for instance—are a nightmare to work on and entail more hours of labor.
Customer preference on control layout also plays a big role in determining installation costs. (See below.)
I hate the sight of aftermarket equipment inside my car. Is there any way to hide all this stuff?
With the Whistler, no. It combines the display and controls into one large module that can't be hidden.
The K40 remote has no display to convey information, only a couple of LEDs that flash during alerts. These can be flush-mounted, but the system is controlled by a remote that must remain handy. Remote controls work acceptably well for home audio/visual equipment, but they're a lousy idea for mobile electronics. When we test K40 remote systems we Velcro the remote to the center of the dash.
An ugly solution, perhaps, but this keeps the remote where it can be seen and operated, hopefully without crashing the car in the process. It's been our experience that leaving it loose, as designed, means it inevitably disappears under the seat.
The Escort Max ci has a thumb-size control module to operate the system; this needs to be accessible. But we can build a flat panel using OEM materials and hide it inside the center console or ash tray, sometimes low in the center stack.
We can do the same with the separate color OLED display. We can also build the display into the rear view mirror, where it's visible only when the engine is running.
Another option is to dispense with the display and use a multi-color LED instead. This can be flush-mounted almost anywhere, including inside the tach or speedometer.
How can I tell if my installation was done properly?
Unless you're an expert, you probably can't. But sometimes a sloppy installion will leave clues. One telltale is when the detector is slow to acquire a GPS signal or frequently loses it. And we've seen many shoddy installations where honking the horn or adjusting the power seat triggers an alert.
There's one more good indicator: an owner who gets nailed by a laser even though the detector might have alerted to the signal. These are all symptoms of an improper installation.