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We all know why keeping a breathalyser in your car is a good idea. Whether you’ve had a few drinks at home, or you’ve been out the night before, checking that you’re fit to drive is extremely important. In some countries, it’s a legal obligation to keep a breathalyser in your car, here in the UK it’s a choice for most of us.
There are more to breathalysers than you realise, with different testing methods that can make a difference to the result, this make sit a challenge when you set out to buy one. That’s why we’ve put together this simple guide with everything you need to know and our recommended buys.
Types of Breathalyser
There are actually many different types of technology used in breathalysers, so before we jump in to our recommendations, here’s a quick summary of the main types you’ll come across when buying a device for you car:
- Disposable breathalysers – these breathalysers are the cheapest option and have the added benefit that they don’t use a battery so you won’t need to worry about them running out. However, they are also quite inaccurate in most cases so they are generally the least used option..
- Semi conductor breathalysers – these are the cheapest digital breathalysers but are slightly more expensive and more accurate than the disposable ones. Semi conductor breathalysers rely on tin-oxide sensors to detect the reaction of alcohol with the tin-dioxide film inside. Unfortunately with these tests, alcohol in your mouth such as mouthwash can result in a positive test. You’ll have to calibrate them regularly to ensure they maintain accuracy.
- Electrochemical/Fuel cell breathalysers – fuel cell breathalysers are the breathalysers that the police use at the roadside. They are highly accurate because they measure the electrochemical reaction of the alcohol being oxidised. However, these breathalysers do cost more than most. But if you’re serious about wanting a breathalyser in your car that will always detect whether you have alcohol in your system, this is the best choice.
- Infrared breathalysers – finally at the top end of the scale, we have infrared breathalysers. These are the breathalysers that are used in police stations. These are incredibly accurate, but at the moment, at least, they are not portable. They provide a continuous measurement of alcohol in the breath (hence the need to blow for such a long time). As you may suspect, we don’t have any of these in our list.
The most popular choices of breathalysers to keep in your car are semi conductor and fuel cell/electrochemical breathalysers. Both of these types will provide accurate measurements of the alcohol in your system, with the fuel cell models just beating out the semi conductor models.
Whichever type of breathalyser you buy, make sure it comes with a certification that states it has been calibrated and that it’s ready for use. Without this, it is simply a box that you’re blowing into!
Best Breathalyser for Cars
Here are our top 7 recommended breathalysers for use in the UK:
Alcosense Excel – Best Overall
Type: fuel cell // Price: £££
The Alcosense Excel is an award-winning breathalyser. It’s won several awards as the best affordable breathalyser from many industry-leading magazines and authorities. This is a fuel cell breathalyser that features the exact fuel cell in several breathalysers used by European and UK police forces.
One of the best things about the Alcosense Excel is that it’s very easy to use, but incredibly accurate as well. All you do is breath into the machine, and it will tell you whether you’re fit to drive or not. Alcosense makes these breathalysers as a medical device (under ISO13485).
Overall, the Excel is well made and also very simple to set up and then to use. Stick this breathalyser in your car with a few extra blow tubes, and you’ll always know if you’re safe to drive or not.
Don’t Forget: Blow Tubes
If you’re sharing a breathalyser, you’ll need to keep some blow tubes too. The Alcosense ones have a rough tubing that capture moisture from your breath to improve the reading accuracy.
This is a pack of 20 that will work with any breathalyser, not just Alcosense. There is also a bundle of 100 if you prefer to stock up.
Alcosense Pro – High Accuracy
Type: fuel cell // Price: £££
The Alcosense Pro features a 121mm2 sensor that is very similar to the sensor used in most breathalysers by the police forces in the UK and Europe. This means this breathalyser works with all drink-drive limits in Europe and the UK.
Alcosense has won a Red Dot Design award for the body of this breathalyser. This award takes into account the ease of use as well as how good the product looks. The Sunday Times also awarded this breathalyser a 5-star rating.
This breathalyser is not only highly accurate, but it’s also one of the easier to use on the market too. Follow the easy instructions on the LED screen, and you’ll know if you’re over the drink-drive limit in a matter of minutes. Once again, Alcosense makes this model as a medical device using medical standards as their guide.
Alcosense Elite 3 – Best Semi-Conductor Breathalyser
Type: semi-conductor // Price: ££
The Alcosense Elite 3 is the best semi conductor breathalyser on the market. It is one of the most simple breathalysers to use too. There are clear, colour-coded results. Yellow means you’re under the preset limit that you can set yourself. Red means you’re over that limit. As you can preset the alcohol limit yourself, you can adjust the drink-drive limit to the UK, Scotland or Ireland drink-drive limit very easily.
If you are after a breathalyser that you want to be accurate, but you don’t want to spend over a hundred pounds, this is certainly one of the best to choose. As we said in our breathalyser buyer’s guide, semi conductor breathalysers are not as accurate as fuel cell models. Still, the Elite 3 is one of the most accurate semi conductor breathalysers on the market. It is also very easy to use, and compact so won’t take up much space in your glove box.
Driv-aid – Budget Pick
Type: semi-conductor // Price: £
This Driv-aid breathalyser is a semi conductor. It comes with 20 blow tubes and a battery so you can find out if you’re over the driving limit straight out of the box. Unlike all of the Alcosense breathalysers on this list, the battery in this one is rechargeable, and the charging cable will work with any USB port in your car.
As this Driv-aid breathalyser is a semi conductor model, it is less accurate than the fuel cell models mentioned earlier and can be set off by other medications or products with alcohol in (as is the case with most semi-conductor devices). The display provides instructions that are easy to follow and then gives an accurate reading.
The unit is not that big and will easily fit in your glove box. Still, this breathalyser is calibrated to detect 0.5% BAC and is very easy to use.
Dräger Alcotest – Police Approved Brand
Type: fuel cell // Price: £££
This breathalyser is made by Dräger, a brand approved by the UK Home Office for the police use to keep you safe on the roadside (source). This breathalyser is made in Germany, but it gives accurate readings no matter which country you are in.
Something brilliant about this breathalyser is that the mouthpieces are reusable and dishwasher safe. You get three mouthpieces in the box, although you can purchase more. You can reuse these mouthpieces during the life-time of the breathalyser, and as this is a fantastic German-made model, that is a long time.
The device has a simple, one-button operation and provides accurate results after just 10 seconds! This breathalyser takes a CR123A battery which is built and will 1,500 tests.
Alcosense Single-Use – Best Disposable Breathalyser
Type: disposable // Price: £
Single use breathalyser tests are a mixed bag. For the most part, any cheap breathalyser will never be as accurate as a more expensive one, but if a disposable product is your preferred route, these Alcosense single-use breathalysers are the best ones on the market and are still used by police forces in some countries as a roadside test before going to a police station. They are very easy to use, and your alcohol level is shown in two minutes.
This breathalyser is so easy to use. It’s as simple as blowing in the right end, waiting for two minutes and you’ll know if you’re okay to drive or not. It is the perfect breathalyser to keep in your car as it’s only about the size of a cigarette. If you don’t want to purchase a digital breathalyser, this is your best option for a quick and accurate reading.
Are cheap breathalysers accurate?
Typically, the cheaper the breathalyser is, the less accurate it becomes. For example, disposable breathalysers are the most inaccurate on the market. A digital breathalyser is more accurate and worth the extra money to ensure that the reading you are getting is correct.
What breathalysers to police use?
At the roadside, the police use fuel cell breathalysers. At the police station, they use infrared breathalysers. Infrared breathalysers are the most accurate. They are not currently portable because this type of breathalyser takes a lot of computing power to determine the amount of alcohol in someone’s system.