It's a given that all radar detectors are not created equal. Some are more sensitive than others, and the more expensive, higher end models tend to have many more features and functions along with an expected increase in overall performance. Of course, there are always exceptions, and there is a sweet spot between cost and performance, which can ultimately reveal a radar detector that provides the best overall value.
Some folks who buy radar detectors, particularly those who are new to the whole detection thing and purchase one for the very first time, rely on branding, features, price, or reputation alone. They set their expectations based solely on their familiarity with a manufacturer's name, product marketing hype, how many bells and whistles it may have, how much it costs, or the personal or professional recommendation of someone they know or trust.
Unfortunately, some of them are quick to return the detector or toss it in the trash if it doesn't meet or exceed their expectations or perform as they think it should. These users immediately put the blame squarely on the radar detector itself, and may even lose faith in the entire brand. Yes, a thirty dollar radar detector may not be the best countermeasure on the road, but a $400 model? Surely it must be defective, right?
True, some detectors are better than others, and there are even some devices that are DC powered junk. However, there are other factors that determine the value and performance of a radar detector, most of which have little or absolutely nothing to do with the choice of detector itself. In fact, many performance issues can be alleviated or resolved without a replacement, repair or upgrade.
Proper installation and placement
Where you mount your detector has a much greater impact on performance than the detector itself. Placement also depends on whether you intend to use it more for radar or laser (lidar) detection. place it in the "sweet spot" and your economy model may serve you well. Mount it anywhere else and your premium priced model may not detect much at all.
Understand the limitations
Radar is line-of-sight, so all radar detectors will have that limitation of detection. Don't expect your radar detector to pick up a radar gun that isn't aimed in your general direction or isn't even turned on. Also, laser is much faster than radar and no radar detector on the market can detect a laser beam until it has already been hit, which means you've already been clocked. For a more effective defense against laser threats, an additional countermeasure such as Veil G5 is needed. Although it won't prevent a ping, it will slow down the process, giving your detector time to alert you before you're clocked, and usually giving you a little time to react after you get the alert.
In addition, there are other methods of traffic enforcement that don't involve radar or lasers at all, such as VASCAR. Your device simply can't detect them. You can't blame the detector for that.
Learn the features
Learn what the features are and how they work. Some manufactures re-label certain features with trademarked titles or names, but it doesn't necessarily mean they do the same thing any better. It's just a label. Learn what these functions really are and what they do and don't do. What is the difference between K, Ka and Ku detection, and why is that important to know? What is VG-2 detection? What is POP mode? What is TSR? Learn about these features before you use the radar detector for the first time. Read The Manual. Do it first. This is important for proper configuration of the detector.
Once you know the features, you need to properly configure the device. Often a radar detector doesn't do its job simply because it wasn't configured well, or configured at all. Adjust settings accordingly for city and highway use. Filter out unwanted alerts from locations known for false signals, such as nearby retail locations and buildings with automatic doors. Set up visual and voice alerts or mute them as needed. Proper setup and configuration will optimize your detector for best performance.
Your detector can't alert you if the alerts are disabled or the device isn't even on. That's certainly not the detector's fault.
Upgrades and maintenance
An old detector with an outdated database or firmware won't help much against the latest radar and laser threats. A new detector that isn't updated or maintained well won't make it much better.
There's a lot more to using a radar detector than just turning it on. It is important to understand how it works. Proper placement of the detector is key, and a thorough understanding of its features, limitations and general operation is also important. Yes, it is easy to bash, trash or return your detector to the dealer, but before you cast it to the curb, be sure it's due to a malfunction and not a misconception. It may not be what you think.