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Breathalyzer Basics – Seven Breathalyzer Characteristics You Need To Know To Pick The Right Breathalyzer For You


Are you up to snuff enough about alcohol breathalyzers to pick the best breathalyzer for you? You will be once you absorb the information in the following article.

Drunk Driving awareness and the dire consequences of drunk driving have lead to a recent surge in purchases of alcohol breath analyzers, better know as breathalyzers. Most buyers have little or no knowledge regarding breathalyzer differences so they often pick the wrong one for their intended use.

Here’s Everything You Should Know About Breathalyzers To Make An Informed Decision

1. How A Breathalyzer Works and The Legal Limit

When you blow into a breathalyzer your breath flows over a sensor that interprets the amount of alcohol and a formula is applied to extrapolate the blood alcohol content (BAC).

If you blow a .08 anywhere in the United States you are considered Driving Under The Influence. But beware. Many people become impaired at .04 BAC (and lower) and you can be convicted for “Driving While Impaired” at .04. Although it is a lesser crime, it can still be costly and cause some major aggravation.. Moreover, driving while impaired can put you and others in serious danger.

2. Different Types of Sensors

The sensor is the device inside a alcohol breathalyzer that reads and interprets your blood alcohol concentration. For consumer and most professional use there are two types to consider, fuel cell sensors and semi-conductor sensors. When used according to the manufacturers instructions, good quality semi-conductor sensors and fuel cell sensors will each deliver accurate BAC readings up to about a reading of 0.12 or fifty percent over the legal limit.

Fuel cell breathalyzers will yield more accurate blood alcohol content readings at higher levels of intoxication. Good quality fuel cell breathalyzers are more expensive to manufacture, typically costing from $275 to $1,500 or more depending on the features included.  Examples include the highly rated AlcoMate AL9000 and the Drager Alcotest 6510.

Semi-conductor sensors cost less to produce which helps keep the overall cost of the breathalyzer low. Expect to pay from sixty to two hundred fifty dollars for a semi-conductor breathalyzer.

3. Factory Calibration Versus “User-Changeable” Sensors

When you first receive your new breathalyzer the sensor is calibrated at the factory to yield accurate readings. After many uses residue will accumulate on the sensor resulting in increasingly inaccurate readings. One of the big advantages of a fuel-cell breathalyzer is that it does not require re-calibration until about 1,000 tests.

All breathalyzers, except for two models noted below, must have periodic recalibration performed by a skilled professional. Usually this requires packing it up and sending it back to the original manufacturer every 6 to 12 months to be re-calibrated. The cost for this service runs between $20.00 and $35.00 plus the expense of freight.

One manufacturer now produces two breathalyzer models that never need to be sent back to the manufacturer for calibration. They are the AlcoMate Premium and the AlcoMate Prestige. Each of these breathalyzers have a “user changeable” sensor modules. It It takes less than a minute to replace the sensor in the AL7000 and about 5 minutes to replace it in the AL6000. Installing a new sensor brings the calibration back to original factory settings.

Eliminating the hassle of returning your digital alcohol tester back to the factory annually and the expenses associated with it makes the AlcoMate Premium and AlcoMate Prestige AL6000 worth a close look.

4. Passive versus Active Breath Sampling

In order to test using a digital alcohol tester you need to supply a breath sample to the sensor within the unit. Breathing directly into a devise (mouth piece) that funnels your breath to the sensor greatly improves the accuracy. Using a mouth piece eliminates the chances that outside air, smoke or other pollutants will infiltrate the sensor.

The other method is referred to as “blow-over” or passive testing. With a passive breathalyzer you blow sharply at an air intake area. Your mouth does not touch any part of the breathalyzer. Done correctly this method can yield accurate results. However, some air from the surrounding environment can enter the breathalyzer producing less than accurate results.

The advantage to the “blow-over” type breathalyzer is that it is convenient at parties and social gatherings when multiple people are being tested because there is no direct mouth contact and no need to change mouth pieces.

5. Hand-Held versus Key Chain

If you are selecting a breathalyzer to be used personally you will have two types to select from: hand-held or key ring. We’ve already discussed hand-held “mouth piece” versus “blow-over” (passive) designs. There are also several breathalyzers on the market designed to fit on your keychain. Except for the BreathKey by Omega Point Systems all the other key chain models we tried were cheap novelty units not worth wasting your money on. If you really feel that a key chain breathalyzer would serve you best, take a good look at the Omega Point BreathKey.

6. Cost

If you want a breathalyzer for consumer or non-evidential professional use you can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $350. Generally, the more you spend the better the quality of breathalyzer you will get. Breathalyzers costing less than $50.00 are usually novelty items – very inaccurate and without digital readouts. Don’t waste your money.

7. Approvals

Don’t think about buying a alcohol breathalyzer unless it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. FDA approval essentially means that the product has been tested and it performs consistent with what the manufacturer say in it’s product sheet. Department of Transportation (DOT), National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTS) and Untied States Coast Guard approvals are further confirmation that the breathalyzer has been tested and meets or exceeds what the manufacturer claims in it’s literature.


Owning a personal breathalyzer can help give you or someone else important information that could keep you off the road, out of trouble and possibly save your life.

Knowing the basics about breathalyzers will arm you with the information you need to make an intelligent choice. You can learn more about specific breathalyzer models with pictures, detailed information and sale prices at BreathalyzersUSA.com.