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Best breathalysers 2019

Want to be certain you’re fit to drive on the morning after the night before? We put ten breathalysers to the test

Every law-abiding citizen will know to avoid driving after a few pints. But what about the following morning, when you can still have high levels of alcohol in your system? How can you be certain you’re in a sufficiently sober state to drive?

The simplest method is a home breathalyser kit which, after a puff of breath, will let you know in no uncertain terms whether you’re below the legal drink-drive limit, or not. There’s a surprising amount of choice out there on the market, from basic semi-conductor devices to more advanced fuel-cell machines. Some cost as little as £12; some as much as £150. We put a number of devices from various points on the price spectrum to the test, and rated them accordingly.

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How we tested them

Few people will argue against that most important quality to assess in a breathalyser is its accuracy. After all, it only takes is a minor discrepancy to result in points on your licence, a ban or worse.

We undertook five tests using certified samples at the limits for both Scotland (0.22mg of alcohol per one litre of breath) and England and Wales (0.35mg of alcohol per one litre of breath). We rated sensitivity at a low 0.09mg/l level, and we looked at how units recover after a high alcohol sample of 0.6mg/l by taking alternate readings between the two.

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We compared the readings against a Draegar breathalyser, a police-spec unit, in each product test. The factors we rated each product by were ease of use, instructions, alerts and price.

AlcoSense Excel

£99.99

Rating: ★★★★★

Just like the pricier AlcoSense Pro, this fuel-cell breathalyser is astonishingly easy to use. It comes in the same high-quality casing as its costlier sibling, and boasts a display that is superior to most. You can also adjust it to the varying alcohol limits for different countries - perfect for those holiday hire-car situations - and the instructions it displays are easy to understand. They even explain why the reading is set at 20 per cent higher than it should be (to comply with European standards and to avoid under-reading).

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Regardless, when we used the factory settings to find out the true reading, it proved faultlessly accurate. On both price and performance, this is a gem.

Buy now from Amazon

AlcoSense Pro

£149.99

Rating: ★★★★☆

This AlcoSense device costs £50 more than the AlcoSense Excel - but you get quite a bit more with that extra money. Like its sibling, it’s a fuel-cell breathalyser, and its firmware can be updated via a USB lead. Clear, colour-coded alerts light up to warn you not to drive inside 20 per cent of the set limit.

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What the Pro offers over the Excel is the Blow Coach feature, which helps ensure that the breath sample delivers the most accurate reading. It will also give you an estimated time for when you’re most likely to be under the limit - ideal for when you’re making plans the next day. You can even set a reminder alarm to retest yourself. Lastly, by the smallest of margins, it topped our accuracy test ahead of the Excel.

Buy it on Amazon

AlcoDigital Platinum

£173.75

Rating: ★★★★☆

Whether it’s a fuel-cell or a semi-conductor device, all breathalysers need to be recalibrated regularly in order to work properly. Most manufacturers advise that you do this annually at the very least, but the AlcoDigital Platinum’s fuel-cell cartridge sensor can be changed by the user themselves. This avoids situations where you’re in need of a functioning breathalyser, only to find it isn’t operating properly.

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The focus of our test being accuracy, we were happy to find this fuel-cell unit operated very efficient. Unfortunately, the AlcoDigital can’t be adjusted to different drink-drive limits, although the UK figures are clearly laid out in the device’s instructions.

Buy it on Amazon

AlcoSense Elite

£59.99

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Elite - the third device in this list from AlcoSense - is a good choice if a fuel-cell breathalyser is outside of your spending limit. This is a semi-conductor breathalyser that doesn’t quite match AlcoSense’s fuel-cell devices, but is the best of its kind in this list. Crucially, it over-reads.

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There’s also an impressive extra feature: the measurement units can be changed, and you can adjust the drink-drive limit. The Elite delivers both visual and audio alerts if you’re close to, or past, the legal limit. Also, the unit can clean the sensor in order to maintain accurate readings for a longer period of time.

Buy it on Amazon

AlcoDigital AL7000

£62.99

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This unit by AlcoDigital lets users change the breath alcohol sense. The AL7000 comes supplied with a hard card, as well as a car adaptor charge lead - both handy features. Sadly, you can’t set different drive-drive limits, although the instructions do clearly describe the legal limits for the UK and France. Accuracy was reasonable when we tested, but you’ll certainly find more reliable devices at the same price.

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Buy it on Amazon

AlcoDigital Platinum Lite

£106.20

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is another fuel-cell device, although this one can’t be changed by the user. Instead, it will have to be sent away for recalibration. Like the more expensive Platinum model, this breathalyser has an integrated mouthpiece that slides out from the top of the casing.

We found it to be reasonably accurate, but there are most consistent devices out there. We were also disappointed not to be able to set the relevant drink-drive limit on the Platinum Lite.

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Alcoscan ACE AL2600

£26.88

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This breathalyser turned out to be the best of the budget-priced devices we tested. Unfortunately, that’s simply another way of saying it’s the best of a bad bunch. It was one of only two tested devices on this list that doesn’t have a mouthpiece, which means breath samples can prove inconsistent. Across two legal limits there were significant discrepancies in the readings - luckily, each time it read too high rather than too low.

No legal drink-drive limits are mentioned in the instructions: that’s information you’ll have to find out for yourself. Said instructions are poorly translated, and reading the display in the dark proved difficult.

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Buy it on ebay

OFTEN Breath Alcohol Tester

£13.99

Rating: Not rated

In the blurb on this device’s Amazon product page, it’s described as a ‘police digital breath alcohol tester’. It doesn’t resemble the £7,500 unit we used in our product tests - and certainly didn’t perform like it either.

Make no mistake, the glossy black finish and gleaming display do nothing to distract from the fact that this is one of the worst performing devices we tested. Readings were scattershot, both above and below the England and Wales drink-drive limit. It was high on the Scottish limit test, and after our first attempt with the strong alcohol test, it locked out. Perhaps the most erratic thing concerning this unit is four-star reviews it’s been given on Amazon.

Buy it from Amazon

Verdict

Plain and simple: when it comes to home breathalyser kits, you really do get what you pay for. In terms of brands, AlcoSense is the clear industry leader: we suggest you pick the one that matches your budget. The new Excel offers an excellent mix of price and performance - but if you can afford it, buy the Pro. Or else get the AlcoDigital Platinum, which is the final entry on our podium of winners.

1. AlcoSense Excel

2. AlcoSense Pro

3. AlcoDigital Platinum

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