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Frequently Asked Questions


Which breathalyzer is best for me?

It depends on the application.  Please review our Comparison Chart and Selection Guide to determine which model is best for your personal or workplace needs.

What is the difference between a semi conductor sensor and a fuel cell sensor?

Semiconductor Sensors commonly use a tin-oxide substance and are more economical. They are commonly used in Alcohol Screening Devices. Fuel Cell sensors commonly use platinum metal and are higher cost. Also, they are more specific for ethyl alcohol and reduce false positives from substances such as ketones that are similar in chemical structure to alcohol.  They are commonly used in evidential grade devices.

What is the difference between a screener, an evidential unit, and a workplace tester?

A screener is a unit that can screen individuals for the “presence” of alcohol. A screener is also commonly used for personal use.  An evidential unit is a fuel cell sensor that is also used for screening purposes, but will generally be within +/- .005% BAC all the way up to .400%.  A workplace tester is a unit that is a fuel cell unit that can do an air blank, print, and do confirmation tests.  A workplace unit is used for companies/people who do alcohol testing on people for Random, Pre-Employment, Reasonable Suspicion, Post-Accident, Return to Duty, and Follow Up.  For more information on workplace testing Click here.

How accurate are breath alcohol detectors (a/k/a breathalyzers)?

Every alcohol detector has a margin of error.  However, it's safe to say that the greater the price, the greater the accuracy and specificity.  For more information about the types of units available, compare our products in our Comparison Chart.

What are the requirements of a unit if I am conducting workplace testing?

The unit must be able to take an air blank, print, do confirmation tests and have portable equipment to do calibrations.  A testing policy is also required.  See our workplace testing page for more information. For more information on workplace testing Click here.

What model do I need to test my employees for the presence of alcohol? 

If the testing is on safety sensitive employees, it is regulated by the DOT.  The type of unit needed is a workplace tester such as the EV30 or Phoenix 6.0.  If the testing is for NON-DOT testing, then the FC Series or the AlcoHAWK® series would meet your needs as a screener.  See our workplace testing page for more information. For more information on workplace testing Click here.

What model(s) are used by law enforcement officials for preliminary screening devices?

An evidential unit is ideal for law enforcement officials throughout the U.S. The FC Series, SD-5, and AlcoSensor models are commonly used by police officers.  In addition, several law enforcement officials are now using the AlcoHAWK®, including the new PT500, PT500P and PT750, as their preliminary screening device because the semiconductor technology is more affordable than fuel cell technology.

What are the ramifications if a breath alcohol tester has not obtained FDA 510(K) pre-marketing notification?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies all breath alcohol testing devices as “medical devices” requiring “pre-marketing clearance” through the submission of a 510(k) Application. The 510(k) enables the FDA to determine if the device is “safe and effective” for over-the-counter use. Thus, before any breath alcohol tester can be commercially distributed and sold in the United States for personal use, FDA 510(k) pre-marketing notification clearance is necessary. The entire AlcoHAWK® Series is 510(k) pre-marketing notification cleared by the FDA.

Do alcohol detectors have to be calibrated?

Over time, all alcohol testers need to be recalibrated or have the sensor replaced. Calibration is a process where you program the internal software so that it can gauge specific BAC levels. If the sensor becomes saturated, then the results can become skewed. This is because the unit was originally calibrated when the sensor was unsaturated. This process is sort of like winding a clock. When the clock is first set it displays accurate time. However, over time the clock gradually drifts a few minutes, and eventually can be off by quite a bit if you do not occasionally reset the clock. When selecting an alcohol tester, it is imperative to select a unit that is capable of being calibrated. View a presentation explaining the calibration process.

Why does Q3 not offer replacement sensor modules instead of calibration?

Q3’s trained technicians perform a full diagnostic check on all aspects of the unit as part of the routine calibration process.  Thus, the calibration process offered by Q3 is more than simple calibration.  Q3 technicians test all aspects.  Also, it is our opinion that a user will not know if the replacement module is accurate or out of calibration itself.  Finally, the cost of the replacement module is more than the full diagnostic process that Q3 provides.

Is my blood alcohol concentration (BAC) the only factor in determining whether I can get a drunk driving charge?

No.  Most states generally look for factors that reflect your impairment.  BAC is a guideline approach used by police departments; however, you can receive a drunk driving or reckless driving charge even if your BAC is below the legal limit if you are impaired.

What is the advantage of a device that displays BAC readings to the thousandth decimal place (i.e., .000%) versus a device that displays BAC readings to the hundredth decimal place (i.e., .00%)?

Breath alcohol testers that offer BAC readings to the hundredth decimal place (i.e., .00%) often do so by rounding the digit that would otherwise appear in the thousandth decimal place. For instance, if a person’s blood alcohol content is .075%, then a device that displays readings to the hundredth decimal place (i.e., .00%) would round up the final digit and the device would display .08%. Similarly, if a person’s blood alcohol content is .084%, then a device that displays readings to the hundredth decimal place (i.e., 00%) would round down the final digital and the device would display .08%. Devices that offer readings to the thousandth decimal place (.000%) give the user the final “check digit” to remove the speculation of which way the device is rounding.

What is Sensor Recognition Technology?

Sensor Recognition Technology™ is a technology offered with all AlcoHAWKS® that monitors certain types of abnormal sensor conditions.  If the unit detects certain abnormal conditions, a message will be displayed to warn the user that servicing is required.

What is an Electric Pressure Sensor?

This sensor ensures that the user exhales through the mouthpiece with the required force for five seconds. This is a vital function because only samples of air from the deep lung are proportionate to blood alcohol content.  This important feature prevents an intentional short exhale which can affect accuracy.