GoPro vs. Dash Camera

Can a GoPro really do double duty?

A GoPro camera is great for capturing extreme sports and activities, but it is not an ideal alternative to a dedicated dash camera. Dash cams serve a more or less singular purpose, which is to sit in your car and continuously record your drives, serving as a would-be witness in the event of a traffic accident. There are other purposes, but the continuous, always-on functionality of a dash cam places presents some technological demands that GoPro cameras don't really meet.

Illustration of a person using a Dashcam in their car
Lifewire / Julie Bang 

Overall Findings

  • Must be brought with you and turned on every time you drive.

  • Generally more expensive than dash cams.

  • No intelligent parking mode to allow recording while away from vehicle.

  • Not as durable or resistant to extreme temperatures.

  • Looped recording: Allows you to maintain storage space, as newest recordings replace oldest ones.

Dash Cam
  • Turns on and begins recording automatically—no need to bring it with you or remember to turn it on before drives.

  • Generally cheaper than GoPro cameras.

  • Some have intelligent parking mode, which allows for continued recording while away from vehicle.

  • Looped recording: Allows you to maintain storage space, as newest recordings replace oldest ones.

Why You Shouldn’t Use a GoPro as a Dash Cam

GoPro cameras are generally more expensive than dash cams and aren't designed to sit indefinitely in a vehicle. They can't be set to turn on and start recording when the car is started, and they lack hardware to protect against extreme cold or extreme heat. If you use a GoPro as a dash cam you will have to mount it on your dash, plug it in, and turn it on every single time you drive.

Because dash cams turn on and start recording automatically, you don't have to worry about forgetting to bring it with you or neglecting to turn it on, as you would with a GoPro.

GoPro cameras are also recognizable consumer gadgets. Vehicles with an expensive GoPro sitting on the dashboard likely face a greater risk of theft than a generic dash cam.

Dash cameras are designed for vehicles, so they often come with designs and features that can make driving easier. Some come with built-in GPS and shock sensors. With GPS, a dash cam can record exactly where you were, and how you were moving, when an accident occurred. Shock sensors allow dash cams to activate or mark a looped recording any time your vehicle experiences a sudden change in acceleration.

You can find some of these features on dash cam apps, as most smartphones have accelerometers and GPS navigation. Carrying your phone around with you is likely more intuitive and easier to remember than a GoPro. All this just shows how your phone might be more useful as a dash cam than a GoPro.

Dash cam apps suffer from some of the problems that GoPro cameras do—in that you still need to carry a device with you and arm it before each drive. But it's still probably a better solution for dashboard surveillance than a GoPro camera.

How to Use a GoPro as a Dash Cam

Unlike most digital cameras, GoPro cameras have a looped recording feature, which allows a camera to automatically replace old video files once there is no longer any storage space left. This functionality is a prerequisite for any dashboard surveillance solution, because without it you would chew up memory and storage space in no time.

If you are using a GoPro as a dash cam then you'll need to turn on the looped recording feature and place the GoPro in a skeleton housing or mount. Unlike the waterproof housing, a skeleton housing allows you to power the camera while it's in use. You’ll need a 12 volt USB adapter or a 12-volt charger with a micro USB connector to plug the GoPro into your cigarette lighter or accessory socket.

Once you’ve activated looped recording and put your GoPro in a skeleton housing, you can mount it to your dash or windshield. The main drawback, as mentioned, is that you’ll have to remember to turn it on every single time you drive.