GoPro vs. Dash Camera

Can a GoPro do double duty? And is that a good idea?

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 presents some technological demands that GoPro cameras don't really meet.

Person adjusting a camera in their car
Lifewire

Overall Findings

GoPro
  • Not as convenient as a dash cam, but will still do the job.

  • Generally more expensive than dash cams.

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

Dash Cam
  • Ideal for monitoring traffic for security and insurance purposes.

  • Generally cheaper than GoPro cameras.

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

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.

Convenience: With Dash Cams, You Can Set It and Forget It

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

  • Not as durable or resistant to extreme temperatures.

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

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.

Unlike a smartphone app or even a GoPro, which you would presumably take with you, dash cams are dedicated devices. They're meant to sit on your dashboard at all times. This affords them more of a "set it and forget it" appeal. Once a dash cam is installed, it's primed to begin recording as soon as you start the car.

Features: Both Offer a Suite of Useful Tools

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

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

  • Some models include GPS and shock sensors.

Dash Cam
  • Many include built-in GPS and shock sensors.

  • 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.

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 many of these same features on many GoPros and even some dash cam apps, as most have accelerometers and GPS navigation—not to mention waterproof housing. Carrying your phone around with you is likely more intuitive and easier to remember than a GoPro.

While dash cams may be more convenient thanks to their automated functionality, both dash cams and GoPros offer looped recording. This allows the 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 short 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.

Value: Dash Cams Are Cheaper—Unless You Already Own a GoPro

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

  • Generally more expensive than dash cams.

  • Not as durable or resistant to extreme temperatures.

Dash Cam
  • Generally cheaper than GoPro cameras.

  • Losing a dash cam likely not as troublesome as losing a GoPro.

GoPro cameras are 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 cams are usually—but not always—built to be more resilient than GoPros, because they must endure the extreme hot and cold temperatures swings of a car.

While most dash cams begin recording automatically, dash cam apps suffer many of the same problems that GoPro cameras do—in that you still need to carry a device with you and arm it before each drive. The convenience of automated functionality is adds value in its own right.

Final Verdict: For Driving Purposes, Stick With a Dash Cam

If you rely on a GoPro for outdoor hobbies and other activities and are looking for a cheap way to monitor your driving, you may want to use your GoPro as a dash cam. If you don't currently own a GoPro and simply want to record your driving, then a dash cam is the way to go.

The value and convenience of a dedicated dash cam makes better more suited for vehicle and traffic monitoring than a GoPro. The automated functionality alone is enough of an argument in its favor, but with a full range of prices and feature sets, there's really no competition.