Dash Camera Alternatives

The Pros and Cons of 3 Dash Cam Alternatives.

Two people looking at car crash
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A dedicated dashcam allows you to record the road every time you go out for a drive, a habit that may prove invaluable for insurance purposes in the event of a traffic accident. But some people may not want to spend money on a new dashcam. Here we cover three alternatives.

Dash Camera Alternatives

Although no one device can beat a high quality, dedicated dash camera in every aspect, there are a handful of alternatives that may do the trick:

  • Smartphone apps
  • Digital cameras
  • Surveillance devices

The first two alternatives are going to work best as forward-facing cams that record the road while you’re driving, while the last one is meant for recording the interior or exterior of a parked vehicle.

Smartphone Apps as Dash Cams

What We Like
  • Much cheaper than dedicated dash cams.

  • Integration with mobile operating systems, including iOS and Android.

What We Don't Like
  • Easy to forget.

  • Needs to be mounted to dash.

  • Recording needs to be set up before each drive.

Dash camera apps are available on all major operating systems. Features vary from one app to the next, but they all mimic the functionality of a dedicated dashcam at a fraction of the cost. Many dash camera apps can record in a variety of resolutions and overlay GPS-derived data like the location of the vehicle and the speed at which it is traveling.

These apps are usually also set up to automatically overwrite old video files once the allotted storage space fills up, so they won’t completely pack your phone’s memory with useless data.

The main drawback of using an app instead of a dashcam is that you have to remember to start the app every time you drive. You’ll also have to buy a mount to secure your phone to your dash.

Digital Cameras as Dash Cams

What We Like
  • Readily available.

  • Can remain on dash.

What We Don't Like
  • Memory fills up quickly with no looping function.

Just about any portable recording device, including any digital camera, can be used as a dashcam. However, there are a number of drawbacks to using one of these devices in the context of a dashcam.

The main issue is storage. Even if you have a huge SD card, and you set your digital camera to a relatively low recording resolution, the memory is going to fill up quickly. Because digital cameras don’t have a looping feature that overwrites old data as new data is recorded, you’ll need to manually control storage.

Where dash cams create a series of relatively short files, digital cameras create continuous video files spanning the duration of a recording. This makes for a difficult time locating precise moments in a long recording. It also means you’ll have to hold on to relatively large video files or mess around with a video editor to create clips of the footage you want to keep.

Surveillance Devices as Dash Cams

What We Like
  • Good for monitoring parked vehicles.

  • Looped recording saves storage space.

What We Don't Like
  • Parked vehicles can't provide power indefinitely.

  • No guarantee it will capture footage of events.

Although dashcams are primarily designed to film the road ahead of your car when you’re driving, they can also be used for surveillance when you’re parked. If that’s the functionality that you’re interested in, then you may want to consider a surveillance device that isn’t marketed as a dashcam. These devices work a lot like dash cams, in that they "loop" recordings and create a lot of small files instead of one huge one, but there are a handful of concerns.

The main issue is power. These devices are designed to run on either 120V AC or battery power. In the case of surveillance devices that run on 120V AC, you have the option of wiring in a car power inverter or using a cigarette lighter inverter—if the amperage draw is low enough. In some cases, the device may drain your battery to depletion.

If you’re going to wire a surveillance device into your car’s electrical system, whether you’re using an inverter or not, you may want to consider using a device that includes a built-in motion detector. That way, the camera will only switch on and record when something is actually happening. There will still be a minimal amount of power draw, though, and there’s still a chance that the camera won’t switch on fast enough to catch an event like a hit-and-run.