9 Things to Consider Before Buying a Dash Cam

What you should look for with a second set of eyes on the road

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Roads and highways can be dangerous (there are millions of car accidents yearly), and responsible driving won't account for other drivers, unnecessary traffic stops, or insurance fraud attempts. For these reasons and more, having a dash cam as your second pair of eyes on the road can be helpful.

What is a Dash Cam?

So, what exactly does a dash cam do? A dash cam is essentially a way to record your driving whenever you go. With these recordings, you can prove fault in case of an accident, monitor your teenager learning to drive, and more. Not only that, but dash cams are getting increasingly affordable and easy to use, so they’re not limited to tech heads and early adopters.

Because it can be hard to know where to start when buying a dash cam, we’ve put together this handy guide. Here’s everything you need to know about buying a new dash cam for your car.

Dash cam

9 Things To Consider When Buying a Dash Cam

There are many factors to consider when looking at car dash cams, though they may not all be necessary depending on what you want the camera to do for you. If you aren't sure what you'll need, consider trying out a more affordable dash cam first. Taking an inexpensive model for a spin over the course of a few weeks or months may give you a better idea of the things you'll want out of your dash cam. Which will then make it easier to narrow down the best price range for your needs.

The first five key areas to consider are:

  • Cost
  • Image Quality
  • Battery
  • Storage Space
  • Mounting Method

If you decide you want more than the basics from your dash cam, here are four additional things to think about:

  • Wireless Connectivity
  • GPS Functionality
  • Built-in Display
  • Bonus Features

How Much Does a Dash Cam Cost?

Depending on the model and its features, a car dash cam can cost anywhere between $30 and $500 or more. In general, the average dash cam with adequate features sells for around $100 to $400 or so. How much you'll need to spend depends on what you expect to get from your dash cam and how much of a budget you have.

Price Range What You Can Expect
 $30-$60 Features may vary depending on the model but expect the basics. A built-in display, 1080p recording resolution, parking monitoring, automatic loop recording, and auto-saving footage when impacts are detected. Higher-cost models may also feature night or low-light vision, voice control, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Should also include a mounting arm.
 $60-$100 Support for SD cards, wider angled lenses, up to 2160p resolution, better protection against extreme temperatures, and possibly cloud storage options depending on the model. Best as a lower-cost, general-purpose dash cam.
$100-$300 Can offer up to 4K Ultra and built-in GPS functions, along with extra recording modes like time-lapse or slow motion. Can support larger SD card storage sizes, automatic Wi-Fi video uploads, and remove video feed viewing. Higher priced models may also be able to cover multiple angles (front, inside, rear), provide alerts if the vehicle starts to veer off-road, or even offer infrared night vision. Primarily for those who want even higher video resolution and storage capacity.
$300+ The most bells-and-whistles, though not strictly necessary for the average driver. 4K recording, image stabilization, possible de-fogging features, Driver-Assistance, and alerts for upcoming speed traps or red light cameras.

The first two tiers, between $30 and $100, are the best suited for someone who wants the added security of a dash cam but doesn't want to start with anything too complicated or expensive.

Image Quality

Dash cams can come with a range of bells and whistles, but perhaps the most important thing to consider is the overall quality of the actual camera. Higher quality cameras produce a better picture—which can be very helpful if you need to see different details after an accident or other incidents. Here are the specs to keep in mind regarding camera image quality.

  • Resolution
  • Field-of-View
  • Frame Rates
  • Night Vision

Resolution

The first metric you'll likely notice when buying a camera of any kind is the camera's resolution.

The camera's resolution is expressed by the number of vertical pixels in an image. If a camera is 1080p, then there are 1,080 pixels vertically. A 1440p camera has 1,440 pixels vertically. And a 2160p camera has 2,160 pixels vertically.

Generally speaking, more pixels is always better. We recommend buying a camera with at least a 1080p resolution, but if you can afford a higher resolution (i.e., 4K), that's the way to go.

Field of View

A camera's field of view is how wide the camera can see, which can vary greatly. Cameras with a wide field of view allow the user to see much more at any moment. Of course, there are trade-offs to that. When a camera's field of view is too broad, this can affect image quality because the pixels are spread out a little more.

Unfortunately, manufacturers of dash cams aren't the best at providing details about field-of-view. On top of that, there isn't a standard measurement. Some manufacturers, for example, offer a horizontal measurement, while others inflate their numbers by providing a diagonal measurement. We recommend seeing if you can find screenshots of footage from the camera before buying one, paying particular attention to details on the side and how detailed the image is. If you think the camera would be able to capture everything that you want, then it'll probably do just fine.

Lifewire

Frame Rates

Because dash cams take video, frame rates are a consideration. Generally, most dash cams offer a frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps). That's a standard frame rate and one that will be perfectly fine for the vast majority of users.

Some dash cams, however, step things up to 60fps. The result of this is a much smoother video capture. That's perfect for sports capture, but we don't think it's a necessary feature for dash cams. On top of that, footage captured at 60fps takes up twice the storage space, meaning you'll only get half as much footage before your storage runs out, and you have to either replace old footage or buy new storage cards.

If the dash cam you want offers 60fps capture anyway, it might be a nice bonus for some, especially if you can toggle it on and off. Still, we don't recommend spending extra for this feature, considering it won't make much of a difference in most situations and may do more damage considering the amount of storage it takes up.

Night Vision

One last feature to consider is night vision, also known as low light vision, which could be very helpful for some drivers—especially those who drive a lot at night. After all, your camera could essentially be useless if it’s overly dark and there isn’t sufficient light for the camera to pick up. This means that night vision could be the difference between being able to prove innocence in an accident or not.

Night vision ensures that even in dark situations, your footage has enough detail to make out what’s going on. Footage may not look as colorful as it would during the day, but that hardly matters when you only need to see the license plate of the person who hit you.

Battery

Most dash cams run on your car's power, so they'll be on when you turn your car on, and they'll turn off when your car gets turned off. Some dash cams, however, have a built-in battery, meaning that you don't necessarily have to keep your vehicle on to use the dash cam.

For most, this is an unnecessary feature. However, some might want a dash cam that they can use to record after they've parked their car in a public lot.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of dash cams have short battery life. However, an alternative is to use a sports camera like a GoPro as a dash cam. GoPros have batteries designed to last a lot longer. However, you'll be limited to manually recording, and they don't have features like a G-Sensor.

Storage and Footage Protection

Video footage can take up a lot of storage, so choose a dash cam with enough storage.

For starters, some dash cams will have a little storage built into them, meaning that you won't have to worry about managing external storage if you don't want to. Dash cam storage usually starts at around 4GB, though you may want more than that if you're storing more than a few days of footage.

However, most dash cams will offer a MicroSD card slot, where you can insert a MicroSD card for storing your footage. Some dash cams will come with a MicroSD card, though others may not, and you'll have to buy one separately. When doing so, you'll want to check the amounts of storage that your dash cam supports. We recommend getting a MicroSD card with at least 64GB of storage to ensure you can record enough footage.

Dash cam

Sometimes, you don’t realize you need recorded footage until after the fact. Since some dash cams record over old footage on a loop, it may be gone when you need it. Thankfully, however, many dash cams protect against writing over the footage.

The G-Sensor is the most common protection against writing over the footage, a sensor that can detect a sudden change in motion and tell the dash cam to save footage of that incident. For many dash cams, that type of footage is locked and won’t be overwritten, which is helpful if you need to access the footage later.

Of course, don’t rely entirely on the G-Sensor. If you’re in a terrible accident that damages the memory card inside the dash cam, you may be out of luck, but doing such damage to the memory card would be a rare occurrence.

Suction or Adhesive Mounting?

When you get your dash cam, you’ll need to mount it to your car somehow, and there are a few ways to do that. Dash cams can go on the dashboard or the windshield, depending on the model. That’s helpful for those who might not want to clutter up their dash or already have a phone mount on it.

Dash cam

Generally speaking, dash cams mount to the dash or windshield through a suction mount, and those suction mounts are pretty strong. Some use an adhesive that sticks to the dash or windshield. These can be a little trickier to deal with because they’re harder to unstick and move, and they can sometimes leave a little adhesive when you decide to unstick the mount. Still, there is an advantage to using an adhesive mount, and an adhesive mount generally doesn’t require as much space. So if you have limited space to mount your dash cam, it may be the better option.

Wireless Connectivity

We live in an era of smart devices, so it makes sense to have dash cams that can connect to the internet or your phone through something like Bluetooth.

There are many advantages to wireless connectivity on your dash cam. For starters, if your dash cam can connect to your phone through Bluetooth, you may be able to do things like manage footage, manage the settings for your dash cam, and more. Then, you don’t have to mess around with a tiny built-in screen on your dash cam or go through poorly designed settings menus.

Internet connectivity can add a host of other features to your dash cam. For example, you could upload footage captured by your dash cam directly to the cloud and stream it to a phone or computer.

Some dash cams also communicate with your phone through Wi-Fi, yielding similar results to Bluetooth connectivity. You can download and view footage from your phone when connected through Wi-Fi.

But what do we recommend? Bluetooth connectivity will be more than enough for most people who want added features and connectivity options. If you don’t mind dealing with settings on the actual dash cam itself and are good at managing file storage, you may not need any extra connectivity.

GPS

Just like Bluetooth connectivity, GPS can add some extra features and functionality to your dash cam, even though it’s probably not a feature you necessarily need.

With GPS connectivity, you’ll be able to log the speed and location of your car along with the footage, and that extra data could help figure out a dispute.

Of course, GPS connectivity isn’t only helpful for your dash cam — it’s also beneficial if you’re buying a dash cam for a company or work vehicle that others might drive. With built-in GPS, you’ll be able to track the car and monitor driver habits, which helps deal with employees internally, and if they get into an accident of some kind.

While GPS isn’t necessarily that important for most users, it might be helpful for others. If you like the idea of being able to track your car or log location and speed data, then look for a dash cam with GPS.

Built-In Display

While some dash cams connect to your phone to access the camera's settings, others have a built-in display. Through this display, you'll be able to review footage, adjust controls, and more.

Dash cam
Built-In Display.

Built-In Display

Generally speaking, larger displays will make it easier to see details in footage and scroll through menus, but don't expect to get a smartphone-quality display on your dash cam. Dash cam displays typically fall between two and three inches, so if you want one with a larger display, look for something around the three-inch mark. They're usually bright enough LCDs to see during the day, which is helpful for those who might need to change a setting.

Bonus Features

Some dash cams come with other features that may not be as essential as image quality or GPS functionality but are still useful. In some instances, they may even be a requirement for what you hope to get out of your dash cam.

Audio Recording

While the video is the most important thing to capture, some might also want to capture audio. It can help record conversations during traffic stops, audio around the car, etc. Generally speaking, an audio recording doesn’t add too much extra to the cost of a dash cam, which is good news.

Driver Monitoring

Not all dash cams have one camera; some of them have two. While most people probably only need to record what’s happening outside the car, some people — like Uber and Lyft drivers, for example — may want to record what’s happening inside the car too. To that end, some dash cams have one camera sensor pointing out the windshield and one pointing into the car.

This type has a few disadvantages, though it could be worth it for some. For starters, double the footage means double the storage space. If you get a dash cam with driver monitoring, we recommend getting an SD card with more storage than you think you’ll need.

The other disadvantage to driver monitoring is cost. Adding an extra camera sensor to the device adds to the overall cost of the dash cam, especially if you’re going for relatively high-quality camera sensors in the first place.

Auto-Start

A dash cam that automatically starts recording when you’re in motion can be helpful.

With auto-start, when you turn on your car and the camera turns on, it’ll automatically start recording. Then, when the vehicle turns off, it’ll save the footage and turn itself off.

For those who are good at remembering to start and stop recording, this is simply a matter of convenience. But for those who might easily forget to start or stop recording, it could be a matter of capturing an accident or not.

Loop Recording

Loop recording ensures that the dash cam will continue capturing footage even when your storage card runs out of space. How does it do this? Essentially by recording over old footage. Once the storage card fills up, new footage overwrites older footage. Thus you'll either want to get ahold of footage from an accident as soon as possible or buy a big memory card that can hold lots of footage before it starts deleting.

It's a handy feature and means you don't have to worry about managing your dash cam's storage, which could get annoying.

Dash cam

Dash Cam Variations

There are three primary categories of dash cam you can get for your car: Basic, Advanced, and Dual-Camera.

  • Basic dash cams do the job of capturing video of the road ahead of your vehicle and are both the most affordable option and easiest type of dash came to set up. They tend to be more limited in overall scope with a simple loop-recording setup, and usually don't have as much storage capacity as more advanced options.
  • Advanced dash cams cost more than basic models, but they also offer more. These dash cams include more options over basic models—such as GPS functionality, the ability to record audio, accelerometers to detect sudden stops or impacts, and speed sensors. They're capable of providing more protection (or at least better data for future purposes) than their less expensive brethren. Some even offer uninterruptible power supplies that will keep recording even after the car is turned off or the power goes out for some other reason.
  • Dual-camera dash cams (also called Interior/Exterior dash cams) generally build on the features of advanced cams, but with the added benefit of using two cameras instead of one. The benefit to this is you'll have a camera covering the road, and another covering the vehicle's interior. Having an additional camera angle can be useful in an accident, but it can also help with theft. Additionally, some dual-camera dash cams offer driver monitoring, which can assess the state of the driver and issue warnings if they appear to be dozing off or otherwise having trouble.

Who Should Buy a Dash Cam?

A dash cam can be useful to just about anyone driving a vehicle if the right situation arises, though it's not strictly a requirement for everyone. Still, if you drive a car or truck and think a dash cam could come in handy (or even if you just think it would be cool), and you can afford it, there's no harm in getting one.

Though dash cams could be particularly helpful if you plan to work as a rideshare driver, or if you otherwise have concerns about your safety while on the road. Likewise, a dash cam won't act as a deterrent to the theft or damage of a parked vehicle, but the footage could be useful after the fact.

What Should I Do After I Buy a Dash Cam?

The first thing to do after buying a dash cam is to install it. Figure out a good location for it inside your car, and make sure it isn't in a spot that will obstruct your vision while driving. After that, familiarize yourself with its options and functions, figure out what settings you want to try to start out with, then adjust as needed after trying it out for a bit.

While you may be excited to test out your new dash cam, remember it's primarily intended to be used for your own safety and security. Chances are you'll mostly just have mundane travel footage to review after a few days or weeks, but it's a good idea to get used to the process of accessing and reviewing your recordings.

More Tips

Simply put, there's more to keep in mind when buying a new dash cam than you probably thought initially, but hopefully, now that you understand all the different options, buying one will be a little easier.

If you're more confused than ever, we have a few pointers. For those simply looking for a decent dash cam to capture what's happening around them, we recommend a 1080p dash cam with Wi-Fi connectivity, auto-start, and loop recording. You probably won't need features like driver monitoring unless you're also worried about what's going on inside your car. But no matter what you're looking for from a dash cam, you shouldn't have difficulty finding one that works for you and your needs.

FAQ
  • How can I hide a dash cam wire?

    One of the best ways to hide your dash cam wire without modifying anything is to tuck it into the crevice between the windshield and the dashboard.

  • How can I tell if a car's dash cam is on?

    Car dash cams come with an LED light that will light up during recording. The LED color may be different depending on the dash cam model but is typically either red or green.

  • Do car insurance companies offer discounts when I install a dash cam?

    Currently, no major automotive insurance companies in the US offer discounts for dash cams. However, footage from a dash cam can help to prove you weren't at fault during an accident, which will help keep your rates from going up.

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