The Ultimate Dash Cam Buying Guide

Your second set of eyes on the road

Roads and highways can sometimes be a little dangerous (there are millions of car accidents every year). And while we might think we’re safe and responsible drivers, that doesn’t account for the other careless and reckless individuals who could cause an accident and unforeseen situations, like unnecessary traffic stops or even things like insurance fraud. For all these reasons and more, having a dash cam as your second pair of eyes on the road can be helpful.

What Does a Dash Cam Do?

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.

Unsure if you need one? Or do you want some more intel before you make a decision? Before buying one, there are many things to consider. Because a dash cam is essentially a camera, the main things you’ll want to keep in mind are related to camera and video quality. Apart from that, however, there are a lot of features that might be helpful to you. These include GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity, increased storage, the ability to record more footage, and a built-in display, to name a few.

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.

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Resolution, Field-of-View, and Frame Rates

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

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, though if you can afford a higher resolution (i.e., 4K), then that's the way to go.

Field of View

A camera's field of view is essentially how wide the camera can see, which can vary a lot. Cameras with a wide field of view allow the user to see much more at any given moment. Of course, there are trade-offs to that. When a camera's field of view is too wide, it 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.

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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 start replacing old footage or buying 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, 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 — meaning that night vision could be the difference between proving innocence in an accident or not.

Night vision ensures that even in dark situations, there’s enough detail in your footage 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 that hit you.

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.

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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, which will yield similar results to Bluetooth connectivity. When connected through Wi-Fi, you can download and view footage straight from your phone.

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, then 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.

Storage

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.

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Footage Protection

Sometimes, you don’t realize you need recorded footage until after the fact, and since some dash cams record over old footage on a loop when you realize you need it, it may be too late. Thankfully, however, many dash cams have protections against writing over footage that you may end up needing.

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, once that footage saves, it’s locked and won’t be overwritten, which is helpful in case 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.

Audio Recording

While the most important thing to capture is video, some might also want to capture audio. It can help record conversations during traffic stops, audio around the car, etc. Generally speaking, 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.

There are a few disadvantages to this, 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.

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 do things like review footage, tweak controls, and more.

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.

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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.

Auto-Start and Loop Recording

Dash cams record when you’re driving, so a dash cam automatically starts recording when you’re in motion can be helpful. Recording on a loop is also a valuable feature.

Auto-Start

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.

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Final Thoughts

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.

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