Types of Dash Cameras

Dash camera features and options

Dashcam behind the front window of a car
fhm / Getty Images

There are three basic types of devices that can be used as dash cameras: purpose-built dashcams, digital cameras, and smartphones. If you want to set up a dash camera and just have it record whenever you’re behind the wheel, then you’ll want a purpose-built device. Within that category, you’ll find basic no-frills units, devices with advanced features, and dual-mode interior/exterior cams. As to which features to look for, that really depends on your budget and what you want to get out of the device.

Basic Dash Cameras

Most dash cameras fall into this category since these devices are suitable for most purposes, and they’re also the most affordable. Basic dash cameras are extremely no-frills in nature, but they’re also convenient, set-and-forget type devices. These basic units are typically hard-wired into your vehicle’s electrical system, although some of them are designed to plug into a cigarette lighter/12V socket, and others include a built-in lithium-ion battery.

In any case, basic dash cameras are just that: video cameras with built-in or removable storage media that constantly record whenever you’re driving. If that sounds good enough to you, or you’re working on a tight budget, then you’ll want to look at one of these units.

Dash Cameras With Advanced Features

Although the majority of dashcams are relatively simplistic, there is also a subset of these devices that come with more advanced feature sets. Some of the additional features you might want to look for include:

  • Audio recording
  • GPS logging
  • Speed sensors
  • Accelerometers
  • Uninterruptable power supplies (UPS)

One of the most interesting features you’ll find with dash cameras is GPS logging. Devices with this feature have built-in GPS receivers, which they typically use to provide a video overlay of the physical location of your vehicle. This may be useful if you have to establish the location of your vehicle after an incident has occurred.

Speed sensors and accelerometers can also be useful since they can also provide a record of how fast your vehicle was traveling at the time of an incident and the change in acceleration if and when another vehicle strikes yours.

An uninterruptible power supply can also be useful since it will allow your dash camera to continue recording even if the power is cut during an incident. This feature is also useful if you want to use your camera as a surveillance device when your car is parked since it will allow you to avoid draining your car battery.

Dual Camera Interior/Exterior Dashcams

Some dash cameras are actually two cameras in one, where one camera faces outward and the other records the interior of the vehicle. These dash cameras have two main purposes:

  • Allowing parents to keep tabs on their new teen drivers
  • Allowing vehicle owners to surveil both the interior and exterior of their vehicle

If you are a parent of a new teen driver, then this type of dash camera may be of interest to you. In effect, these cameras record both the interior of the vehicle (including a clear view of the driver) and a front-facing view through the windshield. These images are typically composited into a single video, which can provide a concerned parent with proof of their child’s safe (or unsafe) driving habits.

Although this type of parental surveillance will undoubtedly upset any privacy-minded teen driver, it may provide an opportunity to open a dialogue about privileges, responsibilities, trust, and privacy. According to a study commissioned by American Family Insurance, teens exhibited a 70 percent reduction in risky driving behaviors after these devices were installed in their cars.

Of course, this type of dual-camera device can also be useful for security purposes. If you set one of these devices up to record when your vehicle is parked, it may catch video evidence of both hit and run accidents and theft.

The Best Type of Dashcam

Although there is no one type of dashcam that is better than all the others in every scenario, you should be able to find one to suit your needs if you keep some of these features in mind. Maybe an inexpensive, no-frills unit will get the job done for you, and maybe you’d do better with a dual-camera model if you live or work in a high crime area. You may even do well with a dash camera alternative — especially if you already have a smartphone or other recording device, you’re working on a budget, or you're in an area where dash cams are not yet legal.