Should You Buy a Dash Cam?

The pros and cons of monitoring your time on the road

A dash cam can help you document road trips and provide security by recording your vehicle's surroundings. This guide will help you determine if buying a dash cam is worth it based on your needs, budget, and lifestyle.

Illustration of a person using a Dashcam in their car

Lifewire / Julie Bang 

What Is a Dash Cam?

A dash cam is a camera mounted to your car's dashboard that continuously records the events happening outside your windshield. They use your vehicle as a power source to record everything in their field of view. Dash cam videos are generally high quality, providing clear evidence in the case of theft, vandalism, and unexpected incidents. They're also helpful for recording pleasant, scenic journeys.

In many cases, dash cam video can be uploaded to the cloud and shared with insurance companies or the police as evidence after an incident. Note that the size of your dash cam's storage determines how long it records. For example, a 16GB dash cam can generally record for 110 minutes. However, your dash cam won't shut off after it's out of room; most use continuous looping, so they'll record over older footage.

Apeman C450 Dash Cam

Who Should Get a Dash Cam?

It used to be that only the police needed dash cams. Police have used dashboard cameras during traffic stops for decades to ensure the safety of officers and the people they pull over. The footage also helps increase the officers' accountability.

However, today, ordinary citizens are using dash cams. You may want to get a dash cam if:

  • You're a cautious, conscientious driver who appreciates the sense of security that comes with having a recording of all your road interactions.
  • You're driving a scenic location and want to capture its beauty.
  • You want to ensure your safety and accountability from other drivers.
  • You're concerned about insurance fraud.
  • You want to help fight corruption from law enforcement,
  • You want there to be no possibility of a “he said, she said” situation after an accident.

Who Shouldn't Get a Dash Cam?

Not everyone needs a dash cam, though they can be helpful and interesting gadgets. A dash cam may not be for you if:

  • You don't have a vehicle.
  • You don't drive much.
  • You don't want to deal with the hassle and expense of buying and installing a dash cam.
  • You're not overly concerned with documenting your surroundings while driving.
  • You're not worried about corruption, insurance fraud, or being unfairly blamed in case of an accident.
  • You think it's excessive.

Why You Should Buy a Dash Cam

Using a dash cam can prove valuable in certain situations. They're generally easy to set up and use, and downloading the video is usually straightforward. Additional benefits include:

Protecting You From Other Drivers

There are some pretty lousy drivers out there. The main reason to get a dash cam follows the same basic logic as defensive driving. Even if you follow all the rules of the road and drive defensively, you’ll eventually run into someone who isn’t doing those things. Or, more likely, they will run into you. At that point, a whole laundry list of things can go catastrophically wrong, and there’s very little that you can do to mitigate the situation.

Dash cams can resolve many problem situations by clearly displaying who is in the right and who is in the wrong.

Dash Cams Can Be a Deterrent to Aggressive Behavior

Say you're in an accident that was the other driver's fault. However, when you pull over to handle the situation, the other driver accuses you of causing the accident and appears aggressive and challenging. If you calmly explain that your dash cam is recording the interaction, the other driver may start acting more civilly and reasonably.

Prove Your Innocence in a Traffic Altercation

A dash cam can provide clear evidence of your innocence if there's a traffic incident. You can supply the video to the police and your insurance company to prove you're not at fault. This can save you untold hassles and legal costs.

The aftermath of a fender-bender

 Yellow Dog Productions / Getty Images

Help Provide Evidence for Situations Around You

Your dash cam video may prove valuable for situations you're not directly involved in. Your video may provide helpful evidence to help solve crimes, or you can provide your video to another motorist to prove their innocence in an incident. You never know when your dash cam video can help law enforcement or other people or act as a source of accountability for someone.

Help Protect Your Parked Car

Some types of dash cameras offer functionality that extends beyond your daily commute. For instance, some dash cameras have a parking function that you can switch on (or that switches on automatically) when you park your car. In most cases, this will cause the camera to record anything that happens in front of it while you are away, which can catch evidence of hit-and-run accidents. Other cameras include inward-facing cameras that can also capture evidence of theft if someone breaks into your car.

Monitor Your Teen's Driving

Dual-camera units are sometimes also designed to monitor the driving habits of teens, which can be helpful to worried parents. These cameras record all of the front-facing action on the road, just like a normal dash cam, but they also simultaneously record the vehicle's interior. If the driver looks away from the road to fiddle with the radio, use their phone, or anything else, the recording will capture it.

GPS Mapping Abilities

GPS mapping is another dash-cam feature. Many dash cameras already include built-in GPS functionality, allowing them to bake GPS coordinates into a timestamp on the video, which sometimes extends into a memory that can provide you with a history of where your car has been and when it was there. GPS capabilities can also help emergency services reach you if you're in an accident.

If you're worried that your kid might have "borrowed" the car without permission or that a valet may have pulled a Ferris Bueller with your new convertible, this type of dash cam will catch them red-handed.

When You Shouldn't Buy a Dash Cam

Dash cams may appeal to some people more than others. You may want to pass on a dash cam for the following reasons.

Owning a Dash Cam Won't Lower Your Insurance Premiums

While having footage that clearly shows your innocence is great, investing in a dash cam won't reduce your insurance premiums. Insurance companies haven't yet come around to seeing dash cams as a significant way to mitigate risks.

Owning a Dash Cam May Make Your Car a Target for Thieves

If you've invested in a high-end dash cam, thieves may find your car an appealing target. A dash cam is like any other item of value: When it's in your car, it may entice someone to steal it.

A Dash Cam May Prove You're at Fault in an Accident

While a dash cam's video is incredibly helpful if it shows another motorist is at fault, if it offers compelling evidence that you're in the wrong, you may face financial and legal consequences. Even if your video footage holds evidence in your favor, there's no guarantee it will be admissible in court.

The Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 vs. the Nextbase 622GW

There are many dash cam options to choose from. We selected two highly reviewed options to give you an idea of what you can get on the lower end and higher end of dash cams.

   Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2  Nextbase 622GW
Average Price  $129.99  $400
Resolution 1080p HD video 4K resolution
Number of Cameras One camera facing front. One front-facing camera, but you can add additional cameras for a cost.
Size Size of a car key. 2.09 x 3.66 x 1.77 inches
Additional Features Live View monitoring, voice control, 140-degree field of view, video automatically uploads to secure vault Emergency SOS response, Intelligent Parking mode, advanced image stabilization, night vision, built-in Alexa

Garmin's Dash Cam Mini 2 is a compact, inexpensive solution that gives you all the dash cam basics you could want. You'd mount this car key-sized dash cam behind your rear-view mirror; it's not very noticeable. Its wide 140-degree lens records 1080p video, and the unit accepts voice input in six languages. It has a parking guard feature, but you'll need to provide constant power and an active Wi-Fi connection.

For more extensive options, the Nextbase 622GW offers excellent image quality and poor-weather performance with an intuitive interface and a plethora of cool features, including a super-slow-motion setting that can grab license plate numbers during an accident. A rear-camera module is sold separately. Operate the unit via a touchscreen display; optionally, add Alexa voice functionality.

These are just two of the wide range of dash cams available. It's best to evaluate your needs and wants and choose a unit with the specific features you need.

  • What are the best dash cams?

    The best dash cam for you is the one that meets your needs with the features you prioritize. One of the ones we like best is the Apeman C450 A series. This dash cam is a well-rounded unit that's an excellent choice for anyone looking to document and archive traffic collisions.

  • How do dash cams work?

    Dash cams have a video camera, hard-wired power inputs, and built-in or removable solid-state media to capture footage. Dashboard cameras are typically designed to record continuously whenever they are powered up. Others have a security option to record only when they sense motion.

  • Where can I buy a dash cam?

    Dash cams are available on and from retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. You can also buy them from the websites of dash cam manufacturers like Apemans, Garmin, Nextbase, and more.

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