The Ultimate Guide to Dash Cams
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The Ultimate Guide to Dash Cams

    If you’ve ever found yourself going toe-to-toe with your insurance company over an accident claim, you’ve probably wish you had tangible evidence of what really happened. That’s where a dash cam comes in handy. It’s always there, ready to tell your side of the story. Dash cam video could be a crucial piece of evidence that police, insurance companies, and courts use to prove who was at fault in a traffic accident.

    Being liable for an accident can drastically increase insurance premiums and put you on the hook for other expenses. Some people—especially uninsured drivers—will go to great lengths to avoid liability or contact with the police. They may flee the scene of the accident or outright lie about what happened. In either case, you’ll be glad you have video evidence of what happened and who was involved.

    Having a dash cam empowers you to help other people as well. Your camera might capture an accident or criminal activity that doesn’t directly involve you, making you a more valuable witness.

    When shopping for dash cams, there are several features you’ll want to pay attention to. You might be tempted to just latch onto the first brand name you recognize, but be sure you take the time to choose a dash camera that will best meet your needs.

    In this guide, we’ll explore the features that will be most important as you compare cameras, and then we’ll look at some of the best dash cams you can buy.

    Here’s what you want to compare.

    Video quality

    Details matter. If your dash cam video’s quality is too low, that could easily prevent you from reading license plates, identifying faces, or demonstrating other details which could impact insurance claims or police investigations. You probably should consider dash cams that record in at least 1080p HD, but 720p can also be acceptable. 

    Video quality is one of the most important features you should compare when buying a dash camera.

    Field of view

    The more you can see in your video, the more valuable it is. You don’t just want your dash cam to record what’s immediately in front of you. You want to at least be able to see the lane on your right and left. But if you regularly drive on roads with five or more lanes, you may want an even wider field of view (FOV). As you compare cameras, they should specify their FOV in degrees. You’ll definitely want a wide-angle lens, and since anything can happen on the road, the wider the better.

    Storage capacity

    Most dash cameras store video in a micro SD card, which may or may not be included with your purchase. Your camera may be compatible with a 8GB to 128GB SD card. How many hours of video a camera can actually hold will depend on the quality it records in. (The higher the quality, the more storage space it will require.) 

    You need to make sure your camera’s capacity is appropriate for how much you drive and how frequently you’re willing to delete (or with loop recording, overwrite) old footage. If you drive for a living or commute for several hours every day, you’ll probably need more storage than someone who drives infrequently. In any case, the longer your camera records, the better.

    Data

    Some dash cams simply record what’s in front of them. Others include valuable data that could be crucial to verifying your account of events or demonstrating fault, such as date and time stamps and GPS information like location and speed.

    You might need to prove exactly where you were when you were hit, and on long stretches of road that may not be apparent from the video alone. Or you might need to prove you were going the speed limit. And suppose the other driver lies about when the accident occurred in order to change (or acquire) their insurance policy. You’ll have proof it happened on the day you reported.

    A lot of dash cams “support” GPS but require accessories or a separate GPS device in order for you to use GPS data, though some have fully built-in GPS functionality.

    Accessibility

    If you’re in an accident, your dash cam footage will be a lot more valuable if you can watch it on the spot. In many cases, you can only access your footage by removing the SD card and connecting to another device. But the best dash cams have a small screen so you can immediately view your video. Some also have mobile apps, so you can access your video remotely.

    When you can access your dash cam “on-the-scene,” you can immediately reconstruct the accident and determine what happened. It’ll also help encourage other drivers to give an honest account, and make it easier for officers to determine fault.

    Size and style

    Dash cams come in all shapes and sizes. Remember that you’re going to see this thing every time your drive your vehicle. All dash cams are designed to stay out of your way, but some occupy more space on your dashboard or windshield than others. If you have a lot going on with your center console and dashboard already (backup camera, stereo, GPS, etc.), you’ll probably want to choose a smaller model.

    Keep in mind: a large, expensive-looking dash cam may also draw unwanted attention. Discreet models are less likely to motivate someone to break into your car.

    Power source

    Some dash cams simply plug into your car charger and they’re good to go. Others need to be hardwired into your fuse box, which you may want a professional to do. (Some cameras need separate kits in order to be hardwired.) You might also find dash cams with built-in batteries, which makes installation simple but requires you to consider battery life. 

    Operating temperature

    Cars get hot inside. And in the winter, they can drop well below freezing temperatures. Not all tech can function at extreme temperatures. Your dash cam is going to be in one of the most vulnerable parts of your vehicle: right by the windshield. Depending on where you live, you may need to pay special attention to your dash cam’s operating temperature. Some dash cams come with a “supercapacitor” to help them withstand extreme temperatures, and that may be a feature you need to look for.

    Rear-facing camera

    Obviously, not every accident occurs at the front of your vehicle. If you get rear ended, a front-facing dash cam will only prove what you were doing at the time of impact. And that might be enough. But every accident is a unique situation. It might be too complicated to demonstrate fault from the front-facing camera alone, and if the accident becomes a hit-and-run, your camera won’t help you identify the other vehicle.

    So some dash cams come with a rear-facing camera as well. (Note: This can make installation more complicated.)

    And what about theft? You might also find dash cams that can record what happens within your vehicle, too. If someone steals your car—or steals something from your car—you’ll know exactly who they are.

    Does your dash cam need night vision?

    Traditional “night vision” cameras operate in complete darkness. But you never drive in complete darkness. So you probably don’t need a dash camera with “night vision.” What you need is a camera that’s designed to record high quality video in low light. That means you want to look for WDR (wide dynamic range) or HDR (high dynamic range) cameras. Some also have image signal processing (ISP), which they may refer to as an “image sensor.” This is for enhancing images and sharpening edges, which is extremely helpful for reading license plates at night.

    But what if you typically park your car in a poorly lit area at night? In that case, you’ll want a camera that explicitly says it has night vision and/or infrared video.

    Now let’s look at some of the best dash cams on the market.

    Best dash cameras

    When it comes to dash cameras, you have a ton of options. We’ve selected a handful of quality ones that deliver a good balance of the most important features. For each recommendation, we’ll cover the basics and talk about what makes it one of the best dash cams you can buy.

    YI Smart Dash Camera

    Price: $49.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of view: 165 degrees

    Night vision: “High sensitivity”

    Storage capacity: 8-64 GB micro SD card (not included)

    Data: Time and date stamp

    Accessibility: 2.7 inch screen and mobile app

    Size: 6.7 x 4.4 x 2.4 inches

    Power source: Car charger

    Operating temperature: 14-140°F

    Rear-facing camera: No

    Other notable features: emergency recording, driver assistance, built-in wifi

    This highly affordable dash cam captures good video quality and makes it easy to review your footage. It also has an emergency recording feature (also known as a G sensor) which detects when an accident has occurred and automatically saves the moments leading up to and immediately following the event. Additionally, this model comes with a “driver assistance” system which notifies you when you’ve left your lane. YI says this dash cam records great video at night, but some customers have disputed that and claimed they can’t read license plates in the dark.

    The biggest thing you’re lacking with this model is GPS functionality and a parking mode. This model won’t record while your vehicle is off

    APEMAN Dash Cam

    Price: $44.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of view: 170 degrees

    Night vision: WDR, HDR

    Storage capacity: 32 GB micro SD card (not included)

    Data: Time and date stamp

    Accessibility: 3 inch screen and USB cable

    Size: 4.9 x 4 x 3.8 in

    Power source: Car charger plus emergency backup battery

    Operating temperature: 14-140°F

    Rear-facing camera: No 

    Other notable features: parking mode, motion detection

    The APEMAN dash cam is a little more affordable than YI’s model, has a slightly wider FOV, and includes a parking monitor, but without an app, it’s not as accessible as the YI Smart Dash Cam. You can still review footage directly from the camera, but otherwise you have to connect it to another device. However, the parking monitor may outweigh this downside by providing 24/7 monitoring while parked. This won’t drain your battery, as it only records if it detects a collision (via the G sensor). And with WDR and HDR video, you should still see everything clearly and in color at night.

    VAVA Dual Dash Cam

    Price: $149.99

    Video quality: up to 1440p HD 

    Field of view: 155 degrees (front), 126 degrees (rear)

    Night vision: Infrared plus image signal processing

    Storage capacity: 16-128 GB micro SD card (not included)

    Data: GPS (with optional accessory)

    Accessibility: USB cable, app

    Size: 7.71 x 7.32 x 2.83 in

    Power source: Car charger, backup battery, plus hardwiring option

    Operating temperature: 14-122°F

    Rear-facing camera: rear-facing

    Other notable features: 360 degree rotating mount, parking mode, G sensor, live streaming, motion detection, snapshot button, built-in wifi

    If you want a dash cam that comes with a rear-facing camera, this is a great option. Other dual dash cams have a wider field of view, but this is one of the few that includes a mobile app (with built in wifi) and it supports live streaming, so you can check on your car when you’re not there. It’s motion activated, but you can also manually start recording with a handy snapshot button on your steering wheel. For night driving, this camera captures lowlight images with infrared light and enhances them with image signal processing. GPS functionality is built-in, but you can only view the location and speed data with an accessory.

    This dash cam’s main setback is that there’s no screen on the device itself. But as long as you have a smartphone, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    Bonus: You can also rotate the camera to record inside the vehicle, which makes it great for vloggers or for those impromptu carpool karaoke moments.

    Rexing V1 Dash Cam

    Price: $99.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of view: 170 degrees

    Night vision: WDR plus image signal processing

    Storage capacity: up to 256 GB micro SD (not included)

    Data: GPS (with optional accessory)

    Accessibility: mobile app

    Size: 3.5 x 2.5 x 2 in

    Power source: hardwired plus backup battery

    Operating temperature: -20 to 176°F (supercapacitor)

    Rear-facing camera: No

    Other notable features: parking mode, G sensor

    This camera is ideal for people who live in regions with extreme temperatures. It’s supercapacitor helps it continue to operate when it’s well below freezing or if your car has been sitting in the hot sun. It’s also very discreet, so it’s not likely to draw attention if you park in sketchy areas. Plus, with its parking monitor, it’ll record anything that happens to your car while you’re away. This model doesn’t have “night vision,” but with wide dynamic range (WDR), it can capture images in low lighting and enhance them with image signal processing (ISP).

    Crosstour Uber Dual Lens Dash Cam

    Price: $79.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD (front), 720p HD (inside)

    Field of view: 170 degrees (front)

    Night vision: Infrared lights, WDR, image signal processing

    Storage capacity: 32 GB micro SD

    Data: Time and date stamp, GPS (built-in)

    Accessibility: built-in screen, USB cable

    Size: 5.9 x 4.3 x 2.1 in

    Power source: Car charger

    Operating temperature: -4 to 140°F

    Rear-facing camera: No

    Other notable features: parking monitoring, inside camera, 12 month warranty

    This camera pretty much has it all. The biggest flaw is that there’s no mobile app for viewing footage, but it has a built-in screen and USB cable. This is the only camera on our list that has built-in GPS functionality, so you don’t need to buy an accessory or GPS device to track your precise coordinates and speed. For driving at night, this camera uses infrared lights and wide dynamic range to capture video in poor lighting, then enhances the edges with ISP. And of course, the parking mode will record any collisions that occur while you’re not in the car.

    As with the VAVA Dual Dash Cam, the inside camera is perfect for taking videos on the go.

    Choose the dash cam that’s right for you

    There are a lot of great dash cameras out there. The key is to find the one that fits your needs. Maybe it’s most important for you to compare cameras that can survive extreme temperatures. Or that have front and rear-facing cameras. Or the best night vision.

    Whatever features matter most for your situation, we hope this guide has given you the tools to find the dash cam that’s right for you.