Dash cams may have once seemed like an extravagance; the tech toy of a crazy car buff wanting to show off.
Do I need a dash camera?
These days there are many more practical reasons for getting a dash cam. In-car recordings are increasingly making news and being used as evidence but there are other reasons you should consider a dash cam now too.
Why get a dash camera?
The primary and most obvious reason to install a dash cam is so the footage can be used as evidence when something’s gone wrong. Did that driver really cut you off? You’ve got proof. Other driver texting at the wheel? If you’ve got it on tape it’s indisputable.
Fight Insurance scams with dash camera footage
While not common in Canada, insurance scams do happen. Recently a team of scammers in Britain were recorded ramming a scooter backwards into the front of a car to try to claim injury in a rear-ender crash. The fraudsters fled after the driver told them she had it all on tape.
Use dashcams for parking mishaps
Parking lots are a common place for fender benders. If your camera has a motion sensor, bumps and nudges can trigger the camera to record, just in case the person does damage and then decides not to leave a note.
Road trips/keepsakes on dash camera
I’ve taken some amazing road trips through beautiful scenery. Photos just don’t do it justice, but having some footage does.
Showing off & random events caught on tape
Whether it’s showing off your impressive evasion of a driving situation or catching a meteor streaking through the sky having a dash cam means you’ll always have a record of the stuff that happens to quickly to be captured with a smartphone camera.
Dash cams to keep an eye on the kids
Dash cam footage is a great way to keep an eye on your kids and their driving habits. Whether you want to check up on their whereabouts, or make sure they’re following the rules of the road, having footage is the ultimate ‘I told you so’.
If you opt for a rear-facing camera in your set up, it also allows you to point it inside the vehicle and monitor what’s going on. This is also a handy option for school kids/daycare transportation where you might need to keep tabs on young ones.
How to choose a dash cam
There are several factors that can help you decide which dash cam is right for you, and plenty of options to choose from. We’ll break down the decisions you’ll need to make.
What to look for in a dash camera
Dash cameras: Front facing camera, or front + rear?
You can choose single camera set up for your dash or add a second camera. The primary camera is the front-facing unit, while the secondary camera can be placed in your back window, or even inside facing the vehicle’s interior.
Dash camera video file storage
You want a dash camera with enough memory to run for days or weeks without stopping, since the last thing you need is to run out of card space and then get into a crash. Most dash camers today use Micro SD cards. Some of the card’s lifespan will be determined by how often the camera is getting used, or how often your loop overwrites itself. Don’t cheap out here; buy the camera with as much memory as you can afford.
What size viewing screen?
Most dash cams come with a screen, but some don’t (Goluk has one that’s about the size and shape of a tube of lipstick). Some will have the option of using your smartphone as a screen so you can see where you’re aiming your camera, or to screen footage.
While the screen is handy for at-a-glance checks on aim and whether it’s recording, you don’t really need to see the screen otherwise, and in fact it can be a distraction. You’re probably not going to watch much video on the camera unit itself. Don’t get hung up on a camera without a screen if it has all the other features you want.
Dash camera video resolution + wide angle lenses
Obviously you want a good look at the situation. Fortunately most cameras on the market today have superior video resolution and clarity thanks to HD camera technology. There’s no reason why you should settle for a camera that is not full HD/1080P today. You might be able to get a lower quality camera for cheap but it’s going to come back and bite you in the rear.
A wide angle lens should probably also be on your wish list since it gives you a better view of what’s going on not just in front of you, but around you.
Older model dash cams needed to be switched on to operate and you had to remember to turn them off. Most dash cameras today have an auto on and auto off feature. This means that even when the camera is plugged in to your 9 V adapter or USB it won’t draw power when the car has been turned off. Without auto on and off, you run the risk of draining your car’s battery and needing a jumpstart. Auto on/off is a huge hassle saver.
Dash Camera Size
Dash Cameras come in a variety of sizes from ‘point-and-shoot-camera’ size to something more akin to a pack of gum, but size probably doesn’t matter. If anything, smaller might be better in this case, since it lets you effectively center the camera behind the rearview mirror and keep it out of your sight lines for improved safety.
While a large camera at may seem like a good idea, it’s not as though you’re going to be watching endless videos on the unit itself so you don’t really need a big display. For the most part you’ll watch video files on your smart phone screen or on your home computer. Don’t get hung up on size.
The smart play with dash cameras is to get one with the ability for them to record in a loop. Different cameras offer you different time durations, but in essence loop recording overwrites the oldest files automatically after a certain number of minutes (or certain number of recordings); anywhere from about one minute, up to 10 minutes.
Loop recording capability means you don’t necessarily need to eject your memory card in order to wipe it if it’s full, which means you’ll be less likely to be caught driving around with no memory in your camera. The shorter the loops, the more files that can be stored on the device, and the longer you’ll have to retrieve them before they’re automatically overwritten. A 10 minute loop record for example might only give you 24 hours of footage, where a one or two minute loop might run for days.
Impact Sensor/ Parking sensor/Emergency recording
A handy option with a dash camera is the ability for the device to automatically protect files when an impact is detected. This means that even if your camera is on a loop record, files involving an impact will always be protected until you delete them. This is a handy option if it’s going to be some time before you can pull the files off the camera, such as if you’re on a road trip far from your home, or if perhaps your car gets swiped in a parking lot on the passenger side, and you don’t notice for a couple of days.
How does it work? Accelerometers built into the camera trigger recording if someone bumps or hits your car, even when the device is turned off.
Dash Camera Mounting Style
You’ll want to pay attention to how the dash cams on your short list are mounted. There are a couple of common ways, from suction cups to permanently installed two-sided tape. There are pros and cons to both.
Some people feel that using two sided tape is a more durable and long-lasting option, and one that’s less prone to detach in temperature fluctuations the way suction cups can. But with strong tape, it’s much harder to move or adjust your cameras, or to swap the camera into other vehicles.
Suction cups give you more flexibility to move the camera around, or to get it placed just right but they can and do randomly unstick themselves in extreme temperature fluctuation environments.
Instant recording capabilities
Most cameras have an instant recording button which will turn on recording on even though no incident has been detected. The button will also protect a file from being overwritten if you see something you want to save.
Wifi/Bluetooth Smartphone connection
Having a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection with your dash cam is a great idea. This will allow you to access your camera or video feed as it’s happening to either allow you to re-aim the lens, or screen what’s unfolded in front of you. This is handy for a driver when you want to review some footage while still in your car. Parked safely, of course.
After playing with several dash cameras this summer I prefer one that has the option to connect wirelessly to my smart phone. This allows me to instantly record video or capture it to my phone so I can share it via text, email, or social media. This was a great feature when I was driving through some particularly picturesque roads on our summer road trip.
Power connection in dash cameras
It’s worth checking what type of power adapter the dash cameras on your short list come with. Some will use a 9V/cigarette lighter adapter, while it is becoming more common to see USB plugs at the end of a dash camera’s cable.
If possible, always choose the USB option. This is because when you are using a 9 V connector, it will take up an entire outlet in your car. That may mean you’ll have nowhere to charge your smart phone or other gear inside the vehicle.
My car, for example, only has one 9V outlet in the front of the car, so if I have my dash camera plugged in I have no way to recharge my phone.
Overall thoughts on choosing a dash camera
After testing numerous dash cameras this summer these are my absolute must haves:
-HD video resolution
-USB power connector
The best way to choose a dash cam is to first figure out what you want it to do, then choose the features that are the most important to you and match them to a camera. Watch the blog for a coming series on dash cameras; we’ll be reviewing several popular models over the next few weeks.