Dashboard Camera Buying Guide
Buying a Dash Cam
Chances are, if you’ve been on the Internet in the last 3 years you’ve seen a dash cam video whether it’s a video of a meteor strike in Russia, video from a police incident or someone blatantly jumping in front of a car for a quick payday. With traffic on the rise and driver attention span on the decline (to put it mildly),dashboard cameras are becoming an invaluable addition to your vehicle. In the past, dash cam DVR systems were typically only in police cars and other emergency vehicles, but as with all technology, prices started to drop and popularity soared. A dash cam can more than pay for itself if you’re involved in an accident that was not of your doing. Having video evidence versus the word of the high schooler who was texting as they t-boned you running a red light at 2 a.m. will save you from arguing with the insurance companies about who was at fault.
What is a Dash Cam?
A dash cam DVR is simply that, a camera that mounts on the dash or windshield in your vehicle and records while you drive. The cameras are easily attached, generally by a suction cup mount or a direct dash friction mount. Some even come installed in aftermarket rearview cameras. Dash cameras are either battery powered, hardwired into your vehicle’s power system or powered via your cigarette lighter to record everything that goes on around your car. Most dash cam systems power up when you start your car and begin recording immediately.
Many dash cam systems include some type of DVR to save all of your recordings; when you hit the storage limit the system will begin to overwrite the oldest files (loop recording). These recordings are usually in either .AVI or .MOV file formats which are compatible with most common video players (such as Windows Media Player).
More sophisticated systems allow you to geotag your recorded files to allow you to easily locate your recordings and track speed, time and date of the recordings. If your car has shock sensors, higher end dash cams can be set to automatically record whenever an impact is detected (these recordings can also be tagged to ensure they aren’t recorded over).
Why Should You Want One?
Having a dash cam system will, at the very least, give you peace of mind. Knowing your car is at least being monitored constantly should relieve any anxiety about proving fault in any potential incidents.
Perhaps the most useful application for a dash cam is in the event of an accident. Accidents happen all the time, and rarely do all parties involved agree on what happened and who was in the wrong. When the cops show up to file a report, you never know who is going to change their story. Having a dash cam recording every moment eliminates any worry about having to defend yourself against the person who was actually at fault.
Unfortunately, fraud is a real danger in today’s world. Sometimes other drivers will intentionally cause an accident and then blame you for it. One of the more common vehicle fraud attempts is when one driver intentionally backs into another driver and then claims they were rear-ended. The best (and really only) way to really disprove that driver, other than having other witnesses to back up your story, is to have a dash cam recording.
Hit & Run
There are few feelings worse than walking out to your parked car to find it has been hit while you were away, and it’s even worse when the person who hit your car didn’t leave a note. If this happens and you don’t have a dash camera, there is very little you can do. However, if you have a dash camera that automatically records when it detects an impact, you can catch the person in the act. Some dash cameras also include a parking mode which records when your car is parked.
Dash cameras can be used for more than just protecting your vehicle, they can also be used for fun. If you spend a lot of time in your car, you’re going to see a lot of cool things that you wouldn’t mind having on camera. From funny vanity plates to exotic cars and even beautiful scenery, chances are you’ll see something in your travels you’ll want to save and share with your friends. Next time you see a meteor hurdling towards the ground, you won’t have to pull out your cellphone to take a picture and then crash into a fire hydrant!
What Features to Look for?
With dash cams becoming more common place in vehicles today, there are many different options you have to choose from for your recording options.
Typically the most important feature you want to look for in a dash camera is the quality of the camera itself. When you’re looking to add one to your vehicle, you should look for one that records in high definition (either 720p or 1080p). Non-HD cameras will miss important details (like license plate numbers) and likely leave you disappointed in your purchase. HD cameras also tend to offer better video at night.
With dashboard cameras, discretion can be a major factor. You can find dash cameras of all shapes and sizes, from large, obvious cameras to compact cameras intended to blend in with your dash. As with things like wallets, cell phones, purses and any other valuables, you probably don’t want to leave an oversized dash cam sitting out while you have your car parked. On the other hand, if one of the reasons you’re looking for dash camera is parking mode, you might want to get a more discrete camera (such as one installed into an aftermarket rearview mirror).
Many newer dash cams have an on-board GPS receiver which allows you to track your location while playing back the video later. GPS dash cams allow you to easily prove your location at any particular time as well as automatically setting the date and time. Dash cams with GPS will either come with an external GPS antenna or have one built-in to the unit itself. Dash cam systems with GPS also usually come with mapping software for your computer.
Other Bells and Whistles
Other things to consider when looking for a dash camera include the available memory you will have, camera components and whether a camera comes with LED lights. Dash cam DVR systems typically record directly to an SD card. While individual cameras will create different amounts of data, as a general rule an 8GB card will record (in HD) 2-3 hours, a 16GB card will record 4-6 hours and a 32GB card will record 8-12 hours. For standard definition recordings, you can expect about twice the recording duration. Important components of the camera itself to be aware of include the processor (CPU) and the quality of the CMOS sensor and camera lens itself. Many dash cams also come with some type of integrated screen, allowing you the option of immediate playback. Some manufacturers will design their dash cameras with LED lights to improve night recording performance. These LED lights often do little-to-nothing to improve said performance, and can often be detrimental to your recordings because they can cause reflections in your windshield. Other dash cam systems include a rear facing camera to simultaneously record the cabin of the vehicle and the road ahead.