What You Need to Know When Buying a Dash Cam

What You Need to Know When Buying a Dash Cam

What You Need to Know When Buying a Dash Cam
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Dash cams have become increasingly popular over the past few years mainly because of their numerous benefits. A dash cam is a small in-car camera recording everything in front of a driver. It can serve as a driver’s witness when involved in an accident, while also saving drivers money on their insurance.

Looking for the best dash cam for your vehicle? If you have no idea what dash cam to purchase, then this dash cam buyer’s guide will serve as a great introduction. We’re here to help you narrow down your choices and let you know what to look out for! Keep reading to learn what features a dash cam should have and how to pick one that won’t break the bank.

What to Look For in a Dash Cam

After a car accident, trying to determine what happened is often a matter of weighing one person’s word against another person’s word. That’s why a recording of the event is so valuable. Many accidents occur in the blink of an eye. Even if you are walking on the sidewalk when an accident occurs and have a smartphone on you, it takes time to react, take out the phone, and start recording. This is why dash cams have become so popular, first in Russia, then in other countries.

These days, dash cams have many capabilities, from cloud-streaming to Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi should be the least important feature on your list, though; a Wi-Fi connection is too slow and unreliable to be useful. Instead, get a USB memory stick or memory card reader, which you can easily plug into your smartphone to check the footage. Likewise, voice commands and detection and warning systems like forward collision warning, advanced driver assistance, and lane departure warning generate too many false positives to be reliable.

The must-have features of any dash cam are video quality, build quality, and parking mode. You need parking mode to save power: the dash cam automatically goes into hibernation when there is no motion and automatically turns on when it detects motion.

What Is a Dash Cam and Why Do You Need One?

Technically, any camera attached to the top of your interior dashboard section is a dash cam.

If you are strapped for cash and already have a smartphone with good video-recording capability, the only accessory you need is a holder that can be securely attached to the dashboard and that will sturdily hold the phone in an appropriate position. You can plug a high-capacity memory card into it and use a USB car-charger adapter and a few clips to manage the cord. All of this is very affordable and easy to assemble and connect. So turning your phone into a dash cam is one viable option, especially if you have an older dashboard. Moreover, smartphones are already equipped with a variety of sensors and apps that make this option feasible.

However, dash cams are not that expensive, and they provide a solution that can stay in your car for years of reliable service. Such a dedicated device helps you to more effectively deal with everything from minor bumps to major car crashes, insurance fraud, vandalism, break-ins, and theft.

Are you familiar with the many internet videos of people witnessing or experiencing an accident on the highway due to the negligence of another driver? They all have dash cams. And they all have evidence that the driver is or isn’t at fault. The device makes it possible to quickly resolve he-said/she-said disputes.

Dash cams are useful for all kinds of drivers and vehicle owners, from small delivery businesses and fleet managers to parents who are financing their kid’s first car.

How Much Do Dash Cams Cost?

The price of a dash cam can vary based on numerous factors: storage, motion detection, whether it has a front and rear view lens or not, SD card storage, image quality, and more. Some dash cams have a built-in GPS to record where an event took place.

Fortunately, at a price of C$50 to C$200, low-end dash cams are much less expensive than low-end smartphones. The low-end models are still dependable; high-end models simply include various features in addition to the must-have ones. The ones you want to aim for can range between $50 and $150. Note that some dash cams are designed for larger vehicles. Usually, a wide-angle lens dash cam will be more since it covers more angles. This can also fluctuate the overall cost.

Regardless of cost, a dash cam is indispensable when dealing with insurance. Note that it won’t lower your current bill; however, it could save you an increase if a claim were to be made. Think of a dash cam as evidence insurance. 

If anything happens to your car (and we hope it doesn’t), it very well may cost more than a dash cam so you might as well look into one.

A Check List of Must-Have Dash Cam Features

It can be hard for a new dash cam buyer to figure what features are a must and what features might be more gimmicky. For this list we look at the most essential features that any dash cam should have. In other words, these are the features without which you should definitely consider another model or brand altogether.

Image Quality

Two factors must be taken into account with respect to image quality:

One is the video recording resolution: the sharpness of the recorded footage. HD may stand for “high definition,” but it was still accompanied by substantial pixilation and great loss of detail; television broadcasting moved on from that standard long ago.

A good dash cam should have at least Full HD capability. Although 4K would be ideal, it’s very expensive and requires much more memory to store the ultra-high-quality video.

Frames per second (fps). Gamers know how important the number of frames per second is for a smooth gameplay experience. In movies, the difference between 24 fps and 60 fps is immediately noticeable. Unfortunately, because 60 fps videos generate twice the amount of visual data, they require twice the storage space.

Nonetheless, with 60 frames per second, every minute detail of a car accident can be seen. The greater expense of such a camera is definitely worth it if you can find one at a discount. You can always save on storage space by reducing the number of frames to 30 fps or 24fps, just as you can in the settings of most flagship smartphones. But it is better to have the option of a higher fps than to be stuck with a low frame rate.

Field of View

Field of view (FoV) is also important to gamers, especially in games with first-person shooters. The wider the FoV of your dash cam, the more of the area in front of the car that the cam will record. A very narrow FoV means that the cam will record only the space right in front of it. A wide FoV is crucial in cases where it is useful to record the movement of a vehicle prior to the collision in order to establish the innocence or guilt of the driver.

If you want to record a width of three lanes, get a dash cam that has an FoV between 140 degrees and 160 degrees; 150 degrees is a good balance between fisheye distortion of image and optimally wide viewing angle.

Night Vision and Low-Light Conditions

If you have ever had a laptop with an integrated webcam, you may have noticed how bad the image quality is in low light. Cheap smartphones have the same limitation. The reason is simple: cheap light sensors let through only a little light. The exposure is poor.

When it comes to dash cams, automatic adjustment of exposure is critical on a cloudy day, on a very sunny day, or at night. If a dash cam can appropriately adjust its exposure in such environments, the footage will be even and clear. However, the night-vision setting of the dash cam may sometimes overexpose certain elements, like headlights and license plate glare (even to the extent of completely whiting out a license plate). This is why many drivers use night-vision mode only in conjunction with the parking mode.

Some dash cams have Super Night Vision, a post-processing feature that improves the lighting. WheelWitness HD PRO is your best choice for a dash cam that has high resolution, outstanding light sensors, and a massive FoV of 170 degrees.

Loop Recording

Loop recording is very convenient. What this means is that when the storage of the camera is full, the camera does not stop recording; instead, it continues to record by overwriting the previous footage. This makes perfect sense. After all, if you’ve been in an accident, you will soon check the footage. It is hard to imagine a situation in which important footage would be erased by being overwritten.

Most dash cams can store up to 128 gigabytes, the equivalent to about 12 hours to 36 hours of recording. Of course, the exact number of hours that 128 gigabytes can store depends on the resolution of the recording and whether the dash cam is two-way, i.e., whether it records the scene in front of the car and the scene to the rear of the car. Usually, such cams have a lower resolution on the front end.

Although you can find micro SD cards with a capacity of 512 gigabytes, such high-density chips wear out faster than cards of lower capacity. Manufacturers claim that the average SD card lasts about ten years, but this estimate is inapplicable to dash cams that have continuous uptime. In many cases, a lifespan of months is more likely.

Not in all cases, though. Some manufacturers are promoting the longer lifespans of their SD cards by using the word “endurance” in the brand name of an SD card. For example, the Samsung PRO Endurance microSD Memory Card 64GB boasts “up to 26,280 hours of lasting performance for continuous video monitoring.” The Samsung PRO Endurance and the SanDisk High Endurance are both good choices for a dash cam.

Detection of Motion and Impact

Premium dash cams have an extra suite of sensors that detect motion and impact. An impact-detecting sensor detects collision thanks to the integrated G-sensor. A motion-detecting sensor triggers recording when it detects nearby motion.

You may wonder why all this is necessary if, without these sensors, a dash cam records everything anyway, since it is automatically on while you are driving. The reason is that you want recordings of impact incidents to be safe from being overwritten, and you may not even notice some impacts when traffic is busy and noisy. Dash cams with impact detection automatically mark such incidents and store the video files in separate folders that cannot be overwritten.

Dash cams with a parking mode have both motion and impact detectors. Parking mode is great for securing recordings of incidents of vandalism and break-ins. Every time someone walks near your vehicle, the camera starts recording. These recordings will also be stored in a separate folder so that everything is easily accessible and the footage cannot be overwritten.

Other Features and Considerations

So far, we have been talking about the must-have features that a dash cam needs in order to perform its primary function: recording incidents and collisions so that you have useful documentation. Other possible features are of doubtful utility or are nice to have only as a convenience.

Some features that were once extras now seem mandatory. A dash cam that auto-starts when your car starts may not be strictly “necessary” in the sense that you can turn the cam on yourself. But it becomes necessary the day you forget to turn it on. Thankfully, most modern dash cams now include auto-start.

Driver Assist, Wireless Connectivity, and Apps

As we have noted, various forms of driver assistance tend to flood you with false positives. An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) may sound useful, since it supposedly detects the driver’s bad driving and provides coaching. However, driving well is something one should have learned before passing the driver’s exam.

But ADAS dash cams may also detect drowsiness and erratic driving. In such cases, the ADAS-enabled dash cam sends a real-time alert to the driver.

With respect to Wi-Fi and cloud storage, it would be unwise to count on signal reception instead of a local storage device to safeguard video that may end up being all-important. Using cloud storage would add another point of possible failure.

A combination of Wi-Fi and an app can be convenient. For example, you can quickly show the police the footage of an accident using an app on your phone, or you can use an app to check whether any events were logged when your dash cam was in parking mode. These features are unnecessary but are nice to have if you are willing to pay extra for them.

Conclusion and Recommendations

For a dash cam to be effective, it must have at least Full HD resolution, a robust build and dashboard suction, parking mode, wide FoV, and efficient exposure to light in low-light settings.

Fulfilling these criteria, the Vantrue N2 Pro Uber Dual is a front-and-back solution with infrared night vision that supports up to 256 gigabytes of storage, which is above average. Although not cheap at around C$212, this dash cam is unlikely to disappoint you. Its smaller brother, the Vantrue N1 Pro Mini, is a one-way dash cam that costs half as much but has equally rich features.

An even lower-end cam is the TOGUARD 1080P Dash Cam, which has a G-sensor for impact detection, parking mode, and IR night vision. This cam is perfectly serviceable at an unbeatable price of under C$60, cheap for such a generous set of features. Either of these options would serve you well.


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