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!
The dash cam is a camera that is mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard to capture events that are happening on the road ahead. A dash cam is designed to carefully and accurately record every detail that takes place on the road.
What to Look For in a Dash Cam?
If you search for dash cams online, several results will appear. That can be overwhelming at first, since you may not know how to narrow down the results. 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.
Below are some of key features to look for:
- Image quality
- Field of view
- Ease of installation
- Impact detection
- Low/night light conditions
We’ll expand upon each of these later on. 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.
But Wait. What’s a Dash Cam and Why Would I Need One?
Dash cam is short for a dashboard camera; as the name implies, it’s a camera you mount on your dashboard. On the road, anything can happen. Someone may make a turn when you have the right of way, speed too fast with an inability to use the brake in time, or even run a red light or stop sign. If you get hit, your insurance company—and the authorities—will want to know who’s at fault. It may not even be an accident; you can just have evidence of theft or vandalism at your disposal.
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.
Another unfortunate scenario to consider is theft. These incidents can occur for multiple reasons like forgetting to lock the door, parking in a poorly lit lot or leaving the key fob in the car. All are common causes of theft. According to Driving.ca, some of Canada’s most stolen cars in 2020 include the Honda CR-V, Lexus RX, Ford F150, Toyota Highlander, and Dodge Ram 1500.
Nobody wants to experience any of that. So why not get a dash cam? With it, you have unbiased evidence of everything that occurred in an incident. Evidence that could prove your innocence.
It’s even useful when you’re not driving. Vandalism can occur anywhere, as well. If you report it to the cops with dash cam recording, you’ll accelerate the process of finding the culprit. The same goes for theft; if you get video footage of the thief, you can bring them to justice sooner. Granted, the vandalizer/thief can obscure their appearance but some evidence is better than nothing at all.
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 CAD$50 to CAD$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.
The “Must-Have Dash Cam Features” Checklist
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.
Just like how you care about how nice the camera on your smartphone is, have that same desire for a dash cam. You shouldn’t get a dash cam that has poor video quality; blurry video evidence isn’t convenient. Because the car will be in motion when the dash cam is on, you want a lens that has a great frame rate. This will help reduce motion blur. Since frame rates can vary by the dash cam, look into ones that have a frame rate of 30 fps or higher.
Field of View
Field of view is how big of an angle your dash cam recording can capture. The width of a dash cam’s field of view will vary by manufacturer and/or by its intended vehicle use. Typical dash cams will capture at an angle between 120 and 180 degrees. 120 degree angles pretty much only capture everything in front of you, with a small glimpse of the side. 180-degree angles will capture what’s in front of you and everything on the sides as well. Some dash cams have viewing angles greater than 180 degrees but you’ll usually see them installed on commercial trucks.
You’ll want to have the widest angle camera you can afford. Of course, accidents can happen right in front of you. But side collisions are just as likely to happen. Have as much video evidence surrounding your area as possible.
Night Vision and Low Light Conditions
Cameras perform best in daylight settings. They perform decently in incandescent lighting (think indoor lighting or tunnels in this case). But at night, cameras of all kinds tend to struggle. Because there’s less light for the lens to capture, the overall image or video quality will significantly reduce.
Some dash cams are designed with night vision and low light in mind. When it’s dark, these cameras will increase exposure to make the video details brighter and help capture more details. Keep in mind that if you accidentally have it on during the daytime, it’ll white out most of what’s being recorded due to the excess exposure.
Also, try to stay away from dash cams advertised with infrared. They work from outside the car, not in it. Weather conditions can severely interfere with that.
A camera will only have but so much storage installed. Inserting a memory card with huge data space helps tremendously. However, it’s still not infinite storage. When a camera records too much footage, instead of stopping the filming completely, it loops. This means that it’ll continuously record while saving over the previous storage. You most likely won’t need an entire recording to get the evidence you need.
Don’t be alarmed, however. You’re probably wondering what if a loop starts right after an incident occurs. When something happens, it’ll continue to film without looping over a critical moment. It does this with the help of the feature listed below.
With the help of impact detection, critical footage is safe from being overwritten. It’ll also save the video in a different file location than the regular coding. That makes it easier to find what you’re looking for when gathering evidence.
Impact detection activates with the help of a built-in G-sensor and motion detection. So when an impact or close movement (when parked) occurs, the important filming begins. Once something critical is detected, it’ll record and save without you having to fear it being lost.
Other Features and Considerations
What we listed are just the necessities you’ll want in a dash cam. But there are other features you may find useful as well.
Driver Assist, Wireless Connectivity, and Apps
For example, some dash cams allow you to connect to your smartphone, allowing you to record live and have the video saved in the cloud. It does this by using a wi-fi signal to connect with your phone. This is great for those who don’t have or don’t prefer using an SD card.
If the price of a dash cam seems a little overwhelming, you can use your smartphone instead. There are many apps out on your phone’s app store. Install a phone mount in your car, use the app, and let your phone be the dash cam. Keep in mind that you won’t receive the wide camera angles that a dash cam offers unless your phone specifically has a wide-angle camera. “Smart Dash Cam” is a decent app you can try.
Drivers with older vehicles don’t have access to the several safety features that newer cars have like blind spot or lane drift alerts. Dash cams with driver-assist will give you alerts when you face possible driving hazards.
Conclusion and Recommendations
If you want the most protection of your vehicle, insurance, and probably court, you should strongly consider a dash cam. Here are some recommendations for dash cams.