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21 Dec 2021

Five things you need to know before buying a dash cam

A dash cam can help keep you protected on the road, but with so many models available it's crucial to do your homework before you buy
Dash cam on windscreen

Dash cams are an increasingly popular sight on British roads. They can help prove your innocence in an accident and protect you from 'crash for cash' scams.

Decent dash cams are simple to use - once they're installed you'll rarely need to touch them unless you need to access your footage. So in many cases, the most complicated part of dashcam ownership is picking the right one and installing it.

Below are five tips to get you started on picking (and actually using) the right dash cam for you. Alternatively, browse our latest dash cam reviews.

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1. Pick a dash cam with the right number of cameras

Front and rear dash cam

Forward-facing dash cams are the most common, but some models come packaged with two, or even three cameras. These additional cameras typically record behind and inside the vehicle, and help to give a more complete picture of the build-up to an accident.

Dash cams with front and rear cameras are able to record both the road ahead of and behind your vehicle. Rear cameras can usually be split into the following categories:

  • Rear-window cameras attach to your back windscreen using a sticky pad. These usually require a front camera to work, which they attach to using a long cable.
  • Rear-view cameras are usually attached (or built-in) to a forward facing dash cam. The advantage is that there are fewer wires to worry about, but the viewing angle can be narrower.
  • Cabin-view cameras are designed to record the interior of your vehicle. They're often used by taxi drivers to record incidents, but could also be used to prove you weren't distracted when an accident occurred.

We test front, rear and cabin dash cams rigorously to find out which will give you great footage from all angles. See our dash cam reviews to find out which to go for, and which to avoid.

2. Plan how you're going to fit your dash cam

Installing a dash cam

It's usually possible to fit your dash cam yourself - see our detailed guide to find out how. If you're using your vehicle's 12v power outlet (also known as the cigarette lighter socket), then the fiddly bit will be tucking any trailing cables away into the trim of your vehicle.

That can be made easier with a plastic 'pry' tool, which will help you get into any crevices without scuffing your vehicle. Some dash cams come with a pry tool, but if not you can pick one up online for a couple of pounds. Your fingertips will thank you. Just take care not to obstruct any safety equipment such as airbags while routing the cable around your vehicle.

If you're not confident fitting a dash cam yourself, speak to your local garage or car electronics experts. Expect to pay around £50 for a dash cam installation, but it could be more depending on how complicated the job is. Professional fitting can be especially tempting if your vehicle has existing electronics you don't want to interfere with - or if you plan to hardwire the dash cam into your vehicle's main battery...

3. Check whether you need to hardwire your dash cam

Car fuse box

Hardwiring connects the dash cam to your vehicle's battery, giving it a constant source of power. As well as being neater than using a USB cable, hardwiring your dash cam also frees up your car's 12V or USB port. Hardwiring often requires a special kit specific to your chosen dash cam - these kits are often sold separately for around £20.

Hardwiring is also a more complicated process that requires some electrical know-how, so we recommend getting a professional involved if you're at all unsure how to do this. The price for this will vary depending on your vehicle, but it's often included in the price of a standard dash cam installation.

Most dash cams need to be hardwired to activate their 'parking mode' feature, which turns the dashcam on and starts recording if it detects any impacts or motion near the vehicle while you're away. A few dash cams have built-in batteries that allow you to use parking mode without hardwiring, but often only for a short amount of time. The Mio MiVue 866 is a recent example of this. If you're interested in parking mode without having to hardwire your dash cam, be sure to see how it fared in our in-depth MiVue 866 review.

4. Stay legal when attaching a dash cam to your windscreen

Correct dash cam placement

An incorrectly fitted dash cam could lead to its footage being inadmissible as evidence - no matter how clear the footage is. If the police deem that your view of the road is being obstructed, it could even land you with a fine.

The Highway Code states that any obstructions cannot be more than 40mm into the area swept by the windscreen wiper blades.

The best spot for a dash cam is as central and high as possible - ideally behind your rear-view mirror. That's not always possible though, especially in newer cars without traditional mirrors. It's well worth turning the camera on and using either a built-in screen or an app to check the camera's viewing angle before you attach it to your windscreen.

5. Discover which dash cam is best

We've seen time and time again that price is no guarantee of quality when it comes to dash cams. There are fantastic dash cams for well under £100, as well as lacklustre models costing £300 or more.

Expensive models are usually sold with more bells and whistles - from voice controls and lane departure warnings to 24/7 footage streaming over 4G. None of that means a thing if the footage isn't up to snuff though. Our tough tests uncover the very best (and worst) dash cams on the market - so you can be confident in choosing one that won't let you down when it matters.

Want to know which dash cam is best? See our Best Buy dash cams for our top recommendations.