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1 Aug 2019

Is it worth buying a cheap dash cam?

Cheap dash cams - Which? tests reveal what you need to know

Wondering if cheap dash cams are any good? We've rounded up what they have to offer compared with expensive models, so you can decide whether it's worth setting aside some extra cash for a pricier one.

For the bargain hunters among us, the first thing that comes to mind when looking for a new tech gadget is 'how much is it going to cost?'.

It can be hard to resist the temptation of a budget-friendly dash cam floating around sites like Amazon - but if you were to spend your hard-earned cash on a cheap model, what can you expect to get?

Dash cams can cost anywhere from £22 to £400 and over. If you've got your heart set on a cheap model, you'd be spending £50 or less.

We've put more than 20 cheap dash cams to the test and explain difference between a cheap dash cam and an expensive one to tell you exactly what you'll get on either end of the price spectrum.

What do you get with a cheap dash cam?

Our tests have found that, on average, cheap dash cams don't perform as well as the more expensive models. However, our tough tests have revealed some cheaper models that are still great value.

Our expert tests reveal the best dash cams.

Cheap dash cams have lower recording resolution

Recording resolution describes the resolution that video is captured in. Most cheap dash cams record in 1,280 x 720 pixels (HD) or 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (Full HD).

At first glance, it's impressive that an inexpensive dash cam records in Full HD. But if you spend a little extra, you can get a higher resolution dash cam that records in Quad HD or higher.

Dash cam features to look out for

There are a few features that you can expect to find on even the most affordable dash cams.

  • Audio recording: Audio can be extremely helpful as evidence if you have an accident, in addition to good quality footage. A good dash cam that records audio will clearly capture in-car sound, such as interaction with the other driver, to help you prove your innocence in an insurance claim.
  • Auto-on function: Once your dash cam is plugged in, this function turns on automatically when your car ignition starts. So you'll always have footage to back up your claim, and don't have to worry about whether you turned your dash cam on or not.
  • G force sensor: This detects moments of high G-force (high impact). So your dash cam will automatically save recorded footage and protect it from being overwritten when its memory runs out.
  • Still photo function: Don't have a camera on your phone? The still photo function will allow you to use your dash cam as a camera to take still images.

We've tested cheap dash cams that couldn't produce clear footage, even in the daytime. Beware of the bargain busts - five cheap dash cams to avoid for 2019 reveals all.

What do you get if you pay more?

Our top-scoring dash cam will set you back over a hundred pounds, whereas our lowest-scoring model costs only £22.

But this doesn't mean you have to pay over the odds to get a decent model. We've found dash cams over £200 with terrible night time footage that are a pain to set up. Our tests have also discovered cheaper, easy-to-use models with fantastic footage.

Use our dash cam reviews to help you select a great dash cam at the right price.

Higher recording resolution

More expensive dash cams will typically come with Full HD as the minimum recording resolution.

Many record footage in Quad HD and 2K (2,304 x 1,296). Although, a high recording resolution doesn't guarantee quality footage, it better equips a dash cam to capture clear recordings.

The higher the resolution, the more pixels that are used to capture the image, resulting in a more detailed image.

Front and rear dash cams

The majority of dash cams on the market are solely forward facing, meaning they only allow you to record the road in front of your car. A front and rear dash cam will give you all-around footage, allowing you to record the road behind your car as well.

But this luxury comes at a price - the cheapest front and rear dash cam we've tested is £100. See our Motorola MDC500GW review to find out if it's worth your money.

Many manufacturers, such as Nextbase and Thinkware, sell rear camera attachments separately. This allows you to transform a forward-facing dash cam into a front and rear one - but the attachments themselves will cost you £50 or more.

We've rounded up the best picks in our guide on should you buy a front and rear dash cam?

Premium dash cam features

A premium dash cam will come with the standard functions, like a G-force sensor, as well as some fancier extras.

  • Parking mode: This enables your dash cam to detect impact while your car is parked, automatically activating recording and protecting your car even when it's unattended.
  • GPS: The GPS in your dash cam automatically captures location data on your drives and attaches it to your recordings.
  • Wireless (wi-fi): This allows you to transfer footage directly from your dash cam to a smartphone, tablet or computer when it's in range of a wireless internet connection. Rather than having to download the footage onto your computer. This is particularly useful if your dash cam doesn't have a display screen, so you can easily review footage on your smartphone.

Even fancier dash cam features

As if GPS and wi-fi isn't enough, some premium dash cams are loaded with extra features that you didn't know you needed.

  • Speed camera alerts: These alerts work as they do with most smartphone navigation apps, providing a reminder when you're approaching a speed camera. Dash cams like the Mio MiVue J60 come with speed camera alerts, with the promise of speed camera updates for the lifetime of the device.
  • Headlight reminder: Models such as the Transcend DrivePro 230 give you an alert when you're driving through places with low light conditions, as a reminder to turn on your headlights on, ensuring your dash cam's footage quality isn't reduced.
  • Fatigue alerts: Some dash cams, including the Philips GoSure ADR820, have an alert to remind you to take a break when you've been driving for a predetermined period of time without a break.

Just tested: new Nextbase dash cams

More than two years after the launch of its last UK dash cams, Nextbase has re-entered the speedily growing market with its 'Series 2' range of dash cams.

Nextbase's Series 2 dash cam line-up replaces the previous range, which included the Nextbase iN-CAR CAM 212 Lite (£70) and Nextbase iN-CAR CAM 412GW Professional (£129). The new models are more compact and sleekly-designed:

The new Nextbase dash cams come with market-leading features, such as Bluetooth for transferring footage and Emergency SOS to contact the emergency services if your dash cam detects you are involved in an accident.

Some come with voice control with Alexa. Using the 'Nextbase Dash Cam Skill' function, you can communicate with your dash cam by giving it instructions like 'start recording', 'stop recording' and telling it to send footage to your smartphone.

These features are exclusive to the 322GW, 422GW and 522GW.

To find out how well the Nextbase dash cams performed in our tests, read our independent Nextbase dash cam reviews.