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How to buy the best dash cam

By Louise Muyanja

Not all dash cams can capture decent footage. Our expert guide will help you buy the best dash cam for your budget.

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A decent dash cam or dashboard camera is capable of producing high-quality video footage to help prove what happened in the case of a crash, or protect you from false claims. 

But not all dash cams on the market are worth your money. 

Our in-depth tests of dash cams reveal that there are big differences in quality between different models. Below, we explain what you need to know to choose the best dash cam for you and your budget.

See our best dash cams to discover which models passed our rigorous tests.

In this article:

Video: how to buy the best dash cam 

Our video, below, will tell you what you need to know to choose the best dash cam for your needs and budget.

Which type of dash cam should you choose? 

Use our interactive tool to help you decide.

How much does a good dash cam cost? 

Dash cams range in price from basic £20 models to feature-laden dash cam systems for anything up to £400. 

Price doesn't predict quality, however. We've found models from both ends of the spectrum have failed to impress in our thorough lab tests. 

The most important aspect of a dash cam is the quality of its footage. If the image quality isn't good enough, you might not be able to use your footage after an accident to prove you're not to blame.

All dash cams support at least 720p resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels). Some record at 1,080p (1,920 x 1080 pixels) or even 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels).

A higher resolution doesn't guarantee better quality - we've uncovered higher resolution dash cams that produce dire footage. We've also found dash cams at 720p that are clear and detailed.

Use our dash cam reviews to make sure you don't buy a dud.

What features do more expensive dash cams have?

A cheaper model may lack any of the following features, while a premium model should have any and all of them:

  • GPS
  • G-force sensor
  • Automatic on/off
  • On-device display
  • Long power cable
  • Loop recording
  • Smart-file storage
  • Well-designed playback
  • Easy-to-adjust mount

£101The most expensive Don't Buy we've tested

What makes a good dash cam?

The most important aspect of a dash cam is the quality of the footage it records. If image quality isn’t high enough, you might not be able to use your footage in the case of an accident to prove you’re not to blame. 

All dash cams support at least 720p resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels) and some devices record with a resolution of 1,080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) or even 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels). 

A higher resolution will generally mean a better quality of footage, but it doesn't guarantee it - we've uncovered higher resolution dash cams that produce dire footage. 

By contrast, we've also found dash cams at 720p that are still clear and detailed.

Front and rear dash cams vs forward facing dash cam 

A single front-facing dashboard camera records the road ahead. A front and rear dash cam is a multiple-lens system that offers both forward-facing and rear windscreen cameras.

Here are the pros and cons of both types:

Front-facing dash cam

Front-facing dash cams are the most basic and common type of dash cam. These record from a single camera lens and are mounted onto the windscreen to record the road ahead.

  • Pros: No need to hardwire them in as they can be plugged in to the 12V socket easily. They're the most common type of dash cam, so it’s easy to find one to match your budget.
  • Cons: May miss events on either side or behind the car.

Front and rear dash cams

These dash cams can record from more than one camera at the same time. The forward-facing lens is mounted to the windscreen and a secondary lens is mounted to the rear windscreen, to record the road behind.

  • Pros: Will provide footage if someone hits you from behind.
  • Cons: More fiddly to set up – you may need to hardwire the devices in, which could require professional installation. Likely to be more expensive than a single-lens dash cam.

Find the right model for you. See our expert dash cam reviews.

Best dash cam features to look for 

  • GPS - allows you to pinpoint your exact location at the time of the crash. It will also show the route you travelled, and your speed. This could be useful for building up a picture of exactly what happened in a crash.
  • G-force sensors - automatically saves moments of high G-force, generally during a collision. This means footage - which is recorded on a loop - will be protected from being overwritten.
  • Parking mode - your dashboard camera will automatically start recording if it detects a collision of impact while you're parked. Useful for finding out who bumped your car in a busy car park.

Questions about how you fit a dash cam? Check out how to install a dash cam.

Other dash cam features to consider

SD memory card 

All dash cams use a memory card to store recorded images and video footage. All the dash cams that we have reviewed use ‘loop recording’, meaning that when they run out of space on the memory card they rewrite over the oldest footage. 

Some models come equipped with an SD card, but this is worth checking. If you need to purchase an SD card separately, we recommended you use class 6 or above. This ensures that it performs at a high enough standard to be reliable for use in your dash cam.

Dash cams that come with an app

Dash cams that come with accompanying apps enable you to save your footage on to your phone.

If a dash cam doesn't come with an app, you can still save your footage by transferring it to your computer.

Transferring the footage means you can protect your valuable recordings from being overwritten. So even if you don't do this regularly, make sure you do it after an incident.

Installation 

All dash cams come with a power cord that plugs in to the cigarette lighter. These range from around 1.4m up to 4.9m. 

Choose a model with a longer cable if you want to route the cable around the windscreen and down the car’s front pillars so you can plug it into the power socket, without having cables dangling down from the windscreen. 

You may prefer to have your dash cam hardwired in, and will need to consider professional installation if that’s the case. 

Apps and wi-fi 

Some dash cams have bespoke apps for your smartphone, tablet or home computer that allow you to view back the footage in a manner that's (hopefully) easier to browse and pause than through your device's default media player.

You'll also come across wi-fi capable dash cams. These let you transmit footage wirelessly from the camera to your device - so no need to remove it and take it indoors. You'll also be able to view footage from the dash cam in real time via the wireless connection.

Some insurers will offer you a discount if you have a dash cam. To find out more, see our guide to dash cam insurance savings.

Dash cams compared 

We've tested all the top dash cams, including Garmin, Nextbase and RAC. Plus cheaper dashboard cameras from brands such as Motorola.

Below, we've listed the key specs and features for some of the more popular dash cams.

Nextbase iN-Car CAM 312GW Deluxe dash cam, £79

  • Screen size: 2.7-inch
  • Resolution: Full HD

Small and compact, this affordable Nextbase dash cam comes with lots of  features.

These include parking mode, which triggers record if your parked car is bumped. Plus a G-force sensor to protect your footage after an impact, and GPS to track your location and speed.

Our expert Nextbase iN-Car 312GW Deluxe review reveals how it performed in our tough tests.

Garmin Dash Cam 55 Plus, £109

  • Screen size: 2-inch
  • Resolution: Quad HD

One of the more advanced dash cams Garmin offers, you get a polarising filter to reduce glare and extra features and alerts to help you - such as lane departure.

This dinky dash cam also includes wi-fi, so you can easily view footage on your phone.

But are these features worth paying for? See our Garmin Dash Cam 55 Plus review to find out.

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