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1 October 2020

How to buy the best dash cam

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

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.

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.

Types of dash cam

There are two types of dash cam: forward-facing or front-and-rear. A forward-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.

Although all rear dash cams have the same objective of recording what's behind you, you will get a very different rear view depending on the type of rear camera. The three main types of rear camera are:

  • Rear-window dash cam – these record the road behind your car. These devices are separate from the front camera; you install them directly on the rear window to get a clear, uninterrupted view of the road behind.  
  • Rear-view camera – as with rear-window dash cams, these record the road and surrounding area behind your car. This type of rear lens comes as part of the main device that sits on your windscreen and records the front view, which means it records the road behind at a greater distance, through the car and out of the rear window. 
  • Interior lens – also referred to as a ‘cabin-view’ camera, these rear cameras aren’t as commonly found as the other two types. They’re designed to capture what’s going on inside your car. They’ll mainly show the interior, though they may also capture some of your car’s surroundings through the windows and rear windscreen. They may be more popular with professional drivers, such as taxi drivers, than your average road user.

Here are the pros and cons of forward-facing vs front-and-rear cameras.

Forward-facing dash cams

  • Pros: They're the most common type of dash cam, so it’s easy to find one to match your budget. 
  • Cons: May miss events behind the car.

Front-and-rear dash cams

  • Pros: You have the peace of mind of footage being recorded on both ends of your car. 
  • Cons: More fiddly to set up – you may need to hardwire a device in, which could require professional installation. It's also likely to be more expensive than a single-lens dash cam.

Built-in front-and-rear dash cams are usually more expensive than forward-facing ones. Some manufacturers, such as Nextbase, offer rear lenses separately so you can buy the extra camera at a later date and add it to your dash cam or install it onto your rear window.

If you want to know which dual-facing models scored highly in our tests, visit should you buy a front-and-rear dash cam.

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 that have failed to impress in our thorough lab and road tests. 

And while bells and whistles may be nice to have, 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. 

You'd be better off opting for a cheaper model that offers great image quality in our tests, than a fancy option that fails to impress on this front.

Below, we outline what you can expect to get for your money, depending on your budget.

Cheap: under £50

The cheapest dash cams on the market will cost up to £50. They typically record footage at a lower resolution, either HD (1,280 x 720p) or Full HD (1,920 x 1,080p) and skip the fancy features that you'll find on premium models. 

However, you can still expect to get the basics such as G-force recording, audio recording and the ability to take still photos.

The RAC 2000 dash cam is a typical example of a cheap dash cam – read our full review to find out if it's both cheap and cheerful.

Mid-range: £50-£115

Most dash cams fall within this middle price range, and as you might predict, they're middle-of-the-road when it comes to recording resolution and features.

They'll usually record in Full HD, and will have additional features such as parking mode, GPS and wi-fi connectivity. 

Halford's HDC300 dash cam is middling in price – our review will tell you whether its score matches.

Premium: £115 and over

The most premium models on the market will set you back £115 or more, but these dash cams typically come with packed with extra features and functionality.

Unlike cheaper alternatives, premium dash cams commonly record in Quad HD (2,500 x 1,440p). You can also get more advanced extras such as voice recognition at this price point. 

The Nextbase 422GW, one of the brand's most expensive dash cams, records in Quad HD and comes with built in Alexa. Read our full review to see its score.

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

Dash cam footage quality

All dash cams support at least HD resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels) but it's most common for dash cams to record in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels). Some can record up to 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 1080p that are clear and detailed.

Dash cam ease of use

How easy a dash cam is to use is also very important. That includes how easy it is to fit, set up using the provided instructions and remove from the mount. 

The best dash cams we've tested are easy to install into the car and just as easy to remove when you leave your car.

Best dash cam features to look for

Although you shouldn't be overly swayed by bells and whistles, it is important to consider what features you're getting for your money.

Features such as GPS tracking (to show your exact location in footage) and wi-fi (to wirelessly transfer footage to your phone or tablet) aren't essential, but could be handy.

That said, no features should be the deciding factor. We've tested Don't Buy dash cams with GPS and wi-fi.

Here are the main dash cam features to check for. 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Parking mode – your dashboard camera will automatically start recording if it detects a collision or impact while you're parked. Useful for finding out who bumped your car in a busy car park.
  • Wi-fi – wi-fi lets you transmit footage wirelessly from the camera to your device – so no need to remove it and take it indoors. Some dash cams also allow you to view footage from the dash cam in real time via the wireless connection.

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

Other dash cam features to consider

Dash cams that come with an app

Dash cams that come with accompanying apps for your smartphone or tablet will enable you to save your footage onto 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.

Voice recognition

Some dash cams, including models from Garmin and Nextbase, now come with voice assistants or Alexa.

This function enables you to communicate with your dash cam without touching it; for example, asking it to start or stop recording while an incident is taking place.

This feature is typically only available from the most premium dash cams that cost more than £100.

SD memory card 

All dash cams use a memory card to store recorded images and video footage. All the dash cams that we have tested 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.

Installation

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

Choose a model with a longer cable if you want to route the cable around the windscreen and down the car’s front pillars. This means 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, so will need to consider whether you want it installed professionally. 

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, £99

  • 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.

View all Dash cams