A good 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.
Our video, below, will tell you what you need to know to choose the best dash cam for your needs and budget.
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:
Here are the pros and cons of forward-facing vs front-and-rear cameras.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 4K (3,840 x 2160p). You can also get more advanced extras such as voice recognition at this price point.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the main dash cam features to check for.
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.
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.
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.
All dash cams come with a power cord that plugs in to the cigarette lighter. These range from around 1.4 metres up to 6 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.
Below, we've listed the key specs and features for some of the more popular dash cams.
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.
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.