Previously seen only in police cars, dashboard cameras have now become a common sight even in non-police vehicles. At first it started off as an interesting way to capture the drive as it unfolded on adventure drives in the wilderness, while racing or during motor cross rallies. Eventually, drivers realised how dash cams could also act as an invaluable insurance policy in case of an accident.
Today , protecting ones own insurance policy is one of main the reasons why drivers are choosing to install these cameras in their cars.
What Are Dash Cams and How Do They Work?
You may have heard of them as Drive Recorders, In-Car Cameras or Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). All of these refer to the same device – a special type of video camera that is mounted inside a vehicle. Most models are forward facing but there are a few dual lens models, which have a lens in front and back as well.
A dash cam works like a video camera. When it is switched on it obtains a continuous audio and video recording. Depending on the model you buy, you could get a recording only of the road ahead of you or additional recordings of the interior or rear of the vehicle as well as other information such as date, time, speed and location. All of these details are recorded directly to a memory card, in most cases, a MicroSD card.
Why Would Anyone Need A Dashboard Camera?
When mounted on your windscreen, a dash cam acts as an extra set of eyes on the road and can be a useful asset under various circumstances. After all, human beings may lie or they may just see things differently, resulting in endless arguments about who was responsible for causing the accident. Cameras on the other hand don’t lie. The video footage tells it like it is.
- Can provide proof in case of an accident – The blame game almost always follows any accident, with sometimes both parties claiming innocence. You rarely hear of any driver admitting that the accident resulted from an error on their part. A dash cam can provide real proof of what actually took place and who was at fault.
- Verification in case of a rear-ending incident – In most rear-ending cases, the driver of the rear car is usually considered at fault unless it can be proven otherwise. If you happen to be the driver in the car behind and you are not at fault, having a dash cam could help prove your innocence.
- Makes it easier to report irresponsible driving – Distracted or dangerous drivers often tend to get off scot free only because it is difficult for other drivers to obtain the proof required to file a solid report. Same with road rage incidents. It’s virtually impossible for any driver to refute their behaviour if it has been captured on video.
- Capturing vehicle misuse or abuse – Ever wonder how and when your car got scratched when it was absolutely scratch-free earlier in the day? Did the mechanic take it for a quick spin before servicing it? With a dash cam you will know exactly how your vehicle was treated after you handed over your keys to a mechanic.
- Protects you from being blackmailed – Smashing into another car intentionally is common. It offers the unscrupulous an easy way to make a “quick buck” either by way of insurance fraud or claiming injuries such as whiplash. A video recording can get you out of a messy situation in a case where it would be your word against the other driver’s.
- Provides evidence in case of a parked car accident – When somebody smashes into your parked car, or damages your car when carelessly opening their door they are unfortunately almost sure to be long gone before you even find out about it. A dash cam that has parking mode can help capture the hit-and-run vehicle’s number so you have a chance to file a complaint.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Dash Cam
The benefits of getting a dash cam are many. However the camera you install in your vehicle may not prove to be very helpful should you make a wrong choice. If you are interested in buying one of these nifty devices there are a few basic factors you need to take into consideration to choose one that is best for you.
Do you want to record only outside the vehicle or both outside AND inside?
The most popular dash cams are the single-lens models. These are forward-facing cameras that are mounted on the windscreen and will record only what is happening on the road in front of the vehicle. This is a great option if you are looking for a cost effective solution, and it does serve the purpose in most cases.
However, if you are interested in recording what is happening inside or behind your vehicle while at the same time recording the road in front of the car, what you will need to buy is a dual-lens dash cam.
A dual-lens dash cam is an advanced model that is capable of recording in front of, behind and inside the vehicle simultaneously. These multi-channel models are generally used by businesses, fleet owners, delivery drivers and other situations where your vehicle is being driven by somebody else. Should something happen to your vehicle, you should have no doubt as to exactly whose fault it was.
Today an increasing number of drivers are choosing this model for better coverage around their vehicle.
Think about whether or not you want the camera to be visible to others
Why does it matter whether the camera is visible to others or not? It’s a known fact that the more gizmos a car has the more attractive it is for would-be thieves. Smaller dash cam units are less conspicuous and less likely to catch the eye of anyone looking for a vehicle worth breaking into. They are also less likely to obstruct the driver’s view.
However, smaller dash cams can have a downside. At this time smaller car cameras do not have sufficient space to incorporate some of the more advanced features such as a GPS or wifi and they tend to be more basic, but as technology advances this is becoming less of an issue.
Larger cameras on the other hand have numerous advanced features that can add to their functionality. While they could hamper your view if you drove a smaller vehicle, they fit well into larger cars, making them a more popular option for large car owners.
Balancing video quality versus price
The video quality is usually a crucial factor when choosing a dash cam. While any footage is better than none when an accident happens, the better the video quality, the better its ability to capture as much detail as possible. Sure, they come at a higher price too but the higher quality videos offer several advantages over their standard-definition counterparts.
In case of a hit and run, higher quality videos are more likely to capture the license plate numbers of the runaway car, making for easier identification. They also invariably offer better visibility in low-light recordings so if another car bumps into you in the dark, the camera footage will still be pretty good.
Considering you may need to rely on the recording as evidence, it is important that you’ve done everything you can to capture as much detail as possible. With that in mind, you should consider buying the best quality dash cam you can afford.
Some Important Points To Consider
- The continuous loop factor
Many dash cams offer continuous loop recording, which is highly recommended. Continuous loop recording means the camera will keep recording until the memory is full. When the storage has become full, it just records over the oldest video again, so this way you always have footage of the last few hours.
With continuous looping, you have the option of saving the earlier recording if you need to. If nothing untoward has happened, it does not matter if the earlier footage gets erased and recorded over anyway.
- Check the camera’s performance in low light
Dashboard cameras need a source of light in order to record decent video. These cameras differ widely with regards to their performance in low light situations. While all models will generally capture useful footage at night if you are driving through an area with good street-lighting, the footage captured by some models may be very poor and indiscernible and of no use to anybody.
If you do a lot of night time driving, you should consider a camera with a wide dynamic range (WDR), also sometimes known as HDR or high dynamic range. This refers to the camera’s ability to process footage captured in low-light conditions and digitally enhance it to deliver better results.
- Do you want to log GPS data too?
Many newer models come with a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, which logs your vehicle’s speed, position and other details. There are numerous advantages to installing a dash cam that features a GPS.
It helps you prove where you were at a given time, and keeps track of where your fleet vehicles have been at various times. An added bonus is that the time and date are set automatically for you so you never have to worry about inaccurate dates on your videos.
All of this adds an extra layer of evidence to any scenario you may find yourself in.
- A Crash sensor or G-sensor is optional but it can be very useful
A gravity sensor or G-sensor is not an essential feature in dash cams but having this feature can be useful. When the sensor detects an impact, it automatically protects the recorded file, so the camera’s cycle recording cannot overwrite it. These protected files are stored in a separate folder on the memory card. In many cases, the only way to delete these protected files from the memory is via a computer.
- Memory capacity matters
Almost all dashboard cameras record their footage onto a Micro SD memory card which slides into a small slot on the outside of your camera. While all of these cards are the same size physically, some have a greater internal capacity and can hold more video.
Greater internal capacity may not sound like that big a deal especially when you consider that you only ever need the last few minutes of footage. However, every time your camera determines that something of note has happened while recording, it protects the recording and prevents it from being overwritten.
As the memory card keeps accumulating these protected files, it reduces the amount of space available on the card unless you remember to empty it regularly. A larger capacity memory card can make this easier to manage.
- Don’t overlook the camera’s heat tolerance
Most dash cam models are installed between the windscreen and the rear view mirror. In this position, the camera is exposed to the heat of the harsh sunlight as well as the heat created by the greenhouse effect inside the car. Over time, these extreme temperatures can crack the housing of some cameras and even cause the electronic components to deteriorate and fail, rendering it useless. Many of the cheaper models do not have heat tolerant parts.
- Which mounting method works better for you – suction or adhesive mount?
Dashcams are typically affixed to the windscreen, behind the rear-view mirror. This is done by the means of either a suction mount or a semi-permanent adhesive mount. Both have their pros and cons.
An adhesive mount tends to be smaller, more compact and more discreet. However once you install it, it cannot be repositioned or removed easily. While suction mounts are larger and not as compact they are more flexible and can be easily re-positioned or even removed from their mounts for those times when you are parked in the streets.
Where To Buy A Dash Cam?
There is no one dash cam that is best for everyone. The model that is best for you will depend on the type of vehicle you drive and your driving habits.
The main problem with dash cams is that because they are a relatively new device available to the masses, and are particularly popular in Russia, it makes it a huge market that can be exploited.
Many dash cam manufacturers are from China. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. However, a noticeable issue when looking at different dash cams on sites such as Amazon and eBay is that there are a huge variety available, and the price difference can be almost as huge. For example, you may find one dash cam for one price and another dash cam that looks exactly the same as the first, but at a considerably higher or lower price. This is due to “moulds” or “designs” being shared.
The Devil Is In The Details
Although many manufacturers will share, or use the same mould or design as other manufacturers, the difference in price is usually down to the components inside. One dash cam may look identical to another externally, but the components internally can be completely different.
If you’ve found a dash cam online that meets your requirements, check the details before parting with your money.
Dash Cam Advice
A great resource to go to that can clarify any questions you might have on dash cams is Dash Cam Talk. There is a large and very helpful community of dashcammers who will happily answer any questions you might have, as well as numerous members that are manufacturers, brands, and suppliers of various dash cams themselves.