Should you get a dash cam for your car?

An extra pair of eyes on the road

A dash cam (or dashboard camera) is a great way to help prove what happened in the event of an accident – and could help you save money on your car insurance.

Interested, but not sure where to start? We've put together this handy dash cam guide to help you decide what to buy.

What is a dash cam?

Dash cam

A dash cam is a small camera that you can fit to your vehicle (usually on the windscreen, rear view mirror or dashboard) in order to record activity on the road around you.

You can choose to record the road ahead of you, inside the car, and even behind you, plus many cameras come with extra features such as sound recording, GPS tracking, night-vision recording and more.

Dash cams have become more affordable, and their footage can be used as evidence by the UK police, courts and most insurance companies, so they've become increasingly popular in  the last few years.

How does a dash cam work?

A dash cam (or in-car camera) records what’s going on around you on the road – either in front of you, in the car, or both in front and behind your vehicle (depending on the type of camera you choose).

Some dash cams will operate with an on/off switch – so they’ll only start recording when you turn them on. But some other systems are connected to the electronics in your car (for example, by the cigarette lighter) and will start recording as soon as you start the car.

Most dash cams will record footage continuously (sometimes even when your vehicle's parked) and store short video clips onto the memory card in the camera. This is called ‘loop recording’.  

If you want to keep the recorded footage, you can download it to another device to keep. Otherwise the camera will record over the oldest footage once its storage is full.

Many dash cams also contain movement detectors that can sense when your vehicle has been in an impact caused by an accident or crash. When this happens, they’ll save the footage of the incident and not overwrite it automatically.

Why should I get a dash cam?

Having a dash cam installed can be a great way of proving what happened in an accident or crash.

Plus, if you have a camera that can record any damage while parked, it’ll be far easier to make a claim for any damage. For example, if you leave your vehicle in a parking bay and someone bumps into it, or someone tries to break into your car while it’s parked on the drive at home, you'll have a witness at the scene even if you're not.

As long as the footage is clear, it's likely to be accepted by an insurance company, and the UK police or courts if need be.

Not only does this mean any claims process can be completed more quickly, but footage recorded on dash cams can also help tackle the ‘crash-for-cash’ accidents faced by other motorists.

So having a dash cam means that not only can your own claim be resolved more quickly, the cost of your motor insurance will likely come down too, as you’ll be better protected if there's an accident.

What type of dash cam should I get?

So you’ve decided to invest in a dash cam, but how will you choose the one that suits you best?

Let’s take a look at some the dash cam options available to you, including:

  • Recording quality and night vision
  • Front or rear facing (or, single or dual channel)
  • Accessing the footage
  • Extra features (audio recording, GPS tracking, power supply and more)

Recording quality & night vision

If you want to be able to rely on dash cam footage in case of an accident, you’ll want to make sure the footage is clear enough to identify other vehicles or locations.

Most cameras on the market will record in HD quality (in either 1080p or 720p resolution) and up to around 30 frames per second.

Cameras that record in 1080p resolution (or ‘Full HD’) will be able to capture details like car number plates and road signs, which are the details your insurance company would likely ask for.

Full HD cameras are also more able to record in poor light conditions (eg at night or in bad weather).

Cameras that record in 720p resolution are less likely to produce clear footage either at night or with significant detail.

As there’s generally little difference on the price, try to go for the highest resolution that you can.

Front or rear facing (single or dual channel)

You’ll need to decide between a camera that records only what’s in front of your vehicle, or one that covers both inside the car and the rear view.

Single-lens or ‘single channel’ cameras can be fitted to the front windscreen to record in front of your vehicle.

Dual channel or ‘dual-lens’ cameras can either be fitted to record through the interior of the car or from the rear window (as well as the front). If you’re looking for all-round security, these can be a more suitable option than single channel, but they can be more expensive than single channel cameras.

Accessing the footage

The majority of dash cams will capture footage in what’s called ‘loop recording’. The camera will record and store video in short clips on the Micro SD card. When the memory is full, it'll overwrite the oldest clip – so you don’t run out of recording capacity while you’re on the road.

If you want to keep footage (eg if you’ve been in an accident), then you’ll need to download the clips to another device.

Some of the more sophisticated dash cams will include ‘G-sensors’ or motion detectors that'll automatically mark a particular clip to not be overwritten if an impact or security event is sensed.

Some cameras even automatically upload footage to another device using cloud technology (though these tend to be a little more expensive).

Almost all models of dash cam will add a time and date stamp to the video they record – as well as any still photos you take.

Extra features

Screens

You’ll see that some dash cams have an in-built screen, so you can see them recording as you drive. These screens make it easier to set up the dash cam, as well as allow you to take still photos if you need to. However, they are therefore slightly larger than those without a screen.

Remember that it’s against the law to drive with a dash cam that’s placed somewhere that could distract you – so bear this in mind if you’re looking at options with a screen.

GPS tracking

Some advanced dash cams will include GPS tracking capability. This works in a similar way to your sat nav and allows you to record exact locations that can be stamped onto the video clips (in the same way that the time and date are).

Again, this is a useful feature, but can push up the price of the dash cam you’re looking at.

Parking mode

Some cameras will also include an option that allows the camera to continue recording while the car's parked. The footage isn’t stored on the memory card unless there’s an event (eg someone bumps into you in a parking bay).

If you’re interested in a dash cam with this feature, make sure you choose one with ‘buffered parking mode’ (so it doesn’t take a while to ‘wake up’ if it senses an accident – and potentially miss the opportunity to record).

You might also want to check the battery life of your dash cam once the engine's turned off. And if you want the dash cam to record in parking mode, you might want to purchase an additional battery pack.

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