An old coworker told me a story about an accident that totaled his truck a while ago. He went through a green light, and a lady ran a red and t-boned him, totaling his truck. She paid off a witness at the bus stop and it was basically those two against his word. Fortunately, the bus was coming behind and caught the accident on its cam. He tracked the bus down, and was able to get the footage from the bus and saved himself from jacked up premiums – all thanks to his dashcam.
Here's some advice on picking a dashcam, and towards the bottom there will be some helpful advice on installing a dashcam legally. You heard that there's a legal and illegal way of installing a dashcam. I don't know everything there is to know about dash cams, but I'm sure at least a handful of people might benefit from this. If you don't have a dashcam, start looking for one after you're done reading.
Picking a dashcam
Here are some must-have features when picking a dashcam:
Find your price range
I'll be honest, right now isn't a great time to be spending money, but if you don't have a dashcam, you should seriously invest in one (when you can). That's right, this is an INVESTMENT. You're investing money into this in hopes that your insurance company won't jack your rates out the wazoo if you get in a car accident and the other driver pays off witnesses. There are some decent dash cams out there for $50, but I recommend spending at least $100 on one. I won't link or suggest a specific dashcam in order to protect the integrity of this post, but you get what you pay for unless you get that $50-60 dashcam that I'm thinking of. There are some steals out there. Also, make sure that you get a good micro SD card as well. You can pick one up from Best Buy for less than $10.
Make sure it has a “loop” recording so that it'll automatically replace old videos. If you have this, you'll just install it and it'll pretty much take care of itself until it breaks down, but checking to make sure that it's recording every time you put on your seatbelt isn't a bad idea (just do a quick glance at it to check that it's actively recording- usually indicates by a blinking red dot). Odds are, if you have a loop recording, you'll have the ability to lock a video so it doesn't get overwritten as the card gets full.
Another must-have for a dashcam is automatic on and off. Dashcams will usually plug into your cigarette lighter and most will turn on and off automatically based on whether the key is in the on/ off position. Don't get some cheapo one where you'll have to manually press a button to turn it on every time you get in your car… This is the equivalent of getting a major in Art History and a minor in computer science.
Make sure that your dashcam has a reasonably clear camera. With dash cams, if you're able to make out the make and model of another car, you're good to go. As long as it's better than a gas station security camera, you're good to go for the most part. Unless you're able to shell out for something upwards of $150, then it probably won't be able to read the license plate of the car in front of you. I usually aim for 1080p or above just so that it'll look less like a pixelated mess on a computer screen in the event that you need to send the footage to somebody. You can always try to say enhance like they do on TV and watch as it magically unpixelates itself, but this has a lower chance of occurring than an entrepreneur major in college landing that sweet 6-digit salary job.
Nighttime recording dashcam
This goes along with number 4, but don't buy a dashcam that suffers from astigmatism and can't record anything at night. With your headlights on, it'll blind the dashcam and everything that's seen in the light will just be washed out due to the contrast in light. Watch dashcam footage from both day and night. Amazon usually has user footage from that specific dashcam. Be the judge and decide whether or not you're okay with the quality, and if the footage is useful. If you're a camera pile/ videophile, can you pretty please drop a comment describing what to look for in regards to camera specs?
Audio recording- What? You'll only capture your three-year-old screaming at the top of their lungs for more goldfish crackers. Wrong. This feature can be completely useful or utterly useless. If it records audio, then it's gonna be up to YOU to use it if you get into a vehicular incident. If you're able to read off the license plate of the car that swiped you, cut you off, and ran for it, then this will be valuable for tracking it down and confirming the identity of the driver if it comes to that. Like I said, most dash cams will have a tough time capturing license plates, but if you're able to read of the license plate of a car, you’ll have an easy time identifying the car and driver that ran off.
These are just the “must-haves” for me. If I'm missing anything that you feel is a must, then feel free to mention it below and I'll edit it in later. Here are some features that aren't necessary, but can definitely be nice to have. You can skip this section and go down to the next one
If you live somewhere sunny, this is a must for you. The inside of your car gets hotter than Satan's asscrack on a sunny day, and you'll want a camera that can hold up against that temperature, so check what it's rated for. People also mention dashcams with supercapacitors. These supercapacitors are able to hold onto electricity for a longer period of time and do a lot better in hot conditions, so check these out if you live somewhere with a lot of suns.
This is just a sensor that looks for a sudden change in g-force. Cameras that have these advertised usually come with a lithium battery that can begin recording if it feels a sudden jolt while the car's off. I've personally never been able to validate this feature, so take this one with a grain of salt.
A wide-angle will capture more information at the cost of detail. Honestly, this is more of a preference. I'd personally recommend a wide-angle just because it'll capture more of what you’re seeing as opposed to just capturing what's directly in front of the lens.
GPS/ Speed logger
Mine definitely doesn't have this feature. You'll only see it in higher-end dash cams that cost upwards of $150. This might be useful if you're trying to prove that you weren't speeding, but once again, take this feature with a grain of salt. Save your money and be reasonable when picking a dashcam. Don't be that elitist that brags about their $350 dashcam.
WiFi Data Transfer
Some dash cams advertise this feature. What it does is it allows you to connect your phone to the dashcam and be able to load videos on your phone with it. I've had little success with mine, but if you have fast cellular data, this might be useful during a police report (hopefully you won't ever have an accident that's serious enough for a police report), but once again, this feature has proved gimmicky for me, and transferring video files can take a few long minutes.
10ft cable- My dashcam came with a 10ft cable that's made the dash look a lot nicer. Most dash cams use a micro-USB cable, so it wouldn't be too hard to find a cable this size, but it's nice if your dashcam came with one. Use it correctly, more on that below.
Rearview/ passenger cam- Some dash cams have cameras in both the front and the rear. This is definitely another useless feature unless you're a rideshare driver/ have an extremely clear view of the rear and happen to get rear-ended. Even then, if you get rear-ended, a regular dashcam and damage to your vehicle will be more than enough proof that you were stopped.
Advice for installing and using a Dash Cam
I'm kind of happy that you've made it this far. Typing something other than college essays has been fun. I get to use my voice and type informally. I hope I've made this dull topic a little bit more fun to read. Honestly, if I read my own post, I would've clicked out 500 words ago, so thank you for sticking around. I hope you install decide to install a dashcam if you haven't already.
Read the manual and learn the buttons and what they do. Seriously, read the manuals for everything, your car, your fridge, everything. They all have valuable information that makes using the product a lot easier and more intuitive.
In some states, it's illegal for your dashcam (or anything for that matter) to be obstructing your view of the road. Make sure that the spot that you mount your dashcam is compliant with local laws. Don't let the other insurance company sucker punch you and use this as a reason to not pay out your claim.
If your dashcam came with an extra-long cable, use it. Loop it around the passenger side of the vehicle and gently push it between where the windshield meets the roofline, and run it under your glove box. Use some clear tape or adhesive clips to (discreetly) secure it to your windshield.
Buy a high-quality micro SD card
I recommend the ones that are advertised as “high endurance”, as these are meant to withstand the constant recording and deleting of large files. The size of the micro SD card doesn't really matter, but a 32GB once is what I recommend. It should hold about 2 hours (don't quote me on this) worth of video at 1080p. If you get in a wreck, your micro SD card will have the footage on it, and you can upload it into a computer to save that footage.
If you get into a car accident and you know you're at fault, you're not legally obligated to give the footage to the other driver or a cop unless there's probable cause that you committed a crime, or if they have a search warrant. Once again, I’m writing this post from the US so check your country’s laws.
I hope you won't ever need to use the dashcam, but 77% of drivers will be in an accident during their lifetime. That's the majority of us, and the average driver will be involved in 3 to 4 accidents in their life. Get a dashcam. Cover your butt and capture other drivers doing stupid things. Make an idiot driver compilation. Hopefully, you aren't driving anywhere non-essential during these times, but if you are, take care and be careful. Stay healthy, and drive safely.
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Alicia leads content strategy for LearnWorthy managing a team of content producers, strategists, and copywriters. She creatively oversees content programs, awareness campaigns, research reports, and other integrated marketing projects.