Car Dash Cams – All You Ever Wanted to Know

This is the first article and an introduction to our series about Dash Cams – links to the other articles are in the box immediately adjacent.

With ever-lower prices and better quality, considering adding a dash cam to your vehicle is a timely and sensible concept.

Over the course of these articles, you’ll learn all you need to know (and some more besides) about what dash cams are and do, and how to decide which features you need.

Read more in our series on Dash Cams

Future articles to follow shortly :

  • Legal Issues
  • Entry and mid level dash cams reviewed
  • High end dash cam review
Modern dash cams are compact in size, offering high quality imagery and at low prices.

Everyone can take still pictures and video with their phone these days – indeed, it seems just about everyone does.  There’s almost never a single event these days that isn’t captured by many cell phone cameras.

But a car dashcam does something that not even the fanciest camera normally does – it takes video all the time, so is recording before and during a significant event (a polite way of saying “crash”).

The problem with using our cell phone is that 99% of all significant events – whether in a car or elsewhere – only reveal themselves as significant after they have already become an issue.  Only cameras that are always on can capture the incredibly important few seconds before something happens and the equally important second or two while something is actually occuring.

For drivers, never mind the pictures after an accident, it is the video recording of the fateful few seconds leading up to the accident that tell the clearest story of what happened and who is at fault.  Maybe it shows that your light was green (and so, by obvious implication, the car that just T-boned you went through a red-light) or there truly was a deer that you swerved to miss, but then ran off the road in a “single vehicle accident” that otherwise has everyone blaming you and not believing whatever story you tell.

Or a “road range” driver did indeed cut in front of you then “brake check” you, it being his fault that you then rear-ended him, causing him to lose control, cross into the oncoming traffic, and so on with massive tragic consequences and someone facing manslaughter (or possibly even second degree murder) charges.

In all such cases, actual video of what happened in the lead up to and during an accident can eliminate a lot of the uncertainty and help you establish the truth.  We sometimes take for granted and forget that when we’re driving a car, we’re in a situation which, if things go wrong, can lead to multiple deaths, severe injuries, and millions of dollars in property and personal damages.  We also sometimes forget that if we’re found to be wantonly at fault, our insurance might not actually protect us from all liability, and in any event, insurance is useless if we are facing criminal charges.

When considered from that perspective, isn’t spending perhaps $100, maybe less, one time, money well spent?  Chances are you’re paying close to $100 every month for your normal insurance cover – isn’t a one-time additional $100 a truly valuable investment that could keep you out of jail and out of bankruptcy court?

What was once a very expensive device has happily become inexpensive and small, making it even easier to consider purchasing one.  If you don’t yet have a dashcam added to your car, perhaps now is the time to consider doing so.

Amazon returns over 6,000 results if you search for dash cams.  They range in price from less than $20 to over $400.  This article series helps you to choose the dash cam that best suits your needs and pocket book.

We first look at the camera capabilities and requirements in a dash cam and how to judge what might be a better or not so good dash cam based on the disclosed details of its camera capabilities.  We add articles about other essential core elements and features that make up a good dash cam, and look at various additional/advanced and optional extra features that are sometimes also found on dash cams.

And, while not attorneys, we also offer you some thoughts about legal issues to do with mounting and using dash cams, and when they might actually harm rather than help you.  Additional articles review specific dash cams ranging from bargain priced cameras up to reasonably high end cameras, giving you further advice and guidance on what to consider buying, and answering the essential question “Do I really need to pay hundreds of dollars, or is a low-priced dash cam perfectly good enough?”.

One additional explanation.  You’ll occasionally come across purple sections of text.  This either calls to your attention where we have additional information and advice reserved for our much appreciated Travel Insider Supporters, or, if you are already a Supporter and logged in to the website, it will be sections of text that are bonus sections for you.

Much of the cost of this article series was funded by specific extra contributions by Travel Insider Supporters, so as a reward/thank you to them, and as an encouragement to you to please consider joining as a Supporter too, we keep those sections for them.

But even if you’re visiting this site for the first and only time, we hope you’ll find plenty of helpful information and advice.  In total, there is over 15,000 words in the entire article series – plenty for everyone!

Two final thoughts for this introductory article.

Fairly Comparing Prices

As with most things, you need to be sure that you are accurately comparing like with like when looking at the rich complexity of different dash cams available out there.  For example, some include an SD card and others do not.  Sure, a decent capacity Micro SD card only costs about $10-15, but when you are considering cameras in the $50 price range, an extra $10-15 is an appreciable difference in total cost.  So be sure to understand, does the dash cam you are considering include a memory card or not (although see also our article that explains issues to do with memory, because not all “included for free” memory cards are ones you might actually choose to keep and use.

Other than the memory card, most of the cameras come with everything else you need.  But some have additional items of value – clips to help route the power cable out of the way, a tool to open up the fascia to stick the cable behind, or multiple mounts – both a suction cup and an adhesive mount, perhaps.  They might also include cleansing wipes so you can clean the windshield before mounting the dash cam, and who knows what else as well.

So make sure you’re fairly comparing units and adjust for the possible value of extra inclusions as may apply to yourself and your planned use.

Evaluating Other Reviews

We have read a lot of other reviews of dash cams, and maybe you might, too.  Few really had truly helpful side by side comparisons, and in particular, we noted that some were all about reciting specifications rather than talking about what they actually mean in terms of ease of use or actual video quality, which makes us suspect these “reviews” are simply copied from manufacturer spec sheets by people who have perhaps never actually used the units they are writing about.

In particular, we noticed some reviews giving top marks to dash cams that we’d seen credibly criticized elsewhere.  The most notable example of that is the surprising number of reviews that singled out the Garmin Dash Cam models 65W and 66W for particular praise, because of its 180° wide angle lens.  However, as you can see from our table of camera angles and what they actually mean (see the page about the main camera), there’s really very little benefit or advantage to 180° compared to 170° or even 160° or 150°.  At eight feet from the camera, your 150° camera will see the same coverage as the 180° camera, but will have a two foot blind spot, which you travel in less than 1/20th of a second.  Does this really matter?  Usually, not.

Some reviews even spoke highly of the 65W/66W’s video quality, which then tended to zero out the review’s credibility, because we’ve seen excellent side by side comparisons (this Youtube video) of the 65W and the 55 showing that the 55 has markedly better video quality – something that isn’t obvious from the specifications, but which is undeniable when actually truly tested side by side with another unit.

Talking about Garmin, the company gets a lot of undeserved love in reviews – perhaps because it is a US company with an active PR/sample supplying department, rather than a Chinese company hopefully tossing their product out there on Amazon with no promotional budget and hoping to compete on raw features and price alone.  For example, a review that named the Garmin Dash Cam 55 as the best out of the hundreds of different units gave the following as the entire reason for choosing it :

At under $200, the Garmin Dash Cam 55 offers a ton of useful features and above-par quality for a reasonable price. In a crowded market, it takes more than just being good — and the unique attributes of the Dash Cam 55 give it an edge.

You might wonder what the “ton of useful features” are, or what it means to have “above-par quality”, or even if its $160 price truly is a “reasonable price”.  Or you might be curious about the claimed “unique attributes” that are said to “give it an edge”.

But don’t look to the article for any information (they do have a review elsewhere on their site, but that too doesn’t really explain these claims).  And perhaps you could kindly overlook the fact that the article, purportedly published on 11 October 2019, is recommending an obsolete model as the very best unit in existence, even though it was superseded, five months earlier, by the Dash Cam 56 in May 2019.

We also noted reviews with nonsense statements such as “The Pro model can also be hard-wired to your car’s battery, meaning it will boot up when you turn the key, continue recording while parked…”.  This is nonsense because if it is wired to stay on while parked, it won’t boot up when you turn the key, because it is already on and there is no change of status as to if the vehicle ignition is on or off.

Again, we’re left with the feeling that the person who wrote that statement has never actually used the dash cam he is writing about.

Moving On, Boldly and Bravely

And so, please now plunge into the “meat” of our massive series on dash cams.  We suggest you start with the article that focuses (excuse the pun) on the main forward facing camera part of any dash cam.  But feel free to read through the articles in any sequence.

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