Other Dash Camera Considerations

In this section, we look at still more options and choices that some dash cams may offer you.

Some are obvious – do you want a GPS included or not, and whether or not it has a built-in monitor display.  Others are more subtle, like how well the dash cam can stand up to the searing summer heat that can roast and toast things inside a vehicle.

And, because this is The Travel Insider, we also consider how best to travel and take your dash cam with you.

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
Did this car just hit the pedestrian? Hard to tell from the still, but the complete dash cam footage reveals a surprising exoneration for the driver.

Heat Issues

We all know how hot it can get inside a vehicle on a bright sunny summer’s day (and how cold in winter, too).  Being too hot is potentially a problem – for electronics, just like it is for people and pets.

This is made much worse than we realize if the dash cam is in direct view of the sun’s rays (quite likely because it is probably on or close to the windshield), and of course, if it is colored black, it will get much hotter than if it is a light color.  It is quite possible that the unit might be almost too hot to touch, even if the car interior is “only” 100°F (say 40°C) inside.  You notice this effect sometimes with seat covers and steering wheels, where their temperatures can be 20° or more higher than the general ambient temperature inside the vehicle.

There’s not a lot you can do about your dash cam getting very hot in such cases, although if it is of great concern to you, you could consider some type of mounting system that makes it easy to take your dash cam off the windshield prior to parking the vehicle in direct/strong sun for an extended period.  You also might wish to consider letting the car interior cool (and therefore the dash cam too) before turning it on again.  But Murphy’s Law being what it is, you just know that the only time you’ll ever need it will be the time you deliberately leave it off!

On the other hand, if you have a low cost dash cam, just run it all the time until it fails, and then buy a new one.

These are not always options, however.  Some cameras will automatically switch off when they sense they are too hot.

There are two specific heat issues to keep in mind.  The first is the general impact of high heat on the unit and the electronics (and memory card) inside it.  The second is the potential impact of the heat on its battery.

Dash cams are primarily powered by your vehicle’s power supply, via a power cord that plugs in to the vehicle accessory power outlet (what used to be termed the cigarette lighter).  They usually also have a low capacity built-in battery so that when you turn your vehicle off (and the power to the dash cam suddenly stops without warning) there is enough internal power to “gracefully” power down the unit and write any buffered video records to the memory card.  This is more important than it might seem, because one reason for the vehicle powering off might be a collision/accident of some type.

This internal power source is usually a rechargeable Li-ion battery.  These are somewhat heat sensitive, and certainly their aging is appreciably accelerated in temperatures over about 110° – although this happens on a curve.  Any temperature higher than about 70° starts to accelerate their wear/aging; there is nothing particularly magic about any specific temperature.

Note that high temperature by itself is not necessarily a big problem.  The biggest problem is what is happening to the battery in such high temperatures, and a dash cam with decent temperature sensing/control circuitry will be careful not to stress the battery as much when it is hot as it would when the battery was cooler.  In particular, the implied suggestion offered by some sources that your dash cam battery might “explode” has little foundation in reality.

However, some dash cam manufacturers have seen an opportunity within this high temperature issue/problem, and have replaced the traditional rechargeable battery with a “super capacitor” instead.  This is simply another way of storing a small amount of power to be used shortly after the charging power is removed, and is a perfectly good alternate approach to allowing a dash cam to have a few more seconds of operating power after the vehicle power stops.

The benefit of a super capacitor is that it is less affected by temperature than is a lithium-ion battery.  We’re not certain this is a feature we’d actually seek out or pay appreciably more for, but if a dash cam does boast of being powered by a super capacitor, it is certainly not a bad thing and possibly might be a good thing.

Not all batteries that are generically referred to as “lithium ion” batteries are exactly the same, using the same battery chemistry however.  Some types of “lithium ion” batteries are more exactly described as Lithium iron phosphate” batteries (iron not ion), abbreviated LiFePO4.  These have a much broader range of acceptable operating temperatures.  If your dash cam uses this type of battery, it is less susceptible to high temperature damage.  Again, we’re not entirely convinced of the need to switch from a regular Li-ion battery, but if a LiFePO4 type battery is used, it can’t hurt and might help.

We’re not sure we’d place much reliability on a manufacturer’s claimed temperature limits, other than to observe that they are probably optimistic to a varying degree.  So if you see two units, one claiming it can work at temperatures up to 140° and the other up to 150°, the only thing you can be sure of is that these temperature limits should not be exceeded, but the true ideal upper limit might be appreciably lower in both cases, and perhaps in truth the 140° rated unit is better, more reliable, and longer lived at 130° than the 150° rated unit would be, also at the same temperature.

Take Your Dash Cam With You – Especially Internationally

Here’s something you might not have thought about – the desirability of taking your dash cam with you when traveling elsewhere, including to other countries (assuming you’re planning to drive in such cases, of course).

Regrettably, in some countries there’s a booming industry involving people deliberately creating/staging accidents so they can then claim compensation from the other driver.  People will even run in front of cars in the hope of being hit, so they can then get a payout (here’s the complete video that the image at the top of this article was taken from at the 24 second mark).

In particular, such people seek out foreigners for all the obvious reasons.  Foreigners are comparatively wealthy, they probably have insurance, and because they are not local, they are unlikely to have connections with the police and judiciary, meaning no-one is likely to go out of their way to help the foreigner.

A dash cam can help protect you against such scams.  Indeed, in some countries, the locals themselves equip their cars with dash cams for the same reason – most notably Russia.  And here’s a great example of a deliberately staged accident (in the UK) and shows how the dash cam foiled the scammers.

If choosing a dash cam to travel with, we suggest you get one that uses a suction cup mount rather than an adhesive mount.  It is of course easier to mount/unmount a dash cam with a suction cup mount than with a more permanent adhesive mount.  See our comments about dash cam mounting options for more discussion on this point.

Built in Monitor Screen

Should you choose a unit with a built in monitor screen?  Although many – most – units offer this, we suggest a screen is unimportant and even, most of the time, unnecessary.  It is a visual distraction that you don’t want, and it is even more distracting at night.  Sure, most of the monitor screens can be turned off, but what is the point of the screen if you immediately turn it off?

Well, actually, there is a point in favor of a screen.  It can provide a nice easy way of configuring the camera’s settings.  But you only need a very small screen to do that, and in general, we suggest the smaller the screen the better – it makes the device less obtrusive, and less a temptation for car thieves – the bigger the screen, the more expensive it seems and the more obvious it is.

When considering screens, it is helpful to understand if it is a touch screen or not.  If it doesn’t use a touch screen, hopefully there are some easy to understand buttons to push to move between menu items and choose/confirm options.

The screen on a device probably does not have many pixels of resolution.  This is important to keep in mind – the quality of image you see on the device screen is much less than the quality you would see on a regular computer monitor or television.  The screen is really only good as a control interface and to conveniently/quickly confirm that the unit is recording correctly and positioned appropriately.

GPS Functionality

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Please Keep Reading

This is the fifth part of a seven part series all about dash cams, and supplemented with specific dash-cam reviews, too.  If you arrived from somewhere else, there’s a list at the top of the page showing all the articles.  And if you’re reading sequentially, the next page is about various other “advanced features” that some dash cam models offer.

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