Your Buying Guide for the Best Dash Cams in 2017
Dash cams record while you're driving so you have video evidence if anything happens. Dash cam footage is now accepted by some insurers to settle who was at fault in an accident and it’s also admissible in court. Here’s what to look out for so you can spend your money wisely.
Some dash cams can also double as an action camera. Halfords charges £30 for dash cam fitting, but it's very easy to do it yourself.
How much do I need to spend?
Prices range from around £20 to £200, so there's a model affordable for everyone. However, those cheapest models tend to have poor-quality lenses, and record low-resolution video which is unlikely to be good enough to allow you to read number plates and signs.
Just watch some of the UK dash cam compilation clips on YouTube to get an idea of how picture quality varies.
Sometimes paying more is a good idea, especially if it means you can make out the registration plate of the car that crashed into you and drove off.
What about insurance discounts?
Also some insurance companies offer discounts if you have a dash cam. For example, Adrian Flux offers a 15 percent discount if you have one of the cameras listed on its website. AXA and Swiftcover also offer discounts. New insurer Sure Thing! offers the biggest discount at 20 percent.
Since some insurers have a limited list of cameras, it's important to get one of those. However, if you change insurers regularly, it isn't worth paying more for a camera on one insurer's list. In general, Nextbase cameras are the most widely supported.
How can I get the best image quality?
Most cameras record at 1920x1080 (the same as your a HD TV) but some offer higher resolutions, such as 2560x1440. Those sold as "4K" models simply upscale video from a lower resolution, so be suspicious. We've not yet seen a proper 4K dash cam.
More resolution is always better, as it usually means more detail. And details can be crucial.
Resolution isn't everything, though. A camera's field of view affects how large objects appear. A really wide-angle lens (anything over around 140 degrees) will mean that cars appear quite small in the video and you will only see the numbers and letters on a registration when you're very close to another car.
The benefit of a wide-angle lens is that the camera captures more of the scene in front, but with the trade-off that everything is smaller.
How much storage is enough?
Storage isn't usually an issue because all dash cams will record on a loop. This means they record for a couple of minutes, then automatically start a new file without a break. Once the memory card is full, it begins overwriting the oldest file.
Many dash cams are limited to 32GB because they don't support SDXC, so check before buying a larger card. With most cameras, a 32GB card will be enough for about 4-5 hours of footage.
Here are the best microSD cards to buy.
Which features should I look for?
Most models come with a small battery that allows it to finish saving a file when you turn off the ignition. It can also run for a few minutes so you can take photos as more evidence if you have a collision.
Here are other things to look for:
GPS allows the camera to record your location as well as your speed. The GPS data syncs up with the video clips when played back in software bundled with the dash cam so you can watch the footage and see your location on a map.
Some GPS receivers are external and have a long wire so they can be mounted out of sight. Others are part of the suction mount, while yet others are inside the camera itself.
The G-sensor detects impacts and - usually - locks the recorded video to prevent it being deleted. All dedicated dash cams have one, but action cameras generally don't.
This may use the g-sensor, but is specifically for recording moments when your car is parked. It doesn't guarantee you will see what happened, of course, as the camera points in only one direction.
Also, most manufacturers don't recommend leaving the camera turned on when parked as it can drain the battery. Plus, many cars cut power to the accessory socket when you turn off the ignition, so you may need to get the camera hard-wired by a professional to use this feature.
Hardwire kits can be installed to give the camera power all the time, or in cars whose 12V socket remains on when you turn off the ignition. The latter is handy as it means the camera can't drain the car's battery if you accidentally leave it plugged in.
Do I need Wi-Fi?
Cameras with Wi-Fi usually allow you to install an app and view recordings from your phone or tablet. This can be useful, especially if it lets you download recordings. However, transferring video over Wi-Fi can be painfully slow, and the videos trapped within the app and not easily sharable.
Often, it's much easier to remove the microSD card (or even the dash cam from the car) and transfer the files to a laptop or PC. Either way, you'll see much more detail than if you review footage on the small, low-resolution screens on the dash cams themselves.
Should I get a dual-lens camera?
Dual-lens dash cams are out there, but are in the minority. Some have a second camera built-in to the main dash cam, which faces rearwards and records the passengers. This can be useful in taxis, but if you want to record the view out of your rear window, it's best to buy a second dash cam and record footage separately.
Are the safety features any good?
Some cameras have extra features which warn you when you veer out of your lane, or you get too close to the car in front. We've found these to be generally poor and unreliable.
What's more useful is that some GPS-equipped dash cams provide safety camera alerts and display the current speed limit.
Accessories vary between dash cams, but you can expect a fairly long power cable which is designed to be routed around your windscreen and down to your 12V socket. It's a shame that manufacturers don't provide a long USB cable instead, as you'd then be able to use a 12V USB adaptor with multiple USB outputs.
If you use the included cable, you won't be able to use your 12V socket for anything else, such as charging your phone. Also check out our Tronsmart USB Rapid Car Charger review.
Use your phone as a dash cam
With the right app, your smartphone can be used as a dash cam. It won’t suit everyone, but if you buy a universal smartphone suction mount and you can power your phone from your car’s USB or 12V socket, you’ve got a cheap dash cam.
Since most phones have GPS and record video in full HD, it can be a cost-effective alternative to a dedicated unit, and is a great use for an old phone sitting in a drawer. Android phones are good candidates, especially if they have a microSD slot.
Otherwise you’ll quickly fill up the internal storage, and may not have much spare storage anyway.
Apps to try include DailyRoads Voyager (which supports 4K recording on compatible phones) and RoadAR. For iPhone we can’t recommend any free apps, but Car Camera DVR isn’t bad and costs £2.99.
The Nextbase 312GW is an excellent all-round dash cam. It offers great-quality footage during the day, is easy to use and has a convenient magnetic mount that allows you to quickly remove and replace the camera without unplugging cables.
It has GPS, and is very easy to install: all the options are preset so it's as simple as mounting it on the windscreen and plugging it in.
As long as you don't want your video recorded at 60 frames per second (it supports 30fps at full HD, which is fine), it's the best choice for most people unless you are on a more limited budget.
Read our full Nextbase 312GW review
Not to be mistaken for the 312GW above, the 412GW is £30 more expensive, but records video at 2560x1440 pixels - also known as Quad HD. It will also record in full HD (1920x1080) at 60fps, unlike the cheaper model.
It has GPS and Wi-Fi, just like the 312GW, and the same convenient magnetic mount. In the box, though, you get two mounts: one adhesive and one suction, so you could swap the camera easily between two cars.
Video quality is excellent during the day (slightly more detail than the 312GW), but there's little between the two dash cams at night. Both are great choices.
Read our full Nextbase 412GW review
Mio MiVue 618
Overall the MiVue 618 is well designed, easy to use and has some useful features, especially speed camera warnings. The mount is nice and small, but it can obscure the power socket with some USB cables, which is the only niggle.
Image quality isn't the best, but unless you plan to use the footage for home movies, it doesn't really matter: you can see the detail that's important if you're involved in a collision.
Read our full MiVue 618 review
The Nextbase 512GW is very good, but it's also more expensive than the company's 312GW and 412GW. You get more features, though: a polariser to reduce reflections, an automatic parking mode and a connector for attaching a rear camera (which Nextbase doesn't sell yet).
If you can afford it, it won't disappoint.
Read our full Nextbase 512GW review
DDPai X2 Pro
The X2 Pro has no screen and just one button, so installation is really easy. It comes with a rear camera on a long wire which records the view out of the back, too.
You also get a wireless button for taking photos should you see something that's worth capturing, and the app is one of the best we've seen for downloading videos and photos to your phone for sharing.
It's expensive, though, and if your car has two accessory sockets you might be better off buying two separate dash cams.
For the full details, read our DDPai X2 Pro review.
Asus Reco Classic
The Reco Classic is a great dash cam which records good quality video both during the day and at night. It's not the cheapest, but it's good value considering it includes GPS.
It doesn't have Wi-Fi, but that's really not an issue: it's quicker to copy videos directly to your PC via a USB cable.
In some countries (not the UK yet) it will also warn you of speed camera locations using GPS location.
Read our full Asus Reco Classic review
As a dash cam, the JooVuu X does a great job, and is good value considering it has both GPS and Wi-Fi and can be used as an action cam thanks to a 'proper' battery.
The lack of even a small status LCD screen is a shame, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Image quality is impressive and the timed mode switching is a real bonus. This automatically switches between 60 frames per second during the day to 30 frames per second at night.
As an action cam, it benefits from being tiny and light but really needs a case to protect it (and you can't buy one). The fact that swapping in a replacement battery requires a screwdriver means it’s not as convenient as something like the SJCam SJ5000X.
Read our full JooVuu X review
Maisi M10 Mirror Camera
This dash cam is a little different to others in that it clips over your rear-view mirror and therefore makes it very easy to install. Also, it doesn't obscure your passenger's view of the road. It's a bit larger than most rear-view mirrors, and has a larger screen than most dash cams at 4.3in. This is right in the middle of the mirror, but the right-hand button turns the screen on and off. It's plenty bright enough to see clearly despite the mirror.
The blue tint you see is exactly what you get. Maisi says it's to reduce glare, but it took us a while to get used to it, and we felt objects in the mirror were darker than we'd like compared to our untinted Ford Focus mirror.
The good news is that the camera (whose angle can be adjusted on the back of the mirror) shoots great-quality video during daylight. There's lots of sharp detail thanks to a decent 150-degree lens and the 2304x1296-pixel resolution. It's easy to read number plates when you pause the video. At night quality is much poorer (as with all dash cams) and you may not be able to pick out registrations.
Options include setting the video looping duration and turning the microphone on or off. There's a G-sensor and motion detection. What you don't get is GPS or Wi-Fi.
Maisi sells its dash cams on Amazon and you can buy the M10 Mirror Camera for £69.99, which is decent value as long as you don't need GPS.
The 112 is Nextbase's replacement for the 102. This sub-£50 dash cam uses the same magnetic quick-release mount as the 412GW, so it's really convenient to remove from the car to transfer video files or even take a few photos on battery power if you're in a collision. You can buy it from Halfords for £40 at the moment.
It's the only dash cam here which records at a lowly 1280x720 pixels, and there is certainly less detail. However, the 120-degree lens means it is much easier to read number plates of oncoming cars as they're physically larger in the resulting video. Quality is acceptable during the day, with most registrations visible when you pause the video.
But you'll be lucky to capture any registrations at night as detail levels really do drop off. However, you should still be able to prove what happened if an incident happens in front of you, even if you can't pick out the registration.
There are no frills, such as Wi-Fi or GPS, nor can you review any footage or photos on the 2in screen. But the 112 is nice and compact and has easy-to-use buttons and menus.
We'd recommend paying more for a 1080p dash cam, but if you have a limited budget, this is the one to get.
SJCAM SJ5000X Elite
It's not for everyone, but if you don't need or want GPS and you'd prefer a camera that can be used as an action camera as well as recording car journeys, it's very good value indeed. It's disappointing that it doesn't record true 4K, but you'd have to spend considerably more to get that.
Read our full SJ5000X Elite review
Vantrue sells a range of dash cams on Amazon, and the X1 is the latest. It records video with audio at up to 1080p at 30fps and uses the same quick-release mount as the Prestigio 545GPS, except that it doesn't include the GPS module. But as a special deal for PC Advisor readers, you can enter the code 7YP7DA5R at checkout to get a free GPS mount (which will be shipped from China).
On the back is a 2.7in LCD, but the buttons are all on the top and left edges. The left-hand ones are marked, but not the top ones, which makes it hard to operate the menus. We also found that when the battery runs flat, it loses the time and date so you have to set it again or wait for it to be picked up via GPS.
Image quality isn't quite as sharp as we'd like from a 1080p camera, and the wide 170 degree lens means registrations of oncoming cars can be difficult to read if they're at the edge of the image. At night, quality isn't bad but - as with all dash cams - you have to be lucky (or very close) to read the number plate of another vehicle.
It's easy to put the X1 into parking mode by holding down the bottom-left button (which doubles as a file-lock button) but Vantrue recommends using a USB battery to power the camera or use a hardwire kit. The main benefit is that the X1 supports microSD cards up to 64GB, so it can store twice as much footage as most dash cams.
Prestigio RoadRunner 545GPS
If you want a dash cam with GPS so you can record your location – and speed – for extra evidence in the event of a collision then the RoadRunner 545GPS is pretty good value. The mirrored screen is a bit annoying and quality isn’t great at night, but it’s good in daylight.
Read our full Prestigio RoadRunner 545GPS review.
Transcend DrivePro 200
It may lack GPS, but this is a dependable dash cam which should provide the evidence you need if you're ever involved in an incident while driving.
It has Wi-Fi and a reasonable app, but image quality is a noticeable step down from the best dash cams.
Read our full DrivePro 200 review
The K300 is a better choice than dash cams which include a second lens facing backwards on the main unit as you can position the remote lens pretty much wherever you want - even pointing out the side if that's what you want to record. Quality isn't quite up there with the best dash cams, but it's pretty good value overall.
Read our full Kehan K300 review