Best dash cams: Your second set of eyes on the road

While you drive, there’s a lot happening and a dash cam works as a second pair of eyes, giving you peace of mind while out on the road. The best dash cams are alert to what’s happening while you’re behind the wheel, recording high-resolution footage with timestamps and GPS coordinates. Many can even record while your car is parked should anything happen while you’re away.

When choosing the best dash cam for your needs you should first consider if you want a front, front/interior, or front/rear model. Additionally, you’ll want to decide on how wide a viewing angle you’ll need. Then there are special features to take into account, such as voice control or parking assist. Since there are a number of reasons to use a dash cam, we understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. With that in mind, we’ve curated a list of our recommendations for dash cams of all types including various features and prices below.

For even more information on what to look for when buying a dash cam, scroll to our buyer’s guide under our best picks. And after you’ve bought a dash cam, save yourself some time and frustration by reading our guide on how to install a dash cam.

1. Cobra SC 400D – Best premium front/rear dash cam

Pros

Excellent video captures, day and night, front and back

3-inch touchscreen display

Voice control

Alexa support (if you care)

2160p (4K UHD) if you want it

Cons

Very expensive

Rear camera isn’t removable

Our review of the Cobra SC 400D left us smitten. It’s pricey, yes, but it delivers the goods with stunning images—4K for the front, 1080p in the rear—day or night. In addition to that it has all the trappings of a premium product: a sturdy magnetic mount with integrated GPS, a crisp 3-inch touchscreen display, and Alexa support for finding businesses and the like when you are on the road. It can also be expanded with an optional 120-degree FOV cam for the interior.

2. Nextbase 622GW – Best premium front/rear runner-up

Pros

Stellar day and night captures

Modular add-on 1080p cameras provide interior and rear coverage

Alexa voice control and automatic emergency notifications

Cons

Expensive

Prior to our review of the Cobra SC 400D above, the 622GW front/rear system was our hands-down favorite. And, really, it shares virtually all the same attributes as its rival—nice design and build quality, excellent day and night captures, drive mapping, a wonderful 3-inch display, emergency response to accidents, Alexa support, and the ability to add a third camera for interior views. Like the 400D, it carries a premium price tag. But in the end, you can’t go wrong with either model.

Read our full
Nextbase 622GW Dash Cam review

3. Viofo A129 Pro Duo – Best midrange front/rear dash cam

Pros

Excellent 4K UHD front captures.

Great 1080p rear captures.

Easy to use

Cons

Cameras don’t detach from mounts

Another of the 4K-front/1080p-rear camera setups, the Viofo A129 Pro Duo was the first to win us over to the benefits of 4K. It’s been matched in those abilities by newer models, but the A129 comes at a competitive price that can’t be ignored. Plus it offers integrated GPS and a pleasant user experience.

Read our full
Viofo A129 Pro Duo review

4. Nextbase 222X – Best budget front/rear dash cam

Pros

Good front/rear-view day video

Decent front/rear-view night captures

48-hour, battery-supported parking mode and after-incident capture

Cons

Modest video quality compared to pricier Nextbase models

Modular port, but no add-on modules

No GPS

If you really want to save money, this Walmart-exclusive Nextbase 222X front-and-rear camera duo offers great value. The 1080p/720p video is a compromise, but video quality is still good, it has a nice magnetic mount, a clear 2.5-inch screen, and a battery-supported parking mode.

Read our full
Nextbase 222X Dash Cam review

5. Miofive 4K – Best front-only dash cam

Pros

Compact, fully integrated design

Very affordable for 4K with GPS

Friendly voice notifications

64GB of internal storage

Good day and night captures

Cons

Internal storage isn’t replaceable

macOS won’t read the internal storage

Prior to our review of the Miofive 4K, we would have tapped the Car and Driver Eye2 Pro as the best front-only dash cam with 4K, a fine product in its own right. But the Miofive costs $100 less, and offers integrated GPS as well as great video captures, 64GB of internal storage, a compact design, friendly voice notifications, and a super straightforward setup. So not only is this our favorite front dash cam with 4K, it’s our favorite front cam overall.

Read our full
Miofive 4K dash cam review

6. Garmin Dash Cam 57 – Best front-only runner-up

Pros

Colorful, detailed captures day and night

Small enough to hide behind your mirror

Super-convenient magnetic mounting

Phone and cloud connectivity

Cons

No rear camera option

This small but mighty front dash cam has it all: great 1440p video with a 140-degree field of view, integrated GPS and driving assistance, good phone connectivity, an easy and convenient magnetic mounting system, and the backing of Garmin’s good name.

Read our full
Garmin Dash Cam 57 review

7. iOttie Aivo View – Most stealth front-only cam

Pros

Easy to set up and use

Very good day and night captures

Magnetic mount

Minimalist styling and operation

Cons

Requires iOttie account to set up and use

For minimalist types, iOttie’s Aivo View consists of just a small camera that magnetically attached to a semi-permanent mount. It uses your phone as the interface and viewer. It can capture at up to 1600p/30 frames per second, or as low as 720p to save space on your inserted SD card. It also offers integrated GPS. The Aivo View does require that you set up an iOttie account.

If that doesn’t sit well with you, the Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 is another excellent choice for stealth operation, measuring just 1.23 x 2.1 x 1.5 inches—small enough to remain hidden behind your sun visor. It doesn’t have GPS, however.

Read our full
iOttie Aivo View dash cam review

8. Garmin Dash Cam Tandem – Best front/interior dash cam

Pros

Very easy to install and use

Compact profile

Excellent magnetic mount

360-degree front/interior view (minus obstructions)

Cons

Expensive

Average captures

Garmin’s front/interior camera is easy to install, features a compact body that helps it avoid detection, and has an excellent magnetic mount—all useful features that make up for the average 1440p/720p video capture quality. The Tandem doesn’t have a display; it nicely uses Bluetooth (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to connect to your phone, where Garmin’s easy-to-use app lets you configure settings—although the defaults are spot-on.

Read our full
Garmin Dash Cam Tandem review

9. Cobra SC 201 – Best budget front/interior dash cam

Pros

Excellent video, especially at night

Front and interior cameras for ride-givers

GPS with automatic setup

Included 16GB SD card

Cons

No captures without 12-volt

Buggy software at the time of testing

App does not support smartphones running Android 7 or older

Dash cams are all about capturing the action, and few do it better than the front/interior Cobra SC 201. The exterior night video, especially, is unsurpassed in its ability to show details in dark surroundings and it offers a laundry list of features including GPS and cloud uploads. The company even includes a 16GB SD card. It’s well worth the money for what you get—just don’t try to use the cloud functionality with an older phone OS.

Read our full
Cobra SC 201 Smart Dash Cam review

What to look for in a dash cam

We’ll step you through what to think about when you’re shopping for a dash cam, from video capabilities, recording options, power connections, and more. 

Video capabilities

Dual-channel support: This is what you’ll need if you want to run both front and rear, or interior (cabin-view) cameras. Interior cameras are generally situated on the dash cam, but rear cameras are separate and require additional cabling. A decently wide field of view: You’ll see cameras with as little as 90-degrees field of view, but you’ll catch more of what’s around you if you go for 120 to 140 degrees. Some cameras offer 160- to 180-degree lenses. Note that the wider the field of view, the more fish-eye distortion there is, and more processing is involved to compensate.Day and night video recording (night quality is a big variant)Infrared lighting is important if you want to assure good captures of nocturnal events inside the cabin of your vehicle.HDR (high dynamic range) isn’t necessary, but it does make for more detailed video because of better contrast. It also generally indicates richer color.WDR (wide dynamic range) is much like above, except it usually refers to only color and not contrast.Do you need 4K UHD? It’s easy to fall victim to the specsmanship of a higher-res image. In our tests, the gain in detail from 4K video (2160p) can vary, but the storage investment is consistently heavy: four times the storage of 1080p, or around 1GB for every three minutes of video. For most purposes,1080p is the more frugal everyday choice. Don’t avoid 4K UHD—which is a feature in our best overall picks—but read the reviews first so you know whether the cost is justified.

Recording options

Continuous loop recording to minimize storage requirements. Video is recorded, then immediately overwritten at a specified interval unless saved. Video is saved (protected from overwriting) automatically when an incident is detected. Most dash cams will overwrite older recordings when they run out of space. Cloud storage is available with a few dash cams. Uploading to the cloud in real time is a nice hedge against damage and theft—assuming the thief isn’t smart enough to kill the dash cam immediately. It’s handy for those managing fleets of vehicles, too, as incident videos are safely stashed online.Self-powered recording when power fails, so that you can be sure to capture all of an incident. This requires a battery or large super-capacitor (see below in “Power connections”). The camera should have a setting that allows you to specify how long the camera runs off 12-volt before shutting down.  Incident recording triggered by impact (G) sensors, or when in parking mode (see below), by motion detection. MicroSD card storage. Pricier dash cams bundle a storage card. Some come with larger cards, and some budget models come without. There are often bundles available with the card. Some cameras opt for hard-wired internal storage, like the Miofive 4K.

Power connections

Something most people don’t consider before they buy is that dash cams connect to a power source in your car via a physical cable. That cable can sometimes be tucked out of the way, but more likely than not you’ll have loose cable hanging somewhere. You can sometimes fix this with a longer or shorter cable (or a professional installation). Keep that in mind as you consider your power options:

Auxiliary 12-volt power (adequate): Most vendors have stuck with powering their dash cams via the auxiliary 12-volt power socket (also known as the cigarette lighter) and USB cables. It can lead to an unsightly cable run, and the power disappears when you turn off the car, but it’s universal and easy.Hard-wired 12-volt power (better): Most vendors offer kits that connect the dash cam directly to a constant 12-volt source in your wiring harness behind the dash. This provides always-on power, but it isn’t particularly easy to install.OBD-II 12-volt power (better): Outliers like the Owl and PureCam use the OBD-II connector for constant 12-volt power. OBD-II-to-USB power cables are now available separately (as an alternative to hardwiring kits that draw constant 12-volt power from the wiring harness). I recommend one with a USB Type-A port, which will accommodate any dash cam. Most of those with captive cables I’ve seen are mini-USB. The only downside is a long cable run, as the OBD-II port is usually next to the driver’s left knee, under the dash.Rearview 12-volt power (better): Another option that features a super-short cable run is powering your dash cam using your auto-dimming rearview mirror. You can find adapters for this at Dongar Technologies. If your car qualifies, this is by far your best option.Battery (or super-capacitor) power: Many dash cams come with super-capacitors, which allow the dash cam to operate for a brief period after losing regular power—such as during a collision. They don’t record for very long though, and sometimes not at all. A battery gives you a better chance of recording an entire incident, even when 12-volt power is lost. If run time is sufficient, it also allows you to record for a while with the car turned off. 

Other handy features

Phone connectivity is not essential, but can make offloading video and configuring the dash cam easier. We’ve noticed just recently (12/15/2020) that phone apps are starting to require later versions of Android. If you’re rocking anything older than 8, keep that in mind.GPS: This feature could be the tipping point if you use your captured video to resolve a dispute. Watermarking the video is common, but when embedded into the video, GPS info is also immensely useful for mapping your travels. GPS will also automatically set the time in better cameras.Parking monitoring: This can mean two things. Running the dash cam continuously in low frame-rate mode to save card space and battery, or running in standby mode and awakening when motion or g-forces are detected. We’ve reviewed cameras that have a battery large enough to monitor the car with the 12-volt turned off for several days, but most cameras require a constant 12-volt source.

How we test dash cams

Few people are as well situated geographically as I am to test dash cams. Within two blocks there are major four- and six-lane thoroughfares, numerous bike lanes, joggers, dog walkers, oblivious ear-budded pedestrians, and a major bus nexus serving both public and private coaches. The opportunities for near-accidents are endless.

For every dash cam, I mount it in my car, judging the ease and convenience of doing so. Tip: Many dash cams rely on adhesive for mounting to your windshield. Hot conditions can make it next to impossible to remove the film that protects the adhesive. Remove the film in a cool environment, or place it in the fridge for a minute or two before installing it.

I put each dash cam through several days’ and nights’ worth of driving, recording video and judging the image quality. All the dash cams I’ve reviewed in the last couple of years take good daytime video. However, night video is often plagued by murky shadows and headlight flare. That said, quality is improving rapidly with the introduction of new sensors. Take a close look at the night shots in each review. 

I try all the features: Buttons, display controls, apps. Aside from rear-view support and GPS, the most salient differences between the products are the interface controls and extra features, such as the lane departure and collision warnings that you get with some models. I try them…and I turn them off. In practice, they usually tell me I’m changing lanes, in heavy traffic, or have just been cut off. I know that. Additionally, the collision warnings generally come too late to do anything but distract you at exactly the wrong time. 

Note that the one thing I can’t relate to you is the longevity of any dash cam, as my testing occurs over a relatively short amount of time. Please check user reviews on various sites and pay attention to the warranty.

FAQ

1.

Do I really need a dash cam?

The use of dash cams in consumer vehicles is a relatively recent trend, and people have been driving just fine without them for a long time. However, while it might not be necessary, there are legitimate benefits to using a dash cam in your car. 

Many people who purchase and install dash cams use them as a type of insurance policy for their actions and those of others on the road. Dash cams can protect you from other drivers in a number of ways. They can help you prove your innocence in the event of an accident. They may also act as a deterrent against aggressive drivers. And some dash cams come with features that have motion-sensor parking modes that can record any possible hit-and-runs or thefts while you are away from your car.

In the end, it’s ultimately up to you as to whether you believe the possible benefits of buying and using a dash cam are worth the investment.

2.

Is it legal to use a dash cam?

Yes, in all U.S. states, dash cams are legal. However, it’s best to check with your particular state’s traffic laws to determine what type of dash cam you should use. For example, not all states allow a dash cam to be mounted to a windshield—it’s best to do a little research before you buy.

3.

Will a dash cam drain my car battery?

Probably not. And by that, we mean almost certainly not. A standard dash cam with front and rear coverage, motion detection, and Wi-Fi all operating while your car is parked will only consume about 0.25 to 0.45 amps per hour. A typical small or midsize car battery is rated at 45 amp hours. This means that while your car is turned off it will take a few days for your car battery to get low from powering your dash cam.

Another feature that’s becoming more common in dash cams is a low-voltage cutoff as a safeguard against dead batteries. This feature automatically shuts-down your dash cam if it senses that the power drops below a certain threshold. So you can rest assured knowing that your dash cam won’t kill your car battery.

4.

How much storage should I have for my dash cam?

Dash cams use removable SD or microSD cards to store recorded data. Unlike your phone or mobile device, which stops you from adding more pictures or videos when the memory is full, a dash cam instead just uses an overwrite function to record over old data. Therefore, you shouldn’t have to worry about your dash cam shutting off because the memory card is full. 

That being said, if you want to ensure that you aren’t overwriting valuable old data, you’ll want to get an adequate-sized memory card, and consider the resolution at which the camera captures the video. 4K recordings take up a lot more space than 1080p recordings.

We believe that the sweet spot for a memory card is somewhere around 128GB. Even if you are recording in 4K, this will allow you to record continuously for around five hours, or around 20 hours if you record at 1080p. Thankfully though, memory cards are relatively cheap and you won’t need to break the bank if you opt for even more storage capacity.

Car Tech, Cars, Holidays

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