Having a dash cam in your car can help you feel safer and even have more fun when you're on the road. A camera on your dashboard lets you document road trips and scenic drives, helping you capture memories in a new way. It can also offer security by recording the surroundings of your vehicle, and it can also record inside your vehicle. Therefore, it can capture first-hand evidence in case anyone breaks it or tries to steal your car. A dash cam can record what happens during an accident, and you can share that footage with your insurance company and other involved parties.
Just as phones today are much more than just a phone, dashboard camera systems are becoming far more than just cameras. When all is said and done, there are lots of creative uses for a dash cam and no real downside to installing this device in your car beyond the initial expense. If you are looking for the best dash cam to suit your needs, you'll soon discover that there are a lot of options out there at several different prices.
What is worth the expense? The best dash cams on the market capture breathtaking video, can connect to your phone, can use AI for spotting important scenes and even relay your medical information to responders in the event of a crash. You'll find that the best dash cams often include night vision technology, parking mode, loop recording, 4K dash cam video recording, driver coaching with AI video,, GPS tracking, lane-departure warning and storing the video footage to a .
Here are some basic factors to keep in mind when you shop, followed by our four best dash cam suggestions representing the most desirable features out there today.
Basic dash cam tips
- Get a big SD card. Some car dash cams come with a storage memory card, but you should still plan on buying your own. The best dash cams will have extra capacity. That will mean a longer "loop" of video before the cam has to start recording over the oldest clip, extending the time you have to go back and find a piece of video you want. Make sure the memory card is the largest the camera can use so it can handle and store all the best dash cam footage.
- Dress the cable. Every dash cam uses a power cable and nothing looks worse than having it hang down in an unkempt fashion. Take the time to dress the cable into crevices and gaps in your interior trim as it snakes its way down to a 12-volt socket in your car.
- Think about audio. When looking for the best dash cams, consider whether they have high-quality audio recording, but also determine whether you'll be using it. Some states have two-party consent laws that can get you in trouble if you use your interior camera to record the voices of casual carpoolers, Uber and Lyft customers, or even friends and family in your car who didn't know you were recording on them.
- Know that dash cams cut both ways. A dual dash cam has one front-facing camera and one rear-facing camera. If you get in an accident with another driver, a visible dash camera is a sign that you have footage of it. The other person may mention it to their insurance company and their attorneys may want a copy of what you recorded on your camera. That could go badly if you were in the wrong, but don't get in the habit of destroying recorded evidence of driver behavior.
- Cams are relying on phones more. Car dash cams increasingly use phone apps for their full interface, sometimes forcing you to fiddle around when you want to change a simple setting or quickly review footage. We all know that wireless connections aren't always robust or simple. On the other hand, phone-paired dash cams are often able to upload their clips to the cloud through your phone, which is a nice feature as long as you pay attention to how much of your data plan it's using. The best dash cam for you will be one that is most convenient for you to use, so make sure it works well with your phone.
With the latest and greatest features, even the best dash cams are generally inexpensive given the important role they serve and they're perhaps the best gift you can give to anyone who drives. Here are four of the best dash cams, each representing key features you need to consider.
Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2
A name-brand cam that won't clutter your windshield
Above all else, this Garmin mini dash cam gets the job done in HD and still makes room for voice activation and cloud storage through your phone. Garmin's dash cam doesn't record in 4K, which is moving toward table stakes for dash cams, and any operation beyond the basics has to be accomplished via an app. But the unobtrusive size, excellent HD video quality and trusted brand name make this mini dash cam a great choice for the driver who wants a simple, elegant drive recorder.
The Nexar Beam dash cam is also "just" an HD camera but integrates GPS location data into its recordings via a GPS receiver built into its windshield mount. It uses image processing algorithms to alert you to road hazards and can let others know if you're delayed getting to your destination via the dedicated Nexar app. Check whether your phone is supported before buying a Beam: A number of popular phones are not as of this writing, which reduces the number of advanced features the Beam can offer. This dash cam has a rear-facing camera that records crisp 135-degree-wide dash cam footage in 1080p and includes a 32GB SD card.
Like the Garmin Mini 2, the Beam uses your connected phone for its full interface -- but also uses that pairing to do free unlimited clip backups. Next to the Garmin Mini 2, it's the least obtrusive option on the list, though it's still much larger than the Mini 2.
The Vantrue N4 is a three-channel powerhouse able to record out the windshield, inside and behind the car all at once in HD or greater resolution, or it can record two views at once in 4K and HD. Two of the views are captured by sensors built into the main front-facing unit, while the third is recorded by a remote rear camera that comes with a long cable to reach the back window on most vehicles.
Unlike many dash cams today, the N4 doesn't require a phone for settings or clip review: It has a compact but sharp rear screen and plenty of dedicated buttons for features and settings. This is a great camera if you don't want to have to fuss with a second device.
The N4 also has motion detection, not just impact detection, so it can wake up and record activity around the car when it's parked. It also uses a robust supercapacitor to power those functions when the car is off, as opposed to a conventional battery that may suffer in a car's punishing temperatures.
The Nexbase 622GW is perhaps the best-looking dash cam on this list, with more image stabilization than its 422GW and 522GW predecessors. This 4K camera maximizes capture quality with a rotating polarizer on the front of the lens, image stabilization and built-in processing to reduce the occlusion of fog in recordings.
Your choice of three rear camera modules is available to also record the cabin or rear window view. Two of those three rear cam options plug elegantly into the 622GW's main body, while the third is mounted remotely on a long cable for the best rear road view.
Alexa is built in for voice control of the device, and in the event of a detected major collision the 622GW can upload your blood type, allergies and other relevant medical history to an emergency call center if you opted in during setup. The 622GW also features support for What3words, an alternate GPS labeling platform that is slick but few people seem to use.
Control of the 622GW is via its rear screen or phone app. It's one of the larger cams out there, partly due to its prominent lens, but its quality of finish and performance would help make it a welcome addition on your windshield.
Dash cam FAQs
How do I install a dash cam?
The best dash cams are easy to install. In fact, installation is often as simple as finding a suitable location on your vehicle's windshield or dashboard, affixing the camera with the suction cup or adhesive mount that usually comes in the box and then connecting the camera to 12-volt power -- commonly known as the cigarette lighter socket on older vehicles. You'll want to take care when securing and routing the power cable, so it stays out of the way while driving. You may also need to insert a microSD card into the camera, if one is required and not preinstalled.
More complex multicamera systems may require you to install a second rear-facing camera. Sometimes this is as simple as attaching a second camera to the rear window and running a cable. Other kits may require you to attach the second camera to the license plate with a pair of screws and routing cable through the trunk and into the cabin. Other multicamera kits can get even more complex. If you feel out of your depth, contact a professional installer.
For dash cams that can monitor and record while your car is parked -- or if you're looking for a cleaner installation that doesn't block your 12-volt outlet -- you may want to consider hardwiring the device to your car's battery. You can usually find an appropriate fused connection in your vehicle's fuse box. If you're unfamiliar with car electronics installation, a professional installer should be able to help.
Are dash cams worth the money?
Yes and no. The happiest scenario is that you buy the best dash cam, drive for years without incident and never need to look at or even think about the footage. Technically, you bought a product you didn't need.
However, a dash cam can be invaluable when the unpredictable happens. After a fender bender, being able to prove your innocence with video or GPS evidence can save you hundreds of dollars on repairs, insurance premiums and legal fees. A relatively inexpensive dash cam is certainly worth the money in that regard.
It's better to think of these devices the way we think of insurance or fire extinguishers -- it's better to have it and not need it, than vice versa.
Are dash cams illegal?
Like most devices or modifications you make to your car, the answer depends on the laws in your area at the time. We know of no states that outright ban putting a camera in your car. So, generally speaking, the answer is no, dash cams are not illegal. However, there are factors you should consider when choosing the best dash cam for your individual needs and plans.
For example, many states have restrictions banning mounting gadgets or obstructions on the windshield. In these regions, you may consider a dashboard-mount, a camera that replaces or fits over the rearview mirror or some other low-profile installation option. Other states limit where on the windshield you're allowed to mount gadgets. So, you might have to put your camera in a corner of the windshield rather than in the center to avoid a ticket in these states.
Some states' distracted driving laws prohibit dash cams with always-on screens, so consider one with the option to disable the display while driving or one with no display at all. Honestly, even if you're not afraid of law enforcement here, not having another screen glowing in your periphery while driving, especially at night, is a good idea.
Finally, you'll need to consider your state's privacy and surveillance laws. They typically don't apply to recording what's happening around your car while you're driving, but drivers for ride-hailing services who pick up passengers, owners who share their vehicles with other drivers or who install a camera that continues to record while they're away from the car should check their local laws to make sure they don't run afoul of the law.
As we mentioned earlier, this is particularly important for cameras that record audio, which could rub up against two-party consent laws governing audio eavesdropping.