Auto Tech

Dashcams: Not just for Russia any more

Crashes, road rage, break-ins and crazy passengers -- all captured in beautiful HD.

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Dashcams used to be rare in the US, but that's changing as this category of tech grows up.

Vantrue

Waste enough time on YouTube and it seems every driver in Russia has a dashcam, but in the US they remain rather rare. 

That may be changing: My inbox has been sagging under the volume of dashcam questions I've gotten lately, so here are some examples of the dashcams out there and what they cost. 

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Xtreme Cables XDCD-1003 ($40)

Basic

Xtreme Cables

This is a low-cost dashcam that has all the basics covered. It records 1080p video and audio in a continuous loop to a 32GB SD card, which you supply. It has a mode that will record whenever the car is bumped while parked so you might see who inflicted that hit-and-run on you at the mall.

It will also mark and save a clip if it detects a collision impact while you're driving. The 2-inch LCD on the back is used for aiming it, reviewing clips and navigating the fairly simple menus with buttons on the bezel. 

Pioneer ND-DVR100 ($150 with 8GB card)

Premium basic

Pioneer

Here's something you never saw until recently: a name-brand dashcam. Its design is also more pleasing, tucking up into the top of the windshield like an OEM part, rather than hanging down on an unsightly mount. 

It does all the basics plus a couple tricks: It has an odd 27.5 fps frame rate that is tuned to make sure it never misses the state of an LED traffic light, which has a pronounced on/off flicker other cameras might record as no signal at all. Built-in GPS tagging makes sure your clips will have time and location embedded.

If you're a Kenwood person, look into its DRV-N520 ($200), which is a dashcam that only works when connected to a Kenwood double DIN aftermarket head unit. 

Vantrue N2 ($150)

Advanced Video

Vantrue

The N2 is a video powerhouse, with resolution of 1440p/30 or 1080p/60 on its front camera, or roll the rear facing cabbie-cam simultaneously and capture 1080p/30 in both directions. 

Within that milspec-style housing is a very small screen, however, so get ready to be a little frustrated aiming the thing or navigating menus. The cabbie-cam switches to IR mode at night, which is helpful for recording that nut you picked up while driving Lyft who pulled a hammer on you.

Thinkware F800PRO ($330 with 32GB card)

Advanced Features

Thinkware

This camera has no screen, using your smartphone as its interface via Wi-Fi. You can add a wired rear cam, optionally, but instead of covering the inside of your car it looks out the rear window. 

But the real innovation in the F800PRO is how it uses its forward camera and accelerometers to give you lane departure and forward collision warnings, as well as alerts about upcoming traffic cams thanks to its cloud-connected database.

Owl Car Cam ($349 plus $10 a month after first year)

Security Dashcam

Owl

The emphasis is on security with Owl. This front and interior cam is designed to record accidents, traffic stops by the police, car burglaries and anything else you command by saying the keyword "OK Presto."

Most video is stored in the cloud via the camera's built-in 4G LTE radio, hence the monthly service fee. Owl is also interesting in that is uses an OBD-II dongle for intelligent power so that it can work when the car is off but never to the point of killing its battery, like some other dashcams potentially can. Antuan Goodwin took the Owl for an in-depth spin recently and was impressed.

Waylens Horizon ($500)

Enthusiast's Dashcam

The Waylens Horizon can capture either track runs or backroads leisure drives with unique on-screen overlays that make those recordings more meaningful. That data is imported from your car in real time via the included ODB-II dongle and there's a dedicated control button you can strap onto your steering wheel to easily mark points in the video you want to come back to. 

Raven ($299 plus $8-$32 per month optional fee)

Mashup Dashcam

Raven is an odd bird, combining aspects of a HUD, a connected car device with tracking, and front and interior dashcam with live streaming via integrated 4G LTE. The cost is low to start but you'll need to pay a $10 activation fee and $8 to $32 monthly after the first three months if you want all the connected features to work.

Dashcam tips

Whatever dashcam you get, most or all of these tips are good to keep in mind:

  • Get a big SD card. Some cameras some with generous storage but, if not, get the largest card the cam will support. More camera storage means you're less likely to find that a clip you really need from a week ago has been overwritten.
  • Dress the cable. Nothing looks worse than a nasty power cable hanging down from your dashcam, and all of them use one. The Vantrue camera offers a hardwiring kit, and the Owl has a slick mount and tool to hide its cable. But every dashcam power cable can be "dressed," just take the time to do it.
  • Think about audio. Some states have two-party consent laws that can get you in trouble recording the voices of casual carpoolers, Lyft customers or even fractious friends and family who didn't know you were eavesdropping on them. 
  • Know that dashcams cut both ways. A visible dashcam will tell the guy you had an accident with that you have a recording of it. They may tell their insurance company and their attorneys may want a copy of what you recorded. That could go badly if you were in the wrong, but don't get into the business of destroying evidence.