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When you’re driving, a dash cam can be your best friend. Granted, it can’t grab the wheel if you veer off the road, but in the event of an accident, it’s an expert witness that might be able to provide proof of the events as they occurred.
Some models record on impact when your car is parked, which can be helpful in identifying negligent drivers, mischievous kids and would-be criminals. We even found one dash cam that creates a one-tap insurance report, and others make it easy to collect such details as driving speed, location and G-force impact. Certain dash cam models also have GPS, which, among other things, can help you find your car in a crowded parking lot. But what features are actually important when choosing between the various dash cams on the market? We asked two experts to weigh in and rounded up some highly rated dash cams based on their advice.
SKIP AHEAD How to shop for a dash cam
Top-rated dash cams in 2022
Using expert advice, we rounded up some of the best dash cams you buy right now. Realizing that consumers have different needs and preferences, we included dash cams at a variety of price points. All of the dash cams record in at least 1080p and up to 4K, use loop recording and/or SD cards and have some form of night vision. All of the models we recommend also have some type of parking mode that records the car’s surroundings when the car is parked and powered off — in some cases continuously and, in other cases, when a disturbance is detected.
The Vantrue N4, which uses suction-cup mounting, lets you record what’s happening in front of, behind and inside your vehicle with a 155-degree front camera, a 160-degree rear camera and a 165-degree inside camera. You can also rotate both the inside camera lens and the rear camera lens to find the perfect angle. The rear camera has a 20-foot extension cable, so connecting it shouldn’t be an issue in most vehicles, according to the brand. A single camera records in 4K, dual channels record in 4K and 1080p and three channels record in a combination of 1440p, 1080p and 1080p. Infrared lights enhance night-vision capabilities to illuminate dark areas.
The dash cam works in temperatures ranging from 14 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand. Audio includes a built-in microphone and speaker. However, this dash cam doesn’t have a smartphone app or any type of connectivity. You’ll need an SD card (up to 256GB, but not included) and to view the footage, you’ll have to download it and view it as an MP4. The dash cam uses loop recording, so it overwrites the oldest footage when the card gets full. An optional hardware kit (to use 24-hour parking mode) is sold separately.
The Nexar Beam GPS Dash Cam records on a loop for four hours, storing the footage onto an included 32GB SD card. (Models with 64GB, 128GB and 256GB of storage are available as well.) The dash cam provides 1080p HD video at a 135-degree angle. According to the brand, it starts to record when it detects that the car is in motion, and it also records when it senses any type of impact, even when the vehicle is parked.
If you lose your vehicle in a crowded parking lot, you can ask Siri to find it and Nexar will replay the last few seconds of your most recent drive and display a map to help you find the car’s location, Nexar says. In addition, at the tap of a button, Nexar can create an insurance report that includes video footage, location, G-force impact and driving speed. The Nexar Beam uses suction mount and requires the Nexar app.
The Garmin Dash Cam 57 records in 1440p HD and has a 140-degree lens. Video footage gets uploaded to the company’s “vault” when you have a Wi-Fi connection, but you can also use the included microSD card. It records when your car is parked, too, then sends an alert if activity is detected, according to the brand.
The Garmin Dash Cam 57 also provides driver alerts when you’re drifting out of your lane, speeding or driving too closely to the vehicle in front of you. In addition, it offers voice commands — such as start or stop audio recording, save video and take photographs — so you can keep your hands on the wheel. Plus, the Garmin Drive app lets you view your parked car remotely.
If you want to record from both the front and the rear, the Nextbase 422GW dash cam is a good option. The dash cams can either record in 1080p and 1080p or in 1440p for the front camera and 720p for the rear camera. According to the brand, the dash cam provides an advanced level of night vision and it connects to the car via a long cable that can be hidden under the roof lining. The Nextbase 422GW and rear camera combo uses Bluetooth 4.2 with built-in Alexa, so it can also be used to play music, make calls and more.
According to Nextbase, the dash cam, which uses suction mounting, can sync files to your smartphone to easily provide information to your insurance provider. Using the MyNextbase Connect app, you can edit and share footage. Also, the GPS SOS emergency-response feature can alert personnel to your location and request assistance on your behalf, the brand says. In addition, intelligent parking ensures your car is guarded even when it’s parked.
This is a more expensive Nextbase model than the 422GW, but it also provides additional features. For example, this camera provides the highest image quality (4K), along with more enhanced night vision than the 422GW. According to Nextbase. It also features Bluetooth 5.0 and includes a polarizing filter for glare reduction in bright sunlight. This model also comes with other features, such as stereo audio and an extreme weather mode that can work at -22 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, it has super slow motion to help you capture license plates as well as image stabilization to keep your video smooth even when the road isn’t. Like the 422GW, it has GPS with SOS, built-in Alexa and intelligent parking.
How to shop for a dash cam
To learn more about the features to look for in a dash cam, we consulted two experts — Richard Reina, product training director for aftermarket auto parts retailer CARiD.com, and William Sandoval, senior vice president of product management and strategy for PowerFleet.
The best dash cam in the world won’t do you any good if it’s not on. “Most dash cams are powered by plugging them into a 12V outlet in the vehicle,” Reina explained. However, when your car is off, this type of dash cam is, too, which means incidents like a hit and run or break-in won’t be recorded. “If you get a dash cam that is powered at all times, a shock-like motion to the car will activate the camera,” he said. For this type of feature, you would either need a dash cam with an external battery or one that is hardwired — you can also purchase hardwire kits separately.
Basic dash cams do not include GPS info, but some more advanced models do. “If that is of importance to you — for example, if you want to be certain that any accident documentation includes location positioning — then look for a dash cam model that includes GPS,” Reina advised.
“The wider the lens (field of view), the more of the incident scene [that’s] captured,” Reina said.
Most dash cams use continuous loop recording techniques to save memory space. “This involves overwriting existing footage with new footage unless an incident occurs or the driver overrides the feature,” Reina explained. “All detected incidents are automatically saved.”
Some dash cams also support an SD card, which will save all of the footage until you manually erase it or replace the card. “Plus, some of the more advanced dash cams are cloud-connected: Videos are backed up to the cloud and allow access to view footage stored there,” Reina noted. He said these can be handy features, especially if you’re away on a trip for a long period of time. “Some dash cams even take it a step further with apps and notifications that will alert you of incidents like a hit-and-run or theft while you’re away from your vehicle,” he added.
Image quality is another factor to consider since blurry video won’t be helpful. While 1080p is standard, some dash cam models have even sharper resolutions. “More advanced dash cams have lenses with up to 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) quality,” Reina said. “The higher the resolution, the better the camera will perform at picking up details like license plates, which is especially helpful in situations where the other vehicle does not remain at the scene of the incident.”
Superior night vision
Even if you only drive on clear, sunny days, you’ll probably want a dash cam that can adapt to less-than ideal situations, especially if you have a camera that automatically records while parked when it detects a disturbance. “Night vision capability is a critical function in dash cams to support low light video captures,” Sandoval explained. Although most dash cams offer this capability, he said coverage may vary, so it’s important to read the manufacturer’s technical specifications to fully understand the amount of light and distance coverage.
Front and rear cameras
Do you need both front and rear cameras (aka road-facing and driver-facing cameras?) Sandoval said a rear-facing camera can help with reverse parking, and in general, a dual-lens camera lets you capture what’s going on from various angles.