Dash Cam Buyers Guide

Thinking of buying a dash cam but not sure which one to get, or even what they do? Our dash cam buyer’s guide covers everything you need to know.

What is a dash cam?

A dash cam (short for dashboard camera) is a small camera that records what’s happening on the road ahead (or behind, depending on the model). Dash cams are designed to provide drivers with peace of mind, leaving them safe in the knowledge that police and insurers can find out exactly what happened in case of a collision and then make a decision on who was at fault.

How do dash cams work?

Dash cams can be placed at the front or rear of your car interior, recording footage of exactly what’s going on around the car. Recording will continue to loop, with unimportant footage simply overwritten by new footage automatically. All dash cams sold by Halfords have a built in sensor (known as a G-Sensor) that picks up any sudden changed in G-force, for example if another car collides with yours. If the G-Sensor is triggered, a clip of the incident will be saved to the memory card and locked in place so it can be reviewed without being overwritten.

All dash cams sold by Halfords are powered via the 12v power outlet in your car, but many will also have a battery that acts as a backup. All of our dash cams have a cable included that connects to the dash cam to your outlet, but the best option is a hard-wired dash cam. This is where one of our car tech experts wires the dash cam directly to the car’s fuse box, leaving your power outlet free for other things.

Where is dash cam footage kept?

When your dash cam is plugged or wired in and switched on, then it’ll start capturing footage, storing the video on a microSD memory card. If you’re lucky, then you’ll never need to actually watch this footage, but in the unfortunate case of a collision, then you can review the file that the dash cam has flagged as important. Just connect your memory card to a PC or Mac and view, copy or delete the files from there.
Some dash cam models have Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing footage to be viewed on smartphones or tablets, so check the product features and description if you like the sound of this feature.

Learn more about MicroSD cards in our MicroSD Card Buyer’s Guide and get some quick recommendations for your particular dash cam model with this handy article.

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What are the benefits of having a dash cam?

The best benefit by far is having evidence that can be used to prove that you aren’t at fault if your car is involved in a collision. Your dash cam footage could be used by the police or insurers to review exactly what has happened, potentially helping you to avoid any problems with insurance claims or legal matters. Some models also have a parking mode, meaning that any collisions that happen when you aren’t in the vehicle are still recorded.

What is a rear-facing dash cam?

If you’ve only got a dash cam that points forward, then you won’t be recording what goes on behind your vehicle, which could be important is you’re trying to prove to insurers that you’re not at fault. Some dash cams have an additional rear facing camera that keeps on eye on the road through the rear windscreen, but it may be worth looking at an additional dash cam that faces out of the back window if you want to capture the most detail. There are also dash cam kits that feature both front and rear cameras that work together (known as a 2-channel system) these are typically the best dash cameras and allow you to have all angles covered should anything happen.

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Motorbike dash cams

Dash cams aren’t just limited to cars. The Nextbase RIDE dash cam is designed specifically to sit on the front of pretty much any motorbike, providing many of the safety features you’ll find on car dash cams to motorbike riders. It’s also fully waterproof, so you won’t need to worry about keeping it out of the wind and rain!

The most important dash cam features:

Video quality

This one is pretty important, as it’ll dictate how much you’ll actually be able to make out from the images captured. HD (high definition) is the thing to look out for, as this will provide clear, sharp video, but UHD (videos are twice the resolution of HD) and 4K dash cams (video resolution is four times the size of HD) are becoming more popular. The reason for needing such clear pictures is down to being able to see the smaller details, for example the number plate of the car that has just collided with you and driven off or the face of the person who has just tried to break into your car.

Storage

If you’re recording UHD or 4K video, the video files can get pretty large. If your SD card fills up, then the dash cam will just record over old, unimportant footage (known as looped recording). This is normal, as it’s likely you won’t actually want to watch recordings of your daily commute and any collisions will be automatically locked and won’t be overwritten. The thing to take into consideration here is how much video you can capture before videos are recorded over – the higher the storage, the more footage you can record.

Nextbase, one of the leading dash cam manufacturers, advise that you’ll be able to record up to 4 hours of HD footage using a 32GB microSD in one of their 1080p cameras. However, it’s worth noting that this figure will drop significantly if you’re recording in 4K or using a 2-channel system (front and rear facing dash cams that record to the same SD card). If you plan on expanding your storage capabilities with a larger SD card, always check your dash cam instructions to make sure the card you’re looking at is compatible with your dash cam.

Viewing angle

The viewing angle refers to how much of the road ahead (or behind) can be recorded. Dash cams sold at Halfords start at about 120 degrees, and go up to a full 180 degrees. In comparison, the human eye has a field of vision of about 140 degrees, so a 180 degree camera will capture more of what’s going on at the sides of your car – important for collisions that happen at the ride or corners of the vehicle.

Night time recording

Every dash cam that we sell is capable of night time recording, so accidents that happen at night will still be recorded clearly. Some of our dash cam models even have a full night vision mode, such as the Blackvue DR900S, which is capable of catching crystal clear 4K video even on unlit roads.

GPS

Dash cams with built in GPS will automatically add a location to any important video clips, letting viewers know exactly where any incidents took place – handy if the police or insurers are trying to link up your footage with CCTV images or witness information.

Wi-Fi

This feature is very handy if you want to view saved clips on your phone or smart device. By connecting your smart phone to the dash cam’s Wi-Fi, videos can be transferred without the need to remove the SD card and connect it to a PC.

Parking Mode

Many customers ask us: do dash cams work when the car is off? The answer is yes! Some dash cams come with an additional parking mode which can capture footage even if the vehicle is stationary. This is very useful if someone drives into your car when you’re not in it, or even for capturing thieves who could cause damage to your car during an attempted break-in. Advanced dash cams can be set up to send video footage directly to your phone or connected device, giving you crucial evidence to support an insurance claim.

Still image capture

There may be rare instances where you need to capture a photo with your dash cam, i.e. if you’ve witnessed a crime and want to grab a shot of a number plate of the car involved. Some dash cam models have this feature built in, so consider this if you feel this function is important.

Voice activation

Avoid taking your hands off the wheel to capture a still or lock a video clip by getting a dash cam that can do all of this with a few simple voice commands – much safer! The Garmin 55 Plus comes with voice activation as standard, perfect for staying safe while capturing important images or footage.

Can a Go Pro be used as a dash cam?

You can use your Go Pro as a dash cam, but it won’t perform as well as a dedicated unit. If you use a Go Pro, you will need to mount it on your dash every time you get into your car, plug it in and turn it on. You’ll also need to remember to turn it off.

Dedicated dash cams work automatically, turning themselves on when you start driving, and off when you stop. Many can be wired in to your car, providing a stable source of power throughout your journey.

While Go Pros can take good quality video, many dash cams can capture high-quality footage for longer. The footage is also more stable, with the dash cam mounted on a secure platform.

It’s up to you whether we use a Go Pro as a dash cam, but we would always recommend that you invest in a dedicated dash cam to achieve best results.

The best dash cams

Our range of HDC dash cams have been specifically designed to provide many of the features found on high-end dash cams while still providing great value for money. All of our dash cams feature night time recording and Wi-Fi connectivity, ideal for making life easier if something does go wrong, and you’ll even get a huge 180 degree viewing angle on some models.

Shop Halfords dash cams

Nextbase is our market-leading, best-selling brand. They’re very popular with customers thanks to an impressive range of design features and functions that include Wi-Fi connectivity, HD video recording and some impressive sensor technology from Sony in selected models.

Shop Nextbase dash cams

Garmin have built a reputation for creating quality sat navs and travel technology, and this now extends to their dash cam range. Some Garmin dash cams even warn drivers of potential obstacles, if they leave their lane when driving on the motorway, if there are red lights ahead and if there are speed cameras in the area, great features for making driving even safer.

Shop Garmin dash cams

Blackvue dash cams are our top-level dash cams, featuring high quality video recording up to 4K, sleek designs, Wi-Fi and even Cloud connectivity on certain models. Keep an eye out for Blackvue dash cams with Sony STARVIS technology, providing exceptional footage even on the darkest roads.

Shop Blackvue dash cams

Now that you’re a dash cam expert you’ll want to check out our wide selection – just remember that you can also ask one of our in-store dash cam experts if you need any more help and advice.

Shop all dashcams

Want a hard-wired dash cam?

Just ask a team member at the till or book your appointment online at the checkout and we’ll happily give you advice on the best dash cam for your vechile and even connect your camera to your car’s electrical system, hiding all the wires in the process!