Dash cam buyer's 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 and record 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 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 and 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 also 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.

Many of the dash cams we sell at Halfords come with an SD card included in the box (this will be listed in the product features). If your chosen dash cam doesn’t include one, then it’s important to purchase a compatible SD card to ensure that your footage is stored safely and correctly. Our MicroSD card buyer’s guide provides a great overview of the options that are available or check out our handy advice article to get some quick recommendations based on your dash cam model.

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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 if 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 two-channel system). These are typically the best dash cams and allow you to have all angles covered should anything happen.

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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 are the benefits of having a fitted/hard-wired dash cam?

While you can power your dash cam from the 12V connector in your car, there are a number of benefits to having it hard-wired in instead:

  • Always on.  As long as your engine is running, your dash cam is working, so you’ll never miss out on recording that vital footage.
  • Neater.  All dash cam cables are tucked behind the dashboard, so you won't be forever catching wires as you change gear or climb in and out of the car.
  • Keeps your cigarette lighter free.  Power your sat nav or charge your phone without having to unplug your dash cam.
  • Parking Mode.  Some dash cams need to be hardwired in order for you to get the best use out of the Parking Mode feature, which provides 24/7 impact and motion detection.

At Halfords, we offer a dash cam fitting service that will see your camera installed neatly, safely and securely. Appointments can be booked online or in store, on a date and at a time that suits you. To find out more, check out our article on the Halfords dash cam fitting service or ask a team member in store for more information.

The most important dash cam features:

Video quality

Video quality will dictate how much you’ll actually be able to make out from the images captured. High Definition (HD) is the thing to look out for, as this will provide clear, sharp video, but Ultra High Definition (UHD, where videos are twice the resolution of HD) and 4K dash cams (where videos are four times the resolution of HD) are becoming more popular. The reason for needing such clear pictures is that it allows you to see the smaller details, such as the number plate of the car that's just collided with you and driven off or the face of the person who's just tried to break into your car.

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 side 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. This is particularly 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 that 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 – it's much safer!

The Nextbase 422GW, 522GW and 622GW all come with Alexa as standard, making them perfect for staying safe while capturing important images or footage. They also give you all the additional features of Alexa, such as playing music, seeking directions, connecting with your home’s smart devices and more!

The best dash cams

Nextbase

Nextbase is a market-leading, best-selling brand. They’re very popular with our 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

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, which are great features for making driving even safer.

Shop Garmin dash cams

BlackVue

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 as they provide exceptional footage even on the darkest roads.

Selected BlackVue dash cams are also long-term evolution (LTE) compatible or have LTE technology built in. This makes connecting to the cloud both fast and hassle-free, and means that you can view your footage from anywhere in the world at any time.

Shop BlackVue dash cams

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

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