A Brief Guide On How Car Dash Cams Work


A quick guide to understanding car dashboard cams.

Read in this article:

What is a Dash Camera?

We live in a world full of uncertainty, which is why we constantly try to minimize risk, and a dash cam (or dashboard camera) is a great way to do just that. Essentially a camera recorder used while driving, these handy little devices offer numerous benefits, from recording an accident to helping determine cause or fault, through to providing a great interactive album of a road trip you never want to forget.

Dash Cam in Car freepik.com

What are Dash Cams Actually Used for?

As with any type of video recorder, what a dash cam is used for is limited only by your imagination. Some are clearly practical, while others a bit more niche and user-specific. Here is a quick break down of the most common uses for car dashboard cams:

  • Evidence of a crash: Car cams are extremely useful when it comes time to make a claim to your insurance company. Many insurers will try to weasel their way out of paying, while it is not uncommon for the other driver to falsely lay the blame on you in order to avoid affecting their own premiums. Having footage of the accident allows you to clear up and doubts and silence any objections, and even speed up claim payouts.
  • Evidence of reckless driving: Even if you are not involved in an accident, you can use your car dash camera to report people who may be considered hazardous on the road. These could be road users who drive well above the speed limit, or who drive erratically. If you so choose, you could also provide footage of an accident you have witnessed between other cars to help aggrieved parties.
  • Keeping track of vehicles: There are any number of circumstances where someone might take your car for a joyride and refill the tank without you even knowing it. Apart from the videos recorded by the dash cam, each device is also equipped with GPS, which can help you track it.
  • Making sure your car is safe: In the event that you do let the kids take your car out for the evening, the dash cam will let you monitor their driving habits and also track their speed. You can also leave the cam recording while the vehicle is parked, allowing you to see if someone damages it in the parking lot or shared garage.
  • For the memories: Sometimes, we just want to go for a ride and enjoy the wind in our hair. These road trips are great in the moment, but what if you could capture that memory? By recording the entire journey, you can review the dash cam footage later and regale your friends with the story. Or you can crop out specific images of the landscape to form a more hands-on photo album.
Dash Cam unsplash.com

How Does a Dash Cam Work?

So, how does a dash cam work? As there are several dash cam options, how they work also varies. But the most common are those t that you can simply mount on your own, on the dashboard. These record everything happening in front of the vehicle and save it to an SD card. Other types are also able to record what happens inside the car or behind it.

There are guides on how to fit a dash cam yourself, but getting a professional to do it for you is easier. The price for installing one is usually around $60. After installation, all you need to do is keep the device powered. Generally, this is done using a cable that connects to the cigarette lighter. However, some also include their own battery, which should be kept charged between uses.

Rather than using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth software, all the data is stored on a micro SD inside the device or on USB. To access the footage, you simply take out the memory card and slip it into a compatible device, which then connects to a computer or smart TV.

Connected Car Cam Citroen

The Different Types of Dash Cams

There are a few different types of dash cams for sale around the USA. You can get more detailed reviews of the individual products on sales sites, but here is a quick list of your options:

  • Dashboard camera - The most traditional type, which mounts on the dash and records the road in front of the car.
  • Rearview mirror camera - This camera clips over the rearview mirror and also faces forward; however, it is less obtrusive than a standard dash cam.
  • Dual camera dash cam - Also mounted on the dashboard, this device has two lenses. One faces forward and the other backward or to the sides, allowing you to monitor multiple zones. Capturing a larger perimeter can be especially useful if you have a larger vehicle, like an SUV or a new pickup truck.
  • Digital cameras - If you own one of these, and don't want to pay for an official dash cam, you can attach it to a store-bought mount. You will need to manually start and stop recording, though.
  • Smartphones or tablets - You can get an app for your smart devices that offers the same service as a dash cam. If you want a mini device that won't obstruct your view, the mobile phone is the better choice.


Is it legal to use a dashcam?

While illegal in many countries, dash cams are allowed in America, so long as they do not infringe on privacy. This means that any footage or audio recordings of a person in a place where they can reasonably expect to not be seen or heard is illegal. For this reason, cab drivers or ride sharers should ensure their audio recording is muted when using dash cams.

Do dash cams record at night?

Visibility may be an issue, but many top brands include features that improve visual quality, while a more expensive model may actually include night vision.

Do dash cams keep working when parked?

You can leave your camera running while the car is parked, so long as it has an independent power system that does not rely on the car battery.

What is an example of a good dash cam?

You have plenty of choices when it comes to shopping for a dash cam. One of the best models for clarity is the Nextbase 512G, while the Garmin Nuvicam is a top pick for extra features. If you want to know how much one of these dash cams costs, you will have to check with your local retailers or online stores.

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