If a traffic accident occurs, dash cams can help you prove who’s responsible. We round up the best dash cams available in the UK in 2016.
Dash cams, also known as car DVRs or dashboard cameras, record while you’re driving so you have evidence of what happened in the event of an accident. Dash cam footage is now generally accepted by insurers as evidence of fault in an accident and it’s also admissible in court.
Using a dash cam to record your driving can reduce your insurance policy by around 10 or 15 percent. For example, Adrian Flux offers a 15 percent discount if you have one of the cameras listed on its website. AXA and Swiftcover also offer discounts. Below is a great example of a video caught on a dash cam that proved the driver wasn’t at fault. Without video evidence, it would have been his word against the van driver’s.
Watch out for a clause in your policy which says that an insurer can demand footage from your journey in the event of a claim, as it may show you are at fault. Certain cameras record the speed at which you’re travelling, embedding it in the video, and will show if you were speeding.
Here’s what to look out for so you can spend your money wisely. See all camera reviews.
Best dash cams 2016: Buying advice
Prices range from around £20 to £200, so there’s a model affordable for everyone. However, those cheap models tend to lack features and won’t typically record great-quality footage.
Best dash cams 2016: GPS
GPS allows the camera to record your route as well as your speed. The GPS data is synched up with the video clips when played back in special software so you can watch the footage and see your location on a map. Some GPS receivers are external and have a long wire so they can be mounted out of sight. Others are part of the suction mount, while yet others are inside the camera itself. Also see: CarPlay and Android Auto: only a stepping stone to a fully connected car.
Best dash cams 2016: G-sensor
The G-sensor detects impacts and – usually – automatically begins a recording which is then locked to prevent it being deleted.
Parking mode: This may use the g-sensor, but is specifically for recording moments when your car is bumped or hit while parked. It doesn’t guarantee you will see what happened, of course, as the camera points in only one direction. Also, most manufacturers don’t recommend leaving the camera turned on when parked as it can drain the battery. Plus, many cars cut power to the accessory socket when you turn off the ignition, so you may need to get the camera hard-wired by a professional to use this feature.
Best dash cams 2016: Resolution
Most cameras record at 1920×1080 (1080p) but some offer higher resolutions, such as 2K – typically 2560×1440 – and even 4K, which is 3840×2160. A higher resolution is generally better as it means more detail. Sometimes that detail – such as a car registration – will be crucial. This is why cheap dash cams aren’t always the bargain they appear. If they record at only 720p (or lower) you may not be able to see the details you need in the video. However, they will show how you were driving and what happened in front before and during an incident.
Along with resolution is frame rate. For smooth video you need at least 30 frames per second, but many cameras offer double this speed. Frame rate usually increases as resolution decreases, and this is why, for example, the SJCAM SJ5000 can record 4K at only 24fps.
Best dash cams 2016: Expandable storage through microSD
Storage isn’t usually an issue because all dash cams will record on a loop. This means they record for a couple of minutes, then automatically start a new file without a break. Once the memory card is full, it begins overwriting the oldest file. Unless you need a complete record of your journey you shouldn’t need a huge memory card.
Bear in mind that only some cameras come with microSD cards. For those that don’t, look for a Class 10 card (or better) as HD video recording requires a card with a fast write speed. Slower cards may cause problems and may not work at all. Also see: Smarter driving with intelligent cars.
Best dash cams 2016: Wi-Fi
Cameras with Wi-Fi usually allow you to install an app and view recordings from your phone or tablet. This can be useful, especially if it lets you download recordings as this is a much easier way to save them than removing the SD card (or even the dash cam from the car) and transferring the files to a laptop. It also means you can see more detail than on the small, often low-resolution screens on the dash cams themselves.
Best dash cams 2016: Safety features
Some cameras have extra features which warn you when you veer out of your lane, or you get too close to the car in front. These are useful if they only operate over a certain speed. Otherwise they tend to beep all the time in town driving, and so will be quickly disabled.
If a dash cam has a GPS, it may provide safety camera alerts.
Other features such as time-lapse recording, or slow-motion modes, can be fun but aren’t essential. More expensive cameras may have two lenses, one which faces forward and one rearward. This means you can record what happens behind you and can be useful if someone drives into the back of you. It’s generally better to go for a model with a second camera on a long wire as those with two lenses in one unit won’t necessarily get a good view out of the rear window. Also see: Tronsmart USB Rapid Car Charger review.
Best dash cams 2016: Accessories
Accessories vary between dash cams, but you can expect a fairly long power cable which is designed to be routed around your windscreen and down to your 12V socket. It’s a shame that manufacturers don’t provide a long USB cable instead, as you’d then be able to use a 12V USB adaptor with multiple USB outputs. If you use the included cable, you won’t be able to use your 12V socket for anything else, such as charging your phone.
Since some insurers have a limited list of cameras, it’s important to get one they recognise. However, if you change insurers regularly, it isn’t worth paying more for a camera on one insurer’s list.
Best dash cams 2016: Warranty
Warranty, as always, differs from model to model. Expect at least one year, but for cameras ordered from China, getting a warranty repair may be costly and take a long time. In fact, even if you purchase a camera from a UK supplier, it still may have to be sent abroad for repair, so it’s worth checking if this is your top priority.
Best dash cams 2016: Use your phone as a dash cam
With the right app, your smartphone can be used as a dash cam. It won’t suit everyone, but if you buy a universal smartphone suction mount and you can power your phone from your car’s USB or 12V socket, you’ve got a cheap dash cam.
Since most phones have GPS and record video in full HD, it can be a cost-effective alternative to a dedicated unit, and is a great use for an old phone sitting in a drawer. Android phones are good candidates, especially if they have a microSD slot. Otherwise you’ll quickly fill up the internal storage, and may not have much spare storage anyway.
Apps to try include DailyRoads Voyager (which supports 4K recording on compatible phones) and RoadAR. For iPhone we can’t recommend any free apps, but Car Camera DVR isn’t bad and costs £2.99.
Best dash cams 2016: Conclusion
All of the dash cams here do a fairly decent job of recording your journey. You don’t necessarily have to pay more to get one with GPS, and this is a useful feature if you need to prove the speed at which you were driving if you’re involved in an accident.
Wi-Fi is generally an unnecessary luxury as the only real advantage is being able to download clips to your smartphone. This is a slow process and in most cases it’s better to simply use a card reader (or the camera itself) and copy or watch the footage on your computer. You can also use their video outputs to review clips on a TV.
Initially we thought the lack of an internal battery would be a big problem, but it isn’t. The Transcend and Asus – like the other models – turn on when you start your car and turn off when you remove the key. While some support recording while parked, you’ll want to get professional installation for this to avoid draining your car’s battery, especially if you don’t use it for long periods.
Safety features can be more trouble than they’re worth, and aren’t as sophisticated or reliable as similar features built into modern cars. The Dome’s are particularly useless, although for the price it’s still a good-value option if you want a GPS.
The SJCAM is a good option if you want a camera that can be used for more than dash cam duties. It offers great video quality but lacks some of the features you’ll find in a dedicated dash cam.
The Cobra’s integrated GPS is neat, but the screen is tiny and it’s the most expensive here. It’s not bad if you can find it for under £100, though.
The Transcend would be a good buy if you can find it cheaper as the video and audio quality aren’t quite as good as we’d like for £90. For only £10 more, the Asus offers HDR video that’s better quality and it also has a better microphone and GPS.