What to Look For in a Dash Cam

There are a few key reasons to consider buying a dash cam in Australia. You may want one for insurance purposes to capture potential incidents in front of or behind your car. Alternatively, you may want to capture footage for sharing on popular places like Dash Cam Owners Australia. Additionally, those who drive for ride-share platforms may want to also keep an eye on what’s going on inside their vehicle.

Whatever the reason to own one, here’s what to look out for when buying a dash cam in Australia.

Different types of dash cams

Unlike other tech items, a dash cam has a self-explanatory name: it’s a camera that’s built to operate on the dashboard of a vehicle (or just above it, suction-cupped to the windscreen). There are three different kinds of dash cam. Dash cams either work as forward-facing recording devices, rear-facing, or they record the interior of a vehicle.

Some dash cams offer dual or triple functionality—recording two or all three types above—while others may only offer a single recording function. The more recording functions you add, the greater the price you can expect to pay.

Dash cam uses

The main function of a dash cam is as an objective witness of events in front of, behind, or inside a vehicle. Instead of relying on eye-witness interpretations of events in an on-road incident, a dash cam provides footage of what actually happened.

Because of this, it’s important to factor in the viewing angle and resolution of any dash cam you intend on buying. Dash cam resolutions tend to start at 720p for budget options with field-of-view (FOV) of around 90 degrees. Upping the resolution, to either 1080p or even 4K (in the case of the Uniden iGO 90R), and increasing the FOV offer higher-quality footage and a wider view of wherever the dash cam is pointed. The better the quality, the easier it is to spot details in recorded footage such as licence plates.

Some dash cams work on a 360-degree suction-cup swivel, meaning you can manually control the recording angle, but they’re generally relegated to front, backwards, or interior. For interior cams, this is where ride-share drivers may consider a dash cam that has internal-recording functionality, though note certain states require you to visibly or verbally notify passengers inside your vehicle that they’re being recorded.

The other main dash cam use is somewhat schadenfreude in that it’s a growing movement of Australian dash cam owners who capture and share footage of road incidents. This footage ranges from fender benders and terrible driving to road rage and near-miss accidents. Dash Cam Owners Australia is the biggest example of these dash cam footage-sharing platforms.

Dash cam power and recording practicalities

There are some practicalities to consider when it comes to your dash cam. In terms of power, the standard is that dash cams connect to a vehicle’s 12-volt socket, automatically powering on and off based on when the socket receives power (typically, when the engine is on). Note that certain vehicles continuously provide power to 12-volt sockets, which may drain your vehicle’s battery if the dash cam is continually on.

Dash cam recordings tend to be stored on removable Micro SD cards. The maximum supported storage changes between dash cam brands and models, but you’ll still have to get the footage off the card to use it or free up storage space. More expensive dash cams may also include WiFi support, offering a wireless way to get footage off internal storage.

The larger the Micro SD card, the more footage you can store. Note that while dash cams are continuously recoding, it doesn’t mean they’re continuously saving footage, which can save you the hassle of frequently backing up or wiping footage to ensure you have enough when you need it. That said, some dash cams will continuously save footage in blocks and wipe over the oldest footage, which is why backing up is important if you want to keep older recordings.

Practically speaking, a 32GB memory card will capture around four or five hours of 1080p footage, which is a lot of breathing space for most driving distances. Depending on the model, a dash cam may save footage when you tell it to, or it may automatically save in the event of a collision.

The other big consideration, particularly in hotter parts of Australia, is maximum operating temperatures. Car interiors can reach temperatures much hotter than what’s recorded outside, especially in direct sunlight, so keep an eye out for temperature resilience if you want to avoid potentially damaging your dash cam.

Dash cam brands and prices

Whether you’re shopping for a dash cam at JB Hi-Fi, Supercheap Auto, or anywhere else that sells them in Australia, there are a few familiar brands that will reappear. Those familiar with GPS brands will likely notice Garmin and Navman as dash cam brands, but there are also popular picks from competing dash cam brands like BlackVue, Nextbase, Uniden, Gator, and a handful of others.

Prices start as low as under $50 for an entry-level dash cam that does the basics at a lower resolution and FOV. There are plenty of feature-rich dash cams in the $200 to $400 price range, which is also where you start to find higher resolutions, wider FOV options, and rear/front dash cam combos. Paying over $400 is reserved for fully featured dash cams, with 4K resolutions, WiFi connectivity, as well as other beyond-recording bells and whistles.

Dash cam installation

There are plenty of dash cams that are designed to be incredibly easy to install, without the need for tools or professional assistance. For dash cam models with user-friendly installation, it’s as simple as following the quick-start guide to connect 12-volt power, attaching the cam via suction cup (or other method), and then you should be good to go.

Certain dash cam models have companion apps on Android or iOS that can offer extended functionality or ease-of-use options, but these aren’t essential to use. The trickier installations are for dash cams that required hardwired power, which benefit from professional installation to ensure everything is connected correctly.

Hardwired dash cams are a great option for people who care about ‘parking mode’, which is a dash cam feature that records when the engine isn’t on and you’re not in the car. Parking mode is particularly handy for capturing bumps while your car is parked.

FAQ

If you want extra peace of mind for your car—whether it’s viewing inside, in front of, or behind (or all of those) your vehicle—a dash cam is absolutely worth the money. Weigh up the features and functionality you want relative to your intended budget to find the right one for your vehicle.
Dash cams are built to record whenever power is available. As long as there’s sufficient internal storage and power, most dash cams will continually record, while others require manual impact or collision detection to store footage.
No, dash cams don’t need a GPS function, but it is a handy feature if you don’t mind spending extra. GPS tracking can prove useful if footage is requested by an insurance company or the police, depending on the situation.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence

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