Some of the best dash cams we've ever seen are now available at all levels of the market, from entry level through to advanced, so there has never been a better time to invest in 'CCTV for your car'. And whether you're looking for a fully installed option, or a device that you can move between multiple vehicles, there are a broad ranges of options to pick from.
While you might think that the best dash cams only need to look ahead and record video when they detect a collision (and, yes, the cheapest and simplest models do just that), some are vastly more intelligent.
Some act as driver assistance systems, alerting you if you accidentally drift out of your lane, or fail to notice that the car in front has set off in traffic. Some dash cams also call the emergency services and provide your exact GPS location if you have a crash and don’t respond. Others can be connected to a second camera to record out of the rear windscreen as well as the front (see our separate guide to the best front and rear dash cams, if you are looking for one of these).
With image quality improving all the time, the dash cam market is still maturing relatively quickly, with entire new ranges launched recently by manufacturers like Nextbase and Thinkware – and some even shoot video in 4K.
Many readers of this buying guide will see a lot of overlap in technology between dash cams and the best action cameras, such as those from GoPro. Specifications like video resolution, frame rate and viewing angle are equally important, while dash cams tend to shun image stabilization in favor of night vision.
Dash cams also tend to prefer being plugged in for constant power, as those with internal batteries can generally survive for just 30 minutes or so. Your best bet is to plug them into your car’s USB port or 12V socket – or better yet, pay to have them professionally installed; that way, their wires are hidden and they are powered directly by your car, so will switch on and off with the ignition. A constant power supply also means that dash cams can record while parked, too.
With so many options to consider, we're here to walk you through the best dash cams available right now – and if you ride a cycle or motorcycle and you're looking for something similar, check out our guide to the best helmet cameras.
The best dash cam in 2020
The Garmin Dash Cam 66W is the replacement to our favorite dash cam from the last year, the Garmin 55. It retains its predecessor’s compact size and ease of use, but increases the field of view from 122 degrees to 180 degrees, giving a far broader view of the front of your car and the road ahead. Also new is HDR (high dynamic range) video recording, to help retain detail in high-contrast lighting, while a Wi-Fi connection to your smartphone and the free Garmin Drive app means that you can connect up to four cameras at once and synchronize the video they shoot, giving a 360-degree view around your car. Battery life is just 30 minutes without plugging into your car’s power socket, and if you opt for a hardwired professional install the camera (or cameras) will stay on when parked, then record if someone carelessly bumps into your car while parking or driving past.
If you’re looking for an all-singing, all-dancing dash cam that does everything – but also lacks a screen to distract you while driving – this is it. The Thinkware U1000 shoots in sharp 4K video (albeit with the associated huge file sizes) through a wide, 150-degree lens. There’s built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, which is used to serve up speed camera alerts and add location and speed data to all of your recordings. An optional rear camera can also be purchased and plugged into the main unit, which shoots in 2K resolution at 30 frames per second for sharp footage of what’s going on behind you. Enhanced night vision and wide dynamic range help to produce high quality video during the day and night. We admit this is a rather expensive option, and it has to be hardwired into your vehicle. But if it’s a feature-packed, high-quality dash cam you want, this is it!
The Nextbase 522GW is a great dash cam for those who want a whole suit of features – including Alexa, GPS and Emergency SOS – but who are also on a budget. The 522GW shoots 2K resolution (1440p) at 30 frames per second, or regular 1080p Full HD at 60fps. It also features a 140-degree viewing angle, integrated GPS for accurate location, direction and speed data, and even Amazon Alexa. This means that, using your smartphone's internet connection, the 522GW works just like an Alexa smart speaker at home, enabling you to play music, hear news headlines, get directions and even control your smart home gadgets while on the road. Emergency SOS can sense a collision then, if the driver doesn’t respond to a prompt, will alert the local emergency services and share your location – potentially saving lives.
A Dash Cam Mini records 1080 Full HD video through a 140-degree lens, and measures just 3.1 x 5.3 x 2.9cm - roughly the size of a small car key. Truly a set-it-and-forget-it device, the Garmin Dash Cam Mini is designed to tuck neatly and subtly behind your windshield mirror, and once either plugged into the lighter socket or hardwired to the car’s fuse box, will boot up when you turn the ignition and record when it detects a collision. If hardwired it will also remain alert while parked, then record if someone drive into your vehicle. There’s no display (so no distraction for the driver) and no internal battery, but the compact size and simplicity more than make up for this. A Wi-Fi connection to the Garmin Drive phone app makes it easy to download saved footage from the camera when you need it.
If you want a dash cam that does absolutely everything but 4K, the Thinkware Q800 Pro is for you. As well as shooting in high-quality 1440p with advanced night vision, the camera also has a wide range of safety features. These include speed camera alerts, lane departure and forward collision warnings, and a system for alerting you when the vehicle ahead moves off, saving you from an awkward beep by the driver behind.
Wide dynamic range and auto exposure help to keep footage clear in harsh or low lighting, and everything is shot through a 140-degree lens. A second rear-facing dash cam is an optional extra, too. And if you hardwire the Q800 Pro to your car (giving it a permanent power source from the battery) there’s a smart parking mode to record incidents while parked.
Because it lacks a display, the Thinkware Q800 Pro has a more subtle design than most dash cams, hugging your windscreen and fitting neatly below or behind the rear view mirror. Designed to be a permanent addition to your car, the camera sticks to the screen and works best when hard-wired, so there’s no quick way to switch it between multiple vehicles.
This offers a neat factory-fit look, but also has the advantage of a slim and compact design. The BlackVue DR900S-1CH offers 4K video recording, a wider lens than most of its rivals (162 degrees), GPS and parking mode. On top of all that, there’s a cloud-based subscription package for viewing live and recorded footage remotely, and a service which pushes a notification to your smartphone when the camera detects a collision – useful if your car has been bumped while you’re away. Not everyone will want to pay for a subscription service, but we can see the added benefits being useful for fleet managers who want to keep tabs on their vehicles.
While it doesn't offer the 4K option (or the higher price tag) of its bigger brother, the 612GW, the Nextbase 422GW arguably offers superior image quality. At both 1440p (30fps) and 1080p (60fps) the video of crisp and clear – and it's worth noting that 4K is something of a poisoned chalice, given the resulting file sizes. Being the first camera to bring built-in Alexa functionality, it offers voice control over everything from incident recording to playing music and asking for directions. Perhaps its best feature, though, is Emergency SOS, which can detect a serious collision and alert the emergency services to your vehicle’s exact whereabouts if you're unresponsive. This potentially life-saving feature makes the 422GW hard to beat – and particularly at the price you can find this model now.
If you want a dash cam which looks like it was fitted to your car in the factory, the Thinkware F800 Pro is for you. It’s designed to fit snugly up against the top of your windscreen behind the mirror and neatly out of the way. The Pro model can also be hard-wired to your car’s battery, meaning it will boot up when you turn the key, continue recording while parked, and leave your car’s 12V socket free for other uses, like charging your phone. There’s also an enhanced night vision setting to improve low-light videos, speed camera alerts, and the option to fit a rear-facing camera too (see our guide to the best front and rear dash cams). There’s no touchscreen, which could be seen as a negative, but Wi-Fi means it’s easy enough to connect the camera to your smartphone to view recordings and alter the settings.