The best dash cams offer you protection and security for your vehicle. It really is like having 'CCTV for your car'. Dash cams come in range of types and prices, and many include additional safety features that go beyond simple video capture. You can have dash cams professionally installed with hidden wiring, or choose a dash cam you can fit yourself and move between vehicles.
You might assume that even the best dash cams are just there to film ahead and record video if they detect a collision. With cheaper and simpler models, that is all they do, but more advanced dash cams go much further to act as driver assistance and emergency response systems.
For example, some dash cams can alert you if you accidentally drift out of your lane, or if you don't notice that the car in front if you has set off in traffic. Or, if you are involved in an accident and don't respond, some dash cams can even call the emergency services and provide your exact GPS location.
Other dash cams come with a second camera that will record out of your rear windscreen in addition to the front, since threats on the road can come from behind as well as in front. We have separate guide to the best front and rear dash cams, if you are looking for one of these.
Video technology is advancing all the time, particularly in image quality. An increasing number of dash cams can shoot video in 4K – giving you as much clarity as possible in your footage.
It's all part of the rapid evolution of miniature cameras and video recording. Indeed, much of the technology used in dash cams can also be found in some of the best action cameras, including GoPro models. You might see similarities in features such as video resolution, frame rate and viewing angle.
The needs of motorists are slightly different, so you don't tend to see the kind of image stabilisation features popular on action cameras. However, the best dash cams will often include night vision instead. And, because you need to keep your hands on the wheel, you might want to look out for dash cam models with voice control.
Dash cam installation can be pretty straightforward, but there may be some wiring work to be done. Some models have internal batteries, but these don't last for long, so for constant fuss-free security it's best to go for a dash cam that can be plugged in for constant power. Some can plug into your car's USB port or 12V power socket, though this can leave untidy exposed cabling. The alternative is to have your dash cam professionally installed so that the wires will be disguised or hidden and your accessory sockets are left free.
It might sound like a lot to take in, but we've rounded up our favorite dash cam models below to explain each one's key features, pros and cons. And if you ride a bicycle or motorcycle and you're looking for the same kind of protection, check out our guide to the best helmet cameras.
Eight things to look for in a dash cam
- Power supply: Built in batteries are convenient but don't last long, plugging into an accessory power socket solves that but can look untidy, a professional installation is the neatest solution.
- 4K video: This gives higher resolution for more clarity, but it also produces much bigger video files which can prove a headache.
- Rear cameras: These are an optional add-on for some dash cams which record what's happening behind you, not just what's in front.
- Voice control: Perfect for hands-free operation, which is especially important for drivers, of course.
- Wi-Fi connections: Useful for viewing or transferring dash cam footage, and some systems can send.
- Parked alerts: Available with some hard-wired dash cam systems, these can record any bumps or bangs to your car while parked.
- Emergency calls: Some dash cams can alter the emergency services with your location via your smartphone if they detect and accident and you don't respond.
- Night vision: Enhanced night vision modes make a lot of sense for those who do much of their driving after dark.
The best dash cam in 2021
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, but 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.
The Dash Cam Mini records 1080 Full HD video through a 140-degree lens, and measures just 3.1 x 5.3 x 2.9cm, which is 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, it will boot up when you turn the ignition and record when it detects a collision. If it is 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’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 suite 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 and then, if the driver doesn’t respond to a prompt, will alert the local emergency services and share your location – potentially saving lives.
This is the big brother of the Nextbase 522GW, and is the best choice if you want a 4K dashcam without the need to have the dashboard device hardwired into your vehicle. The step up in video quality is noticeable – and there is the added feature of support for What3Words – and ingenious global system that you can use to give your precise location to first responders by just giving them three words (and is a proven lifesaver). With an easy-to-use app that connects your smartphone to the 622GW over its own wifi network, you can see all your clips with ease – and download those you want to save or review.
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.
The BlackVue DR900S-1CH offers a neat factory-fit look, but also has the advantage of a slim and compact design. The 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 622GW, 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 because of the big file sizes. This was the first dashboard camera to bring built-in Alexa functionality, and 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 at 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.
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