With some of the best dash cams we've ever seen currently on the market, there has never been a better time to buy one for your car. And with manufacturers yet to install them into vehicles at the factory, several dash cam companies offer broad ranges of options to pick from.
While you might think that a dash cam only needs to look ahead and record video when it detects 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
1. Garmin Dash Cam 66W
Our favorite dash cam has just got better, with a wider angle of view
Video quality: 1440p with HDR at 60fps | Viewing angle: 180 degrees | Integrated GPS: Yes | Screen: 2.0-inch LCD, 320 x 240
The new Garmin Dash Cam 66W is the replacement to our favorite dash cam from the last year, the Garmin 55. The new model 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 you can connect up to four cameras at once and synchronised the video they shoot, giving a 360-degree view around your car. Battery life is just 30 minutes without plugging into your car’s lighter socket, and if 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.
2. Thinkware U1000
A do-it-all dash cam that doesn’t come cheap
Video quality: 4K UltraHD | Viewing angle: 150° | Integrated GPS: Yes | Screen: No
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!
3. Nextbase 522GW
Some of the best video quality available in a dash cam
Video quality: 1440p at 30fps / 1080p at 60fps | Integrated GPS: Yes | Screen: 3-inch LCD
While it doesn't offer the 4K option (or the higher price tag) of its bigger brother, the 612GW, the Nextbase 522GW 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 are unresponsive. This potentially life-saving feature makes the 522GW hard to beat.
4. Garmin Dash Cam Mini
A tiny, key-sized camera at very affordable price
Video quality: 1080p at 30fps | Viewing angle: 140 degrees | Integrated GPS: No | Screen: No
A new member of the Garmin Dash Cam family, the 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.
5. Thinkware F800 Pro
The F800 Pro brings speed camera alerts, night mode and a factory-fit look
Video quality: 1080p | Integrated GPS: Yes | Screen: No
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.
6. BlackVue DR900S-1CH
4K video, discreet design and remote access via the cloud
Video quality: 4K at 30fps | Integrated GPS: Yes | Screen: No
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.