The best dash cams can be life savers – literally. Basic dashboard cameras can watch the road ahead and record accidents, but more advanced models offer way more protection, some offering driver aids for accident avoidance, and some able to contact emergency services automatically after an accident and relay your exact GPS co-ordinates to the emergency services.
Dash cams aren’t just another motoring accessory. They have a vital part to play in vehicle security and accident investigation. Dash cam footage can show how an accident happened and provide vital evidence for an insurance claim or, if the worst comes to the worst, in legal proceedings.
Sometimes the threat comes from behind, so we also have another guide to to the best front and rear dash cams for monitoring both. Dash cams are just one of a number of devices that can protect your personal safety.
And sometimes you need to protect yourself by recording what's happening inside the vehicle, not just outside. We also have a guide to the best Uber dash cams for what has become a very modern concern.
Car drivers aren't the only road users, of course. If you're a cyclist, especially in busy urban areas, the best helmet cameras can provide the same level of reassurance and security as a dash cam in a car.
Dash cams use the same basic camera technology as the the best action cameras, including GoPro models, though while you can use an action camera as a dash cam occasionally, it's not designed for constant in-car use in this way.
So here’s our list of the best dash cams you can buy right now. You get what you pay for, and some of the more advanced models can do things you might not have expected. Many of these features are self-explanatory, but we have also included a more in-depth list of the best dash cam features at the end of this guide.
The best dash cam in 2021
The Garmin Dash Cam 66W is the replacement to a previous favorite dash cam of ours, 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 an 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 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.
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.
Kenwood is a popular choice if you buy your dash cam from a dealership – but you can buy its range of dashboard cameras online too. This 4K model is great value, offering useful features such as built-in GPS, a bright f/1.8 wide-angle lens, and an integrated polarizing filter for cutting through windshield reflections. The magnetic mount makes this easier, and more between different vehicles, than with some rivals. You get a 16GB SD memory card supplied, but you can uses up to a capacity of 256GB if you want to keep footage for longer - or do lots of driving. A dual-camera kit is also available.
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.
What to look for in a dash cam
There are a huge number of dash cams on the market today, and some of them are very cheap indeed. But the best dash cams go further, with better quality, better connectivity, more driver aids or more safety features. So here’s a quick run-down of what to look for:
• Angle of view: Dash cams typically have wide-angle lenses. The wider the angle of view, the more likely it is to take in what’s happening in junctions and side roads, but objects up ahead will be smaller.
• Resolution: 4K capture is great, and high resolution means clearer, sharper images with more detail, but it also means the files are bigger and you need more storage.
• Batteries vs wired: Some dash cams have batteries and can easily be installed without wires, but the batteries won’t last long – typically around 30 minutes. Some dash cams can plug into a USB socket or 12V supply and keep running indefinitely, though the cables may look messy. The other alternative is to get your dash cam installed professionally with hidden wiring. It will cost more, and you can’t move the camera from one vehicle to another, but it looks better.
• Protection while parked: The advantage of a wired in dash cam is that it can keep running while your car is parked, and record suspicious activity, attempted theft or parking bumps.
• Front and rear dash cams: Sometimes, the hazard is from behind, so a rear-facing dash cam can be very useful. We have a separate buying guide to the best front and rear dash cams. Some front facing dash cams come with an optional rear camera upgrade.
• High dynamic range: It sounds like a feature for a high-end digital camera, but HDR capture can be an advantage in very bright, high-contrast lighting.
• Night vision: We don’t just drive in the daytime. A dash cam with night vision can offer protection and security at night, too.
• Wi-Fi: Dash cams with Wi-Fi can communicate with a smartphone app for controlling settings or checking video.
• Cloud subscription: An optional extra with some dash cams which could be useful for fleet owners keeping track of a number of vehicles.
• Driver assist safety aids: Some dash cams can sound alerts if you cross lane markings or warn you that a vehicle ahead has stopped in traffic.
• Voice control: You need to keep your hands on the wheel while you’re driving, so voice control is a safety feature, not just a convenience.
• GPS and emergency services: It’s the last item on our list but perhaps the most important. If you are involved in an accident, you may not be able to ask for help, and some of the best dash cams can detect a collision and automatically notify the emergency services. And if they have GPS, they can send your exact location to the emergency services too.
Read more guides:
Best front and rear dash cams
Best Uber dash cams
The Best camera phones today
Best indoor security cameras in 2021
Best outdoor security cameras
The 10 best action cameras
The best helmet cameras
Best backup camera
The best baby camera monitors