They have been likened to guardian angels watching over drivers, so it’s little surprise that dashboard mounted cameras – dashcams – have become the most in-demand gadgets with British drivers.
The pocket-size video cameras can record the world outside your car. So if another driver or third party causes an accident, there’s a good chance that footage from the dashcam will prove who was at fault, and help settle subsequent insurance claims.
But with so many dashcams to choose from, and a wide price range, buyers should brush up with this guide to choosing the best unit for their needs.
Do drivers really need a dashcam?
If you haven’t had an accident recently, there’s a good chance you’ll know someone who has. There are so many reported accidents on British roads that they’re estimated to cost a staggering £15.3 billion a year, and insurance costs for a comprehensive policy rose by an average of £109 in 2015.
Insurers welcome independent, reliable witnesses, to help apportion blame, and there’s nothing as independent and reliable as a dashcam to show the facts in the cold light of the day. If you weren’t at fault, it could protect your premium and save you from paying an excess contribution.
How much does a dashcam cost?
There is a price range of between approximately £30 and £300. However, the choice is growing, so a steady flow of cheaper and more expensive models are coming to the highstreet and online retailers.
Tell me the single most important thing to look for
The quality of the video footage. The clearer and more detailed it is, especially in night-time conditions, the more likely the footage will be accepted by the insurers of all parties involved in an accident.
What’s ‘good quality’ dashcam footage?
Check whether the footage is high definition. Most dashcams are. You need to see that it offers a resolution of either 720p or, better still, 1080p – 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 pixels respectively. That way, it will pack in more detail to the footage it records and plays back, giving a clearer picture.
Should I get a single or dual lens dashcam?
Your budget may well dictate your choice. However, if you’re going to the trouble of paying for a dashcam, why not stretch to one that features dual cameras? That way, you’ve got footage of what’s happening in front and behind your car.
Where can they be mounted?
Funnily enough, you can’t just attach a dashcam to the inside of the windscreen in your line of vision. The law says that no device should intrude more than 40mm into the area of the windscreen that is swept by the wiper blades, to prevent your view of the road from being obscure. Also, they can’t be placed in the spot directly above the steering wheel, and it’s a good idea to get one with a ‘suction cup’ mount, which makes it easy to change its position.
Switch on, switch off
A good dashcam will turn on automatically when plugged in to its power source – typically the 12 volt power supply, or what was once better known as the cigarette lighter. That way, it can be left to its own devices, and there’s no danger of forgetting to turn it on.
What features should I look for?
You want a camera that has loop-recording. That means once its memory card is full, it will automatically overwrite old files with new footage, saving you from messing about with menus to clear space.
However, also ensure it has an impact-sensor, or G-force sensor. This will mean it can automatically save and protect video at the time of a crash or, even, a parking bump when the car is left unattended.
Other desirable features include GPS location tracking and the ability to display date, time and vehicle speed.
How do I view the footage?
You can play it back on the dashcam’s screen for instant viewing. Alternatively, it can viewed on a personal computer or smart TV, but to do this, you’ll need to remove the micro SD card, place it in a card adapter, and then play it through the computer or TV directly or via a memory card reader, which cost less than £10.
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James is a motoring journalist and former magazine editor at BBC Top Gear and Auto Express. He has scooped, reported on and reviewed most new cars of the past 20 years, and currently contributes to the Driving section of The Sunday Times.