If you own a car, it is highly likely that someone suggested that you install a dashcam.
For the uninitiated, it seems to be a hip addition to a sweet ride.
But everyone who appreciates the technology knows that a dashcam is beyond the purposes of aesthetics. Instead, it is more of insurance. Especially for those who drive longer hours, like uber drivers or truckers. It may not provide in-car entertainment, but in case something untoward happens, you will be thankful that it is there.
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A mention of the term easily conjures an image of a compact screen mounted somewhere in the car — this is not wrong (one example here). But instead of playing a movie or an episode from a popular TV show, it displays real-time footage and takes its very own videos.
A dashcam is a shortened way to refer to a dashboard camera. If you encounter terms such as driving recorder or car DVR, these also refer to the same technology. As the name implies, these small devices are usually positioned on the dashboard for better coverage of the vehicle’s surroundings. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however. Others opt to attach their electronics on other parts, such as windshields.
Dashcams run on DC 12V, which allow for more modes of installation. There are added features besides taking and storing videos on the road depending on the chosen model. Some offer audio recording, parking mode, and connection to a mobile device, among others. The resolution depends on the product, but full HD is considered to be the industry standard. Overwriting memory in favor of new data is also normal for technology.
How do dash cams work?
Dashcams are powered either by an internal battery or a car’s power supply. The former comes with major limitations in power and performance and is often considered a last resort. Many users prefer instead to install the equipment either by connecting it through a cigarette lighter socket or hardwiring it into the vehicle’s fuse box. The slight nuisance of having to turn the dashcam on and off with an internal battery is eliminated when the power is dependent on the car itself. If the dashcam is linked to a car’s electrical system, it will activate once the engine is switched on and power down when the ignition is turned off.
The technology is designed in such a way that it will start capturing information once you hit the road. During night drives when lighting is not the most ideal, certain models use HDR to improve video quality. The recordings are not continuous though—instead, the footages are segmented into shorter ones, usually no more than 5 minutes. The data is then saved on the device’s memory which often takes the form of SD cards or flash drives. With a 16GB Micro SD card, dashcams can hold two hours of full HD recordings at most.
There is no need to manually delete files though in case you find that you have no need for them. Dashcams automatically overwrite their memories to make space for newer videos. If you wish to save specific footage, you can take advantage of your model’s capacity to connect to your mobile device and transfer the information wirelessly. Convenient, right?
In the case of crashes, most dashcams will separate the pertinent recording and lock them to avoid being overwritten. The technology is designed with sensors that can help signify if a collision takes place, so it is unnecessary to manually operate your dashcam during such incidents. Most of the procedures are also similar when a dashcam is in parking mode. The device is programmed to record when movements or bumps are detected for you to be reviewed once you gain access to the dashcam’s data.
Is it legal to use dashcams?
It depends. As with other car accessories, it is best to check with local laws and regulations.
In the case of the United States, the use of dashcams alone is not illegal. A bigger concern is the location of the mounted device. Most states prohibit windshield obstructions, but what this entails exactly may differ from one state to another. Only two states have no specific rules on the matter as of this writing: North Carolina and Missouri. These can be changed anytime, however, so it is never a bad idea check with experts on the law before purchasing a dashcam.
It is also important to learn about the privacy laws in your jurisdiction. While video recordings are generally okay to take, audio recordings aren’t always legal. Depending on your location, you may be obligated to inform people riding your car that your dashcam is recording in both video and audio, and to gain their permission. Not doing so or going against their will may be considered a violation of wiretapping laws. Thankfully, it is easy to turn off the audio recording functionality in models that have them.
Do you need a dashcam?
We’re going to be honest—it is not a necessity. But we stand by our earlier comparison that having a dashcam is like insurance. We wish that nothing unfortunate will happen that would necessitate reviewing the dashcam’s memory, but we will feel better knowing that it can be accessed if needed.
No, it will not make you a better driver, and no, not all insurance companies consider dashcam footage as sufficient proof. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
A dashcam would come in handy in case of an accident and perhaps subsequent insurance claim. Without audio, more context might be necessary, but it is still better than just relying on your memory. In cases of vandalism and theft, which are not necessarily done on the vehicle, a video recording can also be considered evidence. It can record instances of road rage, and even quell them. The way we see it, it adds a layer of security to your vehicle, and who wouldn’t want that?
So, in conclusion…
Dashcams may burn a hole in your pocket initially. They are not made to entertain (or at least, not necessarily) as they are rather straightforward in their purpose: record driving videos for you that you might want to access at a future time. See our review of a Vantrue dashcam.
But the compact gadgets are highly efficient. Besides installation that wouldn’t even take more than a half-hour, you would not have to spend plenty of time configuring it. It automatically records, deletes, and locks videos that it thinks might be of value to you, the driver. Recordings at night can be captured, and so are movements made while the dashcam is on parking mode.
Sure, it’s not a requirement. In some places, you might not even be allowed to use one. But with the security it offers, it wouldn’t really hurt to add a dashcam to your cart. You wish you’ll never have to use it, but you’re glad that it’s there.