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What Is A Dash Cam and How Does It Work?

Last updated: January 19, 2022
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vector graphic showing a dash cam on a windshield for the header image for what is a dash cam post

You’re driving home during rush-hour traffic, and the boulevard is predictably bumper-to-bumper.

The light ahead turns green, the cars ahead of you slowly inch forward, and you nearly make it through the intersection before the light blinks yellow.

You start to roll to a stop, but not before the impatient motorist in the opposite lane makes a sharp left turn, right into your front bumper.

He claims you drove straight through the red light.

Fortunately, your dash cam recorded the whole incident.

Dash cameras are becoming increasingly popular for everyday drivers, but how do these dash cameras work, and can you benefit from one?

We’ll answer your questions below.

What is a Dash Cam?

A dash cam, or dashboard camera, is a small camera connected to your car and mounted on the dashboard, rear-view mirror, or windshield.

It will record the view in front of your vehicle as you drive and save the video on an SD card or the cloud that you can later review.

Connect the camera to your car’s cigarette lighter, or have it professionally installed and wired to your vehicle.

The camera will automatically turn on and start recording when you start the vehicle.

Some dashboard cameras can record the inside of your vehicle as you’re driving too, which can offer you some security if you give other passengers rides.

You can also install a dash cam facing your car’s rear window, which will record the view behind your vehicle as you drive.

Some dash cams will continue to record even after the car is parked.

Install it to run from your car’s fuse box or use an external battery to keep it running 24/7.

What is the Purpose of a Dash Cam?

Since the dash camera records your surroundings as you drive, it serves as evidence in case of an accident or traffic incident.

It can save you money on a ticket or win a lawsuit.

Did you get pulled over for running a red light?

Your dash cam can prove that it was still green when you went through and save you money and points on your license.

Are you being sued for hitting a motorcyclist?

If you had a dash cam recording, you can prove that it was the car in the next lane.

Is the insurance company refusing a claim for lack of witnesses in an accident?

Your dash cam footage is your evidence!

You’ll find a dash cam useful for personal reasons as well.

If you have a teenager or a new driver in the house, knowing that you will review their driving from the dash cam will keep them aware of driving safely and curb their recklessness.

Is it Legal to have a Dash Cam?

Dash cams are legal in the United States, but you may face violations for obstructing your view if it is not mounted correctly.

It is illegal to mount the camera on your windshield in many states as it can interfere with your view.

Check your state and local laws for restrictions on how and where you can install the dash cam in your car.

If your dash cam records audio or is facing your vehicle’s interior, you may need to legally inform your passengers that they are being recorded.

In this case, you would not be able to install a hidden dash cam.

For example, you can post a sign in your car if you drive for a ride-sharing company.

Can Police Confiscate Your Dash Cam?

It’s not illegal to own a dash cam and police cannot confiscate it.

However, in some states, they may have the authority to seize the dash cam after an accident to hold it as evidence.

Check your local laws on whether they are allowed to bring it in for the dash cam footage.

Types of Dash Cams

Dashboard cameras come in a range of models with different video quality, features, and capabilities.

Some cameras save their footage to the cloud, models that have GPS tracking, and dual cameras that work with front and rear cams.

If you’re looking to buy a dash cam, research the different options to determine which one will be the best one for you.

Front-facing Dash Cams

Install front-facing dash cams facing your windshield to record the road in front of you as you drive.

These are the most popular and widely-used dash cameras.

There’s a large range of front-racing dash cams, with features that may include:

  • Wide-angle views
  • Night recording ability
  • High-resolution recording
  • Parking mode to record when the car is parked
  • Light adjustments
  • Side-view recording
  • Works together with rear-facing cameras

Recommended Products: The best rear view mirror dash cams

Rear-facing Dash Cams

Install a rear-facing dash cam on your car’s rear window to record out the back while you drive.

Some dash cams come with both front and rear dash cams to record simultaneously.

Some rear-facing dash cams include features such as:

  • Night recording
  • High-resolution recording
  • Wide-angle views

Recommended Products: The best front and rear dash cams

Dash Cams that Record to SD Cards

Dash cams with SD cards save their recordings on the cards in a loop.

That means that when the card is full, it records over from the beginning.

You don’t have to worry about running out of memory.

If you want to save the recordings, you can download them to your computer and then reuse the card.

A 16GB micro SD card can store about two hours of recordings and a 32GB card about four hours of recordings.

Once the card is full, it will record over.

If you are in an accident, the dash cam will detect the crash and save the recording.

It will not overwrite the recording leading up to the impact.

Recommended Products: The best SD card for dash cams

Cloud-based Dash Cams

Some dashboards store their data online on the cloud.

This gives it more storage capacity and ensures that the data doesn’t get lost even if the dash cam gets damaged.

In order for the data to upload to the cloud, there needs to be Wi-Fi, either through a hotspot,  wireless connection with data or through a SIM card on the camera.

You will also need to have a cloud account to store the data.

Recommended Products: Dash cams with cloud storage

External Dash Cam Batteries

If you want to use your dash cam while your car is parked as a security camera, it will need a power source.

You can have it run off of your vehicle, but that risks draining your car’s battery.

An external battery will keep your camera running overnight and longer – for up to 20 hours on some models.

Recommended Products: Dash cam battery packs

Dash Cams for Trucks

Truckers, who spend most of their time driving, can benefit from dash cams, both to monitor their driving and to defend them in any incidents on the road.

Dash cams for trucks should have a quality recording, wide-angle viewing, and good night-time quality if they drive through the evenings.

Dash cams with Wi-Fi capabilities to store the recordings on the cloud are a bonus as they can store longer trips and more data.

Recommended Products: The best dash cams for truckers

Is it Worth Getting a Dash Cam?

You can find dash cams at a range of prices and some are fairly inexpensive.

It may cost you extra to install it correctly, but it can potentially save you a lot more money if it gets you out of a ticket or proves your innocence in a traffic accident.

Even if you think you are a safe driver, you can’t control the driver behavior of others – the car that turns into you, the distracted driver who backs up into your parked car, and the impatient driver who rear-ends you.

If you have new drivers driving your vehicle, you may want a dash cam for your peace of mind!

Does Having a Dash Cam Lower Insurance?

Some car insurance providers may offer a discounted premium if you have a dash cam, or if you have a recording showing your safe driving.

However, even if your car insurance does not give a discount for dash cams, it can help you tremendously with your insurance in the event of an accident or if you’re claiming any damage.

The camera’s video footage can prove that you weren’t at fault, saving you a lot of money and securing an insurance claim.

How Does a Dash Cam Work?

A dash cam is a video camera that records your vehicle’s surroundings as you drive.

Do Dash Cams Record all the Time?

If your dash cam is set to record only while the car is on, it won’t record all of the time.

However, you can set your dash cam to record 24/7 as long as it has a power source when the car is off.

You can either connect it to your car’s fuse or get a long-life external battery pack.

How Does a Rear Dash Cam Work?

A rear camera records out the back of your vehicle to capture the road behind your car.

They can be advantageous to you if you get hit from behind or have a vehicle cut around you.

Many front-view dash cams will work with a rear-view dash cam to record together and you can find dual-view cameras.

Pros and Cons of Dash Cams

Are you on the fence about whether to get a dash cam for your vehicle?

There are pros to cons to consider.

Pros of Dash Cams

  • Proof for your innocence in case of an accident that was not your fault or a traffic incident to avoid a ticket
  • Evidence of your safe driving
  • Surveillance and protection of your car when parked

Cons of Dash Cams

  • May serve as proof of your guilt in an incident where you were at fault
  • It may be illegal to mount on your windshield in some states
  • You may need to pay to have it professionally installed

Is it Safe to Leave a Dash Cam in my Vehicle?

It is safe to leave your dash cam in your vehicle.

If you have your dash cam set to record while parked, it can even serve as a security camera to protect your vehicle.

Are you worried that someone will break into your car to steal the dash cam?

The cameras aren’t as expensive as they once were.

If you have your camera recording 24/7 and the data stored in the cloud, you will have a recording of the whole incident!

Wrapping Up

Dash cams provide security and peace of mind while on the road by recording your surroundings.

In the event of an accident or traffic violation, your dash cam will provide evidence of what occurred.

There are many different types of dash cams on the market.

Research their features to get the best dash cam for you.

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