If you're new to dash cams, we understand that the amount of new information can be a bit overwhelming, but don't worry, we'll walk you through the basics!
Basic Dash Cam FAQ
Dash Cam Basic Questions
What is a dash cam?
Simply put, a dash cam (or dashcam) is a small video camera that attaches to your car's windshield and continuously records video as you drive. Dash cams were popularized in Russia; more than likely you have seen footage from a Russian dashboard camera. Sometimes a dash cam is called a car DVR (Digital Video Recorder), a car black box or an in-car camera system.
Why is it called a "dash cam"?
Dash cams, or dashboard video cameras, got their name due to originally being mounted on the dashboard of vehicles (mostly police cars). Now, most dash cams mount to a car's windshield with a secure and easy to use suction cup mount or strong adhesive pad.
Are there different kinds of dash cams?
Yes, there are several types of dash cams, and while they come in all shapes and sizes, they may be classified into a few distinct categories (click on any category link below to open a new browser window to that category of dash cam):
- Single-lens dash cams (for forward-facing recording)
- Dual-lens dash cams (for front + rear recording)
- Dual-lens dash cams (for front + inside recording)
- Professional dash cams (for commercial or governmental fleet vehicles)
Single-lens dash cams are the most basic type of dash cam. These record from a single camera lens, like a normal camcorder. Typically people mount these dash cams in their front windshield in order to record what is happening in front of the car.
Dual-lens dash cams are a bit more complex. These dash cams can record from more than one camera lens at a time. Typically they utilize one forward-facing lens to record what is happening in front of the vehicle, and one inside-facing lens to record what is happening inside the vehicle. These are particularly useful for fleet or commercial vehicles where typically the driver of the vehicle is not the owner of the vehicle.
There are also dual-lens dash cams for front + rear such as the BlackVue DR750S-2CH that record in front of the vehicle like a single-lens model, but also use the input from a smaller remote camera (a camera mounted in the back of the vehicle - on the rear windshield) to record what is happening behind the vehicle as well.
Professional dash cams are commercial-grade models designed for business use (fleet vehicles, taxis/Uber/Lyft drivers, delivery trucks, etc) or other commercial, municipal or government purposes. These high-reliability units are also desirable to those individuals seeking the added peace of mind that comes from using a professional-level device in their own vehicle.
Which dash cam is the best?
Unfortunately this is not an easy question to answer. Since dash cams all have different qualities, the best dash cam is the one that suits *you* best. The Dashcam Store™ has created several Dash Cam Buying Guides to help you get started picking out the right dash cam for your needs.
Keep in mind that while there are a wide variety of dash cams available on the internet, many of which are cheap and unreliable, you can rest assured that we only sell those cameras which we personally research and which pass our own internal quality tests.
How do I use a dash cam?
Once you have purchased a dash cam (preferably from The Dashcam Store ), in most cases this is all you need to do to be up and running:
- Insert a memory card.
- Attach the suction-cup mount to your windshield.
- Plug the power cord into the power source (cigarette lighter or other).
Done! Since recording is automatic, just drive your vehicle like you normally would, and enjoy the fact that you are now "protected by dashcam"! See more on our How-To Guides page.
What are dash cams good for?
Dash cams have many applications, but most importantly, they act as an impartial witness in case of an accident. Sadly, there are dishonest people in the world, and a dash cam provides irrefutable evidence of what happened before, during, and after an incident. No more "your word against theirs" - rest assured you will always have the truth on your side.
Many dash cam models provide GPS data logging as well. These camera units, along with the video, will provide a record of your position and speed at all times. This information, again, proves the facts such as your whereabouts at a particular time, and can also be used to prove (or perhaps more importantly: disprove) your speed. This GPS data can be overlaid on a Google-type map during video playback on your home computer.
What else are dash cams good for?
You have undoubtedly watched footage recorded on a dash cam at some point on the news or on the internet. Remember the Russian meteorite event? Since dash cams are always recording, they capture amazing, interesting, or even just plain funny events that occur every day around the world. Check out our videos page for examples.
Dash cam footage can help others as well. If you capture an accident on film, it is almost certain that the other drivers will be happy to know you (and your dash cam) were there as witness. We've seen plenty of clips like this on YouTube, including some hit-and-run incidents where only the dash cam saw what really occurred, and the innocent victim would be left to pay the bill if not for the license plate captured by someone else's dash cam.
Is there anything else dash cams are good for?
Yes! Many dash cam models provide GPS data logging as well. These camera units, along with the video, will provide a record of your position and speed at all times. This information, again, proves the facts such as your whereabouts at a particular time, and can also be used to prove (or perhaps more importantly: disprove) your speed. This GPS data can be overlaid on a Google-type map during video playback on your home computer.
Who uses dash cams?
The majority of all police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, city buses, etc., already use dash cams. Increasingly, individuals concerned with false liability claims and protecting themselves in the case of an accident are utilizing the protection offered by on-board video recorders. This includes every day drivers like you, parents, truckers and 18-wheeler drivers, etc.
Fleet owners and contract drivers as well can benefit greatly from having a video (and position) data from their fleet vehicles when they are out in service for the day.
Almost every driver should be using a dash cam! More and more drivers every day agree with this statement and join the group of those who are "protected by dashcam".
How do dash cams work?
You can't explain that! Just kidding. Dash cams record video to a removable memory card inside the camera itself. Any time your car is on and the dash cam is plugged in, it is acting as your backup witness. Dash cams automatically start recording when they are powered on, and stop recording once you turn your car off. Note: Some dash cam models have the ability to keep recording even while the vehicle is parked! This is known as "parking mode".
Is it legal to use a dash cam?
Generally, yes. In the United States, using a dashboard camera to record video on public roads is legal in almost all cases. The law allows one to record video as long as you are not infringing on another's privacy. However, anything done in public is not protected by privacy laws; there is no expectation of privacy in public. Therefore, recording pictures/video in public is a First Amendment protected right so long as you do not violate other laws (for example: stopping in the middle of traffic to record the arrest of an individual, or otherwise interfering with a traffic, police, or rescue operation).*
The laws for recording *audio* however are different. Because oral communication laws vary by locale, we recommend notifying your passengers that audio recording is taking place, or simply disabling the microphone on your dash cam. It is also our recommendation to always inform any police or government official that they are being recorded if you believe your dash cam is recording them (either video or audio).
Please see the following articles for further information:
- Recording in Public Places and Your First Amendment Rights
- Taking Photos In Public Places Is Not A Crime: Analysis
- What are the laws regarding video recording in public?
For countries other than the United States, please refer to your local laws.* The Dashcam Store does not offer this advice as legal council; it is only our opinion (as we are not lawyers).
Where do dash cams get their power?
All dash cams come with a power cord that plugs into the 12v cigarette lighter outlet in your car. Plug this cord in, and you are up and running! This cord is usually quite long, long enough to tuck behind and route around the interior panels of your vehicle (on the way to the power outlet) so it will not be visible to the driver or passengers.
Optionally, you or your local car audio shop can easily install or "hard-wire" the dash cam by tapping into your vehicle's 12v power circuit. This provides a complete professional installation and frees up your power outlet for your cell phone charger or other electronic device. We sell our own patent-pending installation kits that include simple instructions for quickly plugging in to your car's fuse box. Check out our dash cam accessories page for more information.
Furthermore, typically dash cams include a small built-in battery. This battery isn't meant to power the camera for long periods of time, but is there in case power from the car is severed during an accident. The internal battery ensures the camera will keep recording even after a major accident.
How are videos recorded on my dash cam.
A dash cam starts creating video files on an empty memory card. These video files are typically segmented into 1, 3, or 5 minute chunks, since it is easier to view and work with small video files on your computer rather than one long continuous file. When the memory card is full, the dash cam simply starts over at the beginning of the memory card, and in this way, never needs any attention from you until you have captured an incident on video that you would like to save. This is known as "loop recording", and is one of the most important abilities of dash cams.
What can I do with the incidents I capture on my dash cam?
Glad you asked! The Dashcam Store™ now has a Video Bounty program where you can earn cash for your footage! If you happen to capture something amazing on dash cam, and you own the rights to the video (meaning, you recorded the incident yourself on your own dash cam), you can upload the clip using our easy drag-and-drop video upload page. If the clip is interesting enough, and we use it for any reason (such as promotional or educational purposes), we will pay you!
To request additional information, please don't hesitate to contact us. We give our best effort to respond to all inquiries within 1 business day.