Imagine this: you’re pulling away from a stop, perhaps at a red light, when someone jumps from the curb and lands on your hood. They drop to the ground and roll theatrically in pain. To anyone nearby, it looks like you’ve just hit someone. While this may sound farfetched, this type of insurance fraud is more common than you think. In fact, some studies have found that 21% of bodily injury automobile insurance claims close with the appearance of fraud.1
Dash cams rose in popularity in Europe to combat this, but they have yet to catch on as much in the US. Even so, dash cams can help clear you of blame in everyday accidents and keep your insurance premiums from being unduly raised. We’ve taken a look at the most popular dash cams out there and evaluated their features, price, and availability to provide you with a comprehensive list of recommendations. Take a look at the chart below and choose a camera to protect you on the road.
The top 5 dash cams
|Product name||Garmin 35||Zero-Edge Z3||Vantrue R2||Novatek G1W||Papago P1 Pro|
|View product||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon|
|Price||$169.99||$199.99||$269.99||$65.00||See Amazon for price|
|Resolution||1080p/720p||Up to 2K||Up to 2K||1080p||1080p|
|Display size||3 in||3 in||2.7 in||2.7 in||2.4 in|
|Memory capacity||64 GB||64 GB||64 GB||32 GB||32 GB|
|Battery backup||1 lithium ion (included)||1 lithium ion (included)||None||3.7V 300mAh (included)||None|
|Garmin 35||Zero-Edge Z3||Vantrue R2||Novatek G1W||Papago P1 Pro|
|Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon|
|$169.99||$199.99||$269.99||$65.00||See Amazon for price|
|1080p/720p||Up to 2K||Up to 2K||1080p||1080p|
|3 in||3 in||2.7 in||2.7 in||2.4 in|
|64 GB||64 GB||64 GB||32 GB||32 GB|
|1 lithium ion (included)||1 lithium ion (included)||None||3.7V 300mAh (included)||None|
1. Garmin 35
Garmin is the name you’re most likely to recognize of all the cameras on this list. The company is already known in the United States for its GPS systems and has now launched a foray into the world of dash cams. The Garmin 35 is its most advanced option yet, and it includes a slew of features at a reasonable price.
The Garmin records at either 1080p or 720p with a maximum of 30 frames per second (FPS). It ships with an included SD card, but its total memory can be expanded up to 64 GB. The camera is also GPS-enabled, which means all footage is tagged with coordinates in case you need to prove where you were when an accident occurred. If the G-sensor (basically an internal accelerometer) detects an accident or event, the camera automatically saves the footage. The Garmin is also equipped with forward-collision, red-light, and speed-camera warnings, although these features aren’t available everywhere.
The Garmin 35 is mainly powered via the car, but it has a backup battery (included) so you can detach the camera to take photos after a wreck. At around $170, the Garmin is a solid choice for a dash cam. Those features, combined with its clear resolution and collision warning, make the Garmin 35 our top choice for dash cams.
- 1080p/720p video
- Up to 64 GB of memory
- 3-inch display
- Choice between 1080p and 720p video to reduce memory usage
- Large, 3-inch display
- Collision, red-light, and speed-camera warnings
- Automatic GPS tagging on footage
- Wide-angle field of view
- Limited availability of red-light and speed-camera warnings
2. Zero Edge Z3
The Z3 dash cam from Zero Edge Technologies offers formidable competition for the Garmin 35. The Z3 is powered by both a battery and by a direct line into the vehicle. Its three-inch screen is clear enough to review footage on, and the Z3 will continue to monitor even while you are parked. It also draws a low amount of power to continue running when the vehicle is off.
The Z3 can record in four different resolutions up to 2K so you can find your ideal balance between video clarity and battery usage:
- 1280 x 720 at 30 frames per second
- 1920 x 1090 at 30 or 45 frames per second
- 2560 x 1080 at 30 frames per second
- 2304 x 1296 at 30 frames per second
The Z3 contains automatic sensors that set the camera to record whenever they detect an impact or severe vibrations. The camera also features one-button emergency video recording and protecting, as well as audio recording. The camera records in a loop and automatically overwrites the last five minutes of video to free up more space.
Though its price is higher than the Garmin 35’s, the Z3 is a great choice for someone who wants high-resolution video, a high dynamic range, and the ability to keep their recordings safe during accidents—all features that earned the Z3 the second spot on our list.
- 1280×720, 1920×1080, 2560×1080, 2304×1296 video
- Up to 64 GB of memory
- 145-degree field of view
- 3-inch display
- Four different resolutions
- Up to 2K resolution
- One-touch recording
- 32 GB SD card included
- $200 price point that is steep for many consumers
3. Vantrue R2
Vantrue may not be the most well-known company, but it produces dash cams with impressive specs. The Vantrue R2 dash cam has a 2.7-inch screen for video playback, and the 170-degree field of view lets you see more in one frame than the Z3 does. The Vantrue R2 has two recording resolutions—2560×1080 and 2304×1296—both at 30 frames per second. The higher-resolution recording will be clearer, but will also use more storage space than the lower-resolution option.
To save battery power, you can press a button to switch to “parking mode,” which monitors for motion around the vehicle. After you use this mode once, the camera automatically switches to it after five minutes when it detects no motion in front of the vehicle. When you’re not in parking mode and something hits your car, an internal G-sensor automatically locks footage when it detects the impact. This prevents you from accidentally deleting important video segments.
There are, however, a couple downsides to this camera. First, unlike the top two choices on this list, the Vantrue R2 can’t be disconnected and used as a camera—it requires a direct connection to the car to remain powered. Second, although the price is lower on Amazon, the Vantrue R2’s MSRP is around $270. Because of this, we can’t place it higher on the list. The price point is too high, and the lack of detaching capabilities keep it ranking below the Garmin 35 and the Z3. Despite these drawbacks, the Vantrue’s crystal-clear footage keeps the R2 in our top five.
- 2460×1080, 2304×1296 resolution
- Up to 64 GB of memory
- 170-degree field of view
- 2.7-inch display
- Large field of view
- Two resolution options
- Clear picture
- Footage locking upon impact detection
- High price for its capabilities
- No company website
- No detachment capabilities
4. Novatek G1W
Part of the appeal of this Novatek camera is the low price—at less than $70, it’s the least expensive on the list. Despite the low cost, the G1W records at 1080p and has 4x zoom capability. You can even record at 60 frames per second by dropping the resolution to 720p.
The Novatek G1W automatically begins recording when the car is turned on. LED night vision means your footage will be clearly visible, day or night, and the 2.7-inch display is crisp enough to clearly play back video. The G1W can only handle up to 32 GB memory cards, limiting the amount of available storage, but it automatically records over the oldest footage to make room for new.
The Novatek is a great option for someone looking for an inexpensive dash cam. It’s a reliable camera with clear footage, and it will get the job done without breaking the bank. Because of its low price point, it lacks many of the advanced features that higher-end dash cams offer.
- 1080p, 720p resolution
- Up to 32 GB of memory
- 160-degree field of view
- 2.7-inch display
- Low price
- Wide field of view
- Automatic motion detection and night vision
- Only 32 GB of storage
- Lack of high-end features
5. Papago P1 Pro
The final dash cam on our list is the Papago P1 Pro. It has the smallest display size at 2.4 inches, but still records at 1080p with 30 frames per second. The 130-degree field of view may not be as wide as its competitors, but a slimmer field of view means higher clarity in the footage the camera captures.
The Papago P1 Pro also a number of interesting features such as speed-camera warnings, lane-departure alerts, and driver-fatigue warnings. It is designed not only to capture footage of what happens in front of your vehicle, but also to make you a better driver.
Despite these features, the Papago P1 Pro is ranked lowest because of its small screen display, limited resolution options, and limited storage. As the camera costs nearly $200, we would expect it to have better technical specs than it does.
- 1080p resolution
- Up to 32 GB of storage
- 130-degree field of view
- 2.4-inch display
- Numerous features to help you drive more safely
- Clear resolution
- Automatically overwriting old footage to make room for new
- Only one resolution option
- Only 32 GB of storage
- Narrow field of vision
Why own a dash cam?
How many traffic accidents boil down to an I-said-you-said situation? Dash cams are useful precisely because they protect you. Whether it’s a case of someone throwing themselves on your hood in an attempt at insurance fraud or someone backing into you for the same reason, it’s your word versus theirs.
A dash cam provides video proof that you aren’t at fault. Many dash cams run on battery, so they can even protect you in a parking garage. If someone sideswipes your vehicle, you’ll have the event—and the other car’s license plate—on camera.
What to look for in a dash cam
A dash cam is the perfect solution for recording what’s happening on the road in front of you, but not all dash cams are equal. Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping.
- Resolution: The resolution is the difference between useful and useless footage. Higher resolution means you can more easily make out details about vehicles, license plates, and faces. While high-resolution cameras are generally more expensive than those that record in lower resolutions (like 720p), the cost difference is well worth it.
- Storage capacity: How many hours of video can you store? The storage capacity of a dash cam matters, as do its deletion methods. Some dash cams erase the oldest footage first, ensuring you can still review recent events. Others cams require manual deletion. Make sure the camera you choose has enough built-in storage, or the ability to expand the storage. And remember that high-resolution video takes up more space than low-resolution footage.
- Legality: Not every state permits the use of dash cams. While there is no federal law against their use, some states require the permission of both parties before a conversation can be recorded. While this shouldn’t be an imposition unless a conversation is recorded, it’s important to make sure of the laws where you live. And in any case, it’s a good idea to at least give your passengers a heads-up. Another consideration is whether the dash cam is classified as an obstruction; in certain states, police can ticket you for blocking your vision of the road ahead.
Some dash cams include additional features such as red-light detection and radar warnings. The legality of these features differs from county to county, so look into your local laws before opting for a device that includes these aspects.
Buy a dash cam
You don’t need to invest in an expensive piece of hardware to sit on your dash, but an inexpensive camera can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in an accident. When there is videographic proof of an incident, it helps authorities settle the matter quickly. Take a look at the options on this list and decide which camera is right for you.