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Should you install a dash cam?

Carlton Boyce / 04 April 2019 ( 06 March 2020 )

Find out all you need to know about dash cams, including why you should get one, how to choose one and how to install a dash cam.

Dash cam recording footage in a car
Most dash cams can be installed very easily. Image courtesy of Halfords

We’ve covered motoring scams before, and I recommended installing a video camera (also known as a dash cam) in your car to give you the reassurance of fully independent, third-party evidence that can help you prove that you were not at fault in an accident.

And it’s not just me who recommends them; the police welcome the use of dash cams too, with Paul Marshall, the deputy chief constable of Suffolk Constabulary, saying in 2013: "Increasing use is being made by the public of digital cameras to record evidence of offences which can be used by the police to support prosecutions."

Here’s our guide to choosing, and fitting, a dash cam in your car.

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What sort of camera do you want?

There is a huge range on offer, with price points to match, so it pays to be clear on what sort of video camera you are looking for.

The most basic cameras will record constantly and are mounted on, or near, your rear-view mirror. 

The quality of picture will vary, but all should be capable of recording sound and vision to an acceptable degree, even at night. Prices vary hugely, but I paid £20 for a basic model on Amazon, paying another £20 for a high-capacity SD card to store the video on.

Around £100 will get you a neat little unit that uses your smartphone as a screen, which means it can be nice and small and discreet.

More expensive models will record vision inside the car too and automatically save a recording in the event of an accident, while the most expensive will feature GPS to record your precise location and a G-force sensor to record the severity of the impact. Prices for these can be as high as £300.

My advice is to spend between £30 and £150, searching for a model in your price range that gets good reviews. 

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Installing a dash cam

Most dash cams can be installed very easily: you just wet the rubber sucker and stick it to your windscreen and plug the power lead into your power point or cigarette lighter socket and you’re away. By doing this, most will start recording when you turn the ignition on and stop when you turn it off.

However, that’s not an especially elegant solution and with a bit of care it’s possible to install it in a more unobtrusive and professional way. 

Firstly, if you pull the rubber seal a few millimeters away from the inside of your windscreen, you can tuck the power lead away behind it, hiding it from view. You can then tuck the rest of the lead away underneath the dashboard. (It's best if you do this on the passenger’s side, just in case it falls down as you’re driving; you don’t want to get your feet tangled in it!) 

Finally, try and ease the lead under the centre console of your car until you get to the power socket.

You might find the suction cup keeps falling off, especially when the outside temperature changes. You can fix this by using a special double-sided sticky pad to hold it on. They’re sold for use with interior mirrors but they’ll hold your dash cam firmly in place as well.

You can also choose to have your dash cam professionally fitted and hard-wired into your car’s electrical system. This is the best, and neatest, solution and the one I’d recommend if you are going to be hanging onto your car for a couple of years or more.

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Setting a dash cam up

Most dash cams offer a variety of choices for video and sound quality. My advice is to set it up with the highest quality video you can, as you’ll generally only be interested in using a few minutes’ worth, at most. 

All of them will record on a loop, recording over the oldest footage when the storage card is full, so you don’t have to worry about running out of memory space.

The decision to record sound is a personal one. On the one hand it can be very useful to have sound to go with the film footage in the event of a dispute, but on the other do you want every conversation you have in your car recorded for posterity? I’ve chosen not to record sound, but the prudent driver will probably opt for security over any slight loss of privacy.

Using a dash cam

It goes without saying that you should set it up to record all the time and all but the very cheapest will do this automatically. I’d advise you to stick to the factory settings on auto-recording so you don’t have to do anything to start filming because you can guarantee the day you forget to turn it on will be the day you really, really need it…

If you are involved in an accident, a suspected ‘crash for cash’ incident, or are the victim of road rage and are confronted by an angry driver, I would keep the doors locked and tell them that the incident is being recorded on video and that the police have been called. 

Most, if not all, will stop behaving aggressively once they realize they are being filmed and that the subsequent footage could later be used against them in court.

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After an incident

Once an incident has concluded, it is best practice to remove the memory card from your dash cam to make sure it isn’t accidentally recorded or erased. Of course, it is also best practice to have a second, spare memory card in your car, just in case you are unlucky enough to be involved in a second incident…

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The use of a dash cam is absolutely legal as there is, and cannot be, an expectation of privacy while in public. However, if you are recording sound or video inside your car, the decent thing to do is to warn passengers that recording is taking place.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.