The Best Dash Cam

Day or night, the best dash cam should capture small details like license plates without missing the big picture, all while being easy to use right out of the box. After eight hours testing 14 of the best models around, we found three cameras that outperformed the rest.

How We Chose the Best Dash Cam

Image quality

With dash cams, image quality is measured in a couple different ways: resolution and field of view. We only considered dash cams have at least a 1080-pixel resolution — the standard for what’s considered HD. Field of view, on the other hand, is more art than science.

Generally, the larger the degree of the field of view, the more the camera will capture along the sides of your car. But more isn’t necessarily better: The wider you go, the more distant objects in front of the camera will appear, making it hard to see small details even when they’re right in front of your car.

Dash cam manufacturers are also notoriously misleading about these difficult-to-measure numbers. For those reasons, we didn’t set any minimum requirement; the models we tested range from 118 degrees to a full 180.

Automatically saves videos

The best dash cam is also a reliable dash cam. Each of our finalists plugs into a car’s “cigarette lighter” receptacle, so they turn on and off with your vehicle. They also all come with sensors that detect sharp, sudden movement and save footage automatically. The last thing we’d want is to lose valuable evidence because we forgot to turn our camera on or click “save” in the chaotic moments following a car accident.

Reputable manufacturers

There’s a wide range of prices and features in the dash cam market, but it’s not always clear what’s essential and what’s simply a nice-to-have. So to start our search, we looked for the most popular cameras from a variety of brands and models.

Best-of lists from Consumer Reports and The Wirecutter led us to highly-vetted models like the Papago GoSafe 535 and BlackVue DR450-1CH. But we also wanted to try out some lesser-known brands that had earned cult-like followings on dash cam review sites like Dash Cam Talk and Blackbox My Car, so we included cameras from Street Guardian and Viofo as well. Finally, we wanted to see how GPS navigation leaders like Garmin and Magellan stacked up against these companies that exclusively make dash cams.

We tested 14 top-rated dash cams total, ranging from $45 to $260. Once they arrived, all that was left to do was pile into a Nissan Altima and take to the streets of Seattle.

Finalists for Dash Cams
The 14 dash cams we tested:
  • Black Box G1W-H
  • BlackVue DR450
  • Cobra CDR 855 BT
  • Garmin Dash Cam™ 65W
  • Magellan MiVue 420
  • Mobius ActionCam
  • Papago GoSafe 535
  • Street Guardian SG9665GC V3
  • Thinkware F770
  • VicoVation Vico-Opia2
  • Viofo A119S
  • YI Smart Dash Camera
  • YI Ultra Dash Camera
  • Z-Edge Z3P

Easy installation

The first thing we looked for in our tests were models that were easy to secure to our windshield, and they stayed there without any problems. Take it from us — there’s nothing more distracting than a dash cam falling off your windshield in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

After playing around with all the different options, we found suction cups to be the most versatile. We liked how simple it was to move around on our windshield or from car to car. Whether you want to switch between multiple cars at home, or you want to use it in a rental car when you travel, the suction cup is the only method that was truly portable.

Dash cams that used stickers to mount the entire unit to the windshield are the most frustrating to set up — especially if they don’t come with a screen. You only have one shot to get it right, and if you don’t nail it on the first try, you’re stuck at a bad angle with a limited field of view.

Doesn’t obstruct driver’s view

Because the dash camera is meant to stay on your windshield at all times, it shouldn’t distract you from driving. The screens of our favorite models, like the Garmin 65W, are only a couple inches across diagonally, making them virtually invisible behind the rearview mirror. We also appreciated cameras like the Street Guardian SG9665GC that turn off automatically after driving for a few seconds. The less a dash cam asked of our attention, the better.

The 3 Best Dash Cams

Best Video Quality
Street Guardian SG9665GC V3
Street Guardian
Razor sharp footage at any time of day
Pros
Captures small details
Night time performance
Wide field of view
Easy to use
Cons
Fixed mounting

Why we chose it

Captures small details

Through every round of testing, the Street Guardian produced the sharpest images we saw. While almost every dash cam we tested could read license plates when we were stopped directly behind a car, but only the Street Guardian could do it while going 60 mph on the freeway. This is the information that can prove vital in the event of an accident, and the Street Guardian excelled better than any other model.

Night time performance

The Street Guardian’s performance held up no matter what light conditions we tested it in. Where nighttime images from some cameras were ruined by the glare of headlights and street lamps, the Street Guardian neutralized them beautifully so that we were still able to discern subtle details like the make and model of passing cars.

Street-Guardian-vs-Cobra-Night-Comparison-for-Dash-Cam

The Street Guardian (top) performed better in low-lighting than the Cobra CDR 855 BT (bottom).

Wide field of view

Before we started testing, we assumed this dash cam’s biggest weakness would be its field of view, listed at 120-degrees. Since a narrower field of view sacrifices context around the edges for greater detail in front, we expected the high marks in detail to come with the baggage of large blind spots around the sides of our car.

To our delight, the Street Guardian excelled here, too. Despite its modest listing, it out-performed cameras that claim to capture 160 degrees (like the Papago GoSafe 535 and Cobra CDR 855 BT), all while maintaining the sharp resolution that we fell in love with in the first place.

Street-Guardian-vs-Papago-Comparison-2-for-Dash-Cam

While the Papago GoSafe 535's viewing angle (bottom) is supposedly 40° wider, we found the Street Guardian (top) captured a slightly wider angle.

Easy to use

We appreciated this camera’s simple functionality. While some models forced us to click seven times to set the language, date, and time whenever we turned on the car (talking about you, Papago), the Street Guardian was truly “set and forget.” The screen even turned off after a few minutes of driving, saving us from unnecessary distractions (though you can easily change that in the settings). This subtlety carried over to the unit as well; it was one of the most discreet dash cams we tested, virtually invisible from the outside of the car.

Points to consider

Fixed mounting

One of the only things we weren’t crazy about on the Street Guardian was its mounting system. Instead of the usual suction cup or sticker that most dash cams employ, it uses a bracket permanently mounted by a sticker. We liked that better than a sticker alone — you can remove the camera from the bracket without having to pry off the sticker — but it still means you’ll have to use an extra bracket if you plan on moving the camera from car to car.

Great for Road Trips
Garmin Dash Cam 65W
Garmin
Its 180° field of view makes it perfect for landscapes, but that comes at the expense of smaller details
Pros
Great at capturing scenic vistas
Built-in WiFi and mobile app
Voice control
Mounting system
Cons
Some excessive features
Struggles with small details

Why we chose it

Great at capturing scenic vistas

If you imagine using your dash cam as much for filming scenic landscapes as for protection against accidents, the Garmin Dash Cam 65W is an excellent option. It has a 180-degree field of view — the widest of anything we tested — so open vistas come out absolutely gorgeous. It was the smallest dash cam we tested, yet it produced videos that looked like they belonged on a movie screen. It wasn’t hard to imagine how much fun it would be to take on a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway or Blue Ridge Parkway.

Wide-Angle-Comparison-for-Dash-Cam

The Garmin’s 180° field of view (top) captured wider vistas than the Blackvue’s narrow 118° (bottom).

And it does have more practical applications, too — the 65W captures everything on both sides of your car, so you’d have the complete story in the event of an accident.

Built-in Wi-Fi and mobile app

Along with the Yi models we tested, the Garmin was one of the only dash cams to include WiFi capability and a corresponding app — travelers can easily upload and share road videos directly from their phone. It also has a cool “travelapse” feature, which speeds up hours of driving into a road trip highlights video.

Garmin-Menu-Options-for-Dash-Cams

Voice control

The Garmin is one of the most features-heavy cameras we tested, but unlike a lot of competitors, most of them actually improved our experience.

The audio control was especially thoughtful. Just say “OK, Garmin” and it brings up a simple, four-option menu. We loved that we could use basic controls without having to fiddle around with tiny buttons.

Mounting system

The Garmin 65W had one of the most thoughtful and easy to use mounting systems of any dash cam we saw. It uses a magnet that permanently sticks to the windshield, so it’s incredibly simple to take it off and reattach. Garmin also includes an extra mounting magnet if you want to switch between your two-door sedan and the family mini-van.

Points to consider

Some excessive features

We did appreciate how the Garmin automatically stamps the date, time, GPS coordinates, and miles per hour onto every video, but a few features were more distracting than useful for us. For example, the 65W has a setting where it will urge you to “Go” if you’re stopped in traffic and the cars in front of you begin to move again. It felt like overkill to us, but it might come if you've got a car full of rowdy kids competing for your attention. Either way, it’s an incredibly user-friendly dash cam, so adjusting the settings to your liking never takes more than a few clicks.

Struggles with small details

While the Garmin’s wide field of view is what made it such a delightful choice for road trips, we found it difficult to pick up license plates even when they were directly in front of the car. Its performance also suffered at night time, picking up a lot of glare from streetlights and oncoming traffic. The Garmin would do a perfectly serviceable job as an everyday dash cam, but it truly excels in capturing wide landscapes.

A Cheaper, No-Frills Option
Black Box G1W-H Hidden Dash Cam
Black Box
A larger, more basic camera that ranked third in our field tests
Pros
Picture quality
Adapters included
Suction mount
Cons
Night time performance
Bulky design
SD card not included

Why we chose it

Picture quality

Judging by picture quality alone, it was difficult to tell the difference between the $55 Black Box and some of our most expensive cameras, like the $260 Thinkware F770. The Black Box dash cam produced razor sharp images whether we were stopped at a light or driving on the freeway, allowing us to see precise details that could end up being crucial in an insurance claim.

While the field of view is narrower than the Street Guardian and Garmin models, we never felt like we were missing a lot of information. We could see two full lanes directly on both sides when we were on the freeway, which made us feel confident we would catch any relevant activity in an accident.

Black-Box-vs-Papago-Comparison-for-Dash-Cam

The Black Box (top) had a narrower field of view than the Papago GoSafe (bottom), but it was better at picking up details like street signs.

Adapters included

Though it’s a pretty bare-bones dash cam, the G1W-H does come with some thoughtful additions like HDMI and AV cables adapted to plug directly from the camera to a TV or computer. That way, you can quickly view your footage on a bigger screen without having to upload it through its SD card first. It’s not quite as useful as an app, but it was the kind of sensible solution that we really loved in this model.

Suction mount

We loved the Black Box’s suction cup mounting method. It eliminated the high-pressure stakes of sticker mounts, meaning that we could move it around from car to car (especially useful if you plan on using it in a rental). Suction cups are probably a little less secure than sticker mounts, but the Black Box stayed rock solid through a full eight hours of testing.

Points to consider

Night time performance

Where it failed to reach the quality of the Street Guardian was in our night-time testing. Images were much darker overall, and while it didn’t have the same problem with glares that cameras like the pricier Cobra CDR 855 BT and BlackVue DR450 did, we did find it hard to see objects that weren’t directly in front of a light source.

Black-Box-vs-Papago-Night-Comparison-for-Dash-Cam

The Black Box (top) struggled at night compared to the Papago GoSafe (bottom).

Bulky design

This also isn’t exactly a "low-profile" dash cam. While the 2.7-inch screen is nice when setting up your camera angle, it takes up more room than our other top picks and is easily noticeable from the outside. On the bright side, it's still small enough to stow in the glove compartment while you’re parked if you're concerned about theft.

SD card not included

Unlike the Street Guardian and Garmin, The Black Box doesn’t come with an SD card. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it effectively adds on to the sticker price. You can easily find one on Amazon (or any local drug store) for around $11.

How to Find the Right Dash Cam for You

Decide between a single- or duel-channel dash cam

All of the dash cams we’ve recommended are single channel models designed to capture the action in front of your car. If you’re looking for even more protection, dual channel dash cams allow you to record with an additional camera facing the interior or rear of the car.

The advantage is that you can collect more information this way — if someone rear ends you and drives off, for example, you could potentially use their license plate and description in a police report. It can also be useful for taxi, Uber, or Lyft drivers who want to position the second camera on the interior for insurance against the occasional rowdy passenger.

Unsurprisingly, high-quality dual-channel models generally cost about twice as much a single cameras, so you might consider buying two of those instead (although this would require plugging into separate outlets). If the added protection sounds like its worth the extra money, Consumer Reports recommends the Auto-Vox M2 and Cobra CDR 895 D Dual Camera.

Consider parking surveillance modes

One of the most prominent features on the best dash cameras is a parking surveillance mode. Of the fourteen models we tested, eight of them have the ability to use sensors to turn on and start recording when they detect movement near the car. That's nice in theory, but it's also a lot of work to set up.

Motion sensors require a constant power source, so you’ll have to hardwire the camera’s power into your car battery (usually with professional help) or purchase a pricey external battery. And even after all that, there’s no guarantee of catching anything since the camera’s only facing one direction. If you’re facing consistent problems in your parking lot or driveway, consider placing a security camera in your home's window instead.

Check your state’s laws

Under the First Amendment, it’s legal to record video or pictures in public spaces. However, dash cams mounted to the inside of a car’s windshield are illegal in 28 states. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your dash cam obstructs no more than a five inch square on the driver’s side or a seven inch square on the passenger side. Every state is different, though, so be sure to check your state’s laws before purchasing a dash cam.

You can also run into problems with dash cams that record audio. Twelve states require all parties to consent before recording a conversation: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. So if you do purchase a model with audio recording, it’s on you to disable it or let your passengers know before they get in the car (especially important for taxi, Uber, or Lyft drivers).

Dash Cam FAQ

How do dash cams store footage?

Dash cams use SD cards as their storage method. Most of the models we tested came with 8 GB but could hold up to 32 GB, with some even going as high as 64 GB. All of them operated on a loop system: as you record more footage, the oldest videos are continuously replaced. We found that 8 GB cards could hold about an hour of video, which is plenty of room if your only concern is capturing potential accidents.

Can dash cam footage be used in court?

In general, the more physical evidence you can produce in a criminal case, the stronger your argument will be. That said, dash cams are currently illegal in 28 states, and your video won’t be admissible in court in any of them. But for cases that often come down to “he said, she said” — if you’re trying to prove you weren’t at fault or were the victim of a hit and run, for example — dash cam footage can often be a decisive piece of hard evidence.

Will a dash cam lower my insurance rates?

As of now, no major auto insurance companies offer discounts to drivers who use dashboard cameras. Still, that doesn’t mean it won’t end up saving you money on your insurance in the long run. If you’re the victim of an accident, dash cam footage can provide video evidence that you weren’t the driver at fault, thus saving you from a spike in your rates.

The Best Dash Cam: Summed Up

Street Guardian SG9665GC V3
Garmin Dash 65W
Black Box G1W-H
The best
Video quality
For road trips
Budget option
Resolution
1080p
1080p
1080p
Price
$149.95
$249.99
$49.99
Field of view
120°
180°
160°
Size (volume)
9.8 in3
4.9 in3
13.5 in3
Mounting method
Adhesive bracket
Adhesive magnet
Suction cup
Mobile app
GPS
Wi-Fi
SD card
32 GB
8 GB
Not included