You only have to spend a few minutes looking at YouTube to know there are some dreadful drivers on our roads. Their antics can wipe out your hard-earned no claims bonus in a matter of seconds, so making sure you have a witness to any wrongdoing in the form of a decent dash cam has never been more important.
On average, crash-for-cash crimes are costing UK drivers an estimated £340m every year, bumping up premiums for everyone, reports The Insurance Fraud Bureau. But decent dash cam footage could protect you from having to fork out for a false claim, and some insurers may even offer money off your premium for using a camera.
Modern devices are packed with features such as G-force sensors to measure impacts, GPS to pinpoint your position and speed, and even collision avoidance software to warn you if you are approaching other vehicles too quickly.
Many also include built-in wifi and Bluetooth, which can make it easy to alter settings and download footage to your phone.
We put a range of the latest models through their paces, in daylight and at night, and found examples at a variety of price points to suit both the best drivers and those who just want protection on the odd trip into town.
But whichever camera you choose, make sure you position it out of your eyeline, and always keep your windscreen clean inside and out – we found having clear glass had a big impact on image quality right across the range of models.
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The best dash cams for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Nextbase 522GW: £149, Nextbase.com
- Best for alerts – Mio mivue 798: £169, Currys.co.uk
- Best dual-facing dash cam – Garmin tandem dash cam: £299.99, Garmin.com
- Best with a magnetic mount – Nextbase 222: £69, Nextbase.com
- Best without a screen – Halfords HDC400 dash cam: £69, Halfords.com
- Best for a rear window – Halfords HDC-R rear dash cam: £35, Halfords.com
- Best bundle – Kenwood DRV-A501W bundle: £199.95, Kenwoodshop.co.uk
- Best for speed alerts – Mio mivue 812: £119.99, Currys.co.uk
- Best with a capacitor – Yi nightscape dash cam: £40, Kamistore.eu
- Best to fit and forget – Viofo A139: £219.95, Amazon.co.uk
Packed with features and boasting 1440p HD recording, the 522GW is a worthy winner of our best buy. It even has Alexa built in, so you can call up your favourite tunes or ask it to save a recording of an incident. The footage is excellent, both day and night, and it’s easy to download segments to the Nextbase app via Bluetooth.
The 3in screen is touch sensitive, so you don’t have to fumble around trying to find buttons while on the road. There is also a built-in polarising filter on the lens which you can rotate to reduce glare, making a big improvement to the quality of the footage. One clever feature, which we hope you will never have to use, is the SOS emergency setting, which will give the emergency services your location and some medical details if you are ever in a crash and unresponsive.
Mio mivue 798
Best: For alerts
We love the safety camera alerts built into this one, including both an audible warning and screen countdown. Regular updates to the camera site database was also a notable feature. You can record in up to 1600p HD but that’s only at 25 frames per second, so we recommend using the 1080p option at 30fps instead, as it won’t take up as much space on your SD card. It’s a compact design, but the smaller size makes the buttons at the sides of the casing rather, well, small – something to bear in mind if you have clumsy fingers.
Garmin tandem dash cam
Best: Dual-facing dash cam
You had better be on your best behaviour when using this premium camera, because it’s watching you as well as what’s going on ahead of you. It has a lens pointing back into the car as well as the standard forward-facing one, recording at up to 1440p. That dual arrangement makes it ideal for parents who want to monitor a new driver, or for taxi drivers and driving instructors. It’s a tiny, matchbox-sized device so there’s no viewing screen, but it does still have GPS. Another nifty feature is the ability to give it voice commands so you never have to take your hands off the wheel to save a segment of footage.
Best: With a magnetic mount
This little beauty offers everything most drivers will ever need in a dash cam. It’s got 1080p HD recording, a handy magnetic powered mount so you can remove it from the car in a couple of seconds, and an intelligent parking mode that will keep an eye on your vehicle while you’re away from it. Sadly, there’s no Bluetooth, wifi or GPS, and the 2.5in viewing screen is not touch-sensitive – you use buttons to access features – but as a pure recording device it’s hard to beat at this price.
Halfords HDC400 dash cam
Best: Without a screen
With no screen, you can fit and forget this neat camera, and hide it out of the way behind your rearview mirror. It sticks to the windscreen and you adjust the lens up or down according to the image shown on an app on your phone. There’s a 180 degree field of view to catch all the action in front of you, with images recorded in 1440p full HD. The footage was good in daylight and pretty decent at night too.
There’s GPS and a G-shock sensor (which ensures footage is automatically saved in the event of a crash or collision), plus it will work in parking mode when hardwired into your vehicle. The only downside is that you are limited to using a 32gb SD card, which doesn’t give you a huge amount of recording capacity for a 1440p device.
Halfords HDC-R rear dash cam
Best: For a rear window
This 720p rear camera module looks huge on the front of the box but is tiny when you get it out of the packaging. It will sit discreetly on your rear window, keeping an eye on any idiots tailgating you on the motorway or around town. It’s compatible with the HDC400 camera (£69, Halfords.com), along with others in the range, and you have to feed the long connecting cable into the side of the roof panels or out of the way along the floor. Some users have reported interference with DAB devices if the camera is mounted too close to internal aerials and the like, so take that into account when positioning it.
Kenwood DRV-A501W bundle
You will really get value for money with this bundle – a quality camera that will record at up to 1440p with GPS, wifi and a magnetic mounting system, a rear camera module, micro SD card and hardwire kit are all included as standard and we love it.
The main unit is fairly big compared with rival products, with the control buttons arranged along the sides of the bright 3in screen, making it a good choice if you find some cameras fiddly. The main camera offers high dynamic resolution (HDR) recording which enhances images by evening out contrasts between very bright and very dark lighting conditions. We liked the phone app which allows you to download footage, change camera settings or even view live images while it’s recording – obviously, you should not be doing this while driving.
Mio mivue 812
Best: For speed alerts
The 812 boasts driver assistance features including front collision avoidance alerts and lane departure warnings to help keep you safe. It can also let you know if you are risking a fine while in an average speed camera zone, allowing you to keep your attention on the road rather than your speed. As with the other mivue model in our line-up, the buttons at the sides are a little fiddly, but it’s an excellent camera that can record in 1440p at 30 frames per second or 1080p full HD at 60FPS.
Yi nightscape dash cam
Best: With a capacitor
The standout feature on this little device is its use of a capacitor rather than the usual lithium-ion battery. It means it is able to deal with extreme temperatures better – maybe when you drive off on holiday to somewhere sunny – and it should also last longer than a battery.
The camera uses a Sony Starvis sensor and can record in 1080p. We were initially a little underwhelmed by the footage, but after tinkering with the settings via the Yi app and changing the frame rate we soon got better images. It won’t win any prizes for ultimate image quality, but it will be perfectly sufficient for most users. We loved the minimalist design and the fact you can plug it in to a standard USB port in your car if one is available, rather than having to use a lighter socket.
Best: To fit and forget
Do you find dash-cam screens distracting? This model does away with one, meaning you can hide it behind the rear-view mirror or sun visor. You will need a smartphone to set it up and make sure the lenses are pointing in the right direction though.
It’s actually a bundle of three cameras – the standard front-facing one, a rearview and an infrared module that looks into the cockpit. The extras mean there is quite a lot of wiring to hide away, so it’s good that it comes with a plastic spatula to push the cables behind roof panels. You can record in up to 4K HD thanks to the Sony image sensor and it will support up to a 256GB micro SD card. The footage was a little jerkier than some cameras we tested, but image quality is decent. It’s a good-value bundle that will appeal to anyone looking for a fit-and-forget system.
The verdict: Dash Cams
The 522GW from Nextbase is a superb camera that’s loaded with features and provides excellent footage with fine detail. If you are looking for a real bargain and don’t mind either fitting the rear camera module and hard wiring kit yourself – or can call on an auto-electrician – then grab the Kenwood. The Mio mivue 812 and 798 cameras, with their safety camera warnings, are also excellent products if you don’t mind their smaller buttons.
Want to feel as safe as possible at home as well as on the road? Read our round-up of the best video doorbells
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