Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The best dash cams for 2020

Think of a dash cam as an electronic co-pilot with a memory that’s better than yours. It sees what you might miss, and it records everything. Motorists in the market for a dash cam have hundreds of options to choose from, but the best one is the Garmin Dash Cam 56. It’s loaded with user-friendly features, and it can even create time-lapse videos you can post on social media using an app.

Digital Trends selected Garmin’s 56 after testing the most popular dash cams on the market in real-world conditions. We judge them by their ease of installation, storage capacity, video quality, and features. When we’re not behind the wheel, we constantly stay up to date with the latest developments in the dash cam world by attending major international trade shows like CES.

If you’re looking for a sale, we’ve found the best dash cam deals ahead of Amazon Prime Day.

The best dash cam: Garmin Dash Cam 56

Garmin Dash Cam 56

Why should you buy this? It boasts a robust set of features that actually work as intended.

Who’s it for? Anyone who wants the absolute best in dash cam tech.

How much will it cost? $200

Why we picked the Garmin Dash Cam 56:

At $200, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 — the 2019 successor to our former Editors’ Choice pick, the Dash Cam 55 — offers a ton of useful features and above-par quality for a reasonable price. The new 56 boosts the field of view from 122 degrees to 140 and adds a Clarity HDR feature, for higher contrast recordings day and night. In a crowded market, it takes more than just being good — and the unique attributes of the Dash Cam 56 give it an edge.

At 1440p HD resolution and 30 frames per second, the Dash Cam 56 shoots in stunning quality during the day and respectable quality at night. Like some other dash cams on the market, the Dash Cam 56 offers innovative driver aids, but unlike other cameras, its alerts are often relevant (instead of driving you nuts with false alarms). And, thanks to a slew of voice-activated functions, it lets drivers focus on the road ahead. Also, the nifty Travelapse feature makes cool time-lapse videos that can easily be shared on social media via the app.

The Garmin Dash Cam 56 looks great, feels sturdy, and has better features than competitors costing far more. What’s not to love?

The best dash cam under $100: Mobius Maxi

Why should you buy this? It protects you without breaking the bank.

Who’s it for? Cost-conscious consumers.

How much will it cost? $90

Why we picked the Mobius ActionCam:

Adding a dash cam to your car is a smart move, but that doesn’t mean it’s an affordable one. Fortunately, the Mobius Maxi allows drivers to protect themselves without going broke.

We’ve been fans of Mobius and its quirky, affordable dash cams for cars for years. The newest entry to the family is the Maxi, and it offers more than just a low price tag. Its compact size allows it to fit perfectly in front of a car’s rear-view mirror, so it doesn’t sacrifice visibility, and it allows motorists to keep a clean-looking interior. This little guy also boasts 2.7K video recording at 30 frames per second — not quite 4K, but absolutely sufficient for your purposes. Rounding out the cam’s highlights is a 150 degree field of view, remote picture-taking and remote live video, and a painless setup process.

Our gripes with the ActionCam are few, but it’s worth mentioning that you’ll have to do without a built-in display to monitor your recordings – for that, you’ll need a computer or TV. Finally, the lack of an accelerometer and a G-sensor means accident footage may appear chaotic compared to stabilized cameras that cost more.

The best dash cam for safety: Thinkware U1000

Why should you buy this? You want front and rear video surveillance for maximum safety.

Who’s it for? Extra cautious drivers.

How much will it cost? $450

Why we picked the Thinkware U1000:

The U1000 is expensive, but it’s also the best all-around, do-it-all dash cam that safety-conscious drivers will love thanks to its second rear-facing camera lens and impressive video quality. The U1000 also stands out from the competition for its other features.

The front camera records in 4K UHD resolution and has a wide, 150-degree viewing angle, while the rear camera shoots in 2K QHD and has a 156-degree lens. Wi-Fi connectivity, built-in GPS, and a G-sensor are also included with the U1000. Also, low-light recording quality is better than most because the dash cam uses a Sony Starvis image sensor. The dash cam also comes with driver-assist features, including forward collision warning, front vehicle departure warning, and lane departure warning.

When parked, the U1000 will start recording video if it senses motion or an impact, and it records in time-lapse for lower power consumption. The cloud-ready dash cam also utilizes the company’s app, so drivers can receive notifications (like impacts when parked), check the vehicle’s location, and monitor camera activity (including a live feed) from their iOS or Android smartphone. Also, the Thinkware U1000 should perform reliably and not lose recordings thanks to its integrated thermal sensor and anti-file corruption feature.

The best dash cam for Uber or Lyft drivers: Vava VD009

Vava 2K

Why should you buy this? You want a dash cam that doubles as a virtual co-pilot.

Who’s it for? Motorists who drive a lot.

How much will it cost? $200

Why we picked the Vava VD009:

The Vava VD009 is ideally suited to the needs of those who drive for a living. Sony-sourced technology allows it to record clear images during the day and at night, which means the device won’t become an expensive windshield ornament after the sun goes down, and it features two cameras. One faces the road ahead, one films what’s going on inside the passenger compartment, and both record high-resolution footage at 30 fps.

The VD009 automatically overwrites older footage unless its G-force sensor detects a collision. Note that the SD card is not included. Its built-in GPS tracks your car’s location, driving route, and speed, among other parameters. Smartphone connectivity allows users to download videos and share them on social media.

How do I install a dash cam?

There are two basic ways to install a dash cam. The first and simplest solution is to plug the cam’s power cord into your car’s 12-volt outlet. To do this, use the suction cup that most dash cam manufacturers include with their device to attach it to your car’s windshield. Make sure it has a clear view of the road ahead, and double-check that it’s not in your field of vision. Run the cord from the cam to the 12-volt outlet — which is normally located on the center console — and you’re good to go. It’s not the neatest solution, but it works.

For a cleaner look, you can hard-wire a dash cam into your car. This solution requires a handful of tools, a little bit of time, and a basic knowledge of how a car’s electrical system works. Again, start by positioning the dash cam on your windshield using the suction cup. Carefully tuck the power cord under the front part of the headliner, and run it down the A-pillar by sliding it under the panel that covers it. Use a fuse tap — which you’ll need to buy online, or from an auto parts store — to plug the wire direction into your car’s fuse box.

What does a dash cam record to?

Though some dash cams come with a small amount of internal storage, a vast majority of the devices on the market save the footage they record onto a micro SD card. Most cams feature a loop function that automatically overwrites older footage when the card reaches its capacity, though users who don’t want to lose their files can turn this feature off. If the loop function isn’t on, users will need to either empty the SD card or insert an empty one to keep recording.

How long can a dash cam record?

The amount of footage a dash cam can record varies depending on the size of the SD card that’s in it, and the resolution selected. If the loop function is on, meaning old footage gets overwritten when the card is full, the cam will keep recording indefinitely as long as it’s connected to a power source. If you want to save every file the cam records, keep in mind an 8 GB memory card stores approximately 20 minutes of footage recorded at 1080p resolution in AVI format. Upgrading to a bigger card — like a 16 or a 32 GB unit — and lowering the resolution will help you save more footage.

Do dash cams have night vision?

Like humans, dash cams don’t see as well in the dark as they do during the day, and they rely on a car’s headlights and other sources of lights (like street lights) to capture footage at night. Recent advances in sensor technology helps them record increasingly clear footage after the sun goes down, but the quality depends on the model purchased. Some of the more expensive units on the market come with night vision technology that automatically adjusts lighting levels to provide the best possible picture, but it’s not going to be as clear as what they record in broad daylight.

Broadly speaking, your dash cam sees about as well as you do. If you drive out to the Nevada desert on a cloudy night and turn your headlights off, don’t count on your dash cam to back up your claim of shaking hands with a jackalope.

Can dash cams tolerate extreme heat or cold?

If you had to remove your dash cam from your car every time you got out, it would kind of cancel out the convenience of it all. Plus, you’d have to remember to bring it with you the next time you get back in the car. The good news is that many dash cams are built well enough to withstand freezing and blistering weather. 

How well a dash cam withstands extreme temperatures depends on the make, the model, and the hardware packed in it. We recommend buying a device with a capacitor, not a battery. The capacitor or the battery is what will power it in the brief moment after you turn the engine off so that it can save what it recorded. Capacitor-equipped cams are normally more expensive than those with batteries, but they’ll withstand hot and cold temperatures much better.

Can dash cams work with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant?

While you may find several high-quality dash cams that use voice recognition, they don’t work with smart assistants at this time. Not yet, at least; it’s the next development in the dash cam world. One of the exceptions to the rule is the Garmin Speak Plus, a tiny device we called the Swiss army knife of dash cams. It supports a wide range of Alexa features, allowing you to access news reports, stream audio, communicate with your home, and carry out a host of other actions on the fly.

Editors' Recommendations