How Do Dash Cams Work [2023]

How Do Dash Cams Work

Hello, and welcome! If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the world behind the lens of those compact dashboard-mounted cameras, commonly referred to as dash cams, you’re in the right place.

This guide is a one-stop shop for all your dash cam-related questions. We’ll demystify not only the main question – how do dashcams work, but also delve into topics such as where to watch dashcam footage, whether dashcams record continuously, how to conceal dashcam wires, how to save dashcam footage, and if it’s feasible to use a GoPro as a dashcam.


Read also: The 4 Best Dash Cams of 2023


Understanding Dash Cams


To kick things off, let’s answer the fundamental question – what is a dash cam? Put simply, a dash cam, or dashboard camera, is a recording device affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or windscreen.

It continuously records everything happening in front and sometimes the rear or side windows. Dash cams have become increasingly popular thanks to their potential to provide clear evidence in case of road accidents or disputes.


Read also: How to Install a Cold Air Intake on a Car


How Does a Dash Cam Work?


Dash cams might seem complex, but they operate on a pretty straightforward mechanism. There are three main components to consider: the power source, the recording mechanism, and data management.


Power Source for Dash Cams


Every electronic device needs a power source, and dash cams are no exception.

Most dash cams derive power from the vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket, but they can also be hardwired directly into the car’s electrical system for a more permanent solution.

Some advanced dash cams come with internal batteries or capacitors, providing backup power during parking mode or when the car’s ignition is off.


Recording Mechanism


This is where the magic happens. Dash cams are equipped with wide-angle lenses to capture as much of the surrounding scene as possible.

Most modern dash cams record in high-definition (HD), and some even support 4K resolution for extra clarity.

These cameras record footage on a continuous loop, meaning they don’t stop recording when the memory card fills up.


Storage and Data Management


Dash cams generally use microSD cards for storage. When the memory card becomes full, the dash cam overwrites the oldest footage, ensuring that the most recent events are always recorded.

However, to prevent crucial evidence from being overwritten in the event of an incident, dash cams use a feature called “G-force” or “incident” detection.

When the dash cam senses a collision, it automatically locks the current video file, preventing it from being overwritten.


The Art of Viewing Dash Cam Footage


There are two primary methods of viewing dash cam footage: in real-time and post-drive.


The Real-Time and Post-Drive Options


The real-time option involves viewing the footage directly from the dash cam screen while still in the vehicle.

On the other hand, post-drive viewing involves removing the microSD card and viewing the footage on a computer or connecting the dash cam to your computer via a USB cable.

Some advanced dashcams also come with Wi-Fi capabilities, allowing you to view and manage footage through a dedicated smartphone app.


Do Dash Cams Always Record?


One frequently asked question about dash cams is whether they record all the time. The answer is yes – and no. Most dash cams record whenever the vehicle’s ignition is on, capturing all your drives.

However, some dash cams also come with a feature known as “parking mode.”


Advantages of Dash Cams That Record All the Time


Parking mode enables the dash cam to record even when the vehicle is parked. This feature can be especially useful to capture events such as vandalism, hit-and-runs, or parking accidents.

The continuous recording provides a complete record of your vehicle’s surroundings and can provide valuable evidence in case of an incident.


Privacy Considerations


While continuous recording offers many benefits, it also raises some privacy concerns. For instance, someone may object to being recorded without their knowledge or consent.

However, it’s worth noting that in many jurisdictions, it’s perfectly legal to record in public spaces where there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy.


The Art of Camouflaging Dash Cam Wires


Now that we know how dash cams work, it’s worth considering how to neatly install one in your car.

No one likes a mess of wires dangling around their dashboard. Thankfully, hiding dash cam wires can be a simple process with a bit of time and patience.


Location Selection for Your Dash Cam


Choosing the right location for your dash cam is the first step. It should be placed in a location that offers a broad view of the road while not obstructing your view. The area near the rearview mirror is often a good choice.


Wire Routing Tips


After placing the dash cam, it’s time to tackle the wires. Running the power cable along the edge of the windshield, down the A-pillar, and under the dashboard can effectively hide it from view.

Using cable clips can help secure the wire in place and maintain a neat installation.


Neatening the Installation


For the final touch, you might need to tuck the wire into the seams of the car’s interior panels.

A trim tool can be handy here. And voila! You now have a dash cam installed with hidden wires.


Using a GoPro as a Dash Cam: A Good Idea?


With the rising popularity of action cameras like GoPros, some people might wonder if they can serve as an alternative to a traditional dash cam. The short answer is, yes, it’s possible – but there are pros and cons to consider.


Advantages of a GoPro Dash Cam


On the plus side, GoPros offer high-quality video resolution, often better than many dedicated dash cams. They are also versatile and can be used for other purposes when not serving as a dash cam.


Disadvantages to Consider


However, GoPros are not designed to work as dash cams out of the box. They lack important features like automatic loop recording and automatic start/stop, though these can be added with some tinkering.

They also typically have shorter battery lives compared to dash cams and are often more expensive.


Making an Informed Decision


Ultimately, whether a GoPro makes sense as a dash cam depends on your specific needs and circumstances. You might find this article helpful in making an informed decision.


Other Alternatives to Dash Cams


If a traditional dash cam or a GoPro doesn’t fit the bill, there are other alternatives to consider.


Mobile Phone Apps such as Dash Cams


Several smartphone apps can turn your phone into a dash cam. These apps use your phone’s camera and internal storage to record and store video footage.

They’re a convenient and cost-effective alternative, especially if you’re a casual driver who doesn’t need a dedicated dash cam.


Standalone Cameras: An Option?


Standalone cameras can also serve as makeshift dash cams in some situations.

However, like GoPros, they often lack dedicated dash cam features and might not stand up to the rigors of continuous use in a vehicle.


Dash Cam Installation Process


Installing a dash cam might seem daunting, but with a bit of patience, you can do it yourself.


Choosing the Right Dash Cam


Selecting the perfect dash cam is critical. From single-lens to dual-lens options, from models offering basic recording to those packed with advanced features – the market is loaded with choices.

Consider your specific requirements, budget, and the camera’s reliability before making a decision.


Securing the Dash Cam


After you’ve chosen the perfect dash cam, the next step is securing it in your car. It should be positioned high on the windshield to capture a wide view of the road while not obstructing the driver’s view.


Understanding the Dash Cam’s Interface


Finally, familiarize yourself with the dash cam’s interface. From configuring the settings to understanding how to manually save important clips, it’s crucial to know your dash cam’s operations.


Dash Cam Maintenance Tips


To keep your dash cam in top condition, some maintenance is necessary.


Regular Cleaning


Regular cleaning can help maintain video quality. Use a microfiber cloth to gently clean the lens and keep the view unobstructed.


Periodic Software Updates


Manufacturers often release software updates to fix bugs and introduce new features. Regularly check for updates to keep your dash cam running smoothly.


Replacing the Memory Card


Over time, memory cards can wear out, especially in a high-write-cycle device like a dash cam. Regularly replacing the memory card can prevent the loss of crucial footage.


Dash Cam Legal Considerations


While dashcams are legal in many places, some jurisdictions have restrictions regarding their use. Always check local laws before installing a dash cam.


The Case for Dash Cams in Commercial Vehicles


For commercial vehicles, dash cams can be especially useful. They can provide evidence in the event of an accident, help monitor driver behavior, and even potentially lower insurance premiums.


Cost and Availability of Dash Cams


The cost of dash cams can vary widely, from budget options under $50 to high-end models over $300. They are widely available online, in electronics stores, and in automotive shops.


Lowering Insurance Premiums with Dash Cams


Some insurance companies offer discounts for vehicles equipped with dash cams. Check with your insurance provider to see if this applies to you.


Where to Buy a Dash Cam


Dash cams can be purchased from a variety of sources. Online retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy offer a wide range of options.


Dash Cam Accessories


Enhance your dash cam experience with these useful accessories.


Power Banks for Dash Cams


A power bank can keep your dash cam running even when the car’s ignition is off. This is especially useful if your dash cam has a parking mode but your car’s electrical system cuts power to the cigarette lighter when the ignition is off.


Mirror Mounts


Mirror mounts can offer a more discreet installation for your dash cam. They attach to the rear-view mirror instead of the windshield, making the dash cam less noticeable from outside the vehicle.


GPS Modules


Some dash cams come with built-in GPS, but if yours doesn’t, a GPS module can be a useful addition. It can overlay speed and location data onto the video footage, which can be crucial evidence in case of an incident.


CPL Filters


A CPL (Circular Polarizing Lens) filter can reduce glare and reflections in your dashcam footage, improving video quality, especially under sunny conditions.


The Evolution of Dash Cams


From their origins as simple video recording devices, dash cams have evolved to incorporate features like GPS, Wi-Fi, parking mode, and advanced driver assistance systems.

They’ve become more compact and easier to use while offering better video quality and reliability.


The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Dash Cams


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being integrated into dashcams. AI can enable features like facial recognition, automatic incident detection, and sophisticated driver assistance systems.


The Future of Dash Cams


As technology advances, we can expect dash cams to become even smarter and more versatile. Future dash cams might incorporate augmented reality for real-time navigation overlays, cloud connectivity for instant video backup, and integration with other smart devices.




In conclusion, dashcams are powerful tools that offer peace of mind for drivers.

By understanding how dash cams work, how to view footage, whether they record all the time, and how to neatly install them, you can make the most of these devices.

While there are alternatives like GoPros or mobile apps, a dedicated dashcam often offers the best balance of cost, convenience, and capabilities.




Q: How does a dash cam work?


A: A dash cam works by continuously recording footage of the road while you drive. It gets power from the car’s electrical system and stores footage on a memory card. When the memory card is full, the dash cam overwrites the oldest footage.


Q: Where can I watch dash cam footage?


A: Dash cam footage can be viewed directly on the dash cam screen, on a computer by removing the memory card, or via a smartphone app if the dash cam is Wi-Fi enabled.


Q: Do dash cams record all the time?


A: Most dash cams record whenever the car’s ignition is on. Some dash cams also have a parking mode, allowing them to record when the car is parked.


Q: How can I hide dash cam wires?


A: You can hide dash cam wires by running the cable along the edge of the windshield, down the A-pillar, and under the dashboard. Cable clips and trim tools can help keep the installation neat.


Q: Can I use a GoPro as a dash cam?


A: Yes, but GoPros lack some features of dedicated dash cams and may not be as convenient or cost-effective. They also typically have shorter battery life and may require some tinkering to work well as a dash cam.


Q: How often should I replace the memory card in my dash cam?


A: It depends on how often you drive and the quality of the card, but a good rule of thumb is to replace it every 12-18 months.


Q: Can a dash cam lower my insurance premiums?


A: Some insurance companies offer discounts for vehicles equipped with dash cams. Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer such a discount.


Q: Where can I buy a dash cam?


A: Dash cams can be purchased from a variety of sources, including online retailers like Amazon and Best Buy, as well as electronics and automotive stores.


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