Featured Product: Vava 1080p Dash Cam (Renewed) | $44 | Amazon
The first time I totaled my car, I was 18 years old. It was a blustery winter night in late December. Another vehicle, driving well over the speed limit collided into me, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Despite the driver running away on foot and appearing intoxicated, the accident was deemed my fault.
For the years that followed, I felt this accident in my pocket as insurance premiums skyrocketed, well beyond the already exorbitant rates for younger drivers. Had I owned a dash cam, things would have been different. I would have been able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that the accident wasn’t my fault. There would have been crystal clear, recorded, irrefutable evidence of the incident, but alas.
The lesson you should take from this is simple: Don’t make the same mistake I did. Pony up the cash to equip your dash with a camera, and avoid the fight against plausible deniability later.
Best for Cars Overall: Vava 1080p Dash Cam
Jaime V Salazar writes in her Amazon customer review that she didn’t know why anyone would need a dash cam. Still, she was curious, so she tried Vava’s 1080p dash cam, an affordable option at just $36 on Amazon (refurbished).
“I am pretty impressed with this little thing,” she writes in her review.
The Full HD video quality on Vava’s basic dash cam is good, but not great. Still, it’ll get the job done without premium features that could jack up the price. I’ve used this dash cam myself, too, and was impressed with the lightweight design, easy setup process, and bright display.
Jamie did point out one troubling factor, which I picked up on as well. “The battery life is terrible. My guess is you should always have the cord and car adapter when using it. I was running it just off the battery and it died fairly quickly,” she writes.
As long as you aren’t looking for top-of-the-line video quality, don’t need any fancy features, and don’t mind keeping the device plugged in, the Vava 1080p dash cam is all business and no frills. You can’t do better at this price point.
Best for Road Photographers: Vava 4K Dash Cam
While the 1080p version listed above hits the sweet spot in terms of price and functionality for most drivers, there’s an even better version available for those who want improved image quality.
The Vava 4K Dash Cam upgrades the image resolution to 4K, which means you’ll not only get clearer results when monitoring your surroundings, but you might actually want to use the thing to grab some sweet, sweet 4K content on roadtrips. The included infrared snapshot remote lets you grab little 20-second clips of footage, perfect for social media sharing.
Amidst a pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, the latter might be out of reach for now, but our former editor Gabe Carey sees big possibilities for the future.
“The snapshot remote, its killer app so to speak, provides a visual reference to my friends and family back home for the wild west that is NYC traffic amid shelter-in-place. On weekends, a 320mAh battery keeps it alive to ensure days of uninterrupted street parking surveillance. And someday, I hope, I’ll be able to use it as originally intended—for taking Instagram-worthy shots documenting scenic drives through rural and urban America and everything in between.”
Best for ADAS: Thinkware Q800PRO Car Dash Cam
Thinkware offers a dash cam that does a whole lot more than just record the view outside of your car as you drive. It boasts the advanced driver assistance systems new cars are known for, albeit without the price tag to match. The dash cab alerts the driver if they aren’t paying attention to impending forward collisions, lane departures if the driver is drifting, and front vehicle departures.
“The video quality is great, [it has a] very sleek design so I can’t even see it while driving,” B Jackson writes in an Amazon review of the dash cam. “I had hardwired it a few months ago and it has been great to see it recording motion and events when the car is in park to make sure my vehicle stays safe and any incidents are recorded.”
The Thinkware Q800Pro is easy to install and doesn’t have to be hardwired unless you want it to be. “The Thinkware Q800PRo may be expensive, but is also fairly worry-free and installation-friendly,” writes Trianine. “Comes with both a hardwire kit and cigarette adapter so you can fire it up immediately, and then worry about the installation later.”
The cloud feature is on that multiple reviewers took issue with. “It really isn’t that great since the camera requires an external internet connection to make this work,” Jackson continues in their review. “So if you use your phone, sure it will keep things backed up when you have it connected.”
The cost is steep, but the extra trappings make it a great value purchase.
Something is better than nothing when it comes to a dash cam, so if your budget doesn’t allow for a premium option, even an entry-level device provides some evidence and protection should an accident occur. But no doubt, you’ll typically get better footage and added features if you’re willing to invest a bit more, and better to spend a little more now than a whole lot later if you find yourself in a wreck or with a mysteriously damaged ride.
This article was originally published by Chaya Milchtein in December 2020 and updated with new information by Andrew Hayward on 04/12/2021.