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The Best Dash Cams of 2017

Choosing the Right Dashboard Companion
The Best Dash Cams of 2017Dash cams have gained in popularity recently in part because of jaw-dropping viral videos of stunt driving and stunning weather activity, like a gorgeous sunset or menacing tornado. Perhaps a less fun, but more important reason that drivers are putting dash cams into cars is to limit liability in accidents and capture vandalism when parked. Especially if you drive a company car or work for Lyft, Uber, or any other taxi service, having video proof of your role in an accident is crucial. For everyone else, it's just another piece of evidence to furnish to your insurance company in case of an accident or vehicle damage.

There's a varied landscape of dash cams out there, with a range of features including GPS navigation, safety alerts, and mobile app integration. Some even double as action cameras and are compatible with tripod mounts, so you can take them out of your car and into the great outdoors. Here's how to choose the right dash cam for you.

Primary Features
All of the dash cams featured in this story record in 1080p video resolution, though you can dial that down in some cases to increase the amount of video you can store. Consider purchasing the largest memory card a dash cam will accept so that you can store the maximum amount of video, and remember to transfer it to your computer regularly if you want to keep it.

Many dash cams are set up to automatically record once you start the car, and to overwrite video once the internal storage or memory card is full. In the case of a collision, a dash cam with a G-Sensor will detect that action and automatically save the recording so you can view it later and use it as evidence if necessary. Some also have a still camera built in if you want to take a snapshot on your route, though it's usually low resolution, not even at the level of a smartphone image.

Goluk T1 Dashcam
A camera's field of view is important, as a wider-angle lens will capture more detail. As you can see in the chart above, the Cobra CDR 855 BT has the widest lens we've tested, at 160 degrees.

While some dash cams double as actual GPS navigation devices, such as the Garmin DriveAssist 50LMT, others simply use GPS so that you can pinpoint where a video took place, which is important in the case of accidents or other incidents. It's also helpful when you capture a sunset, storm, or other interesting activity and want to know exactly where it happened.

Most dash cams have built-in screens so you can review video right on the device (though hopefully not while driving), while others have no screen at all, and must be paired with a smartphone app. While a dash cam can act as a safety device, one with a large 5-inch screen will take up more space on your windshield and if not positioned carefully can be a distraction. Be sure to install it outside of your line of sight, perhaps closer to the passenger side. Smaller cams without screens can be installed right under the rearview mirror, and thus out of your sight.

The dash cams we tested use either a suction cup to connect to the windshield or an adhesive to stick to the rearview mirror or dashboard. Consider going for a test drive to be sure you've chosen a good spot and that it's securely installed.

Back It Up
Dash cam manufacturers have also entered into the rear-facing backup cam business. Garmin sells the dedicated BC 30 backup camera and babyCam, the latter of which can be used to keep an eye on kids in the backseat. Newer dash cam models have dual cameras that can be used side-by-side to get a wider field of view, or as simultaneous forward- and backward-facing cameras.

A rear-facing camera isn't necessary for everyone, though it's certainly convenient when backing out of a driveway or parking spot. However, many new cars have this feature built in, as well as GPS navigation and other safety features. And as mentioned there are standalone options, like the excellent (but pricey) Pearl Rear Vision.

Driver Assists, Wireless Connectivity, and Apps
Dash cam companies have started adding driver-assist features that you'll find on newer, high-tech cars, such as lane departure warnings and forward collision alerts. Typically, these features kick in when you reach a certain speed; in the case of the Garmin DriveAssist 50LMT, it's 60 miles per hour. These features could come in handy after a long day on the road or if you're using a company vehicle; they're not must-haves, though. Safety camera alerts, including red light and speed cameras, are helpful in avoiding traffic tickets. Some devices can even alert you of school zones and upcoming curves.

Certain dash cams, including the Cobra CDR 855 BT, double as radar detectors. By downloading the iRadar mobile app, you can get alerts to safety cameras and radar traps and report instances of these law enforcement tools.

While the features listed above are free with the CDR 855 BT and the DriveAssist 50LMT, other dash cams charge a subscription fee. With the Dash Cam 35, for instance, you need to pay $24.99 per year for law enforcement camera alerts.

Some dash cams have Bluetooth in order to connect and sync with mobile apps, though the Goluk T1 uses Wi-Fi. Pairing via Bluetooth also means, in some cases, that you can make and receive calls and text messages via voice, as you can with Garmin devices.

How We Test
We take all of the dash cams we test for multiple drives, noting how easy (or difficult) it is to install and how conspicuous it is. While it isn't possible to test every single feature—trying out the G-Sensor would require intentionally crashing into another car or object—we are able to get a sense for how effective the primary features are, and the quality of the video output.

To judge video quality, we watch recorded video and check for specific details, such as the ability to read license plates and street and traffic signs in both sunny and overcast weather. For the Cobra and Goluk models, we also attached them to a bicycle to gauge their abilities as action cameras.

In the end, it comes down to your own needs and preferences. Do you need a GPS device? Would you like to have modern safety features without purchasing a new car? Are you concerned about red light cameras and speed traps? Or do you just need a simple dash cam and nothing else? Consider these questions before making a purchase—and be sure to read each of our reviews to determine which dash cam is right for you.

For more, see 39 Ways to Soup Up Your Current Car With Tech.

Garmin DriveAssist 50LMT Review
Editors' Choice
$299.99 MSRP

Bottom Line: The Garmin DriveAssist 50LMT offers the full package for safe drivers: GPS navigation, hazard alerts, and a built-in dash cam.

Cobra CDR 855 BT Review
$149.95 MSRP

Bottom Line: The Cobra CDR 855 BT adds some smart features and helpful alerts in addition to basic dash cam functionality, making it a good pick for the price.

Garmin Dash Cam 35 Review
$169.99 MSRP

Bottom Line: The Garmin Dash Cam 35 is a fine choice for capturing on-road incidents and avoiding collisions.

Goluk T1 Review
$129.99 MSRP

Bottom Line: The Goluk T1 is an affordable dash cam that is equally adept at helping you capture traffic incidents as well as your outdoor adventures.

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