How Do Dash Cams Work?

A dash cam is a convenient and, in some cases, life-saving tool that allows you to record the road ahead – or behind with some models – as you drive. Dash cams work by using your vehicle as a power source, recording video whenever the car is on or, when the device is hardwired into your vehicle, when a sensor detects a collision or when the camera detects motion. By recording continuously, the dash cam can capture footage of any incident or unexpected situation, such as a reckless driver, an accident, or even a traffic stop. As long as the camera has power and is turned on, it will record video of everything within its field of view.

Dash cams are a better option than other video recording technologies that aren't specifically made for this purpose because they are designed to record high-quality video while your vehicle is parked or in motion in daytime or nighttime environments, can withstand extreme temperatures when mounted on your windshield, and can save videos automatically when a collision is detected. Most are simple to set up, easy to power using your car's battery, and don't require you to manually start, stop, or save recordings. Saved recordings can often be uploaded to a cloud for safe keeping and shared with insurance companies, the police, or others after an incident to help protect you in the case of accidents, insurance fraud, or other unexpected events.



How Long Does a Dash Cam Record For?


The recording quality, the size of the camera's SD card capacity, and other factors can all affect how long a dash cam records for. However, with a high-quality recording (1080p), you can expect the camera to record for about this long:


  • 8 GB – 55 minutes
  • 16 GB – 110 minutes (1.8 hours)
  • 32 GB – 220 minutes (3.6 hours)


Remember that, even with a limited recording time, a good dash cam won't simply shut off recording once the memory card is full. Most quality cameras have continuous loop recording, which means that, when they run out of storage, they record over the oldest footage. Manually locked and emergency videos are stored so that they are not erased. This allows for a nearly endless capacity for video recording without worrying about where to store all the footage. A larger SD memory card is recommended for road trips or other situations in which you want to make sure that you keep as much video as you can.

Smart dash cams also offer cloud video management, which allows you to easily transfer your saved videos to online storage. This frees up space on your camera's SD card and makes it simple to edit and share footage as needed.



Do Dash Cameras Record All the Time?


Dash cameras  are designed to record all the time when your car is powered on. Many cameras allow you to turn the power on or off manually, but most power up immediately and begin working as soon as they are plugged into a 12V power source or hardwired into the car's fuse box. If your dash cam is plugged into an always-on accessory port or hardwired for power, you may also be able to record when the car is off, but this depends on the available features of your camera.

There are a few situations in which your dash cam will not record all the time. If you turn off the dash cam or the camera loses power due to a loose cord or malfunctioning power outlet, for example, this could cause it to stop recording. 

Although a dash cam may stop recording when the car loses power, there are additional safety features available on some models that can help you in the event of a serious accident. Dash cameras in the Cobra SC series, for example, offer the option to set up Mayday Alerts. If you are in a severe collision and are unresponsive, the system will send an emergency text message to a contact that you've designated, including your GPS location.


Do Dash Cameras Work When the Car Is Off?


When powered by a standard accessory outlet in your car, your dash camera will typically not work when the car is off. Dash cams require a constant power source to function while the car is off. That said, there are models and configurations that are designed to work when the car is not turned on.  Your vehicle may have an always-on accessory port that will power your camera at all times, and you can also hardwire some dash cams directly to your vehicle's fuse box for always-on power. In both cases, it strongly recommended that you choose a camera with an auto-shutoff feature to disable the camera after a certain amount of time to protect your battery; if you are hardwiring the dash cam, you can also install it with a kit featuring low-voltage protection to help protect your battery. 

If you do have an always-on or hardwired power source for your dash cam, you may be able to take advantage of advanced security features for your vehicle. Motion sensors, for example, can trigger the camera to turn on and record suspicious activity around your car, while collision detection can quickly record in the event of a bump or break in while your car is parked.



How Do You View Dash Cam Footage?


You have several options when it comes to how to view dash cam footage, although this can depend on whether your camera is Wi-Fi or Bluetooth® enabled. Most come with a removeable SD card; to view the dash cam footage, you'll simply remove the memory card from the camera and put it into an SD card reader attached to your computer, copying over the files you need. If your camera can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth®, you may be able to upload videos to the cloud and view them on your smartphone or other device using the appropriate app – such as the Drive Smarter® app. With cloud storage, you can more easily store, edit, and share your dash cam footage, no matter where you are.




How Else Can Dash Cams Keep Me Safer?


Standard dash cams will help protect you by constantly recording while the car is on, providing you with video evidence of any incidents that is easy to access and share. But newer smart dash cams offer additional features, including advanced safety and security functionality such as the ability to send an emergency text message to a designated contact in the event of a severe impact or the ability to serve as a security camera while your vehicle is parked or unattended. Choose a smart dash cam that works with a mobile phone app, like the Drive Smarter® app, and you can get access to real-time driver alerts from a community of drivers and other valuable information to keep you safe on the road. With shared and database alerts from other drivers, you can get advanced warnings about speed cameras, red light cameras, and the presence of police on the road ahead to help you avoid potential incidents.