How to Turn Your Old Smartphone into a Car Dash Camera

Dashboard cameras, or dash cams for short, are steadily increasing in popularity in the Philippines, with everyone from private car owners to ridesharing drivers seeing the benefits of documenting their trips. Dash cams are indeed useful, but they can be quite pricey. Fortunately, Carmudi has a simple suggestion that can save you money:  If you have an old smartphone lying around, you can actually turn it into a fully functioning dash cam for your vehicle.

Many people never think of finding other ways to use their old phone once the new one arrives. Most of the time, the replaced phone goes into a storage bin, locked up until forgotten. Why not put yours to good use as a dash cam? Here’s what you’re going to need:

Dash cam hardware

Car dashboard camera

Assuming you have a suitable phone and a phone charging cable long enough to reach your car’s power outlet, you are also going to need a mount for your phone so you can hold it secure to the dashboard (or if you prefer, the windshield). That said, there are smartphone dashboard mounts that can fasten your phone and charge it at the same time, so you might want to look into that.

When choosing a mount, make sure it doesn’t interfere with the phone’s view of the road. If your phone has a front and rear facing camera, you want both to have an unobstructed view. The rear camera can be especially useful if you’re pulled over by the authorities.

You’re also going to need a micro-SD memory card to allow the phone to store hours upon hours of data. A class 10 memory card with 16 to 32 gigabytes of space will have the necessary data input speed and capacity required to reliably store the videos without crashing the phone.

Dash cam software

After you’ve gathered the necessary hardware, it’s time to pick the right dash cam app. Some apps will offer plenty of features, while other will focus more on simplicity and ease of use. If you type ‘dash cam’ on the Google Play search tool, you find plenty of related apps, most of them free.

As you go app-shopping, look for one that comes with multiple video quality options. You don’t want the quality to be too low that you miss critical information in your videos, and you also don’t want it to be too high that you can’t record your videos for more than just a few minutes at a time. Look for a happy balance. That said, if you want to have high quality videos all the time, you can always buy an external SD card for your storage needs.

Mounting the dash cam

Man mounting dashboard in car

Once you have the hardware and software complete, all you have to do is affix your mount the way it works best for you. Check the view of the camera and adjust the lens angle to capture the best possible view of the road in front. You want the lens to capture the left and right sides equally, so angling it right in the middle of the car is the goal.

Ideally, the phone should be plugged in at all times, as you don’t want the phone to suddenly go dead at a crucial moment. Make sure the charging cable reaches the power supply source easily and doesn’t interfere with your ability to steer, shift, brake, or operate the vehicle’s various controls. You might want to use a cable tie or some other type of fastener to prevent the cord from moving.

With the equipment installed, it’s time to make sure the dash cam is working. Once you’ve confirmed that the device is recording video, do a little driving around to check if it stays in place and the view is stable.

Smartphone / dash cam downsides

There are some significant disadvantages to using your smartphone as a dash cam. Firstly, these devices are generally not designed to be record high quality videos for extended time periods, so if your old phone has a tendency to overheat or lock up, then it wouldn’t make sense to use it as a dash cam. In such cases, the camera won’t be able to capture any more video.

Secondly, depending on the type of mount you purchase, your smartphone/dash cam could block a significant portion of your view of the road. In such cases, you increase your risk for an accident while driving.

Thirdly, leaving the smartphone in the car when parked could make it prone not only to sun damage, but to thieves as well. Depending on the kind of old smartphone you have, you could be inviting car thieves by the dozen, so you should probably remove the phone and take it with you whenever you park, which can be an added hassle.

If you can find a way to eliminate or at least minimize these downsides, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t explore using a smartphone as a dashcam.

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