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Can you really turn your old unwanted phones into dashboard cams?

Dashboard cameras, or dash cams, are hugely popular. They’re available at various price points depending on features and quality, but it is possible to fix your car up with a dash cam for free if you have an old smartphone doing nothing.

Your old phone rejuvenated

Rescue that old smartphone from the drawer because using a dash cam is certainly worth considering. By recording journeys, they have provided valuable visual evidence when it comes to settling disputes after collisions and other road incidents. Sales are soaring with increases of over 900% in 2015.

What you’ll need..

The following will equip you with a free dash cam.....

  • An old smartphone
  • An in-car charging cable
  • A windscreen or dashboard bracket
  • A dash cam app
  • (Possibly) a memory card

You may have all of the above already in your possession with the exception of the dash cam app; if not, phone brackets and charging cables are available even for ‘old model’ phones quite cheaply from sources such as Ebay.

The dash cam app

There are various dash cam apps available for popular platforms, such as Android and Apple’s iOS; some are free while others will be chargeable. The main consideration is to use one with sufficient image quality; at the very least you’ll need clear images of the registration numbers of other vehicles.

Setting the dash cam up

Whether you use a screen or dashboard mounted bracket, it needs positioning where it can record the best view of the road ahead; dashboard ergonomics with a view to installing a dash cam can influence the choice of car for some.

Pointing the camera towards the central area of the bonnet is ideal for including both sides of the car in its field of vision.

Ensure the phone and bracket are secure, so it stays in position and doesn’t wobble. The phone should be plugged into the charger at all times so it doesn’t run down; important for older smartphones where the battery maybe doesn't hold charge as well as it used to.

Once you’ve attended to the above, you could have a perfectly serviceable and totally (or at least mostly) free dash cam.

Limitations of repurposing a smartphone

App compatibility - some apps may not be compatible with your phone if it cannot run a relatively recent version of the phone software. Check carefully; for example this app for the iPhone requires at least iOS 7 to run it. 

Phone memory - your phone’s onboard memory may not be sufficient to record footage from many trips. In some cases, you can overcome this using memory cards but not with the iPhone as there is no way to use a memory card with one.

Camera quality - older phones may not have a camera of sufficient quality to take useful images. Remember; recording registration numbers clearly and an ability to work well in night conditions are basic requirements.

Security - you’ll likely need to remove the smartphone from the car when unattended as it’ll be on full view to thieves.

Power – you’ll need to leave the smartphone connected to the power socket which can block it for charging other devices. One way of overcoming this is to buy a power splitter.

Cheap and cheerful

It’s certainly worth considering using an old smartphone as a dash cam. You’ll likely balance the advantages of re-purposing an old device as opposed to paying for a conventional type; you may feel the cost saving is outweighed by the overall convenience of using a ‘proper’ dash cam.

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