In a relatively short amount of time, dash cams have gone from something of a novelty to a nearly ubiquitous part of our daily lives. A lot of people on the roads already have them (and the chances are high that you know an owner personally), which means that you’re likely considering making an investment for yourself.

Dash Camera

But all of that demands the question—how do you even know where to begin?

There is certainly a wide range of different dash cam models available for you to choose from, all with their unique features, advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, the key to making the best purchase possible involves knowing as much about the situation as you can before you head to the store. If you’re about to go out and buy a dash cam, here are the five most important things that you should know.

How, Exactly, Are You Going to Get the Footage?

If you’re going to buy a dash cam to record full motion video of the activity going on around your car, it stands to reason that you know exactly how you’re going to be able to obtain that video before you begin your search. When it comes to this, there are a few major options you can choose from depending on your needs. You can choose a camera with a memory card slot, which lets you remove the card and put it in your computer whenever you want. You can also use a camera with built-in Wi-Fi, which will allow you to access that footage over a local network—no memory cards required.

But What About Cords?

Likewise, you’ll have to pick between the type of dash camera that plugs directly into the electrical system in your car and a “cordless” or “wireless” variety. The latter keeps your car a bit cleaner than it would otherwise be, but you’ll also have to remember to charge the camera’s battery or it isn’t going to do you any good. You’ll need to keep the former type of dash cam plugged in all the time, but you won’t have to worry about ever charging the battery.

To Screen, or Not to Screen?

Along the same lines, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make involves whether you should get a dash camera with a screen or one without. Ones without screens tend to be a bit more discrete, but you’re also not 100% sure you captured exactly what you needed to until you review the footage later on. Ones with a screen will let you see what you’re getting as you get it, but if the screen is too large, you suddenly have to worry about distracted driving laws in your state.

The Legality of the Situation

On that topic, you’ll also want to do a bit of research to determine whether or not it’s actually legal to own and operate a dash cam in your area in the first place. Note that in the vast majority of all places, dash cams are perfectly legal to use and are often encouraged by your local law enforcement agencies. If your dash cam also records audio, however, you may run into problems and will need to get permission from any passengers before you record them. Always play to the side of caution and let your local laws guide your purchase.

The Power of GPS

Finally, you’ll want to decide whether or not you need a standalone dash cam or one that also includes a fully functional GPS unit at the same time. For people who already carry their smartphones around with them wherever they go, such a device may be a bit overkill. But if you know you want a dash cam AND a GPS unit and don’t want two devices suddenly hogging the majority of your windshield real estate, killing two birds with one stone in this instance would absolutely be the way to go.