There is no doubt that when the first cat video was posted on YouTube it was a watershed moment for mankind. Prior to that the internet was merely a way of sharing chain letters from Nigerian businessmen, Chuck Norris jokes and dirty pictures. It’s since become so ingrained in our daily life it is hard to believe that YouTube was created in just 2005; both of my children are actually OLDER than YouTube!
While no other single clip can match Psy’s “Gangnam Style” view count, as a group the subculture of Russian dashcam videos garners a huge slice of this digital pie. I’ll admit they’re my own guilty pleasure. Nothing makes me smile at the end of a long day quite like a Russian sawing at the wheel to avoid an errant tire flung off a fellow motorist’s poorly maintained car as he rockets through a tight snowy urban street at night going a reasonable 85mph. Watch out for that bus!
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The Russian obsession with dashcams may have started a means of warding off insurance scams but the insanity they’ve since captured puts them up there on the same pedestal as Rick Rolling. Ever wished you could share the meteor shower you saw while driving? Or brag about your rescue of a wayward kitten by preserving it for future generations? Get a dashcam! I did. And a decent dashcam is a lot less expensive than you’d think.
Tesla Dash Cam (Wide Angle + Full HD)
Since we have 3 cars, naturally I have 2 dashcams (eh– yeah… my math skills also torpedoed my automotive engineering ambitions). The cameras were purchased about 2 months apart and one purports to be an updated version but honestly, I see no significant difference between them. The newer camera is all black but I recommend getting whatever is on sale at the time as the difference between them appears to only be a chrome ring around the older one’s lens. I painted the chrome lens surround black in the interest of being discrete. The camera in the Tesla is the newer one… of course!
Prices can vary wildly but at the time of my purchases each was about $50 shipped from Hong Kong to the US. You can find them all over the place online. The first one I bought through eBay and the second one here on Amazon (though I believe it was the same seller for both). Just wait for a sale and beware of clones. I recommend you make sure it has a Novatek chipset as this spec in particular seems to weed out the worst of the knock offs. When you’re spending all of $50 on a camera, you want every dollar to shout QUALITY!
On the Tesla I have it mounted just to the right of the transponder “zone” behind the rearview mirror as the included suction cup won’t attach to the dotted glass. The cups are quite good too– I’ve never had either camera fall off and they’ve been in use for a combined 2 years or so.
The cameras will record HD video on a loop. Simply insert a microSD card into the camera and format it. The files will be numbered in sequence with the date (assuming you program one in) and in 10 minute segments. Each segment is about 1 GB, so a 16 GB card will record about 160 minutes of driving before overwriting the oldest files. Note that these cameras will record audio but I have disabled the microphone because of legalities where I live (PA is a 2-party consent state). Be sure to check your local laws to avoid any awkward conversation about your conversations later.
The glass cockpit of the Model S already has a lot of screen power– closest thing to a Boeing Dreamliner that’ll fit in my garage– so you can’t really complain about a forward camera screen being distracting. Would the space shuttle have gone faster with a third booster rocket? What if Usain Bolt had three legs? Perhaps in this case more isn’t better either and, fortunately enough, our far flung Chinese manufacturers agree. The camera screen can be disabled also or set on a timer. I have mine set to display for the first minute of driving (a good visual confirmation it is working) and then it goes black except for a barely perceptible steady LED.
Being shifted to the right of center by the windshield coating, the camera does enter the passenger’s field of view. It isn’t overly distracting or large and pretty much disappears once the screen goes off. Here you can see how it’s perched from that point of view.
From the driver’s perspective the camera is nearly invisible. The entire display is obscured by the mirror whether it is lit or not and only the suction cup can be seen. Once installed you need never touch the camera again– it’ll power on and off with the car and record its loops happily until the day you need it. Pulling video off the camera is as simple as removing the card from its side slot and inserting it in your computer. Be sure to cut power to the camera first, however, or you could corrupt the currently recording file. The files aren’t anything weird or exotic (they’re Quicktime .MOV) so they can be quickly edited with the program of your choice and uploaded to YouTube for some good old fashioned (since 2005) internet shaming. (Bonus points for the Tesla parking sign?)
Tesla Dash Cam Installation
Professionally installed cameras can cost big bucks and tap into the car’s circuitry. I’m not that wealthy or clever so I’ve done this a lot more cheaply. While you CAN sloppily drop the power cord included with the camera down between the seats.. please don’t. Let’s have some pride in our work, people, we’re driving the best car in the world here! You’ll need to get power to the camera and the included power cord is not long enough to reach ALL THE WAY back to the Model S 12 volt plugs without tempting your backseat Tarzans (are my kids the only ones who will test yank every cable they find??)
- Black Box Dash Cam (1920×1080P HD, 30fps, 160 deg wide angle)
- 32GB MicroSD card
- Power Hub Extension Cord
- 15′ USB Cable
- Clear Mounting Tape
- Wire Grab (optional)
For my installation I bought a power hub extension cord to live under my front passenger seat and a 15′ long USB cable to meander the distance from there to the camera. Note that you CAN NOT plug the camera directly into the car’s USB ports– even though the cable may be long enough to do so–because the Model S will recognize the microSD card in the camera as removable storage and that prevents the camera from recording on it. Instead, you’ll plug the USB cable into the power hub’s USB port (for power only, no data confusion) and the hub will plug into the Model S 12 volt plug. The upside of this method is that you won’t use up the USB ports on the car and, in my case, I gained another USB power source and an additional 12 volt. Supplies needed consist only of a small snake/wire grabber and some exterior mounting tape (clear preferably).
There are lots of brands making mounting tape and lots of types of these tape. Since the headliner of the Model S fits so tightly to the windshield, there isn’t a lot of room for hooks and conduit. The headliner is also adhered to the roof, not clipped, so I was concerned about breaking that adhesive while hiding the cable and then not having it stick back. No one wants to see a Tesla with a droopy headliner– save that for the post-apocalyptic movies where they’ll also– no doubt– add faux rust to the body panels and a sooty diesel engine.
The tape is a real soft plastic/rubber type consistency with a peel off backing. Not the foam backed kind. I cut chunks off that were about the width of the cable itself. Attached them to the cable–pulled snug– and pressed it all along the black border. It is nearly invisible there.
Rounding the A-pillar, the last piece of tape is in the corner of the glass. The nice thing about this tape is that it is strong enough to hold the cable in place without having to wrap around it, so you never actually see the tape. The cable just looks like part of the windshield. You could pry off the A-pillar cover and hide the cable behind it but, again, I was concerned about it not sticking back in place properly once the seal was broken. Besides, there’s already a panel line here between the cover and headliner so it wasn’t like I was breaking up a seamless part of the interior.
Pulling back the door seal you’ll find a metal strip that helps anchor it in place. Along that metal strip and behind the seal there is enough of a void to run the USB cable without affecting the seal. I ran the cable behind that seal from the top of the A-pillar all the way down the door frame to the knee area of the passenger compartment. A credit card makes for easy prying if the you’re having trouble getting a hold of the seal.
I popped the cable out of the door seal where the upper and lower black trim panels meet. There’s actually already a channel there between the pieces. I used to have a piece of black gaffer’s tape hiding the cable even better but took it off for these pictures. Unlikely I’ll add it back because, really, no one is ever going to see this 1″ worth of cabling.
Now we come to the trickiest part of the installation. The lower panel has an opening at the top underneath the glove box. Behind that panel are all sorts of electronics for the vectored landing thrusters or some such wizardry. Fortunately there’s lots of extra room in there and the panel is very loose to the carpet on the bottom– but not loose or roomy enough to simply fish down a fat USB connector. If you do this, you need to be careful and push your cable grabber/snake (or even a chunk of wire like a coat hanger– being careful not to mar the panels) up from the bottom to that opening in the top. I used a grabber, attached the cable and firmly pulled it back down to the floor of the cabin.
Running the cable along the door sill was easy. The sill trim panel is also very loose to the carpet and has a lip along the inside bottom edge. With the delicacy of a back alley surgeon I just jammed the cable up inside the panel until it reached the far end by the passenger’s hip area. Next I threaded the cable UNDER the seat tracks (there is room) to the middle of the space under the seat.
Using the USB/12v hub I described earlier, I looped the excess USB cable around the seat mechanism, secured it with twisty ties and plugged it in to the hub. The hub cable also runs under the seat track on the other side– and yes, I too, was surprised I could shove a 12v connector UNDER the seat tracks! Everything has enough slack in it to allow full movement and articulation of the seat mechanics without pinching or binding.
The 12v cable surfaces about the middle of the passenger seat and then into the 12v outlet. That gives the camera power whenever the car is turned on and fully automates the recordings. In the event of an accident, a quick yank here will safely power down the camera to preserve the evidence.
Editor’s Note: Please check with your local and government laws before recording someone.
In case any of the explanation wasn’t clear or you have a thing for hot young blonds, I’ve provided a video version of the installation below– but I am happily married and not interested in any alternative lifestyles. Word to the wise though: DON’T think you can selfie-shoot a video in a warm garage with the HVAC turned off (for noise purposes) without sweating and bordering on dehydration induced speech slurring. What did you think I meant by a hot blond?!
When you really think about how popular cameras have become everywhere– from security systems to GoPros– it’s kind of strange that car cameras aren’t more common, especially given how cheap they’ve become. And of all people to thank for making them so inexpensive… the RUSSIANS! Only a nation so full of insurance cheats and so devoid of ethics could produce such high demand for these cameras that they’d become cheap simply by volume.
Which begs the question: If Boris can afford a dashcam to protect his Lada from schysters, surely YOU can afford to protect your intergalactic spaceboat of light and wonder!
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