Dashboard cameras (or dash cams) have been getting increasingly popular here in the US. In other countries like Russia they’re already very popular due to high crime rates and corruption and they’re used as a means of documenting events for use in court or with insurance companies.
Some countries have actually made dash cams illegal due to privacy concerns, but generally in the US dash cams for video footage are legal as long as they’re not obstructing your view. Recording of the audio (anything the dash cam can hear from inside your car) may not be legal due to the different laws around oral communications. For the most part the audio it will record is you, your passengers and your music, none of which may be very useful. Either way, before going down the dash cam route you should make sure you know your local laws.
Check local laws regarding dash cam use.
A dash cam is simply an onboard camera for your vehicle that faces out and records video. Many professional drivers (truckers, limos, etc.) are starting to install these to document their work and to protect them. I first learned about dash cam use from my brother-in-law who is a professional trucker and has been showing me some interesting clips he’s saved. Teslarati did a great post last year covering a DIY Dash Cam Installation which further inspired me to look into a dash cam for my own Model S.
Dash Cam Use
Before deciding on a dash cam you have to think a little bit about what you want to use it for as that may help you pick the features needed and the installation method. Below are the three main types of reasons for getting a dash cam:
- Basic footage of your drive for accident documentation and general “hey look at that meteor” or “look at that idiot” situations.
- Documentation in the case of an accident. In this case you’d want both front and rear coverage, time stamps and perhaps GPS data.
- Documentation of theft/damage when you’re not using the car in which case you’d need continual recording.
If you’re just looking for the basic footage, then a front facing dash cam with power only when you’re driving will do the job. The DIY Dash Cam Install documents a really simple and inexpensive install.
If you want both front and rear coverage then you’ll either need a higher end dash cam that can record both front and rear simultaneously or two dash cams, one front and one rear. Most that go with dual cameras go with a single dual channel dash cam setup so time stamps and events can be coordinated and so you only have to deal with a single power source, memory device, etc.
If you’re also looking for something to watch your back when you’re not in your car you’ll need to continually power the dash cam. I wrote about how to easily get a constant power source for your dash cam or other devices in a prior post.
Dual Channel Dash Cam
When I thought about my intended use I wanted a permanent install that was as invisible as possible and that could record continually whether I was in the car or not and had the most information.
There are many cameras out there that can do the job, but I ended up picking a BlackVue DR650GW-2CH camera. A few reasons I picked it:
- Its very small and has no LCD (I see a LCD in this use case as a negative as it makes the camera larger and can distract you from the road)
- Its all black (their older DR550GW has a silver ring on it and I wanted it as invisible as possible)
- Its dual channel (2 cameras, front and rear)
- It has software for your computer and smartphone allowing for configuration, live video viewing, etc.
- It has other cool features like a built-in GPS, G-sensor, internal short term power, built in wifi, voice responses, LED controls, etc.
- It had great reviews on the various Tesla forums I frequent.
The camera will set you back about $375. I plan on doing a review of the camera sometime in the future but the basic summary is that its one of the top rated dash cams and does a good job.
Dash Cam Installation
While the camera is $375, i’ve seen reports of people buying the camera and having it installed by professionals for a total of $1,200. For some that may well be the way to go as routing the cables, doing the permanent power connection etc is a real pain, time consuming and you can break things if you’re not careful. However its not rocket science either and if you take the time and think things through it can be done. On the “take my car apart and put it back together scale” i’d put myself pretty close to the low end of capability. If I can do it you probably can too.
One big caveat here, I have the Panoramic Sunroof which means more trim visibility and access. I’m not sure I could have done this if the sunroof had not been present.
The first step is set aside about 4 hours of time where you can focus on the task and not be interrupted. You can’t stop mid-way and run errands. Unfortunately for me this uninterrupted time came in the New England winter when the outside temperature was 10 degrees, fortunately I was in the garage so I had a balmy 20 degrees to work in.
Set aside a large block of time so you can do it right without other stresses.
For tools you won’t need much:
- A power solution if you’re not just plugging into USB or the 12V outlet. My time estimate includes creating the permanent 12V supply option.
- Some kind of strong but thin plastic tools you can use to open gaps to slip cables into. I found a well rounded kit on Amazon for just over $3.
- A long and thin cable snake type tool that you can use to push cables through spots you can’t get access to. A light on the end of it is invaluable here. I found a 36″ one for $13 on Amazon.
- Some strong, thin plastic wire and some zip ties. Weed eater wire is perfect for for the wire. I already had these so there was no cost. More on this later.
- A flashlight can be helpful at times.
Total install supplies cost: $16. I should mention all of the supplies can be used for other future projects too.
Plan of attack
Before you start make sure you have a plan of attack. There’s a front camera that will mount immediately under your rear view mirror. 2 cables will leave that. One needs to go to your power source. The other needs to go to your rear camera which will be at the top of your rear view windshield in the middle. If you’re using the 12V solution I wrote about then the path to route cables is towards the drivers side of the car. If you’re using the standard 12V outlet then you can go either way. The safe choice is to go towards the drivers side.
Side note: For those driving on the opposite side of the road you will need to adjust my left/right instructions as appropriate.
Next you have to get the cables from the front camera to where they have to go. Are you going to hide them completely or just make them hard to see? The simpler and easier approach is to route along the top of the windshield using the technique outlined in the DIY post making the cables difficult to see but not completely hidden. Note that here we’re doing dual cameras so you’ll need to take that approach with 2 cables which will be a bit harder to make them invisible.
My plan was to go under the plastic behind the rear view mirror and right into the headliner and then to take a turn towards the drivers side then pop out of the headliner and have one cable route down towards the 12V power and the other route back towards the rear camera. That sounds easier than it ended up being.
Step 1 – Gain Access
The first step is to gain access to the few things you need to open or remove. The main concern with any part removal like this is about breaking the clips that secure the parts to the car body. Other than being careful and going slow I can’t give good advice here. I’m not a professional and I did break a hidden clip along the way. If that frightens you or you want to guarantee no clips are broken i’d recommend a professional.
There are 3 things you need to open for this project:
- The plastic piece in the footwell as you step into the car on the drivers side. These clips go straight in and it was easy for me to just pull up and remove it. Its a big piece and covers all the cables at the front left of the footwell.
- The grill in the headliner above the dash. Pull down from the edge closest to the rear and it will pop out and swing down. These are nice metal clips and i’ve opened and closed it several times without issue.
- The plastic covers around the base of the rear view mirror. These were a bit more difficult to remove and I did break one of the clips on it but it didn’t seem to affect things when I reassembled. My best advice is to pull from the glass edge first and go slowly. The plastic pry tools help here as things are thin and sharp.
Step 2 – Run cables to front Dash Cam
The cable between the front and rear dash cams has two small identical connectors on either end so you can push or pull it through in either direction. The power cable for the front dash cam has a large 12V plug on one end which isn’t getting pushed through anything. This means you have to start at the 12V source and go up into the headliner with that wire.
Start at the 12V source and work up.
Take the front dash power cable and route it along the edge of the front of the door trim. You’ll find you can tuck it in under the rubber guard where its hidden and safe. You may need to use the flexible wire snake from above to pull it through a few spots but routing it cleanly up to the upper edge of the driver side (above your left shoulder) is not difficult. When you get to that point you can now add the second cable for the rear dash cam as both need to get to the mirror area.
The next part is the worst part of the entire install process. You have to bridge the gap between the left driver side headliner and the open area you can reach into for the mic cover pictured above. I found this part of the process was easier with the sunroof completely open.
Bridging from the drivers door to the microphone grill area is the worst part of the process.
You’ll find its hard to push anything including the wire snake through from the left side due to some tight turns and small spaces. I was also unable to push the wire snake through from the headliner around the sunroof or from the open mic cover. Fortunately the light on the snake showed me where things were getting stuck. I used the weed eater string to push through the tight spot from the sunroof area to the drivers door area and once enough of it was there that I could grab it I pulled some more length out from the door side. I attached the cables to the weed eater string with zip lock ties and then pulled them through. Its a very tight fit with the plugs on the ends of the wires so you have to apply some force. I did no damage but it was a bit nerve wracking.
If you’re through that point you’ve got the cables routed under the headliner and coming out from the open mic grill. Now you need to push them straight through under the little bit of headliner between the grill and the windshield. The cable snake helped here and Tesla left some nice gaps for cables to go through to this area.
Step 3 – Install front dash cam
With the cables in place you can attach the front dash cam. I put the attachment point right at the right edge (from the inside) of the dark area for the rear view camera to make the camera the least visible to the driver.
Attach the camera, plug the cables in and then remove any slack in the cables. Then re-attach the rearview mirror cover and pop back in the speaker grill.
If you’ve done the job right the cables leave the camera and go right into the mirror cover and then disappear from sight.
Step 4 – Route cable to rear dash cam
If you’re following along you have only one cable coming out of the headliner at the left side by the driver’s shoulder. Your mission now is to route that along he headliner tucking it under the headliner as you work your way to the rear.
When you get to the pillar between the front and rear seats and the rear and the hatch you want to come down and use the seam for your tucking and then go back up into the headliner. You’ll want to come out of the headliner at the left rear corner of the car as seen from the rear.
Here you have a new challenge. The rear hatch opens and you have to bridge the gap between the car and the hatch. There are cables that do this but they’re all sealed up in a cable bundle. I poked at it for a while but found no way to add my cable to that.
I went with a straight jump of the gap with the wire:
In the picture its pretty visible when the hatch is open but its completely invisible when the hatch is closed and it was very easy to do. It is the only place you see any wire with this install approach. I’m very picky about clean installs and this hasn’t bothered me a bit since I did it.
The next step is to route the cable along to the middle of the window. The horizontal plastic along the upper (when the hatch is closed) edge of the windshield pulls straight out easily but don’t pull it so much it pulls off the side covers. You just need a gap to hide cable.
Warning: Do not remove the side plastic going down the sides of the windshield. They’re a nightmare to get off and put back on.
Step 5 – Attach rear view camera
Next just stick on the rear view camera. Make sure you get it facing the correct way so your images are not upside down. The power cable should come in from the left as you’re looking at it from the rear.
Once its connected you’ll find you have a lot of cable slack. You need to pull that through and tuck it in somewhere. I tucked the extra in in the drivers side headliner but anywhere it will fit should work.
Step 6 – Power up and configure
Next you can power up and configure the camera through its software (smartphone app or desktop software). I’d recommend turning off things like voice responses, extra lights etc to make it super stealthy. You may also want to shut off the audio recording at this time.
You’re also going to want to twist both cameras to get them pointed at the right angle. The live view of the BlackVue mobile app is very helpful for getting this done.
Following this process you’ve installed a dual channel state-of-the-art dash cam with all of the cabling completely hidden. From the driver’s seat both the front and rear cameras are invisible:
After my project I drove family and friends around as usual. Nobody noticed I had added cameras to my car. Mission accomplished!
Nobody noticed I had added cameras to my car.
Just to show how video comes out with this solution I posted a short video of the same section of a drive from both the front and rear cameras. Don’t judge the quality, YouTube did a number on it. With a 32GB card you get a about a day’s worth of recording before it loops so if something interesting happens during your day make sure you get the data off the same day.
If you plan on doing this just remember that patience is a virtue and I wish you a good install.
I did a nearly identical install of the DR550. I have the solid roof and it was no more difficult (and possibly easier) than the install with the pano roof.
Thats great to hear. I wasn’t sure if you’d done that yourself or had it done. I saw your reviews on the cameras in general and that helped me narrow in on the Blackvue series.
Could you also use an obd2 to usb cable and then add a female to female usb adapter to accomplish the same thing without having to soldier connections?
The odbII to use cables carry data traffic which isn’t needed and you’d want to be careful how hat translated to another device. But in this case it wouldn’t help as the dash cam needs a 12v supply so the usb conversion just isn’t an option.
The obd2 have 12v. Buy a obd2 exstender, cut the cable and connect the Camera wire to the 12v. The best way to get 12v from the car.
Yes, I covered that in a previous post here:
Thank you for a nicely written detailed explanation. I am interested in installing a Blackvue 650 in my Model S myself. I have read on the forums that there is a constant on 12v power supply in behind the grill above the rear view mirror and that the Magic Pro Power attachment is not really necessary because the drain on the battery by the camera is minimal. Do you have any comments on that? I have an 85D with autopilot, no pano. Thanks. Great blog.
The 12v behind the grill has come and gone so you’ll have to check it out to see if its there on your car. Its easy to pull that grill off and pit it back on.
I didnt use the MagicPro and have had zero issues without it. The Model S replenishes the 12V from the 85kWh battery so its really not a concern.