Does a Dash Cam Drain a Battery?

Tips & Support
OPTIMA Batteries
Leesburg, Fl

"Does a dash cam drain a battery?" If you started typing that question into Google and it auto-completed your answer after "cam," that probably gave you the answer to your question. Google's autocomplete is based on popular search strings, so if they see 10,000 users (or whatever the algorithm's threshold is) type out "does a dash cam drain a battery" they can safely assume that is a popular query and will suggest it for future users.

When a large group of people, who all have vehicles with dash cams & are having issues with discharged batteries, you can begin to connect the dots, but we'll dive head first into this question to help you understand how and why dashcams drain batteries. Dash cams definitely consume power and many of them are plugged into cigarette lighters for a source of that power. Additionally, many of those dash cams have a variety of features, including sentinel modes that act as a security camera while the vehicle is parked and some will even send that footage to your cell phone.

All of those features require some amount of energy and while some cigarette lighter-powered units are plugged into outlets that are only active when the vehicle is operating, other units may be powered by an always on/hot cigarette lighter outlet that will deliver power, even when the engine is off and the keys aren't in the vehicle. 

How Much Energy Do Dash Cams Demand?

Like car alarm manufacturers, it's often difficult to get dash cam manufacturers to admit how much energy their units really consume, but every once in a while, we get lucky. We recently found a dash cam website that suggested typical dash cams with a dynamic range of features require 0.25 to 0.45 amps to power up. They then went on to explain that this draw is about half of what a typical 100-watt light would consume in your home and tried to suggest it was a trivial amount by comparison.

If you've ever come out to your vehicle after accidentally leaving an interior light on (which consumes far less energy than a 100-watt household light) and found your battery to be discharged from that mistake, then you know it's a bigger deal than some might want you to believe. In fact, we have long recommended that a typical key-off load on a car battery should be about 25 milliamps and anything in excess of 100 milliamps is indicative of an electrical issue that needs to be addressed. With that frame of reference, the dash cam by itself could then be operating at a factor of at least 10x greater energy consumption, than what we would suggest would be a typical key-off load. That doesn't even take into consideration other accessories in your vehicle that may also be drawing current.

The harsh reality is that newer, modern vehicles are equipped with all kinds of electrical accessories and gadgets and as a result, they are constantly moving further away from 25-milliamp draws that we suggest is typical or ideal. The auto manufacturers often deal with that, by throwing a bigger battery into the vehicle, which offers more reserve capacity, essentially increasing the size of the electrical fuel tank.

Case in point, we recently visited a local auto parts store, where a customer was getting the battery in their Jeep Cherokee upgraded to an OPTIMA DH7 YELLOWTOP battery. That is a massive battery and the largest we currently manufacture, weighing in at more than 60 pounds and offering 80Ah of reserve capacity. A battery that large isn't needed because a Jeep's 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine requires 880 cold cranking amps to start, it's really about offering more reserve capacity for high-demand vehicles.

The owner of the Jeep was replacing their OE battery, because they had repeated issues with the vehicle not starting, due to the battery being significantly discharged. The auto parts store performed a load test on the battery and found that it passed the load test and should be a good battery, but the customer insisted on replacing it anyway. A new battery can make an excessive parasitic draw issue go away for a period of time, but it will eventually manifest itself again, if the underlying draw has not been addressed.

As we talked to the owner about their usage and the issues they were having, they indicated it was a daily driver, but they were increasingly having issues with the battery holding voltage after drives, even after they used a charger on it overnight. When we went out to look at the vehicle, the first thing we noticed was the dash cam mounted below the mirror. They indicated it was plugged into their cigarette lighter, but they didn't know if it stayed on when the vehicle was turned off. 

We told them their YELLOWTOP is fully-charged at about 13.0-13.2 volts and that they should check voltage about once a month and charge the battery with a battery charger, if it wasn't at that voltage level. If they consistently found that to be the case, they may need to increase the frequency with which they maintain proper voltage with a battery charger or if it is holding proper voltage, they could extend that cadence further out. We did caution them that the dash cam could be the source of their issues and that they may want to experiment with unplugging it when parked.

Going back to the dash cam company claims, they suggest a typical compact or mid-sized car has a battery rated at 48Ah. We think that might be a bit optimistic, as we know many Hondas and Toyotas have batteries rated at less than 40Ah. The dash cam company then went on to suggest, "Trucks or SUV’s batteries arrive ratted up to 225 amps hours or more." 

As we've already indicated, an 80Ah battery is massive and the largest we manufacture, so to suggest a typical truck or SUV battery is rated (or ratted) at 225Ah is simply absurd. So here's the real math you can depend on, based on the dash cam company admitting their units consume 0.25 to 0.45Ah. If your vehicle conservatively already has a key off load of 50 milliamps (.050Ah) and you add in another 0.25 to 0.45Ah, you are now looking at a total draw of 0.3 to 0.5Ah.

If your vehicle has a 48Ah battery and it is drawing between 0.30 and 0.50Ah as it sits, it will consume between 7.2 and 12Ah of energy each day. If you go on vacation and leave your vehicle parked at the airport with a fully-charged battery, it will be completely discharged within a week (48Ah/7.2Ah per day) and perhaps as quickly as four days (48Ah/12Ah per day). 

The reality is that most vehicle batteries are not fully-charged, most vehicle charging systems do not do a great job of recharging deeply-discharged batteries and as batteries age, they will begin to lose capacity. A vehicle will also need a battery somewhere above a 0% state of charge, to deliver enough power to start the engine. Many vehicles also have a key-off load much higher than 50 milliamps, so adding another 0.25Ah to 0.45Ah from a dash cam could give you a total draw that easily exceeds 0.5Ah.

If your vehicle runs a smaller battery, these timeframes should be reduced accordingly. If it runs a larger battery, the opposite would be true.

How Do I Keep My Dash Cam from Discharging My Battery?

If you want a dash cam or already have one and would like to keep using it, you can certainly do that, but should take into consideration how it might be impacting your battery's performance and lifespan. If you have it plugged into a cigarette lighter, verify that it turns off when the vehicle is off. If it doesn't, add some plug discipline to your starting/stopping routine.

If it is hard-wired and/or you'd like it to stay active when you vehicle is parked, you'll want to keep a closer eye on your battery voltage and plan regular maintenance charging, as needed. If you leave it at the airport or somewhere that doesn't allow for maintenance charging over longer periods of time, a quick disconnect will prevent your battery from getting deeply-discharged as it sits, although you'll lose key-off functionality on your dash cam.

If you need a solid battery charger or maintainer, OPTIMA Chargers & Maintainers will do a great job of charging and maintaining any 12-volt lead-acid or AGM car battery, including all OPTIMA batteries.