Can Security Cameras See Inside Cars? (Expert Weighs In)

Can security cameras see inside a car? Rafael has been an auto tint and window treatment expert for over 20 years, we asked his opinion on the subject for a better idea of whether security cameras can really see inside cars. We discuss distance, visibility, and camera types in our article.

In general, security cameras can easily see inside cars that have their windows open from a few meters. If the window is shut then it depends on whether the car has tinting, if it doesn’t they can easily see inside. There are other factors to consider such as camera quality, distance, factory treatments, and more.

The Main Factors that Determine Whether a Security Camera Can See Inside of A Car

The Quality of The Camera

This has to be the most forgotten and most important factor out of them all. Though there are models of surveillance cameras these days that can go up to 4K a lot of the cheaper models that you can buy from big-box stores actually come in at a lower resolution. Regardless of the resolution, they advertise – for example, if 1080 P is advertised the frame rate and actual quality of the lens and how the cameras work may be low and more important.

man in blue shirt walking at the sidewalk

man in blue shirt waving

You may have purchased a cell phone that advertises huge megapixels and then taken photos to only find out they look atrocious. Well, this is due to the fact that sometimes the lens is more important than the actual resolution of the quality so that’s why you get 40-megapixel cameras sometimes being beaten by a 10-megapixel old iPhone.

In days past one of the best surveillance camera lenses belonged to the Carl Zeis lens and its cameras were touted as the best quality regardless of their resolution.

These days it’s very hard to determine the quality of the lens of a camera without actually purchasing it and looking at it. You can however tell the frame rate of a camera. Frame rate is actually very important because the higher the frame rate the less stuttering and better quality of video you’re going to get. There are some cameras that come with 15 frames per second and this is extremely low and unusable.

If you’re wondering what the quality of the security camera is you can easily look at it and its brands followed by its model number online. When you have this information you can determine the quality of the camera. The easiest way to do this would be to see if the camera is one of the big brand names in the industry, and also sometimes find reviews of the camera online. Ex. Hikvision PTZ 5230 has a frame rate of 60, is 4k, and is pan-tilt enabled, the quality of this camera is excellent and it should be able to see from a very far distance and recognize faces within cars.

Car Window Open or Closed

This is an obvious factor but it may be the most important. If your car window is closed the window will be reflecting lighting from the camera. If it is nighttime and the car has tinting the infrared lighting will bounce off of the window returning no visuals inside.

man standing besides a blue car

Glass Type

Different cars and different models come with different glass types. You would be surprised to find out that some cars that come directly out of the factory have tinting already applied to them. They can also have a type of privacy glass that produces a darker color and reduces the number of light waves that come into the car.

Tinting

This refers to aftermarket tinting that is applied to cars. The legal limit that most states allow is 50% VLT (this stands for visible light transmission). The higher this number is, the harder it is to see inside of the car. Subsequently, the majority of security cameras are not built to see inside cars with higher tinting.

car's windshield

tinted window of a car

Resolution & Angle

The resolution can also be important because it allows you to see from a farther distance. Many cameras come with 1080P resolution but some of the newer versions come with 4K which is much more effective when it comes to seeing inside of cars.

4 view cctv monitor

The angle of the camera is very important because depending on its angle it can actually catch reflections and cause the camera to have lower visibility. A camera facing directly at the window of your car has a better chance of seeing inside than a camera that catches your car window from the corner of its eye.

Distance from Car

The distance that the camera is from the car is also a very important consideration. Most cameras cannot see well from a distance of 10 to 70 feet which is 3 to 23m’s this, of course, depends on the other factors we mentioned above which included the lens size, the type of sensor, and the tinting.

car at parking and a jeepney coming

Ambient Light

When lighting conditions get darker a security camera revolves around ambient light to be able to see better. If a car is in the garage that is closed off and darker the quality of the video will be worse. If the car is in an area that is extremely dark the security camera will have to rely on its IR sensors to be able to see what is inside the car.

When conditions are this dark the visibility will be much lower. Some cameras come with strong IR sensors that are able to see in the dark but not in the pitch dark. The sensors need at minimum lighting from the moon or a small streetlight outside to be able to see something.

pose light in the street

Time of Day

The time of day is also incredibly important because the darker it is the harder it is for the security camera to be able to see.

Car Lights

Your car lights being on the inside of the car will make it much easier to see inside, especially at nighttime. Even if you have a small light on such as your phone, the IR sensor from the camera will pick this up and increase the visibility of the camera by 2 to 5 times what it may have been without the light on.

Obstacles Like Trees

This may be an obvious one but if there are some obstacles between the camera and the car the most obvious being trees but the least obvious being snow, rain, and smoke then the visibility will be greatly reduced.

cars park on the side of the street

How to Reduce Visibility Inside Your Car

Here are some tips to reduce the visibility if you don’t want security cameras to be able to see inside your car.

  • Keep your windows dirty making sure they are covered in dust or grime
  • Attach a windshield blocker or privacy screen
  • Make sure the windows are always rolled up
  • Attach privacy glass
  • Tint the windows
  • Pork in areas that have something obstructing the camera such as shrubs

How to Increase Visibility Inside Your Car

  • Clean windows
  • No obstacles between your window in the camera
  • Windows open next to no privacy glass or window tinting
  • Parking in well-lit areas

What Are the Legalities of Surveillance Cameras Looking Inside Your Car Window?

If the camera is installed in a public area, for example, a shop owner recording a public street and it records you in a compromising situation under most state laws you have the right to ask the owner to delete the footage. However, if it is a government camera on public streets these are completely legal and can film you inside of your car with no repercussions.

When it comes to privacy laws of private property you also have the right to film these areas however there are some states that do not allow it but most will as long as the camera is in plain sight, or if there is a sign present alerting you to the camera being around.

Can Security Cameras See Inside Your Car in The Dark?

For us to answer this question we have to assume the camera has night vision. If the security camera has night vision that means it has access to infrared LED lights. These are usually a set of red lights that you can see on top of the camera that produce infrared lighting to see at night.

For these cameras to be able to see within your car they need to have some source of ambient light whether that is the moon or streetlamps. They cannot see in pitch black but they can see with small amounts of light somewhere. (1)

When it comes to seeing inside of cars this infrared light has to pass through the car window. Most infrared lights can easily pass through clear white glass windows. However, when we start dealing with factory-treated windows and tinting that is where the wavelength of the glass changes and it’s harder to see inside.

cars passing by the street

If we’re getting more technical, different wavelengths are hindered by different materials. For example, the wavelength of clear glass is 400 to 700 nm. Whereas infrared light can go through up to 790 nm and 1mm.

Reflection can also be an issue as 4% of light waves will not go through any type of treatment on the glass will affect how they go through.

Why It’s Best to Avoid Security Cameras Seeing Inside Your Car and Why It May Help You

Looking at Cars Belongings Inside for Future Theft

The most common privacy concerns and questions stem from parking lots. A lot of people have worries that parking lots have cameras that can see inside their cars and potentially use these to find cars with belongings in them that they can later steal from.

Evidence of a Crime

Some people wait until a crime is committed then they would love to have those cameras around to have evidence of this crime. There are huge amounts of car thefts and robberies committed each year and a camera that can see within a parked car can actually be more helpful when identifying the person inside. Many thieves hide their faces while approaching their car and then forget to continue hiding once they drive off with your car.

Indecent Exposure

This is a bit of a touchy subject but at times people trying to spice up their marriage or do something exciting may choose to do this in their cars, and parking lots are common occurrences for this. If this is the reason you stumbled upon our article I suggest you go to the legal section of the recorded video.

Can Parking Lot Cameras See Inside Cars?

One of the most common questions stems from parking lots as mentioned above and their camera placement. It’s actually very common that open parking lots to carry cameras all around the parking lot because parking lots are such an easy target for thefts and criminal activity that a high level of car security is required.

These cameras are allowed in these parking lots because it is private property and there is little to no restriction on their recording abilities.

parking area in the building

Most of these parking lot cameras are limited by the quality of the camera and its angle, while most parking lot cameras can zoom in and see the inside of your car absent tinting there are a few older models that lack these features as seen above. It is also common to have fake security cameras inside parking lots that don’t actually do anything and are there as a deterrent.

Public Cameras and Driving By

Another common issue is public cameras on the streets. If you have ever been down a busy New York street you can easily see cameras all around and they had become a very common occurrence. Most people wonder if these cameras can see inside a car as they are passing by. The easy answer to this question is yes they can, especially if your window is rolled down or if you do not have tinting. (2)

One of the biggest issues people have with this is privacy concerns and being added to the government or public databases that now carry facial recognition. This is a valid privacy concern and may not be too big of an issue if you haven’t done something wrong. Facial recognition is very advanced these days and can easily distinguish someone inside of a car driving by a camera.

Wrapping Up

Overall security cameras can see in about half of the cars around. This depends on whether the glass is tinted or whether there are other issues like resolution being too low or the distance being too far away.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.




References
(1) ambient light – https://www.hgtv.com/design/remodel/mechanical-systems/3-basic-types-of-lighting
(2) New York street – https://ph.hotels.com/go/usa/most-popular-streets-new-york

About John Fox

ebbb364ee14268bd3b77496cab3d1d78?s=90&d=mm&r=gJohn Fox has worked as a security consultant for over 20 years. During his time in the industry, he's learned about what it takes to ensure your home and family are always safe.

With Safe Now, he's taken those two decades of experience and decided to share it with others to help them figure out how to make the right choices for their businesses and families.

John writes tips and guides to prevent crimes, as well as product recommendations, and tips for what to do in case of an emergency and how to protect yourself at all times.