Backup Camera Buying Guide: What to Know about Rearview Visibility Systems
of May 2018, the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) now
requires all new cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs to have “rear view
visibility systems.” The government calls them by the acronym RVS, but
most people know them as backup cameras.
Accidents that occur while drivers are backing up are a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 210 people die each year, and another 15,000 suffer injuries, due to being hit by a driver who was backing up. Because they often fall below the sight lines for mirrors, children are the most at risk. Nearly a third of all deaths of children under the age of 5 occur during backup accidents.
According to the NHTSA, if all cars in the U.S. had rearview cameras, about 60 lives could be saved each year.
Whether you want to improve safety, or simply get a clearer view while backing into parking spots or lining up a trailer hitch, a backup camera can help make things easier.
What Do Backup Cameras Do?
When you put your vehicle into reverse, the backup camera shows what’s happening behind you. Through a display on the dashboard, center console, or rearview mirror, the camera displays a full color, real-time image of the significant blind spot you have behind you. It can prevent you from running into other cars, adults, children, animals, bicycles, and property.
If your vehicle didn’t come with a backup camera, there are plenty of aftermarket systems that can be retrofitted. Most cameras can be integrated with a touchscreen display panel, even if it does not have navigation capabilities. With some products, you don’t need to have a built-in monitor to make use of this lifesaving technology.
The 4 Types of Backup Cameras
There are four basic types of camera systems:
- Camera-only systems. These can be added to your vehicle if you already have a stock screen in your dash.
- All-in-one systems. These include both a camera and a display that can be mounted in your vehicle.
- Individual cameras and displays. These components can be purchased separately.
- Cameras and mirror displays. These display the camera feed on the rearview mirror while the car is in reverse.
Adding a camera to a vehicle that already has a display typically costs less than an all-in-one system. In a camera-only system, the camera integrates with the car’s existing electrical system and uses the monitor that is already there to display the image. Make sure the aftermarket camera you buy is compatible with your vehicle and includes the correct interface to get the signal to the screen.
All-in-one systems can be wired or wireless. Wireless systems draw power from your car but use radio frequencies (RF) to transmit images from the camera to the monitor. Some wireless cameras also work with portable navigation systems. You will need to make sure that the system you choose fits your car, to avoid any interference issues with other radio signals.
Individual cameras and displays can also be matched to your vehicle. Some kits can display the image from your rear camera on the surface of a replacement rearview mirror, when purchased together.
Things to Consider before Buying a Backup Camera
There are many types of backup cameras on the market and selecting the right fit for your vehicle can be overwhelming.
The biggest concern most people are likely to have is video quality. For the system to be useful, you want it to provide a clear image of what’s behind you. The clarity of the picture will be determined by the quality of the camera and the resolution of the display. Just like the camera on your cell phone, clarity is measured in pixels: the larger the number, the better the camera and the monitor.
The LUX rating measures performance under low lighting conditions: the lower the number, the better. Some backup cameras will include infrared or LEDs that can help light up the area behind your car or truck.
Most rearview cameras use either CCD or CMOS sensor technology. A CMOS sensor is digital and uses slightly less power. It’s also better in low light than a CCD sensor. The CCD sensor is better at handling changing light situations. Both will stand up well to typical use and, in most situations, you may not be able to tell the difference.
cameras will display parking guidelines for added safety. If this is
important to you, make sure the camera you pick has that as an option.
If you are connecting to a pre-installed monitor, you are limited to the existing display size. If you are installing a new one, you have options for differently sized displays. The most important thing, however, is the size of the view. New vehicles released in May of 2018 or later are required to provide a view of the 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle. You will want a view of at least 170 degrees.
Some cameras come with advanced functionality, including multiple angles that you can access with the right display. In any case, you will want to make sure the camera works with the display. The easiest cameras to install are those that plug directly into a radio display or touchscreen.
If you are purchasing the monitor as well, it’s even more important to find a setup that is reasonably easy to install. Some cameras and monitors are do-it-yourself jobs, while others may be difficult for novices to manage. Different setups will require different installation techniques.
For example, the Toyota Entune/Display Audio Backup Camera Kit for the 2016 Avalon, Prius, RAV4, Matrix, or Venza is a plug-and-play that does not require the user to cut any factory wires in order to install it. The front harness plugs right into the factory radio, and the full-chassis harness supports the rear camera.
A factory-installed backup camera in a Toyota Prius, for example, might cost a few thousand dollars as part of a tech or safety package. By comparison, an aftermarket camera that works with an existing monitor is likely to cost you less than $200. If you can do it yourself, there's no extra expense for labor. If you need someone to install it, expect a 2-3 hour job at roughly $75 an hour.