Adding a Back-up Camera to Your Vehicle
Aftermarket Rearview Camera Systems Can Fit Almost any Vehicle
The child advocacy group Kids and Cars says that every week at least 50 children are backed over in the U.S., and at least two of those incidents are fatal. In larger pickups and SUVs, the rear blind spot can extend almost 20 feet behind the vehicle, and rearview cameras can help prevent a driver from accidentally backing over a child, pet or object in this zone. Rearview cameras can also make it far easier to hook up a trailer, especially if you have no one to help you line up the hitch and coupler.
Many vehicles now arrive from the factory with a rearview camera system, but you don't have to buy a new or used vehicle with a rearview camera to get the feature. You can add an aftermarket rearview camera to your vehicle, and the choices range from complete easy add-on camera-and-monitor packages to cameras that can be added to your car's existing in-dash monitor. Here's a sample of what to look for and what's available from the aftermarket.
Rearview Camera Features
You have a choice of two image-sensor technologies (the electronics that digitally capture images) for adding a camera: Charge Coupled Device (CCD) and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) sensors. In general, CMOS sensors tend to be less expensive but have lower image resolution and less light sensitivity.
Other features to look for in rearview cameras include the angle of view (measured in degrees) and the low-light or night-vision capabilities offered. Of course, most cameras provide a reversed image to simulate a rearview mirror appearance, but some cameras also offer the ability to switch to a normal view. And most aftermarket rearview cameras automatically switch on when a car's transmission is shifted to Reverse.
Add-on rearview cameras are usually of three general designs. The most typical is a camera like Pyle's PLCMB20 ($98.40) that's enclosed in a weatherproof housing and mounted on the vehicle's exterior. It features a 170-degree viewing angle, LEDs for illumination at night and an adjustable anti-glare shield.
Flush-mounted "keyhole" cameras such as Visor View's SJR-317A CCD bullet-style camera ($149.99) provide a stealthier appearance than traditional surface-mounted cameras. But keep in mind that a small hole will have to be drilled somewhere on the vehicle's rear bodywork.
For those not wanting to deal with traditionally mounted units, many companies offer "license plate" cameras. The VTL375 ($259.99) from Boyo Vision is a complete tag frame with a built-in CCD image sensor that has a 175-degree viewing angle. The company also offers bar-type cameras like the VTL400C ($149.99) that won't completely frame the vehicle's tag. It's a good idea to check into your state's vehicle laws, as some states prohibit tag frames that might obscure the tags.
If you don't already have a factory or aftermarket video monitor in your vehicle, you can add a complete rearview-camera package like Pyle's PLCM25 ($158.40), which includes both a stand-alone 2.5-inch LCD monitor that mounts on the dash and a waterproof 1.3-inch camera outfitted with LEDs for nighttime illumination. It also comes with a drill cutout tool for mounting the camera.
If you don't want to bother with running wires through your vehicle, Audiovox's ACA250 ($163.31) uses a 2.4-GHz wireless transmitter to send video from the camera to the 2.5-inch LCD monitor inside the vehicle. The camera comes mounted in an aluminum housing that easily attaches to a license plate.
Adding a Camera to a Car
If your vehicle already has a factory navigation system with a screen, you can integrate an aftermarket camera with that system instead of installing a separate LCD on the dash. Companies such as Pacific Accessory Corporation and NAV-TV offer rearview camera interfaces for many vehicles that allow your vehicle's OEM navigation screen to display images from an aftermarket rearview camera. In some cases, these interfaces provide additional inputs to connect other video sources such as a portable DVD player.
These OEM interfaces are very specific to vehicles and head units, so it's best to consult those companies' Web sites to confirm compatibility with your vehicle. You should also consult with a knowledgeable mobile-electronics retailer. Prices can vary quite a bit depending on the vehicle and system, but utilizing the OEM navigation screen may be a better alternative than starting from scratch.
Most aftermarket cameras have standard composite video output via universal RCA plugs that connect to virtually any aftermarket display. But if you have an aftermarket head unit with a large LCD video screen from a major car audio manufacturer, you may want to purchase a rearview camera of the same brand, since they offer complementary features. Cameras like the Kenwood CMOS-300 ($400) and the Pioneer ND-BC20PA ($400), for example, offer additional viewing controls via their touchscreens on compatible models.
Look Before Backing
Adding an aftermarket camera, especially if you drive a large vehicle with significant blind spots, will make backing up safer and easier. As with a stock rearview monitor, you should always physically check to see what's behind your vehicle and use your mirrors as well. Pets and children can move unpredictably, so never rely solely on a rearview camera to detect what is behind you. But it does help to have eyes in the back of your head — or, in this case, a rearview camera so you can see what's behind your vehicle.