What is a backup camera?

The Vehicle Backup Camera is a video camera that is designed specifically to help drivers reverse vehicles safely. It is also known as a reverse camera or rear view camera. By the way, if any terms on this post are unfamiliar, see our Backup Camera Terms Explained page.

Cameras and Camera Kit

Aftermarket vehicle backup cameras are sold in single units or as part of a kit which also includes a monitor that shows the image from the camera.  Drivers whose vehicles already have monitors might require a new or replacement backup camera, hence the single unit sale. Usually this is a result of a camera being damaged, but a change of vehicle might need a different size camera or a different mounting. Also, some drivers use iPhones as screens for backup cameras.

Reverse camera kits, or systems, include one or more cameras, a monitor, which can be in the form of a replacement rearview mirror, sun visor, or a stand-alone screen (usually placed on or fixed to the vehicle dash). Two cameras systems are quite normal especially for someone towing a trailer or boat or caravan. Two camera sets are also very useful at the rear of larger vehicles like trucks, box vans and motorhomes in order to better cover the wider area behind these vehicles.

Cost

The range of prices offered is very wide. Generally you get what you pay for. Vehicle camera systems costing more than $150 will provide better quality equipment than a kit at around $60. But there are many satisfied customers who have purchased lower priced systems. At present the average sale is around $100.

So it is a matter of either deciding on your budget and searching at that price level or selecting the camera kit that you would like and finding the best price on offer. This is where we can help by providing up to date reviews and current prices. Click on This Month’s Recommendations at the top of this page for up to date advice before you buy.

NB If you plan to install a reverse camera system on a Toyota, then check out the OEM kits available on our Toyota page.

A good pre-purchasing check could include the following points:

Image

A dedicated backup camera will reverse the image so that the view on the monitor is exactly the same as if the driver was looking into the rearview or side mirrors. Whereas normally a video camera shows the image the human eye sees in front of it. So your backup camera must reverse the image.

Do you need two cameras?

One is fine as a car camera or on a smaller van or truck. But if the width of your vehicle or the fact that it does not have a rear window means that you are unable to see much of what is behind you. – Then you might require two cameras in the kit you buy. This is because many backup cameras have lens covering 130 degrees or less. This means that there is a dead zone between the corners of the vehicle and the image.

Angle of View behind vehicle

Are you likely to tow a trailer or other object like a boat, caravan or horse box? This will require at least one camera on the main vehicle and another on the trailer. Most two plus camera kits allow for  this.

So decide how many cameras are you likely to need on your system.

Which type of monitor will best suit your system?

If your vehicle has a screen in its dash, or you plan using your iPhone for your backup camera, then you need only select a compatible camera. Check whether your monitor requires PAL or NTSC format – many aftermarket kits offer both.

Otherwise the main choice is between a rearview mirror that will fit over your existing mirror (or replace it) or a mini TV type of screen mounted on or near the dash. Brackets are always provided for this installing.

An example of a mirror monitor is by Auto-Vox on Amazon: 

For a car or smaller van or truck with a one camera system, a mirror monitor is simpler and probably produces a large enough image. Most rearview mirrors are 4.3” in size although some are 4.5”, so measure yours if you plan to buy a mirror screen monitor that will act as a normal mirror when you are not reversing.  But for towing and using two reversing cameras you might feel happier with a free standing 7” monitor. This is because when using two cameras it is helpful to switch from one to the other image. So a larger screen is better.

An example of a dash mounted monitor is this one on Amazon : 

The other consideration in the choice of monitor is where will it be fitted. Some of the TV type monitors have brackets or suction pads that allow for fixing to the windscreen or roof of the cab. This is quite popular in larger trucks or construction plant.

For more information about monitors, see our post.

Wireless or Hard-wired?

The main advantage of purchasing a wireless backup camera kit is that it is much easier to install because the image signal transfers from the backup camera to the monitor – whichever type is used – via a wireless signal. So the system includes camera(s), monitor and a small transmitter. Although there is a risk of occasional outside interference to the signal, especially in areas with high volumes of WIFI traffic, many wireless cameras are purchased and used successfully.

The wired system requires camera(s), a monitor and sufficient cabling to connect them. Installing this type of kit requires a good knowledge and some experience of vehicle maintenance at least. We always recommend that wired installations are carried out by a professional unless you are competent at automotive DIY.  This extra cost should not deter customers from buying wired kits as they tend to be more reliable with no interference to the image signal – and we are talking about a major safety benefit.

Customers employ both wireless and wired backup camera sets on cars, RVs, trucks, vans and motorhomes equally satisfactorily.

Specifications and choice of camera(s) for backing up

The range of cameras on sale in aftermarket reversing kits is very wide. There are, of course, sellers offering the same camera (maybe with a different fitting bracket) at varying prices. So it is important that you know the basic specifications of your desired camera.

Questions to ask include:

Does it have a high waterproof rating? How is it mounted on your vehicle? How sturdy a construction and fitting bracket has it? How will it look on your vehicle? How wide a viewing angle do you require for your size of vehicle? Which type of night vision? LEDs or Infrared? Infrared usually give a longer distance view in bad light and avoid shining into the face of following drivers. This is important if you use a rearview camera to see what is behind you when driving.

We recommend that you list the key points that are important to your choice of reverse camera and then check these against a selection of kits available. Probably the simplest and quickest way to do this is to go to Amazon and search for ‘backup cameras systems’  in either ‘Automotive Parts and Accessories’ or ‘Electronics’ categories.

Then refine your request to Two Camera kit, Single Camera system or Single Camera. Virtually all listings there give comprehensive details and specifications of the likely performance of the various parts of the backup system. Your checklist will help you filter the systems within your budget and our Reviews will provide extra insight to guide you towards the best choice for your needs.

We regularly give three backup camera recommendations for Cars and smaller Vans and three more for Trucks and larger vehicles. These will be bang up to date appraisals. You can always click on our links to find current prices and availability.Backup Camera Installation How-Tos

So search out the reverse Camera that meets your particular needs.

Will your backup system require extra strong cabling?

Most backup kits come with sufficient cabling to fit the size vehicle it is designed for. Buying more for a towing set up or to route the cables differently is no problem – most manufacturers offer customer service for this sort of thing.

However, the kits that are either meant for heavy duty wear or just better quality equipment will utilise aircraft standard cabling. So this is worth considering especially if you plan a DIY installation. The stronger the wiring the more forgiving it is during fitting out. Obviously stronger cabling will last longer too.

Conclusion

There is a suitably priced aftermarket backup camera kit available for virtually any vehicle whether car, SUV, van truck, RV or motorhome. And all vehicles should have a reversing camera system.

Why install a backup camera?

See our post on why you should install a backup camera.