While many new vehicles include backup cameras, these handy safety devices aren't yet standard equipment on all models. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the addition of a backup camera can improve your visibility behind your car by as much as 90%. In fact, these cameras are so important for automotive safety that the NHTSA will be requiring them as standard equipment on new cars starting in 2018. If your car is one of the many that doesn't have a factory-installed backup camera, there are many great aftermarket options out there.
Five Recommended Backup Cameras
There are some fantastic cameras on the market, ranging from budget-friendly options to those that integrate with your GPS unit or car information display screen.
If you're wondering which camera to choose, consider some of these models which stand out in reviews.
- Price: about $27, plus a $25 monitor
- Best for: Budget-conscious consumers who want an unobtrusive option
A limited budget doesn't mean you have to skimp on safety, although not all budget backup cameras are created equal. The manufacturers of the Esky EC170-08 provided a review model for this article, allowing LoveToKnow to offer real world impressions of the device, which is available for purchase on Amazon.com. To use the camera, you'll also need to purchase the folding monitor for about $25.
There are a number of advantages to this camera system:
- The affordable system produces a surprisingly good picture of what's behind you. There's a wide angle of view behind the car.
- The camera provides dotted lines to help you see where your car is in relation to the camera picture. This is helpful for parking and backing up.
- The clarity of the picture is fantastic, especially during the day.
- The camera comes with enough wire to reach from the back of your vehicle all the way to the monitor in front.
- The camera is waterproof, although it's important to tape wire connections.
- This tiny camera blends in with the exterior of your car.
One potential drawback to this camera is the installation process. Installing the camera itself if easy, especially if you mount it to the license plate area. However, the camera needs to be hard-wired directly to your reverse light. The manufacturer recommends professional installation to help with this issue, although if you are familiar with your car's electrical system, you may be able to do it yourself.
Magellan Wireless Backup Camera
- Price: $150, plus compatible Magellan GPS unit
- Best for: Consumers who want an upscale, GPS-integrated camera
If you're looking for a camera that won't require you to run wires through your vehicle, the Magellan Wireless Backup Camera is a good choice. In 2012, this camera won the CES Innovations Award from the Consumer Electronics Association. The camera, available for purchase from the Magellan site and other retailers, integrates with several models of Magellan GPS navigators.
"The advantage to integrating the backup camera with the GPS is having one display that can do multiple jobs," says William Strand, Director of Product Marketing at Magellan. "You don't need your driving directions while you are going in reverse (hopefully!) so why not use that screen for the back-up camera? Otherwise you have a busy dashboard with two displays!"
According to consumer reviews on Amazon.com, additional advantages of this system include the following:
- The picture quality is exceptional, even during bad weather and at night.
- The camera integrates seamlessly with the GPS unit, although there is a slight delay of a few seconds as the unit shifts modes.
- The angle of view is very wide, allowing the driver to see a large area behind the vehicle.
- You can adjust the camera to get the proper angle of view behind your car.
Magellan recommends professional installation for this camera, and many consumers agree that installing it themselves was challenging. It's also important to note that installing the camera requires drilling a couple of small holes in your bumper. Also, this camera won't work without a compatible GPS unit. Some consumers complain about the lack of backup lines for help in positioning the vehicle.
Rear View Safety RVS-770613
- Price: $220
- Best for: Consumers in search of a heavy-duty model but not concerned with aesthetics
Founded in 2007, Rear View Safety originally created and marketed cameras for commercial applications. However, they now sell cameras for passenger cars and trucks too. The RVS-770613 is a popular model that comes with everything you need in one package. It includes the camera, monitor, and a three-channel multiplexer that lets you hook the unit up to a DVD player or other camera.
This model is the best rated backup camera on Amazon.com, where it has over 250 reviews and 4.6/5 stars. Reviewers have high praise for a number of its features:
- This system is well-built and does not feel fragile.
- This camera is designed to handle tough weather and is waterproof. It also handles bumpy conditions and road vibration with no trouble.
- The refresh rate is quick, so it has an accurate picture of everything behind the vehicle.
- The image quality is excellent, even at night.
- The camera also has sound, so you can use headphones to hear what is behind you in addition to seeing the picture.
- This model projects lines to help you align your car with the picture.
One potential disadvantage of this model is its size. This is a bulky camera that doesn't blend in to the exterior of your vehicle. Again, professional installation is probably a good idea unless you are confident hard-wiring this unit to your vehicle.
TaoTronics Waterproof Car License Plate Camera
- Price: About $45, monitor not included
- Best for: Consumers who want a low-profile, integrated camera
The TaoTronics Waterproof Car License Plate Camera features a simple camera integrated into a license plate frame. This model doesn't come with a monitor, so you'll need to use one that is compatible. The manufacturer specifies any type of NTSC video system, available from most electronics retailers.
This model got four out of five eggs from consumers on NewEgg, who praised it for a number of reasons:
- This is a low-profile camera that won't draw attention to itself. If you're concerned about your car's appearance or want to minimize attention to the camera, this is a good choice.
- The camera is waterproof, but you have to tape the wire connections carefully.
- This model has a clear picture and has excellent night vision.
- This is an affordable camera, but it is well-built.
- It features guide lines to help your position your vehicle.
- Since this mounts as a license plate frame, you don't have to drill holes in your bumper.
Some consumers complained that this unit was difficult to install, but others chose to have it professionally installed. There were also multiple complaints about the positioning of the guide lines.
Wireless iPhone Rearview Camera System from RV Rearview Systems
Price: About $400
Best for: Consumers who want to integrate their backup camera with their smart phone
These days, many consumers own a smart phone, which makes the Wireless iPhone Rearview Camera System an exciting niche product. This handy camera wirelessly integrates with your phone, making an additional monitor unnecessary. This camera mounts above the license plate using the same holes, so you don't need to drill any additional holes in your bumper. You can purchase this system directly from RV Rearview Systems or on Amazon, where it has received very good reviews.
Consumers on Amazon love this system for a number of reasons:
- You don't need to purchase a monitor for this unit.
- You can still get and place calls on your phone while using it with the camera.
- This system is ideal for trailers and RVs.
- The picture is clear and easy to view on the phone.
It's important to note that this camera only works with iPhones and that the unit is quite bulky. You can install it yourself if you're confident in your wiring skills, but novices will want to get it professionally installed. Reviewers also note that the camera uses a lot of the phone's battery power. This system does not include guidelines.
Important Features to Consider
"Aftermarket versions today have great picture quality and come in all shapes and sizes to fit the vehicle, making integration to the vehicle a snap," says Don Zaney, senior product manager for AAMP of America, "In most cases the aftermarket version could be better and have more features than the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) system."
Not all aftermarket cameras are created equal. Zaney strongly recommends that consumers do their research before making this major safety purchase.
"Purchasing a camera with bad specifications can almost be more dangerous than not having one at all," he says. "Becoming dependent on a product that has a poor image or cannot be used at night would be detrimental to your safety."
Zaney recommends that shoppers consider the following features.
Look for a camera that produces high quality images and offers you a clear view of objects behind your vehicle. This is important for both the camera and the monitor as the two will need to work together.
Choose a camera that is waterproof. These units are subjected to all kinds of weather, including rain, snow, ice, and road dirt. Those that aren't waterproof are subject to fogging and a loss of image quality. Some stop working entirely.
Low Light Performance
Depending on how you plan to use your camera, low light performance is also important. Some camera excel in this area, and if you do a lot of night driving, you'll need to choose a model that has good reviews for use in low light. If you drive only during the day, this may not be as important for you.
Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com, also adds that guidelines or parking lines are another important consideration. Not all camera have this feature, but those that do can be very handy.
"Drivers have quickly adopted the benefits a back-up camera provides when parking or maneuvering in tight places," he says. "This is particularly true for camera displays that include guidelines to show where a car will end up based on the angle of the front wheels."
Best Model for You
Choosing a backup camera for your vehicle is mostly a matter of considering your budget, your priorities, and the features each model provides. Whether you're looking for a simple, affordable model or one that integrates with other technology, there's a model out there that will keep your family safe.