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Backup camera buying guide

Tips on choosing the best backup camera for you

In this article... We'll discuss what to consider when planning a backup camera system. A lot depends on what's already in your dash or what you'd like to add, so check out the basics below to get a solid understanding of what installing rear-view video entails. And don't forget, our Advisors can always help you find the best backup camera for your needs.

With a backup camera system in your car, you'll gain a well-lit, wide-angle view of what’s behind you – a view that a rear-view mirror just can't deliver. Whether you're safety-conscious, want to keep an eye on something you're towing, or just have a bad habit of crunching bumpers, installing a rear-view video system in your car, truck, or RV is a no-brainer. The big question becomes: what's the best system for you?

We'll discuss the process in three steps:

  1. Assess your dash for viewing backup camera video
  2. Choose the best backup camera for you
  3. Installing your backup camera

Step 1: Assess your dash — how will you view your backup camera?

A backup camera won't do you much good without a screen to plug it into, and what you'll need in a rear-view system will depend on what's already in your dash. If you have an aftermarket touchscreen receiver with a rear-view video input, you're in great shape to shop for rear-view cameras. If not, you'll need to figure out which of the following three categories you fall into.

1) Happy with your factory touchscreen receiver? Find a vehicle-specific solution.

Toyota! Jeep! Dodge! Volkswagen, and more! Enter your vehicle information and explore these vehicle-specific backup cameras with harnesses that match select factory-installed entertainment systems. These backup cameras are often specifically designed to blend in with the exterior of your vehicle.

Crux RVCCH-75CC

This rear-view camera system, for instance, is compatible with the factory radios in select Dodge and Ram pickup trucks.

2) In the market for a new touchscreen receiver? Add a backup cam.

There's no better time to install a rear-view camera than when you're already installing a new stereo in your dash. We carry a wide variety of DVD and GPS receivers that are equipped with touchscreen monitors and rear-view video inputs. When you shift your vehicle into reverse, you'll see a helpful view on your new stereo's display.

Some cameras offer multiple angles when paired with compatible receivers.

Alpine camera trailer hookup

Select Alpine Restyle systems give you advanced rear-view features when paired with certain Alpine cameras.

3) No room in your dash for a touchscreen? You still have options.

If your dash doesn't accommodate a radio with a video screen or if you don't like the idea of altering your factory dash, you still have options:

App-Tronics SmartVision Mirror

Replacement rear-view mirrors seamlessly integrate with your car's interior while giving you a monitor where you're already accustomed to looking.

Backup camera mirrors are a little more challenging to install, but they create a seamless and frankly, pretty cool backup system. Some rear-view mirror systems provide constant rear-view video, which means you can rely on the view in your mirror, even when the way-back is piled high with stuff.

Garmin image

Wired dash-mounted monitors are solid universal options if radio replacement or mirror replacement just aren't for you. 

Wireless backup cameras spare you from running a wired connection between the rear of your vehicle and the front (which can be a relief if you're dealing with a big truck or RV). In some cases, monitor options include viewing rear-view video on your smartphone or on a Garmin portable navigation device.

Step 2: Choose the best backup camera for you

You can count on backup cameras to be tiny and weatherproof across the board, but there are some variables to consider:

Image sensor

Most backup cameras use either CCD or CMOS sensors. The sensors convert light to signal in two different ways: CCD is essentially analog, and CMOS is digital. Generally speaking, a CMOS sensor draws less power and is better in low light than a CCD sensor, but a CCD sensor is slightly better adapted to handle fluctuating lighting scenarios than a CMOS sensor. Depending on the types of environments where you typically drive, the difference may be incidental. In the good ol' tradition of iPhone® vs. Android™, the argument as to which sensor is "better" is ever-evolving and has devotees on either side. In most cases, it won't likely be a deciding factor in which camera you choose.

Parking lines

Many backup cameras provide onscreen guidelines to help you when backing out of precarious positions or when squeezing into a tight spot. They help you gauge distance from objects in your path. If you want the flexibility of opting in or out of parking lines, look for "selectable parking lines" as a feature. Some give you the opportunity to remove them during installation, so that you can use the selectable parking lines feature built into certain touchscreen receivers. If you like the idea of parking lines that bend as you turn your steering wheel, predicting your trajectory in reverse, look for "active parking lines" as a feature. 

hooking up trailer

Mirror image

This is just what it sounds like. The view in your monitor is reversed to mimic that of a rear-view mirror. With some cameras, this is a selectable feature, which is handy if you plan to use the camera as a front-view camera.

Viewing angle

Generally, backup cameras provide a healthy horizontal viewing angle, with some as expansive as 190-degrees. Naturally, the wider you go, the more you'll see behind you at a glance.

Low light

On some cameras, you may see a minimum Lux rating. This tells you the least amount of light required for an acceptable picture. For your reference, a night with a full moon is rated at around 0.1 Lux while a sunny day rates at around 10,000 Lux. Many cameras enhance their low light capability with an additional LED or infrared light that powers on when your vehicle is in reverse.

Mounting

This is the defining feature for most rear-view cameras. It can be done is several ways, so take at look at the rear of your vehicle before you select a camera. Here are the mounting styles to consider:

License plate mount

License plate mounting

Some cameras fit into a matching license plate frame while others take the more universal approach with a strap mount. This strap-mounted rear-view cam fastens over your license plate using the existing screws.

Lip mount

Lip mounting

If you have an inset area on the rear of your car, chances are you can use an angled lip-mount camera which is a little more subtle than the license plate mount.

Bracket mount

Bracket mounting

This style takes the most universal approach, providing an adjustable bracket that lets you mount your camera wherever you see fit.

Vehicle-specific mount

Vehicle-specific mounting

Some brands offer brackets that replace or fit into factory parts for a near-perfect match to your vehicle. Be sure to enter your vehicle information to see if there's an option for your vehicle.

We also carry specialty rear-view video systems like cameras for trailers, boats, ATVs, and more. Check out this rear-view camera spotlight for more information and ideas.

Step 3: Installation – adding the backup camera to your vehicle

DIYers should anticipate a 3-part installation:

  1. Installing the camera in the rear of the car and wiring it for power.
  2. Running a video connection from the camera to your dash, unless it's a wireless system.
  3. Connecting that video cable to the input on the rear of a compatible monitor (which will also require installation) or your stereo (which involves removing the stereo from your dash and then reinstalling it).

A wireless backup camera system will cut down on your installation time, but you'll still have to wire the camera and monitor for power. In many cases, tapping into the feed to your tail lights will suffice for the camera, but some may require a direct connection to your car's fuse panel.


Life in reverse

Like an air bag to a seat belt, a rear-view camera system isn't a replacement for your vehicle's mirrors, it's a complement — a powerful tool for driving safely and parallel parking like a pro. And even if you consider yourself a pro, everybody has their bad days, and a rear-view system cuts down on the risk of a fender-bender (or worse). If you have any questions about picking the right system, just contact our advisors.

Last updated 8/29/2018
  • eric from Chattanooga

    Posted on 9/27/2018

    I second what Charles said about the video always showing regardless of being in reverse order not. Also I was wondering if there is a head unit or monitor with an SD card holder that will save video of what the camera sees? I've heard of wiring harnesses that are sold on Amazon that u can add to a in dash head unit wiring harness that bypass the reverse gear turning on the camera but some say in the description that the actual harness may be illeagel in some countries. I don't know where to start!

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield on 9/28/2018
    Eric, I've passed your question along to our Advisor team to help. Someone will contact you soon. I'm not aware of a head unit that will store backup cam video files or of a bypass harness that we sell. As I mentioned in my reply to Charles, we do have dash cam systems that have include a constant rear-view recorder. And if you're okay with replacing your rear-view mirror, the Papago RAY system might be an option to consider, since it gives you a constant, recorded rear-view.
  • Brian from Frankfort

    Posted on 6/22/2018

    Shouldn't the camera be mounted in the center of the car? I own a Jeep and the plate is on the left side of the vehicle, so if I use a license plate frame that has a camera, wouldn't the rear view be skewed?

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield on 6/22/2018
    Brian, Wranglers are a challenge for that reason, but we do carry vehicle-specific options like this centrally located, tire-mount cam from Alpine. To see all your options, you can use our vehicle selector to confirm what fits your vehicle.
  • Juan from Casper

    Posted on 6/15/2018

    Is there a camera that is comparable to the factory ones? The factory ones I have seen allow you to see not only behind you but also the receiver hitch as well. This is very handy when hooking up to a trailer. All of the aftermarket cameras I have seen don't allow the hitch to be seen at the same time. If they are angled down to see the hitch then you have a very limited view of what's behind you.

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield on 6/18/2018
    Juan, I've passed your question along to our Advisors. Someone will contact you soon to help you find the right camera for your needs.
  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/25/2018

    Charles, a good point. I'll review the article with that in mind. I've passed your question about constant rear-view solutions on to our Advisor team. Someone will contact you soon to help, but our latest addition to that category is the Papago RAY. You'll also find that feature with some dash cams that include an additional rear-view cam.

  • Charles Horni from New Braunfels

    Posted on 4/24/2018

    Problem I have is that "rear view" and "backup" camera are used interchangeably. They are NOT the same. I want an always on, even when I am driving forward, actual rear view camera. Just as if I was looking into a rear view mirror. If such exists I get buried under the ones that aren't but say they are. I have a small motorhome I want to see what is behind me when I am driving. I want to see what's behind me when I am backing up, yes, but also when forward driving.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/31/2018

    Tom, I've passed your question along to an advisor to help you. The quick answer is that we carry dash monitors that use a composite video input, so if you have a source with a composite video output, you'll be able to see it on the monitor. An advisor will be able to expand on your options based on the details of your current system.

  • Tom Carberrry from Bailey

    Posted on 1/19/2018

    Can the dash monitor double as a GPS monitor? Can I set up any monitor to also view side cams and a front camera? Do I need some sort of controller to add cameras to the display?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/19/2017

    Trent, "measures" will vary from camera to camera but generally, rear-view cameras are weather-proof rated to ensure that they stand up to the elements.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/19/2017

    Alan, cool head unit! I've passed your question along to an Advisor. Someone will contact you shortly to find the best option.

  • Alan Lewis from Arlington

    Posted on 12/17/2017

    I just installed from Crutchfield a JBL CP100 head unit radio with a reverse camera input. The JBL screen is a 800 x 480 resolution but most cameras I find are 640 x 480. The aspect ratio difference means the image is stretched and very distorted on the radio screen. I have tried this out already. The radio has no adjustments for the video input so I can't change the aspect ratio. What cameras produce a correct 16:9 aspect ratio so I don't have the stretched image?

  • Trent from Winter Springs, FL

    Posted on 11/29/2017

    What measures are taken with backup cameras to ensure they are not susceptible to condensation? Is this universally done on backup cameras or is there a particular feature to be looking for? I've had rental cars where even when every single window on the car is fogged over, the backup camera isn't affected at all.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/27/2017

    Martin, I've passed your question along to an Advisor. Someone will contact you soon to help you find a solution more in line with your option #1 since the Pearl system or equivalent doesn't suit your needs.

  • Martin Leibowitz from Teaneck

    Posted on 11/25/2017

    Hi Alexander. I have a 2010 Lexus. No built in monitor. No USB ports. I'm looking for a backup camera with a dash cam as a replacement rear view mirror OR a backup camera that connects to my iPhone 5c. I have a vent mount for my iPhone. Needs to have parking lines and night vision. I checked out the Pearl Rearvision Wireless kit but it isn't for me. Price is not a problem. I will have professional installation.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/5/2017

    Johan, your best bet is to check with a European electronics retailer. We don't ship outside the U.S. or Canada, so unfortunately, any recommendations we made wouldn't be very helpful to you.

  • Johan Tyrsing from Naples

    Posted on 9/5/2017

    Hi Alexander. I have a sports car without a rear window, so I need a rear view system. Prefer a 7" monitor. A camera with as high resolution as possible and as invisible as possible. Since it will be a replacement for the mirror I'm more interested a more longer distance view than just close in (back up) Do You have anything to recommend? Regards Johan Tyrsing

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/11/2017

    Chris, you can pair this wireless kit with the rear-view camera of your choice. Give us a call if you'd like some recommendations.

  • Chris from Alexandria

    Posted on 7/11/2017

    Thanks for the article. Are there any camera systems with a separate wireless receiver that can plug into an aftermarket touchscreen receiver? I don't want to have to run a wire all the way through the car, but most wireless camera transmitters only seem to work with a dedicated seperate monitor.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2017

    Irvin, most of our backup cam solutions auto-trigger rear-view video when you shift into reverse. I've passed along your question to our team of advisors and someone will contact you soon to help find a solution that's right for you and your vehicle.

  • Irvin from Houston

    Posted on 5/16/2017

    Is there a system that will automatically activate when you place your car in reverse? Or is there a manual step always required to activate? I am planning to install in a 2006 Hummer H3 that currently does not have a back-up camera.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/27/2017

    John, while we do carry cams with adjustable parking lines, we don't carry those that curve "live" to match steering (if I'm thinking of what you mean). However, give us a call, and an advisor may be able to find a match for your needs.

  • John from Columbus, IN

    Posted on 4/26/2017

    Are there add-on cameras with guidelines synchronized to the steering - like my 2015 Malibu has?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/20/2017

    biTToe, an advisor will contact you soon to help, but here's the wireless backup system that you may have had in mind.

  • biTToe from new york

    Posted on 3/17/2017

    Isn't there a wireless backup camera that can send its signal (BT or WiFi) to my phone? I don't want an extra screen (theft inducement). The digital rearview mirrors are terrible and small, especially for us old guys


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