How to install a backup camera for $100 or less

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A close-up of the backup camera screen in a Lexus vehicle.

You should always check your surroundings for safety. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Altair78/Wikipedia)

Most new cars come with a backup camera pre-installed, and by 2014, it seems likely that the rear-view camera will be a mandatory safety feature. But what if you have an older car, some cash, some DIY savvy and want help with parallel parking? Here’s how to install a backup camera in an older vehicle.

What’s going on back there?

The reason for a backup camera is simple. The compact device gives you a wide-angle view of what is directly behind the car. This reduces the chance that you’ll back into something, whether it’s a fire hydrant, child or other small object that can cause big damage. Considering that the average age of vehicles on the road in the U.S. is 10.8 years, most cars don’t actually have this rear-view camera feature. If you want one, you’ll have to install it yourself. Depending upon the quality of the camera and digital screen, your package should cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.

What you’ll need

The backup camera installation isn’t particularly tool-intensive. You’ll need a wrench to remove the license plate, as well as some simple wiring tools. A self-install kit for a rear-view camera comes in three parts: the camera itself, which mounts to the rear license plate bracket; a wireless transmitter; and a rear-view mirror with integrated digital readout screen.

How to install the kit

Once the camera is attached to the license plate bracket, run the signal wire through the trunk or cargo area, where it plugs into a small transmitter. One way to get the fire in is to feed it behind a license plate light. However, a drilled hole may be necessary. The transmitter is connected to the wiring for the backup light, providing it with power. This only receives power if the car is shifted into reverse. The receiver is pre-installed within the special rear-view mirror, and it feeds the 640×480 signal to the monitor. Just mount this mirror right over the old rear-view mirror via spring-loaded clamps and Velcro straps that are included in the kit.

This mirror can be powered in a number of ways. One is to tuck the power cord from the top of the mirror into the front of the headliner, then routing the wire down the driver-side A-pillar, notes Popular Mechanics. From there, the wire can be hidden inside the trim all the way down to the dash and the cigarette lighter, or a keyed-on circuit (find one with a test light and your ignition key).

Backup camera, reporting for duty

In total, Popular Mechanics predicts that a careful backup camera install takes about 30 to 45 minutes. For just $100, it is rather impressive to have a rear-view camera that will automatically turn on when you throw your car in reverse, which is of course when you’d need it. Sometimes electromagnetic interference can occur, but this is rare. In order to avoid random interference while cruising the highway, it is possible to turn the device off via the mirror. Don’t forget to turn it back on when you need it, though.

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How to install a license plate-mounted backup camera



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