Can you add a backup camera to an older car? – geek review

Backup camera on the car's infotainment screen.
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There’s nothing like sitting in a friend’s car, watching them use the backup camera, and getting jealous. Back-up cameras increase driver awareness and make baking in confined spaces easy – everyone can benefit from. But there is no need to be jealous of anyone, because you can easily add a backup camera to your “old” car.

Let me clarify something before we get into weeds. People tend to use “backup camera” and “rear view camera” interchangeably, but they are two different products. The backup camera turns on when you back up your vehicle, while the rear view camera gives you a live feed (or recordings) of the drivers behind you.

Yes, you can add a backup camera to your car

Although backup cameras may seem a modern luxury, they are not really advanced. In fact, they’ve been around for decades. We’ve simply reached the point where LCD screens and small digital cameras are affordable enough to stay in every new car.

Because backup cameras are so simple, you can install one in any car, truck, SUV, or RV. Aftermarket backup cameras are incredibly common, and generic options will work in just about any vehicle. Additionally, brands like Pioneer and Kenwood sell additional backup cameras for their head units, allowing for seamless upgrades.

Having said that, you don’t even need a fancy head unit with a big screen — there are plenty of backup camera kits that come with a dashboard screen or rearview mirror screen. However, a cool head unit or “infotainment center” will give you the best experience with your backup camera, and often results in a cleaner setup without any visible wires.

I should also note that backup cams work with trailers. If you find yourself attaching things to the back of your car every few weeks, a backup camera is a very nice investment.

What Kind of Backup Camera Should You Buy?

Backup camera installed on the car license plate.
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Shopping for a backup camera is a relatively easy task. Sure, you have to worry about features like night vision, but these features are very clear and easy to understand. And while manufacturers sell hundreds of different backup cameras, they all boil down to three distinct form factors.

Here are the three types of backup camera:

  • Modified cameras: These backup cameras connect directly to the head unit, giving you a video feed when reversing. However, it does require a main unit or “info center” capable of video playback. (I highly suggest purchasing an additional backup camera from your head unit manufacturer for easier installation.)
  • Cameras with dashboard screens: Some backup camera kits come with a small screen that fits on your dashboard or sticks to your windshield. These kits are usually wireless, so they’re a great low-cost option if you’re not confident dealing with wires.
  • Mirror screen cameras: For a cleaner setup, you can buy a camera kit with a rearview mirror screen. This screen acts as a mirror and screen. It’s usually wireless, and it’s either sitting on top or replace Your existing rear view mirror.

Once you’ve chosen the right form factor for you, it’s time to research the features. I highly suggest buying a backup camera with night vision and parking guides. You may also want to purchase a wireless camera, which eliminates the need to run video cables through your vehicle.

Other features, such as DVR recording or image quality, are up to you. But if you are planning to buy a camera with a rearview mirror screen, you may want to get a camera with a built-in dashcam.

Can you install a backup camera by yourself?

A professional working on a car.
This guy knows how to install a backup camera! HQuality / Shutterstock.com

Installing a backup camera is not a difficult task, but it is time consuming and requires a little experience with cars. Even “wireless” backup cameras need power, and that means disconnecting your car’s battery to tie the wires.

Most people should opt for the professional installation, which will cost at least $100. But if you’re comfortable working on a car, installing a backup camera isn’t a big deal.

Here is the gist of the process:

  • Disconnect your car battery
  • Mount the backup camera (usually on your license plate)
  • Connect the camera to power (usually on your brake light)
  • Run video cables under the door seal to access your head unit or display

If you purchased an additional monitor, you may need to connect it to the head unit or indoor lighting system. However, some additional displays connect to the cigarette lighter for power, which can make installation a relatively quick task when combined with a wireless video system.

I should also note that some additional backup cameras, such as the ones Kenwood makes for their head units, do not require a dedicated power supply. Instead, they draw power from a video cable that plugs into the back of the receiver.

Keep in mind that electric shock from your car can kill you. If you don’t know how to work safely in the car, you should pay a professional (or a knowledgable friend, at least) to install the backup camera.

Are backup cameras expensive?

Video feed from backup camera.
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Backup cameras are surprisingly cheap. Most models run between $30 and $70, and some go even lower. The problem, of course, is that your old car probably doesn’t have a head unit or “infotainment center” capable of displaying the backup camera feed.

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to upgrade your head unit to use a backup camera. But you’ll need to spend some extra cash on a backup camera kit, which will include a dashboard video screen or a rear-view mirror with a built-in screen.

These kits start around $120 and are relatively easy to install. However, advanced features (like the built-in dashcam or DVR functionality) will quickly push the price up to $200 or $300. And if you need a professional install, and that’s probably the case, it will cost you an extra $100 or more.

If you choose to purchase a new backup camera head unit, you can expect to pay at least $400 prior to installation. This is a very conservative estimate – you may need a manufacturer-specific camera for your new head unit, and of course, the price of an all-new head unit depends on the features you want.