Can you add a backup camera to an older car? – Geek Review

A reversing camera on a car's infotainment screen.

There’s nothing quite like sitting in a friend’s car, watching them use the rear view camera, and feeling a rush of jealousy. Backup cameras increase driver awareness and make cooking in tight spaces easier – everyone can benefit. But you don’t need to feel jealous of anyone, because you can easily add a backup camera to your “old” car.

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

Yes, you can add a rear view camera to your car

Although rear view cameras may seem like a modern luxury, they really aren’t that advanced. In fact, they have been around for decades. We’ve just reached the point where LCD screens and small digital cameras are affordable enough to fit into every new car.

Since backup cameras are so simple, you can install one in any car, truck, SUV, or RV. Aftermarket backup cameras are incredibly common, and universal 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.

That said, you don’t even need a fancy head unit with a big screen – there are a ton of backup camera kits that come with a dash screen or rear view mirror monitor. That said, a nice head unit or “infotainment center” will give you the best experience with a backup camera, and that will often result in a cleaner setup with no visible wires.

I should also note that rear view cameras work with trailers. If you find yourself strapping things to the back of your vehicle every few weeks, a backup camera is a really great investment.

What kind of backup camera should you buy?

A reversing camera installed on the license plate of a car.

Buying a backup camera is a relatively easy task. Of course, you have to worry about features like night vision, but these features are very simple 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 reversing camera:

  • Upgrade cameras: These backup cameras connect directly to your head unit, giving you a video feed when backing up. That said, they need a head unit or “infotainment center” capable of playing videos. (I strongly 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 sits on your dash or sticks to your windshield. These kits are usually cordless, so they’re a great inexpensive option if you’re not sure you can use wires.
  • Cameras with mirror monitors: For a cleaner setup, you can buy a camera kit with a rearview monitor. This monitor doubles as a mirror and a screen. It is usually wireless, and it sits either above or replaces your existing mirror.

Once you’ve decided on the form factor that’s right for you, it’s time to research features. I strongly suggest buying a backup camera with night vision and parking guide lines. You can also purchase a wireless camera, eliminating the need to run video cables through your vehicle.

Other features, like DVR recording or image quality, are up to you. But if you’re planning on buying a camera with a rearview monitor, you might want to buy one with a built-in dashcam.

Can you install a rear view camera yourself?

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

Installing a rear view camera is not a difficult task, but it takes time and requires a bit of experience with cars. Even “wireless” backup cameras need power, which means unplugging your vehicle’s battery to splice wires.

Most people should opt for 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’s the gist of the process:

  • Disconnect your car battery
  • Mount the rear view camera (usually on your license plate)
  • Wire the camera for power (usually at your brake light)
  • Run video cables under your door seal to reach your head unit or display

If you purchase an additional screen, you may need to hardwire it to your head unit or interior lighting system. That said, some additional screens connect to your cigarette lighter for power, which can make setup relatively quick when combined with a wireless video system.

I should also note that some additional backup cameras, like the ones Kenwood makes for its head units, don’t require a dedicated power source. Instead, they’re powered by the video cable that plugs into the back of your receiver.

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

Are reversing cameras expensive?

A video feed from a reversing camera.

On their own, backup cameras are incredibly cheap. Most models cost between $30 and $70, with some costing even less. The problem, of course, is that your older car probably doesn’t have a head unit or “infotainment center” capable of displaying a backup camera feed.

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

These kits start around $120 and are relatively easy to install. That said, advanced features (like an integrated dash cam or DVR functionality) will quickly bump the price up to $200 or $300. And if you need professional installation, which you probably do, it will cost you an extra $100 or more.

If you choose to purchase a new head unit with your backup camera, you can expect to pay at least $400 before installation. And that’s a very conservative estimate – you might need a manufacturer-specific camera for your new head unit, and of course the price of a new head unit is entirely dependent on what features you want.


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