How to add a backup camera to your car

Aftermarket kits make it easy to upgrade with this safety feature

Published: August 10, 2015 12:00 PM

DIY is not for the faint of heart.

Rearview, or backup, cameras have become increasingly common on new cars, adding a measure of safety and convenience when reversing. If your late-model car is not so equipped, there’s an aftermarket retrofit available that will work as well as a factory original. 

Mounting evidence shows that rearview cameras help avoid accidents that involve backing into an object or—worse—a child invisible from the driver’s seat. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), if all cars had rearview cameras, about 60 lives a year could be saved in the U.S. We consider a rearview camera a must have, especially for an SUV, pickup truck, or any other vehicle with a big blind zone straight back. But beyond the life-saving potential, a rear camera is a welcomed convenience that you would appreciate every day, as you back out of or into parking spots.

If your car was produced in the last decade, chances are it already has a display screen in the dash used for at least audio functions. These screens can often be used with camera retrofit kits, enabling a very tidy installation. Good packages start around $120 for the Japanese brands and go up to about $600 for the German brands. The kits contain the lens, a camera module for the screen and all necessary wiring and connectors. No splicing of wires is required. This style is much better than some cheapo alternatives that can leave a lens dangling above the license plate or attach a fuzzy screen to the rearview mirror.

Typically, installing a proper rear camera demands some advanced do-it-yourself skills and will take about three hours due to the careful removal of the rear hatch lining and other trim running all the way to the dashboard. This requires care and expertise. But not everyone has the time or skills to take on such a project in their own driveway. Unfortunately, franchised car dealers are reluctant to install these aftermarket retrofits, and we’ve found nationwide chains like AutoZone and Pep Boys won’t perform such installations, either. The good news is that Best Buy’s Geek Squad will do the installation for $99. Many local car audio/electronics shops can also perform the installation.

Here’s a list of vehicles that already have the infrastructure to be compatible with a model-specific aftermarket rearview camera:

Prerequisite As of . . .
myGig screen
2006 and later
Ford/Lincoln MyFord/MyLincoln Touch 2011 and later
Buick/Cadillac/Chevrolet/GMC Color screen 2007 and later
Honda Color screen 2011 and later
Mazda Color screen 2012 and later
Mercedes-Benz COMAND screen 2006 and later
Subaru Color screen 2013 and later
Toyota/Lexus Color screen 2008 and later
Volkswagen/Audi Radio/navigation screen 2009 and later

I bought such a kit online from BimmerTech for my wife’s 2011 BMW X3 for about $600. Having a shop and a few qualified technicians at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center certainly made installation a lot easier than it would be otherwise. The kit contains a camera integrated into a rear-hatch handle, a few wiresets, and a computer module.

Once installed, the camera automatically took over the screen when the car was put in Reverse. The model I bought came with optional guidelines on the screen, aiding backup maneuvers. All told, this was a nice upgrade that was worth the investment.

Many brand-specific retrofit modules are available. Just search online for your car's model and "rear camera retrofit." You can also find them from major online retailers, such as Amazon and Crutchfield, or specialty online sites, such as Coastal Tech (focus on Detroit 3 upgrades). 

If you had new-car envy because of this helpful feature, know that there are upgrades available.

Use these tips for deciding if you need a new car.

—Gabe Shenhar with Seung Min Yu

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