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How Rearview Cameras Work

Aftermarket Rearview Cameras

If you walk into any car dealer nowadays, more than likely you'd be able to outfit certain vehicles with a rearview camera system. For example, Chevrolet and Ford offer cameras on their larger vehicles such as the Suburban and Expedition. If you'd like to retrofit your vehicle with a rearview system, you have plenty of choices.

Several reputable organizations have tested various aftermarket rearview camera systems. Consumer Reports conducted a recent study and found nothing lived up to a factory-installed unit; however, some aftermarket models came close. For example, the Hitchcam VideoMirror retails for about $800 and resembles the rearview cameras found in the Toyota 4Runner. Instead of using a monitor, the Hitchcam is a replacement mirror with the display built in. Consumer Reports compared the Chevrolet Suburban camera system with Hitchcam's technology and found the following:

Area of View
Camera System Wide Tall 6 Inch Object
Chevrolet Suburban 18.7 feet (5.7 meters) 3.8 feet (1.1 meters) 11.5 inches (29.2 centimeters)
Hitchcam 17 feet (5.2 meters 6.5 feet (2 meters) 14 inches (35.6 centimeters)

[­source: Consumer Reports]

What does that mean? If you stood 5 feet (1.5 meters) away from the center of the vehicle's rear bumper, the Chevy Suburban camera could see you and about 9 feet (2.7 meters) to the left of you and 9 feet to the right of you. It wouldn't be able to see all of you though, unless you stand less than 3.8 feet (1.1 meters) tall.

Now let's talk about that third measurement Consumer Reports includes. Think of an object about 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) tall, like a pen. If you drew a line down from the Suburban's rear bumper to the ground and then extended that line on the ground, 11.5 inches away from the bumper, that's when the Suburban camera could spot that pen if it were somehow standing up. These are some good measurements to keep in mind when evaluating rearview camera systems.

The Hitchcam isn't your only aftermarket option. The Visor View V-V-VCLP2 works the same way and uses a small LCD monitor that clips onto the sun visor. At a cost of $389, the Visor View system is less expensive than the first two models, but installation is pricey as only professional installation is recommended.

CNET reviewed another popular system on the market -- the VR3 VRBCS300W -- which uses 2.4 gigahertz wireless technology. The camera is mounted on the rear of the vehicle and transmits a wireless signal to the display. The VR3 is cost-effective at $150, and anyone can mount the lens and monitor, eliminating installation fees. However the wireless technology isn't stable, and the display can be choppy due to interference from closed circuit TV systems, wireless routers and other electrical equipment. Drivers may also have a hard time judging distance as the fish-eye lens doesn't have a processor to clean up the images like the Infiniti AVM system does.

These are but a few of the options on the market today. Backup sensors are a more cost-effective alternative and offer similar safety features as rearview cameras without the hefty price tag. While sensors don't show you what's behind your vehicle, they do help when parking or backing up. As we'll see in the next section, backup sensors can be very useful, especially in an area with lots of children. Aimed at trucks and SUVs, the Dolphin Sonarstep beeps a warning and visually catches the driver's attention with warning lights that flash as the vehicle approaches an object.

Perhaps shelling out several hundred or several thousands of dollars for a good rearview camera system is out of your range. It may just be a good idea to get a backup sensor, especially if you have a larger vehicle with blind spots. Either way, it may soon be something everyone must consider. Keep reading to find out why.