So you want to install a backup camera on your trusty, but outdated, ride. Great idea! These helpful tools have made such an impact on the automotive industry that they’re now mandated as necessary safety features. But dealership rides aren’t the only way to get back up cameras.
Back up cameras are now readily available as aftermarket parts that anybody can install on older vehicles. On brand-new vehicles, a backup camera comes fully integrated into the electronics, so the system’s components are hidden. That’s the goal when installing a custom aftermarket setup, as well.
With a few tweaks to the car’s rear and a couple of wire connections, you’ll never have to crane your neck backward to check if little Timmy is practicing Big Wheel donuts at the end of the driveway. The Drive’s crack How-To team is here to help walk you through the process.
Backup Camera Basics
Estimated Time Needed: One hour
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Electrical
What Is a Backup Camera?
A backup camera, when built into a car’s systems by the manufacturer, displays a small, live view from behind the car when the vehicle is put into reverse. This gives the driver a clearer picture of what’s behind him or her and helps to ensure Fido doesn’t get a deep-tissue massage from your tires.
Here is a list of the types of cameras, as well as the types of displays commonly used.
Types of Cameras
- Bracket-mounted: The camera is attached to but separated from a bracket that can be mounted on the car’s surface.
- Flush-mounted: A camera that is made to blend with the surface of the vehicle as much as possible.
- License plate frame: The camera is embedded within a license plate frame.
- License plate bar: The camera is centered in a bar that stretches across and attaches to the top of a license plate.
- OEM-specific: If you have a newer used car, it might be compatible with a specific part, such as a latch handle, that has a camera built in for a clean factory look.
Types of Displays
- Integrated OEM: A factory unit that comes with the car and sits in or on top of the dashboard.
- In-dash aftermarket: An added infotainment stereo with a screen that fits flush with the dashboard
- On-dash aftermarket: A stand-alone monitor that can be placed on top of the dashboard.
- Rearview mirror: A monitor is built into the rearview mirror. Sometimes the screen is half of the mirror, sometimes it is full-length. When not in use, it just looks like a mirror.
Wired vs. Wireless: Wired backup cameras require a physical wire connection to get the video from the camera to show up on the display. Wireless options, however, use a signal and receiver method and do not require a wire.
Backup Camera Safety
Working on your car can be dirty, especially when you’re working with surfaces you’ve never bothered to clean before. It can also be dangerous, as electricity moving at the speed of, well, electricity, can stop your metronomic heartbeat. So here’s what you’ll need to ensure you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless, and your bones fully intact.
- Mechanic gloves
- Long-sleeve shirt to protect your arms
- Safety Glasses
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t gonna pay off your impound fees.
Everything You’ll Need to Install a Backup Camera
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done.
- Flathead screwdriver
- Phillips screwdriver
- Trim/panel removal tools
- Wire strippers
- Cordless drill
- 3/32 to ⅛ drill bit
- Automotive Multimeter
- Wire connectors such as Posi-Taps
- Electrical tape
- Zip ties
- A friend
- Rearview camera
- Wire cluster
- Monitor or infotainment unit (if necessary)
- Rubber grommet
How to Install a Backup Camera
Let’s do this!
Adding the Camera
- Make sure vehicle is turned off.
- Safely disconnect the vehicle’s battery terminals.
- Remove the license plate if necessary.
- Position the camera to the desired position on the vehicle.
- With a marker, mark where the camera’s cord hits the vehicle.
- Depending on the type of vehicle and where the camera will be located, you will likely need to remove an interior panel from the interior portion of the door, hatch, or tailgate. On a bumper, this might not be necessary.
- Make sure there are no wires, cables, or trim pieces that could be damaged when you drill a hole through the exterior of the car.
- Determine which size drill bit bores a large enough hole to accommodate the camera’s wire and rubber grommet. A simple visual inspection is usually all you need.
- Using the selected drill bit, drill a hole where you made a mark.
- Add a rubber grommet into the hole to hide the rough metal edges and protect the wire.
- Run the camera wiring through the hole.
- Attach the camera to the vehicle either through the supplied hardware or the hardware you purchased separately.
Begin Wiring Installation
- Connect the provided wire cluster to the camera wire. This will split into a video wire, a power wire, and possibly a reverse signal wire.
- For the cleanest look, look for the existing manufacturer wiring loom, and try to pair and route the wiring next to that.
- Identify a power source for the camera, likely either a reverse light or a license plate light.
- Identify the positive and negative wires from the light source using a multimeter.
- Link the positive camera wire to the positive light wire and the negative camera wire to the negative. This can be done with a splice or a Posi-Tap connector.
Splicing a Wire
- If Posi-Taps are not available, then you will need to splice your wires together. For ease, we recommend a military splice, as it does not require soldering.
- Using a wire stripper, hold the positive light wire and remove a section of the plastic coating to reveal the copper.
- Split the exposed section of copper into two.
- Feed the positive camera wire through the hole between the copper wiring.
- Wrap and twist the wiring positive camera wire around the light wire to establish a sturdy connection.
- Shrinkwrap and/or tape up the connection for security and protection.
- Repeat for the negative wire.
Reverse Signal Wire
In order for the display to show the video feed, it needs a signal to alert the system the car is in reverse. In some cases, the infotainment unit will have automatic signal sensing that detects the presence of an incoming video signal. If this is the case, skip this step.
- Using a friend, identify a signal source—this is any wire that holds a positive 12 volts —while the car is in reverse. People often use the wiring for the reverse light, but some aftermarket stereo wiring harnesses have a connection built in.
- Tap into the signal source with a splice (repeat steps above).
- Pair the signal wire with the video wire and prepare for routing.
Routing the Wiring
- Depending on the type of vehicle, determine whether you want to track the wire under the floor of the vehicle or through its headliner.
- Remove or partially detach any trim pieces, carpeting, headliner, or door rubber needed to discretely run the wire.
- Tuck the two wires out of view, and run them to the front of the vehicle.
- Reattach the trim pieces you’ve removed.
Connecting the Display
Once the monitor is in place, be that in the dashboard, on top of it, or in the rearview mirror, it’s time to connect it to power, video, and the signal wire.
In some cases, the monitor power cord can be linked straight into the fuse box with a spliced-on adapter.
- Use a multimeter to determine an appropriate spot and attach the power cable.
- Make sure the fuse turns off when the ignition is off, or the connection could drain the battery.
In other cases, the power wiring can be hooked into the existing stereo unit.
- Remove trim piece to reach the stereo wiring.
- Find the power cables for the stereo.
- Connect positive to positive and negative to negative.
- Connect the reverse signal wire to the reverse trigger wire.
- Connect the video wire.
- Reattach the trim pieces you’ve removed.
- Safely reconnect the battery terminals.
- Start the car.
- Put the car in reverse to see if the monitor switches or turns on and displays the rear video feed.
- If it works, turn the car off. If it doesn’t, return to the steps and check your work.
- Tidy up any superfluous wire with electrical tape, zip ties, and velcro.
- Reinstall the stereo head unit, if necessary.
- Reinstall any removed interior parts, panels, or coverings.
Congrats, your car is now safer and more modern.
Pro Tips to Install a Backup Camera
Here are The Drive’s pro tips for installing a backup camera.
- Pulling stubborn tangled wire throughout a car can be frustrating, so it’s best to be prepared with tools that can make the process easier. Use a wire feeder or puller to get those wires through tough spots.
How Often Do You Need To Install a Backup Camera?
- We’d like to say this will be a one-time installation, but only fools think electronics last forever. Even if it works for 10 years, you’ll want to upgrade to a nicer camera with a clearer picture in the future.
Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.