If your car doesn’t have a backup camera, getting one installed is relatively easy.

Share story

Of all the tech features you can add to your car, one stands out as a real lifesaver: a backup camera.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thinks so highly of backup cameras that it will require one in every new car made on or after May 1, 2018.

If your car doesn’t have a backup camera, getting one installed is relatively easy. Several options are available to fit most vehicles. And once you have one, you probably won’t look back.

“A camera is one of those things that if you’ve never had it, you don’t know what you’re missing,” says Bill Brown, owner of Ballard Custom Audio. “And then the second you own one, you’ll never own another car without one.

Most Read Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

“My wife was like, ‘Why are you putting that silly thing in my car?’ and now she’s like, ‘I love my backup camera. I can back into anywhere I want. I can see behind me. I don’t have to worry about running over someone’s kid or backing into that car behind me.’ ”

Rear-view systems come in three styles: mounted on a dash or windshield, embedded in a rear-view mirror or integrated into in-dash systems. Another option is a backup sensor, which uses audio rather than video.

Dash cameras

Dash- or windshield- mounted monitors connect to a camera at the rear of a vehicle. “The screen has a specific trigger that, when the vehicle is popped into reverse, it sources the camera automatically,” says Chris Dominguez, manager at Car Toys in Seattle.

To get a camera and 3.5-inch monitor installed, “a person can get in and out of the store for less than $600,” Brown says.

Mirror view

A rear-view mirror with a 2- to- 4-inch monitor linked to a camera can show what’s behind the car. Even though they aren’t large, these monitors can show the 10-foot-wide and 20-foot-back view that the NHTSA will require of new cars.

The mirror is more natural for drivers, says Jerry Hudson, CEO of Auto Trim Seattle. “Most people look in their rear-view mirror before they back up anyway,” he says. “You can put those in probably 95 percent of all cars.” It also can be removed and transferred to your next car.

Hudson recommends professional installation to avoid damaging a vehicle’s electronics system. Prices range from approximately $60 to several hundred dollars for do-it-yourself systems. Professional installation is about $50 more, he says.

In-dash ease

Backup cameras can also be part of an in-dash system, which offers a 5- to 7-inch monitor and a range of connectivity for Bluetooth, iPod capability, USB and navigation.

“Most of our customers … are coming in to replace their radio with a touch-screen monitor, and we’ll add a backup camera onto that,” says Dominguez.

“A lot of times, when people are having a really nice stereo installed, it’s just a couple hundred more [to add a backup camera],” says Brown.

In-dash systems don’t fit all vehicles, but he says he has outfitted “all kinds of old cars,” including some from the ’50s and ’60s.

Sensor sound

Though not a camera, a backup sensor can tell you when you’re getting too close to an object. “They’re just radar sensors,” Dominguez says. “When you pop the car into reverse, as you get closer to something, it beeps faster.”

The system, approximately $600 installed, relies on a speaker that relays sound from four or five sensors installed into a car’s bumper.

They’re not as popular as camera systems, but “some people prefer the sound,” Dominguez says.

People often turn to rear-view systems after an accident. “Customers are coming in after they’ve backed into a wall or destroyed their garage,” he says. “I think the No. 1 thing we hear is how much easier it makes things for them.”