Editor’s Note: In an effort to check the pulse of the North American RVer on a more regular basis, RVBUSINESS.com is posting this “RVing Tip of the Day” from veteran industry journalist Chuck Woodbury’s popular RVtravel.com consumer site, which draws a quarter of a million unique visitors a month.
Like many rigs, my RV came without a backup camera. After becoming familiar with my medium-size Class A driving and maneuvering operations, I became acutely aware of the gigantic blind area behind the rear bumper. An entire class of first-graders could hide back there without me seeing them — a fact which concerned me greatly. I decided a rear-view camera was not an option but a necessity.
In researching what was needed for such an installation, I was immediately apprised by several installers that a wireless camera was very easy to install but not always reliable in operation — it totally depended on the RV, the camera and sometimes even the RV floorplan. Since my luck is universally capricious in such matters, I chose to purchase a wired unit. This upped the installation difficulty considerably, but it also promised seamless operation once working, which in fact has been the case.
The guts of the system consist of a camera, interface box, display and the associated power and signal cabling. If you’re planning to do it yourself, be sure you are familiar with the details of making connections, routing cables safely and reliably, and dealing with 12-volt power systems. If you’re uncertain, let a pro do it. It’ll cost you less than messing it up.
The usual assortment of tasks must be dealt with: where to mount the hidden stuff, where to mount the display and how to get some power for the whole affair. Note that some GPS and/or audio units have the capability for an auxiliary input and you might be able to route your camera cable to an existing display.
Power is easily available by adding a fused line from your battery or distribution panel. All the wiring needs to be carefully run and bundled/tied securely, away from moving or hot parts. The camera mount is potentially problematic because a wired camera just HAS to be mounted outside the vehicle and the wire then run inside. On my RV, there was simply no choice but to drill a hole in the rear wall, which was later double-sealed. (Don’t forget to leave a “drip loop,” letting the cable go lower than the entrance hole so that water can run off the loop instead of head directly to the through-hole.)
There was plenty of space in my dash console for the hidden pieces, and installing these was just a matter of drilling a few holes in steel brackets and bolting the stuff-down.
I selected a location for the camera which was opposite an inside closet. This allowed running the cable visibly inside the closet (as opposed to trying to hide it on a bare wall). I then used an existing hole in the floor to route the camera cable down under the chassis, along the frame, and up (another existing hole) into the driving compartment.
All told, being careful and meticulous, learning a lot of new information, and taking my time, I used up most of a day doing the job. I now have a splendid 8-inch-diagonal screen’s view of the space behind my RV, and a MUCH safer feeling when I’m backing up.
Note that these cameras are very wide angle, but you still cannot use them like rear-view mirrors (to see traffic behind you) and simultaneously see down to your bumper. It’s either-or, and my choice was the down-view; I use my side mirrors to see behind me farther than 15 feet or so.
Reliability: In general, for a medium-priced ($200-$300) after-market device, reliability has been excellent. The one exception is that the actual camera tends to go off-line occasionally when baked in direct summer sun on a hot day. As soon as it cools off, we’re A-OK again. This may be a characteristic of the imaging chip, or it may be brand-specific, I’m not sure. I might build a little shade cover for it one day.