How Rearview Cameras Work

Ben: Hi. Welcome to the podcast. I'm Ben and I'm here to ask our Auto Editor, Scott Benjamin, a couple of questions, usually car-related. Right?

Scott: Usually, yeah. Sometimes, he's surprised me, though.

Ben: I ask you about life - life advice sometimes.

Scott: Sometimes, yeah. In fact, I - sometimes I ask you about life situations, questions.

Ben: Well, you have a philosophical air about you, Scott.

Scott: I think a lot of people would argue that, but -

Ben: A lot - a lot of people may. Who knows? Maybe we'll hear about it later.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: But what we were gonna talk about today, one of our - let's see, we talked about this earlier in Innovations That Came from Racing, the rearview mirror.

Scott: Oh, yeah. That's right.

Ben: Now, the rearview mirror has been a tremendously useful thing to a lot of people.

Scott: Uh-huh. No doubt.

Ben: Yeah, in a lot of vehicle. And what I was thinking we could talk about is how some people are taking it a little bit further. They're pushing the envelope with the rearview science.

Scott: Oh, they're applying technology.

Ben: They're applying technology. Yes, sir. Rearview cameras, what are they?

Scott: Simple enough. Rearview cameras, active in reverse only. Basically, the simplest way to say this, Ben, is it just shows you what's behind your vehicle when you're backing up. That way, it's - it's - really, it's a safety device, of course, and in addition to that, it also helps keep your car off the - off the curb and off the car behind you. But they're - they're - they're functional, they're safety-driven, I guess, is probably the main concern because there was at a point - I think there - there was - I think it was in 2006. I'll have to check the facts on this. They're in the article that we'll talk about in a moment, but I think there are as many as 15 back over related fatalities here in the United States just parent - this is terrible, horrible - parents getting in the car, throw the - the big SUV in reverse and back right over young kids that are in the driveway playing or -

Ben: Oh, no.

Scott: Yeah. Its - its bad news, so again, safety-related is - or safety focus is - is really what the - the cameras are all about. They're - they're definitely - they have a place. They have a purpose.

Ben: Right. These are not some sort of luxury accommodation.

Scott: Well -

Ben: They're not like self-heated chairs or seats, rather.

Scott: No. But it's nice to have them and a lot of people with luxury cars, even, have them because, well, you obviously don't wanna back your car into the car behind you if you're - if you're parallel parking. You don't want to strike the edge of the garage or something like - like that. It's - it - it has a place for people that have luxury vehicles. It also has a place for people that just simply can't see the back of the car because of the size of the vehicle when you're talking about -

Ben: Yeah. What - what kind of vehicles are we talking about?

Scott: Well, huge SUVs, like maybe a Suburban or an Expedition or - and even minivans. They have that - if you look at where the rear glass is in those vehicles, it's pretty high. And it's easy to see how a kid, if - if a kid were low to the ground or either playing on the ground behind the vehicle and the parent got in without seeing the kid, or who knows, another adult, maybe someone's back there doing whatever, painting or something - I mean, like if they have a little project going in the driveway, like spray painting something or whatever. There's a million reasons why you could be behind a vehicle when it's backing up and - and someone didn't see you. If you look at where that glass is and how easy it would be for someone to be below that line of sight from - from the driver, it's - it's pretty apparent why they're important. It - it could happen a lot. It does happen a lot. And with the use of these cameras, hopefully, it will happen a lot less. And I - I'd have to believe - I don't have any stats in front of me, but I would have to believe that they are helping.

Ben: Sure. It's a - and that's a substantial blind spot that the camera is allowing us to see.

Scott: Yeah. I mean, line of sight, if you just - it's pretty simple just to kind of figure out where - where you can and can't see. And if you - if you wanna test this on your own - on your own vehicle, you could have somebody kind of - you could do this with your foot or with a stick or anything you wanna do. Put it on the ground and walk - kind of walk it back - maybe an object. How about a tricycle?

Ben: Okay. Yeah.

Scott: You could do that. Put it as close to the bumper as you can and kind of slowly walk it away from the bumper until the driver says, "Okay. I can see it." And you'd be surprised how many feet that is behind - straight, directly behind the car.

Ben: Even in a lower car.

Scott: Even in a lower car. That's right. A lot of sports cars have very limited - limited sight, I guess, to the - to the back end. And some - some are using cameras - this happens in kit cars occasionally where they build a car with - it just has such a ridiculously small rear window that there's no way a rearview mirror is even gonna cover it. So they have cameras that are not only reverse cameras, which we're talking about today, but they also have cameras that are - that are full-time that actually function while you're driving. That's - that's a different thing, but -

Ben: Similar idea.

Scott: Yeah. My point is that some cars you just can't simply see out the back.

Ben: Well, okay. I - I think that sounds pretty good, but you know where I'm going with this, Scott. You know how I am. How much are these things?

Scott: They vary greatly. And when I say greatly, I mean a lot. We'll - I've got a couple of examples here, and they're right from our article. The 2008 Ford Expedition, the price of the camera system to be added to your vehicle, which I - I believe it's an option. I'm not - I'm not sure of this, but it could just be a line item. $450.00 to add a camera system -

Ben: Oh, that's not bad at all.

Scott: - to - to a Ford Expedition. Now, that's a big vehicle, right? So it's - it's pretty important that it's there, I would think, and if it's available, why not?

Ben: It seems worth it.

Scott: Yeah. I really do think it is. Now, if you're talking about something like the Mercedes R350, which is - Mercedes Benz R350, that's - that's their SUV - SUV vehicle. The price - now, this is for a full package, a safety package, $7,850.00.

Ben: Wow.

Scott: Yeah. And -

Ben: But it comes with other things.

Scott: It does, and I don't have the list of what the - what the whole package includes, but the camera is part of a package that you have to purchase in order to get that system, that safety system, but it's - it's bundled together with other items that make it that expensive. It's - it's clearly not that expensive, although, I have to say that - I feel like I have to say this.

Ben: Go ahead.

Scott: If Mercedes offered just the camera, I would think it would be more than $455.00.

Ben: You know, I think that's a reasonable -

Scott: Just gut feeling.

Ben: - reasonable assumption, yeah.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: You've got a - your - you've got good hunches.

Scott: That's right. And there also - Ben, this is interesting. It's not - they're not just manufacturers that are putting these things in. You can get an aftermarket system.

Ben: Really?

Scott: Yeah. Aftermarket systems you can get anything, again, it can be fairly expensive. There are some good ones. And they're right around the thousand-dollar mark, little bit less, maybe that's ballpark. And they give you a pretty clear picture, but again, this is adding to your vehicle. It's not something that was already designed to be there from the very beginning, so it kinda depends on the installer, rather, and just how - what a - what a clean job he does - he or she does and also the quality of the camera, the placement of the camera, the - the angle - the angle that the camera can see. There's just a lot of factors you need to - to think about when you're getting a system like this.

Ben: Sure.

Scott: Now, $1,000.00, that's kind of near the top end of some of the - the systems. I would bet that you could get more - they could get more if you were to add additional cameras, if you were to have side view mirrors, if you were to have a more elaborate system. But you can go all the way down to I saw one listed for $150.00.

Ben: Oh, okay.

Scott: So that's affordable.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: However, know that the quality of that image isn't gonna be all that great.

Ben: Yeah. This definitely sounds like one of those you get what you pay for kind of technologies. I mean, it hasn't been around long enough for there to be a brand that's established precedence. Right?

Scott: Yeah. I think that's right. It seems like manufacturers are the ones that are kinda taking - I don't know. I don't wanna say taking the initiative with this, but the first place I ever saw one was in a Pacifica.

Ben: Okay.

Scott: A Chrysler Pacifica. And at the time, the Pacifica didn't have a nav system or it didn't have a system that was capable of displaying the rearview - rearview display.

Ben: Oh, I see.

Scott: So again, now these - these cameras are only - the ones we're talking about today, the rearview systems, these don't replace the mirror. They're in addition to the mirror.

Ben: The mirror is still there.

Scott: The mirror is still there. These are in addition to the rearview mirror. And when you place the vehicle in reverse, that's when you see the image. That's when it appears on the screen. Now, I don't recall - I'm trying to think if the - if there was a nav screen or not. There may have been, but it wasn't capable of displaying what we're talking about. This particular display was - was in the instrument panel.

Ben: Oh, okay.

Scott: Which was pretty - I mean, it was pretty crazy.

Ben: That's pretty neat.

Scott: It was neat. It was an interesting placement of it.

Ben: Sure.Scott But now, it's more common to see it in the nav screen, which is a nice, big LCD screen that's right there already and the - the image is all corrected and straightened out and it's a reverse image so that you don't turn the wrong way.

Ben: Oh, that's good.

Scott: Because if - if they -

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: - if they displayed what the camera is actually seeing, you would turn in the wrong direction.

Ben: So let's take a look at the components here. Or how complex are these devices, really?

Scott: Oh, simple, very simple. They're really, really simple. I'm sure that there's a lot more to it than I am - than I'm thinking of here. But really, there's just a camera, the wiring to - to - some of them are wireless now so that - that's even taken out of the equation, and the LCD screen, and that's it.

Ben: Crazy.

Scott: Yeah. I mean, that's - the reason that this was all possible, really, is because of that - that screen that's now in place. Otherwise, it would have - would have had to have been something that you would have added to the vehicle.

Ben: Uh-huh.

Scott: More than the camera and more that the wiring, of course, I'm talking about the screen. But a lot of vehicles now already have that nav screen in place and they're capable of displaying video. And that's what's required for this.

Ben: And as we watch the market, more and more vehicles that are coming out already come with these nav screens.

Scott: Yeah. That's right. They're - they're - it's such a popular option, the nav system. I'm sure you've seen it on just about every - it seems like every new car that's an option at least, unless you're talking kind of one of the economy car. Most vehicles have a nav system option, and - and that's key for having something like this. Now, I don't - a lot of manufacturers still don't offer this in their smaller vehicles or their - the vehicles that maybe it isn't a necessity. But in the - in the bigger vehicles, the SUVs, the minivans, the - I don't know if trucks would have it or not. I would assume they would. But yeah, they're - they're becoming more and more common. And - oh, go ahead.

Ben: Oh, I was gonna ask, actually, about a specific model of Volkswagen.

Scott: Uh-huh.

Ben: What's going on with that?

Scott: Yeah because we talked about this earlier.

Ben: We did. We did.

Scott: This is - this is really cool. I was excited about this when I saw it because this is different than anything I had ever seen, really. And it's - it's a great idea for a couple of reasons. If you - if you - if you're in traffic and you look at - at let's say a minivan, and you see that - you see that it has a - a rearview camera system, it's pretty easy to spot that - that little lense at the back. It's near the license plate or it may be up on the - there's kind of a trim piece that holds the handle to open the hatch. Usually, there's something there, a lense. But the problem with that is that if you live in a - in a climate where it's - it's rainy or wet or -

Ben: Or even dusty.

Scott: Yeah, dusty or if it's snowy and slushy, that camera lense is gonna get dirty and it's not gonna be very effective when you - when you put the car in reverse. Right?

Ben: Right.

Scott: All right. So this is what's unique about the Volkswagen. This is the CC model that we're talking about. There's a - there's a large badge at the back of the CC that's - I'm making size with my hands again, but it's probably four or five inches in diameter - a big Volkswagen emblem. And what's really cool about this is when you - when you place the vehicle in reverse, that emblem, the top of it, tilts in so that the bottom tilts out. And that's where the lense is located. It's the bottom of that logo because it - it tips into the vehicle. And what's really cool about that is not only is it hidden from view and it just makes it a nice, clean looking back end of the vehicle, what's really cool about that is that it keeps that lense protected. And even if you're driving in slush and snow and rain - now, I'm not saying that it will be totally immune from getting dirty, but it's gotta help to have it folded up inside the vehicle. I don't know what -

Ben: Oh, definitely.

Scott: I'm sure that there's some sealing around that that keeps elements - the elements out.

Ben: There has to be.

Scott: Yeah. There must be. But I don't know, I thought that was a really cool system, so check it out and see - see this thing in action because it's - it's pretty neat. Or if you happen to see a - a Volkswagen CC in a parking lot and it's about to reverse, take a look at that logo and watch it tilt out because it must be pretty cool to see it.

Ben: Or if you have one, be sure to write in and tell us what you think.

Scott: Yeah. Tell us if it's - if it's effective because I would think that that lense would stay very clean and that would be a big benefit.

Ben: We think it's pretty neat.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: Before we close out, I think we already know the answer to this question, but let's take it to the future, not even - not even light years ahead, but just maybe over the next ten years. What - what do you think the prospects are for rearview cameras? Or I guess reverse cameras?

Scott: Oh, you know what? I think - I think they're gonna be equipped in a lot of different. You know we talked about with luxury vehicles how the - the - the options for luxury vehicles now become standard features in the future for even economy cars.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: And we've seen that time and time again. I think that's gonna happen. Now, this is a luxury vehicle, but I mean there is a - an Infinity, the EX35, that has - it has a four-camera system, Ben. And it has camera - it has cameras to the - cameras to the rear and to the side. And by - and I'm not sure about the front. It may. Anyways, the - by using all that information those cameras gather, it's able to - to display a birds-eye view of that car. So when - you can - you can choose a birds-eye view of your vehicle and everything surrounding your vehicle. The - the computers, I guess, extrapolate - if that's the right word - extrapolate what's going on around you and you're able to see your car in relation to everything around your car at the time. Now, that's when you're parking. That's not all the time. You can't do that on the highway, I don't think.

Ben: Oh. I still want one.

Scott: Yeah. That's cool. So - so I'm saying is that you think that they've reached the limit with just being able to see behind you. And there are also cars that allow you to kinda project a - a pathway to park. That's another thing that that Volkswagen CC does. It has two modes. You can - you can have a reverse camera that will show you just straight in parking, kind of a - a grid work where it will tell you how close you are, sensors, etc. And there's also a parallel parking mode, which - which guides you in.

Ben: It shows you the arc. Right?

Scott: Yeah. Correct.

Ben: Across the screen.

Scott: Correct. Yeah. It shows you where you should place your wheels and how you should get into that spot to be most effective. So I'm - what I'm saying is that these things are getting more and more advanced and you think that they're done, but you know what? There's another feature that's coming, so I don't know. It's pretty exciting that technology's moving this quickly.

Ben: Yeah. So keep an eye out, listeners. If you have trouble parking or if you hate it or I don't know, if you just love cameras, you might wanna look into this. We've got a great article on the site and you can find much more information about all things automotive at

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