A backup cam for your RV? ‘Wireless’ may not be best

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’ve bought a car in the last few years, chances are it came with a rear view or “backup” camera system. Does your RV have one? They’re a really handy innovation, not only from the standpoint of the safety of kids and pets (not backing over them) but for ease of backing your rig into a campsite or other area. There’s another great “handy” to add to the list: We put one on the back of our tow rig, and now hitching up the travel trailer is easy — the pilot peers into the monitor and slides right under the hitch — no shouting, and no endangering a spotter.
When considering a system, there are plenty of rearview camera options, but one of the first to consider is going with a “wired” or “wireless” system. As it sounds, the choice is between a rearview system where the camera transmits the image up to the driving area through the air (wirelessly) or by permanently installed wiring. If you’re going to do the installation yourself, the wireless system probably sounds most enticing. But hang on — there are considerations to be made.
Our own experience with a wireless system may shed some light. We already had a major-brand GPS navigation system, especially designed for RVers. The company soon told us about a new add-on: A wireless rearview camera system. Install the camera at the rear of the rig, plug a receiver between the GPS unit and the power outlet, and as soon as you shift into reverse, the GPS map image would be replaced with a view from the rear-mounted camera.
We fired off at the project with great enthusiasm, and soon had the new backup camera installed. After hitching up the trailer, we went off for our first trial run. The first time we hit “reverse” with the tow vehicle, our GPS image miraculously did — nothing. The map of our location sat there looking at us in mute testimony that something was wrong. We tested and retested and found we’d done everything right. The only time we ever got the wireless backup camera image to “come up” on the GPS unit was on a rare occasion when we were completely jackknifed. Our 23-foot travel trailer in combination with a long-bed pickup was just too long for the signal to run up to the cab.
Other problems with wireless systems that users frequently report are interference related. Do you have satellite radio? Use a cellular telephone or other data device? Drive on the same roads with folks who use CB or Ham radios? Get ready to expect interference issues that can make your clear backup camera images get lines and fuzz, to complete breakup and uselessness.
Like the wise man wrote, “Everything having been heard” — wired backup camera systems fix all those problems. They are a bit more complicated to install, and if you’re working with a fifth wheel or travel trailer, it’s another set of wires that you’ll have to remember to connect when you hitch up, but you won’t ever worry about distance limitations or RFI (radio frequency interference) spoiling the picture.
photo: inhabitat on flickr.com