Many of the newest RVs now sold have these already installed. It’s a good investment for your RV and for your peace of mind. We are all accustomed to a car’s rear view mirror and I couldn’t imagine not having a rear view system in the trailer.
I knew nothing about this type of thing so I had to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions. At the time I was doing this in early 2014, I got a lot of different answers. It’s only been a few years that these systems have become popular because the technology has improved and the price has come down. So things, have changed since I had mine installed in 2014, so as always you will need to do your research on these if you are not buying a brand new rig that already has this installed or if you are buying a towable and need this to connect to your tow vehicle.
Here is my experience on a small (less than 15′ trailer) hooked up to a tow vehicle (a 2014 Ford Expedition). Note that, the full length of my rig, hitch and SUV is under 32 feet.
I discovered immediately that the terminology was confusing. Many people called the systems back-up cameras or observation systems. Yes, this will help with backing up but most back-up cameras are installed on the bumper and serve that singular purpose. I prefer the iBall camera – a simple detachable unit that sits on the hitch when you want to “hitch up”. I got pretty good at backing right up to the trailer and hitching up without a spotter using that little camera.
A rear view camera is a different thing and is about seeing behind you when on the road (like a car rear view). This needs to be installed at the top of the backside of the trailer and, importantly, has to have image mirroring (eBay tends to have these useless non-mirroring systems they pass off to those that don’t know, so watch out where you buy!).
Image mirroring? It’s something most of us would never think about – I didn’t. Your vehicle’s rear view mirror reflects what’s behind you exactly as it appears. People and cars are on the “correct” side and the license plate number is reversed in the view. But a camera acts differently – the rear view camera and/or monitor must be capable of reversing the image.
I also got confusing information about wireless vs wired. Wireless is easier to install but it will never work as good as wired, however the advertising claims were that wireless systems will work just fine. And they do…sort of…some of the time.
First, I had to determine what they meant by wireless. To be clear, if you are towing something down the road – it’s wireless! The camera is “wired” into one of the back lights on the rear of the trailer/RV. It’s not hard to do if you know a bit about electrical, but I hired a guy. It cost me about $400 in labor time and your guy needs to know about RVs and sealants, because a hole will be drilled somewhere—probably in the roof—to mount the camera and pull the wire from the camera into the inside of the trailer where it will be wired into one of the back lights. Once this is done and you are all sealed up with special waterproof sealant, you are ready to try the monitor. Since the camera is now wired to the the trailer lights, you will need to plug in the your 5-pin connector to the tow vehicle and turn on your vehicle lights (mine did not work on auto).
That was the wired part. The monitor is the wireless part. A wireless signal comes from the camera (now attached to the back of the trailer) to the monitor that you will place on the dash of your vehicle. An antenna comes with the setup and it attaches to the monitor. I placed the antenna in my passenger side sun visor. Use the suction cup to attach the monitor to the vehicle window and plug the cable into the DC adapter. You may need to “pair” the camera(s) but mine worked right off. Immediately, I had a clear view behind the trailer complete with distance grid-lines and a microphone so I could talk to someone outside (like a spotter if you are backing in). I was thrilled. Very cool!
My first month on the road I was entirely in California. The camera worked perfectly. I could see a good distance behind me and rarely did I lose a wireless signal and even then, the signal came back quickly. In June I entered Arizona. I parked the rig for a week to visit a friend in Scottsdale. When I started out again, the camera didn’t work right—or, at least I blamed the camera for a while. I thought maybe there was a short in the wiring—that water had gotten into the drill hole (even though there had been no rain). I would get a signal/ picture on the monitor if I was in traffic going slow but it would be sporadic and go in and out. This continued through Arizona and New Mexico. I began to notice a pattern. I would get a picture if I was surrounded by cars (going slow in a city) or passing a big semi-truck on the highway or passing over a bridge that had a metal railing on both sides. Humm…. like what do I know about wireless interference. Nothing really, but I could tell something was going on.
Regardless of the pattern I noticed, I still assumed it was a product defect and contacted the manufacturer—Rear View Safety. They were great about it and sent me a new and “better” system at no charge. Of course, it cost me another $250 to have the old system removed and the new one installed. The new system was also wireless, but I really didn’t think that was the problem. Remember, the whole length of my rig is under 32 feet (from the back of trailer to the monitor in the car), the distance the wireless signal would have to travel.
Unfortunately, the new system didn’t work any better. The monitor had a better picture quality but the wireless signal was exactly the same. Like with the other system, I would see the “no signal” blue screen most of the time unless I was in traffic (and then it lagged but I would get a picture), passing a big truck, or near metal railings, like on a bridge or overpass. Now I knew it wasn’t the camera system. It had to do with wireless interference. What worked perfectly in May didn’t work in June. I am certainly not a communications person and I don’t know how signals travel through the air or how planes stay in the air. Yeah, I get the concept—thrust and lift and all that., but, I believe something happened at the FCC level related to wireless signal channels around June that year.
Still curious about all this—because that’s how I am, I began doing some Google searches not exactly knowing what I was searching for… and I found this article: The FCC closed its biggest wireless spectrum auction in history. The article is dated January 29, 2015.
Seventy companies participated in this most recent auction, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Dish. The auction was comprised of over 1,600 different licenses.
Another article dated January 30, 2015 says: The Federal Communications Commission revealed the list of winning bidders in its spectrum auction on Friday, with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile among the 31 bidders that paid more than $41.3 billion…. What I read in all this is that these big carriers were bidding on the right to use certain frequencies for wireless airwaves. The government sets aside some spectrum for its own use and auctions off other parts to broadcasters and wireless carriers. As demand for high-speed data has grown (and is growing exponentially as I write this) so has the need for carriers to bolster the amount of spectrum on which they provide service. That means wireless signals are just going to become more and more congested with traffic–probably worse than all the freeways in Los Angeles!
So, my point is this. Get a wired system. Pay the extra for the install. You’ll be happier. Even this may not work great all the time because you are still accessing a wireless signal to the rig from the outside world … Still, it is worth it.