Everything you need to know about backup cameras

How the ordinary rearview mirror became the hottest bit of real estate in your car

backup and parking tech 2017 Ford F-450

Plenty of people like driving, but it’s hard to imagine someone who genuinely enjoys parking. Maneuvering a car into and out of parking spots can not only be annoying, it can also be dangerous when pedestrians and other vehicles get involved. But as with nearly every other area of automotive experience, carmakers have created a slew of backup and parking tech options to make the process easier. If you’re in the market for a new car, here’s what to keep in mind when evaluating its backup assist feature.

What to look for

Car parking systems tend to fall into two categories: cameras that help the driver see while backing up, and assist systems that try to warn the driver of a potential problem or — in some cases — actually intervene. The most common form of parking tech is the rearview or backup camera. These cameras are usually placed on the trunk lid or rear hatch, and send video to the same central display screens that handle infotainment functions.

Not all systems are created equal, though. Some reverse cameras have extra features like “dynamic gridlines” — which show the direction of travel — and certain automakers have upped the ante with 360-degree systems that use multiple cameras to create a composite overhead view. Parallel parking, you’ve met your match (although maybe you already did).

In addition to cameras, many automakers offer some form of parking assist. These systems use sensors in the bumpers to detect when the car is getting close to an object. A series of beeps is often used to warn the driver. More elaborate systems incorporate “rear cross traffic alert” — which specifically looks for other vehicles crossing the car’s path — or the ability to apply the brakes.

Aftermarket systems

Sure, there are hundreds of dashcams on the market (we’ve sorted out the best dashcams for you, of course), but did you know that there are a variety of third party systems to help you with backup and parking, too? Your aging jalopy might be near and dear to your heart, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get with the times and make things easier (and safer) for yourself. Aftermarket gadgets like the Pearl RearVision are easy ways to give your classic ride some literal hindsight. Which one’s the best? Well, that’s a subject for its own article.

Government regulations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to make rearview cameras mandatory, although that process has been repeatedly delayed. For now, the agency does have guidelines that call for a base lens size of 130 degrees. Some lenses can be up to 180 degrees though, offering a better view. Regardless of the lens size, it’s important to know where the camera is located and to keep it clean. Since it’s mounted on the outside of the car, mud and other grime can accumulate and block the view.

It’s worth noting that while these systems can assist drivers, there is no substitute for simply paying attention in the first place. This tech can help make parking easier, but it won’t drive the car for you.

Who does it best?

General Motors

backup and parking tech
With just a touch, you can switch the rear-view mirror’s view from a rear-mounted camera to a traditional mirror.

Sometimes, simple solutions can be the best. In this case, GM simply put the screen for a rearview camera where people already tend to look. The Rear Camera Mirror converts from a regular mirror to a screen, which streams video from a rear-mounted camera. This provides a better view than a regular mirror, but doesn’t ask the drive to do anything different. It’s just clever and convenient — so smart in fact that we named it Best In-Car Tech for the 2017 Digital Trends Car Awards.

Available on: Cadillac CT6 (standard), Cadillac CTS (Premium Luxury trim), Cadillac XT5 (Platinum trim), Cadillac Escalade (Luxury trim), and Chevrolet Bolt EV (Premier trim). 

Nissan

nissan around view monitor back-up camera
The 360º composite view of Nissan’s Around View Monitor

Nissan was one of the first automakers to deploy a 360-degree camera system. While other automakers offer similar systems, Nissan’s Around View Monitor is available on the widest range of non-luxury models. Rearview cameras are great, but a system that lets the driver see all the way around the car (through a composite overhead image created from multiple camera feeds) makes parking even easier.

Available on: Versa Note (SL trim), Maxima (Platinum trim), Leaf (SV trim), Juke (available SV trim, standard SL trim), Rogue (available SV trim, standard SL trim), Pathfinder (SL trim), Armada (SL trim), Titan (available Pro 4X trim, standard Platinum trim), and Titan XD (available Pro 4X trim, standard Platinum trim). 

Subaru

backup and parking tech 2018 Subaru Legacy

While electronic driver-assist systems were commonplace on luxury cars before the introduction of Subaru’s EyeSight, this system helped bring the tech to mainstream cars. The latest version of EyeSight features reverse autonomous braking, which automatically applies the brakes if the system detects a collision and the driver takes no action. Many automakers offer forward autonomous emergency braking — itself a step beyond mere forward collision warnings — but it’s less common for this tech to be applied to backing up.

Available on: Impreza (Premium trim), Crosstrek (Premium trim), WRX (Limited trim), Forester (Premium trim), Outback (Premium trim), and Legacy (Premium trim).

Ford

Backup cameras on the Ford Super Duty
Optional backup cameras on the 2017 Super Duty allow a wide range of view.

Ford deserves a mention here for both the amount of parking tech it created and the vehicle it chose to apply that tech to. Heavy-duty pickup trucks aren’t known as tech trendsetters, but parking these big vehicles can be challenging, especially considering how often they are driven with trailers in tow.

Ford threw everything it had at the current-generation Super Duty truck. This beast is available with up to seven cameras, including one that can be mounted on the back of a trailer. The cameras enable forward and rear views, a 360-degree overhead view, and a view of the bed that’s useful when hooking up gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailers. The system can even coach drivers when backing up trailers, helping to avoid jackknifing.

Available on: Every Ford Super Duty — from the F-250 XL to the F-450 Platinum — can be optioned with the Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera System ($710). It includes a high-mount stop lamp camera, a tailgate-mounted rearview camera, a 360-degree camera system, and trailer reverse guidance.