Posted on: December 3, 2020 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Why you should trust us

I’ve covered electronics for The Wirecutter for nearly two years, and I’m no stranger to devising novel ways to test items that are hard for most shoppers to compare at home. I’ve done tests and comparisons on a wide range of items, from portable jump starters to surge protectors to rechargeable AA batteries. I’m also an avid DIYer who has regularly tinkered with the electrical systems of a modern Jeep, a vintage VW, and a giant Class-A RV. I rolled all of that experience into detailed research and side-by-side tests of backup cameras and displays to suss out the best reasonably priced options.

Why a backup camera?

A closeup of a backup camera mounted to a dashboard that shows the space between the driver's car and the car in the parking spot behind it. Many backup cameras integrate color-coded guidelines into the image, which can help you gauge the distance to objects behind the car. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

A backup camera automatically activates when you shift the car into reverse, letting you see the area directly behind the vehicle on a display. This feature can be handy when you’re operating a car in reverse, and it’s a valuable safety feature. Backup cameras are standard on most new cars now, and you can install add-on versions such as the models in this guide on virtually any vehicle.

Backup cameras help prevent tragic back-over accidents, in which a driver doesn’t see a person behind the car.

Because you can typically see the car’s bumper on the display, anyone skittish about parallel parking can use a backup camera to confidently back into tight spots without damage, getting as close as a few inches from other cars or objects. If you need to line up a trailer to your hitch, a backup camera can help you do it in a single go. And backing out of a tight parking space or driveway is less stressful once you know for sure that nothing is behind the car.

In addition to offering convenience, backup cameras represent a huge gain in automotive and pedestrian safety, because they help prevent tragic back-over accidents, in which a driver doesn’t see a person—often a child—behind the car. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, back-over accidents result in about 300 fatalities and 18,000 injuries annually. In fact, backup cameras can make such a difference in this area that the US government has mandated that they be standard equipment on all new cars and light trucks built after May 1, 2018. (, a child-safety advocacy organization that was influential in making that regulation happen, has lots of detailed information on the problem and its solutions.) However, while backup cameras can be a great aid, you should still look around and use your mirrors to make sure there are no people or pets behind your car before you back up.

You can connect an add-on backup camera to a display in a number of ways. If your car has an in-dash screen, you may be able to install the camera so that the image shows there. If it doesn’t have one, or if you can’t connect the camera to the in-dash screen, you can buy a display that mounts on the dash or windshield, or one that’s integrated into a replacement rearview mirror. Dash displays are generally less expensive, but with a replacement mirror, you don’t have to worry about an extra gadget that could clutter up your dash or be stolen, and you won’t obstruct any portion of your view while you’re driving. If your car doesn’t have an in-dash display, a replacement mirror is the most inconspicuous way to add a screen to your car. While our top-pick camera, the Accele RVCLPMBS, needs to be wired directly to a display, other models can transmit an image wirelessly; those models are easier to install, but they don’t perform quite as well, as we discuss below.

What makes a good backup-camera system

When you’re shopping for a backup-camera system, you’ll encounter lots of specs and features. Here are the things that are most important to consider.

Image quality: It’s nearly impossible to judge the image quality of a backup camera based on the published specifications. Regardless of resolution, a good backup camera needs to create a clear image, with enough detail, contrast, and color accuracy for you to distinguish objects in a wide variety of lighting conditions. Claims of “HD” quality run rampant on models that are anything but. The resolution of the models we tested varied from only 480×234 to 800×480. Even a true HD model we found, with 720p resolution buried deep in the specifications, incorrectly claimed a higher 1080p resolution in its product page’s title. And some of our favorite displays are inexpensive and have low resolution, but offer better color accuracy, contrast, and viewing angles than displays that seem better based solely on the specs.

It’s nearly impossible to judge the image quality of a backup camera based on the published specs.

Backup cameras are designed to operate in low light, but they typically don’t have a wide dynamic range. This means that spots that are extra dark or extra bright tend to lose their detail. On a sunny day, a lower dynamic range makes a dark object on a washed-out concrete pad look like a blob. At night, it can hinder your ability to see the detail of well-lit cars or people.

The best displays in our test group have enough contrast to show blacks as blacks and whites as whites. That’s key to distinguishing objects, and it helps details pop. In our tests, the differences in contrast and dynamic range were most noticeable at night with our reverse lamps illuminated; the worst displays looked washed out from the lights, while the best ones provided enough detail for us to do more than just distinguish basic shapes.

That said, even the image quality of our picks isn’t that good in a world of high-definition smartphone cameras. Standard-definition image quality on reasonably affordable hardware just doesn’t look that great. But our picks will give you a usable image with sufficient quality to distinguish the basic details of objects, vehicles, and people behind you at night or during the day. In future updates to this guide, we plan to look into upgraded systems with better cameras and displays, but we don’t think it’s worthwhile right now for most people to spend the extra money or time investing in more-expensive components.

How the resolutions of devices compare

Device Resolution What it’s called
Most backup cameras 720×480 SD
Built-in computer webcams 1280×720 HD, 720p
Stand-alone webcams 1920×1080 HD, 1080p
Good dash cams 2560×1080 HD, widescreen
Flagship smartphones 3840×2160 4K
Good compact cameras 5472×3648 20 megapixels

Affordable backup cameras don’t have the impressive resolutions common in other devices.

Camera field of view: In our testing, we found that the best cameras offer a field of view between 160 and 170 degrees. The wider a field of view, the farther you can see left and right directly behind the bumper, but beyond about 170 degrees, the image begins distorting into a fish-eye shape that makes it harder to recognize objects at a glance.

Wired versus wireless cameras: Conventional wired backup cameras, such as our top pick, have a video cable that runs through the car to connect to the display. Installing a wired backup camera means threading, shoving, and hiding the cable and power wires under trunk carpet, inside plastic doorjambs, and behind the dashboard—a sometimes puzzling, but not insurmountable, task that thankfully needs to be done only once. (Many DIYers can do the install in a few hours, depending on the vehicle and the person’s experience with working on cars.)

A DIYer should be able to install a wired system in most vehicles in a few hours.

Wireless models instead transmit the image signal to the display via radio waves. This design makes wireless models easier to install overall, although they still need to draw power through a wire connected in the rear of the vehicle (usually to the reverse light), and you have to make sure that the camera and display have a compatible transmitter and receiver. More important, in everyday use, wireless systems are prone to minor delays when you’re shifting into gear, as well as static from nearby interference and, crucially, fraction-of-a-second lags in transmission that could cause you to miss a child or pet darting behind your car while you’re backing up, if you’re not also looking around.

We think most people will be happier with a wired system, despite the additional installation hassle, because such systems are more responsive and reliable. In addition, the major installers we checked out didn’t charge any more to professionally install a wired system.

Camera mounts: You mount a backup camera using one of three basic methods.

  • License-plate frame replacements: These models are the easiest to install, and the best for most people doing it themselves. The camera is embedded into a frame that you screw into the same holes as your license plate; the frame goes across the top of the plate or all the way around, like a normal license-plate frame.
  • License-plate center mounts: Almost as easy to install as frame replacements, these designs position the camera on a tiny, tilting neck that attaches behind the top of your license plate. Depending on the model, you attach a center mount with simple clips, adhesive strips, or more-permanent screws.
  • Flush-mount installations: You insert this type into a car-body part, such as a bumper or a trunk lid. In some situations, such as on a truck’s tailgate, this kind of camera can be the best solution, but it requires drilling a visible hole into your vehicle, and it leaves no margin of error in determining the vertical angle of the camera: If the surface you drill into leaves the camera pointing too high or low, you’re stuck with it. Most DIYers shouldn’t bother with flush-mount cameras—they’re best left to professional installers.

Virtually every good backup camera can operate in low light down to around 0.5 lux, which is plenty when a car’s reverse lights are on.

Display mounts: Good dash displays have an adjustable mount that you can tilt up, down, left, or right to fit the driver and the lighting conditions. That might seem obvious, but some displays have fixed mounts that can leave you stuck with a bad angle or harsh glare. Generally you affix mounts to the dash or windshield with double-sided mounting tape or a suction cup—because the displays are so light, you have no reason to use anything more. Rearview-mirror displays are all similar in that they simply attach to your car’s current rearview-mirror bracket and adjust easily.

Guidelines: Every backup camera in our test group shows fixed guidelines in the video image. These lines, which extend back from your car to help you judge the vehicle’s distance from objects shown on the screen, are different from the systems in many new cars, which have dynamic guidelines that shorten and bend to show the vehicle’s path as you turn the steering wheel. Add-on cameras generally can’t do the same, because vehicles have different turning radiuses and, unlike in new-car systems, the cameras aren’t connected to the car’s computer and steering system. We’ve found it helpful to keep the guidelines turned on, but if you find them distracting, you can turn them off.

Night vision: Every good backup camera can operate in low light down to around 0.5 lux. That’s plenty if you’re using your camera just for backing up, since the reverse lights on your car will provide enough illumination for the camera to get a clear image, and our picks don’t add a distracting amount of fuzz to the picture. Some cameras include tiny infrared lights that emit light that is invisible to the naked eye but lets the camera see in near-total darkness. IR lights are handy for an always-on camera, like one you might use on a truck or RV when towing a trailer or car, because having them is the only way for you to make out details behind you when you’re hitched up on a dark road. But these cameras are more expensive, and the grayscale video they provide isn’t as good for backing up as what you get from a standard low-light camera.

How we picked and tested

The seven backup camera displays we tested sitting side by side on our testing rig. They are all plugged in, on, and displaying roughly the same image. Technical specifications don’t mean much, so we wired up cameras and displays side by side for a more accurate comparison. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

We started by researching nearly 40 of the top-selling and best-reviewed add-on backup cameras at a variety of retailers. Based on their specs, prices, and owner reviews, we then set up the top eight cameras for a hands-on, head-to-head comparison. Similarly, looking for a complete system we could recommend, we researched almost 40 displays that could work with the cameras, and we tested seven of the most promising ones.

We looked at the image quality of every combination in a variety of lighting conditions, from direct sunlight to nighttime. We even rigged up fake reverse lights, salvaged from a Honda Civic, to test the components’ night-vision and low-light capabilities. When we were confident in our top picks, we installed them on two cars and test-drove them in real-world conditions to make sure they delivered on the convenience and safety benefits that made a backup-camera system worth the money and effort.

To narrow down our long list of camera models to the most promising ones for testing, we ruled out those with notably low image resolution or conflicting specifications, but we didn’t give any preferential treatment to models that claimed unrealistic numbers. One of the few specs we did trust was the field-of-view angle, dismissing nearly a dozen models with a field of view narrower than 170 degrees.

An overhead view of the test rig we used to compare all of the backup camera models we tested. As our test rig evolved, here’s how it ended up, with the cameras mounted on the left and the displays set up on the right. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

At the time we did our research, the cameras we considered ranged in price from less than $30 for cheap models to about $500 for specialty wireless ones. But higher prices didn’t always guarantee higher performance: The resolutions and fields of view were similar, and even the acceptable light level didn’t vary much—all our cameras claimed to work in near darkness (0.1 to 0.5 lux). So after excluding a few more models from lesser-known (read: no-reputation) companies that had untrustworthy customer reviews, we picked the eight most well-regarded models from low, medium, and high pricing tiers.

As with the cameras, for the displays, higher prices didn’t always mean higher resolution, and we saw little to differentiate $20 displays from $200 models. So we similarly chose displays with reliable, positive reviews, of various prices and styles.

Seven cameras mounted side by side on the same piece of wood. We mounted seven of the cameras together so that we could evaluate them in the same lighting conditions and with the same objects in the frame. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

We tested the cameras on both cloudy and sunny days, when the sun was shining into the lenses, and even at night.

To test the components in consistent conditions, we needed to eliminate a few variables, so we mounted them together on a test rig, instead of on separate cars. We wired all the camera feeds into a switcher, and split the switcher’s output to show simultaneously on all of the displays. (We didn’t notice any effect from the switcher on relative video quality.) This arrangement allowed us to compare all the displays while showing the feed from a single camera, and it let us view each display while flipping the camera feeds back and forth. If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’d recognize our squinting, unsure stares as we debated A or B, A or B. Now, B or C. B? Or C?

We repeated the exercise on both cloudy and sunny days, when the sun was low and shining into the lenses, and even at night, with and without the help of reverse lights. As for dynamic range, we focused on finding a camera that was competent in as many conditions as possible, even if it never excelled in any single condition. It also had to have decent color accuracy, which varied considerably between cameras. We pointed our test rig at a field of grass that, in person, was a deep green. While some cameras captured that hue, others showed a field that looked completely dead and brown. This limited color spectrum made us worry that a given camera wouldn’t be able to accurately represent objects behind the car in some conditions. While the color of the displays varied, too, those differences tended to affect only the saturation or the intensity of the colors that the camera had already captured.

Two dim salvaged taillights attached to our testing rig. Even a dim set of salvaged taillights lets you see a clear enough image to back up safely. We found that you could skip night-vision features, unless you tow behind your vehicle. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Our favorite displays had a higher saturation that made colors and details pop.

We dismissed some models because their image noise increased badly at night. The static-filled image of the Soled display, for example, made it almost unusable; we swapped cables and connections to rule out other factors, but we were unable to correct the problem on an otherwise great model.

Our favorite displays had a higher color saturation that made colors and details pop. Most of the models, though, showed a deep blue sky as pale blue, and spring grass as more yellow than it really was. Even though you won’t want to save backup camera images for posterity, better color saturation improves other aspects of the image, such as contrast, and makes picking out details easier. We dismissed a Pyle display for producing a cool color cast over the whole image that made it unacceptable.

With some displays, we could see a little more detail when we looked more closely. But overall, the cameras were too low resolution, and the 4- and 5-inch displays were too small, for the resolution to make much of an impact. Our other criteria had a much bigger influence on our assessment of a model’s overall quality than resolution.

Our camera pick: Accele RVCLPMBS

A closeup of a backup camera attached above a California license plate. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Our pick



The Accele camera easily mounts over your license plate and produces a nice image in every type of lighting, with good color reproduction and contrast.

We recommend the Accele RVCLPMBS as the best backup camera for most people because it delivers the best performance for an affordable price. It provides a clear image, day and night, with reasonable color accuracy and enough dynamic range and resolution to let you recognize any objects in view. The Accele mounts along the top of any standard US license plate without obscuring registration stickers, and the tiltable lens allows you to get just the right angle for your car.

No matter what lighting we tried with the Accele camera, from direct sun to reverse lights at night, it always managed to give us a clear, useful image that we were confident in using to back up a car. Despite its limited dynamic range (a trait generally shared among all backup cameras), the Accele offered the most balanced image of any camera we tested. At night, bright streetlights didn’t wash out the image, and during the day we could still see what was lurking in the shadows. By contrast, in our tests the Rydeen MINy HD Camera had better detail when evenly lit, but its image washed out easily in bright sunlight. The inexpensive Pyle PLCM44 camera was passable both during the day and at night, but its images suffered anytime a very bright light source washed out the frame.

The Accele camera gave us a clear, useful image that we were confident in using to back up a car.

In part because of its well-balanced handling of various light conditions, the Accele camera was also able to produce the best mix of color saturation, depth, and accuracy. Color accuracy matters if you want to identify objects behind you. The Esky EC170-09 camera, for example, made a field of green grass a few yards away look as brown as the dirt right behind it, an effect that flattened the whole image. The Accele RVCLPMBS showed the same field in a richer green, and that green popped compared with other colors in the frame. Even though the Rydeen camera showed slightly more detail—letting us see the outlines of leaves and grass—that detail wasn’t enough to outweigh its paler color palette in terms of the overall image quality.

A video of a person rotating the camera lens on a mounted backup camera. Once you’ve installed the Accele camera over the top of your car’s license plate, you can easily rotate the lens to get the right angle and then lock it in place by tightening two screws. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald Photo: Sarah Kobos

Similar to all top cameras, the Accele has a wide field of view that allows you to see a broad area behind your car, including several inches out from either corner of the bumper. Some cameras, on the other hand, have a field of view that’s much too narrow to be useful in spotting objects near the corners of the bumper. At the other extreme, the Garmin camera we tested had such a wide angle, the image had fish-eye distortion that made it harder for us to tell where objects were in the real world.

The Accele camera doesn’t have a specific night-vision mode, but we still got a good image in the dark. That’s because the camera automatically turns on when you shift the car into reverse, and the vehicle’s backup lamps are more than enough to illuminate the way. In fact, we found that with backup cameras tuned to work in minimal lighting, the reverse lights could wash out images at night.

Like the other cameras we tested, the Accele model’s image shows static guidelines that extend back from the vehicle to help you gauge the distance of objects as you back up. They’re not adjustable, though, so you’ll need to mentally calibrate your driving to the distance each line represents. If you decide you don’t like them, you can turn them off by cutting a wire loop extending from the camera.

If you’re a DIYer, we show below how we installed the Accele RVCLPMBS, but the process is much the same for any camera. We like that the camera mount uses the existing holes and bolts for the license plate, and that the camera is easy to tilt to the perfect angle. Other cameras, such as the Pyle and Rydeen models we tried, required us to bend their mount or frame to position the camera, and were harder to fine-tune. The current version of our pick doesn’t block registration stickers in the corner of the license plate; our pictures show the older, wider mount, but the camera is the same.

Runner-up camera: Pyle PLCM38FRV

A closeup of our runner-up pick for best backup camera, the Pyle PLCM38FRV. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald




This camera was adequate in our testing, but it avoids the worst flaws of pricier models—and it’s inexpensive, to boot.

If you’re really watching your budget, the Pyle PLCM38FRV is a decent alternative to our top-pick camera. Although its main draw is its cheap price, this Pyle model provides a usable image and fair color accuracy, while avoiding some common problems such as low-light static, weird color casts, and a blown-out image in bright sunlight. It’s a little worse than our top pick in every respect—ease of installation, color accuracy, contrast, dynamic range—but it doesn’t have a single, dealbreaking flaw like other cameras, even more-expensive ones.

We found that the PLCM38FRV had better color accuracy and saturation than other models we dismissed, which made its image easier to understand at a glance. During our daytime testing, the image was clear as long as the sun wasn’t on the horizon behind us and washing out the image. And at night, objects appeared clear whether under the reverse lights alone or with the added visual noise of other headlights, parking-lot lights, and business signs. This camera’s viewing angle was roughly the same as that of our top pick—about 170 degrees—allowing us to see a wide area behind us without creating a fish-eye effect.

You can mount the Pyle PLCM38FRV either on a small, center-mount bracket normally installed behind the top of your license plate or with the included flush-mount accessories. Once it’s installed, you may need to bend the bracket a bit to get the camera’s aim just right; the design isn’t as easy to use or as accurate as the tilting lens on our top pick. Flush mounting, tucked up near the handle on your trunk lid or a truck’s tailgate, can provide a factory finish, but it doesn’t allow for any aiming once it’s installed. Be sure to check if the image on your display will be satisfactory before drilling a ¾-inch hole into your vehicle.

An easier-to-install option: Look-It Wireless Rear Vision System

Photo: Rik Paul

Also great

Look-It Wireless Rear Vision System

Look-It Wireless Rear Vision System

This truly wireless system uses battery power and your smartphone as its display, but it’s pricier than our other picks and doesn’t turn on automatically.

Buying Options

Buy from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $235.

Compared with most “wireless” backup cameras, which still need to be wired to the car for power, the Look-It Wireless Rear Vision System is truly wireless in that it has a rechargeable battery and it displays its image, via Bluetooth, on your smartphone. This, combined with a camera that’s integrated into a license plate frame, made it one of the easiest models to install.

Unlike our other picks, the Look-It doesn’t come on automatically when you shift your car into reverse—by default, you activate the camera by pressing a button on a remote that you mount to the car’s dash or steering wheel (or keep wherever is handy for you)—but you can wire it to your vehicle’s backup light to do that if you want. This approach also has benefits: We found it convenient to pop our phone on the mount and press the Look-It’s button to get a quick view behind before even starting the car. Once we set up the Look-It, the camera’s video feed consistently appeared on our phone’s display within a couple seconds of pressing the remote’s button. This made it handy for both backing out of a space and for parallel parking, even on a busy street. The video stays on the screen for 30 seconds; you can stop it sooner by pressing the remote’s button again.

The Look-It works best for drivers who are willing to keep their phone in a car mount while driving.

The Look-It works best for drivers who are willing to keep their phone in a car mount while driving, and the system includes a magnetic mount that you can attach to one of your vehicle’s dash vents. The camera has an adequate 130-degree field of view, but, like most of the backup cameras we tried, the video resolution is pretty mediocre by today’s smartphone standards. Still, we never had trouble seeing what was behind our car.

A photo of a smartphone showing the video from the Look-It backup camera. When paired via Bluetooth with a compatible smartphone, the Look-It transmits its video to the phone’s display. The system includes a magnetic phone mount that attaches to your vehicle’s dash vent. Photo: Rik Paul

The system gets power from a battery in the license plate frame; the company says the battery should last about three years.

The remote also has two additional buttons, which you can use to quickly display a map of the surrounding area on the phone’s screen. With iPhones, you can choose to see an Apple Map or Google Map display; with Android devices, your only option is Google Maps. This can be handy if you want to quickly see your immediate surroundings without having to open another app, such as when you’re trying to navigate around a road closure, but you don’t get the full functionality of the Google or Apple Maps apps, such as being able to enter destinations and get directions.

  • A photo of the Look It's remote attached to a steering wheel.

    You activate video from the camera by pressing the center button on a separate remote, which you can mount on the dash or steering wheel, or keep anywhere else that’s handy. Photo: Rik Paul

  • A photo of the Look It's remote attached to a dashboard.

    You activate video from the camera by pressing the center button on a separate remote, which you can mount on the dash or steering wheel, or keep anywhere else that’s handy. Photo: Rik Paul

  • A photo of the Look It's remote attached to a steering wheel.

    You activate video from the camera by pressing the center button on a separate remote, which you can mount on the dash or steering wheel, or keep anywhere else that’s handy. Photo: Rik Paul

  • A photo of the Look It's remote attached to a dashboard.

    You activate video from the camera by pressing the center button on a separate remote, which you can mount on the dash or steering wheel, or keep anywhere else that’s handy. Photo: Rik Paul

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Like other wireless models, the Look-It is also pricier than our top pick, though its easy installation (you can do it yourself in under an hour) means you don’t have to pay for professional installation or run wires through your vehicle. Due to confusing instructions, setting the Look-It up to work with our phone via Bluetooth wasn’t as straightforward as it should be—an experience echoed by some Amazon reviewers. But that was a relatively minor annoyance, and the rest of the installation was easy.

Our dash-display pick: Esky ES-15

Ah Esky ES-15 on-dash display mounted on a car dashboard. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Our pick

Esky ES-15

Esky ES-15

Despite its lower resolution, the Esky display looked better than any other on-dash monitor we tried. It has a wide viewing angle with minimal glare, and it tilts to adjust for multiple drivers.

Buying Options

$15* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.

Though none of the inexpensive displays we tested blew us away, the Esky ES-15 4.3-inch on-dash display had the best overall image quality, and it avoided common dealbreakers. In our testing, it showed a clear image both during the day and at night, with a good balance of contrast, color saturation, and a comfortably wide viewing angle. Its simple stand is easy to adjust to get the perfect angle, which is especially important if you share a car with other drivers.

The Esky display had the most-accurate color representation of any of the universal models we tried. Whether it was displaying dark green grass, light blue skies, or objects on the ground that we’d want to avoid running over, colors were more saturated than on any other display. Even another Esky model, with a flip-up design, didn’t have the same color-rich display. This display was a pretty easy choice, as other models we tested had more-faded images or a distracting color cast.

A closeup of the Esky ES-15 screen showing an image taken at night. The Esky ES-15 4.3-inch on-dash display provided the best overall image and the most accurate color representation of all the displays we tested. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

As with the cameras we tried, some of the tested displays performed better in certain conditions, and we went with the model that offered the best all-around performance. When it came to contrast—how black a display could display black—the Esky 4.3-inch display wasn’t the most impressive, but it was consistent, night or day. The Soled display, which had the deepest blacks and brightest whites during the day, was subject to excessive image noise at night.

You power the Esky ES-15 by hardwiring it into the accessory fuse panel behind the dashboard. After weeks of use, our Esky display was still firmly mounted to the dash with the included double-sided tape, which is a typical installation method for dash displays. We haven’t noticed the tape marring our dashboard, but if you’re worried about the risk, try the adhesive on an inconspicuous section before committing to it. You can also mount the Esky display to the windshield if that works better for you (and, just as important, if it’s legal to do so in your area).

Our rearview-mirror-display pick: Auto-vox T1400

The Auto-vox T1400 rearview-mirror display showing the distance between a car and the car behind it in an image on the left side of the rearview mirror. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Also great

Auto-vox T1400

Auto-vox T1400

This replacement rearview mirror has an integrated display for a clean look and an uncluttered dash. But it’s more expensive, and bright sunlight can create a lot of glare on the mirrored surface.

Buying Options

$142* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $110.

The Auto-vox T1400 rearview-mirror display doesn’t provide the higher image quality of the better dash displays, but it does deliver a usable image without your having to add an extra screen to your dashboard. This Auto-vox model replaces your car’s existing rearview mirror and automatically shows the backup camera’s image on the left side when you shift the car into reverse; the image then disappears when you shift the vehicle out of reverse, leaving a conventional rearview mirror. In our tests, the display looked great on cloudy days and at night, but as you might expect with a mirror, it had a lot more glare in bright sun than other displays we tried.

The Auto-vox display acting as a normal rearview mirror. The Auto-vox display, which replaces a car’s rearview mirror, shows the backup camera’s image on the left side when you shift the vehicle into reverse and acts as a standard rearview mirror (shown above) when you shift the car into any gear except reverse. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Another issue we had with the Auto-vox model was that the brightness was pumped up to the point that it lowered the overall image quality. The display automatically adjusts to the ambient light level, based on a small sensor on the back, but you have no manual way to adjust it. During the day, the extra brightness helps overcome glare and contributes to good color accuracy, but at night, any noise in the image seems more noticeable, and dark spots don’t get all that dark. Even when a bright area captured by our top camera pick had good detail and color on our top display pick, it looked washed out on this display. All that said, this Auto-vox display is still a usable screen in all but the brightest, most glare-inducing conditions.

This Auto-vox model replaces your car’s existing rearview mirror.

The Auto-vox T1400 fits the rearview-mirror mount on most cars, and you can slide your old mirror off and this one on with little more than the included Allen wrench—the mirror is relatively easy to install compared with the wires that come out of it. Depending on your car, you’ll need to either tuck those wires into the headliner (the fabric covering the inside of your roof) or fasten it along the seam between the headliner and windshield. From there, you’ll have to run the wire over to the pillar alongside your windshield, and down into your dash as with any other display.

How to install a backup camera

Backup-camera systems aren’t difficult to install, but the process can be time-consuming and a little intimidating if you’re not used to working on cars. If you’re not up for doing it yourself—and if it’s in your budget—we recommend spending the roughly $150 it costs to let a pro deal with the hassle. But if you like hands-on projects or want to try working on your car yourself, a backup-camera installation is a good weekend project. Novices should set aside most of a day, while people with a little auto or electronics experience may need only a couple of hours, depending on the vehicle.

If you want a pro to do it: The easiest and most affordable solution, if one is nearby, is to use Best Buy’s Geek Squad, which will install the system for you for about $130 at most locations. We verified with a customer service representative that the technicians will install cameras purchased elsewhere, but you may need to cover the cost of any extra parts or accessories they need to do the work. Any shop specializing in auto sound and security should also be able to install a backup-camera system, but the prices can vary wildly: When we called around, places quoted amounts ranging from less than $200 to more than $500. Check around before you commit.

If you want to do it yourself: Most backup cameras come with instructions on how to connect the camera to your car’s wiring and to the display (although they can be sketchy; here, for example, are the PDF instructions for our top-pick camera). Plus, YouTube is full of videos that can help you along. The most time-consuming part is running the wires from the camera to the car’s taillight and to the display near the dashboard so that they’re hidden from view. This step could require removing some of the car’s carpeting and trim pieces, which will vary from vehicle to vehicle. It’s typically not difficult if you have the right tools, but the job can require patience.

Here’s the basic stuff you’ll need to install a wired camera. If you don’t have any tools, everything here will cost $70 to $100, but you’ll be able to use these tools and supplies on future projects.

  • About two to four hours of free time, and a bit of moxie.
  • Small-gauge wire strippers; 22-gauge will do, if you have them. If not, get some that can easily strip the ends of smaller, 24- and 26-gauge wire, too.
  • A basic socket-wrench set or open-end wrench set. At minimum, you’ll need to disconnect the negative terminal on your battery, and you may need to loosen a taillight or other part. A simple set for under $30 should do the trick.
  • Flathead and Phillips-head screwdrivers—you’ll come across something that needs to be popped out or unscrewed somewhere along the way.
  • A plastic scraper or putty knife. Removing little trim pieces with a screwdriver or metal blade can mar plastic or scratch paint. Use plastic tools near anything delicate.
  • Butt splices and ring terminals. Most cameras and displays come with enough connectors to install everything, but if you need to cut a wire or redo a connection, having a variety pack of connectors can save you from a mid-project trip to the hardware store.
  • Electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing. Always cover your wire connections to keep them secure, clean, and away from other wires.
  • A drill. You may need to make a hole somewhere to get the camera wires into your trunk. If so, you’ll need a drill, and some guts.

During testing, we wired up two different systems on two different cars: our top-pick camera and dash display on a 2010 Ford Focus, and our rearview mirror display with our runner-up camera on a 2005 Jeep Wrangler. In each case, the process took us about three hours, employing intermediate car-mechanic skills and stopping for photos and notes along the way. Here are some of the key steps in installing our top-pick camera.

  • A person pulling a wire through a hole drilled in the car bumper.

    Next, we fished the wire through the hole and behind the bumper, routed it into the trunk, and connected it to the taillight wires. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

  • A closeup of a person removing the negative battery cable from the car battery's negative post.

    The first step for any installation is to remove the negative (-) battery cable from the car battery’s negative post. Doing so makes the electrical system safe to work on. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

  • A closeup of a car's trunk with the floor liner removed for access to the taillight.

    We removed the floor liner from the Focus’s trunk to get room to access the taillight and run the wires. We also had to remove some plastic trim pieces by unscrewing the connectors and popping them off. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

  • A person drilling a hole through a car bumper with the license plate removed.

    Then we removed the license plate and had to figure out the best way to route the wire from the camera into the trunk’s interior. We looked for unused holes but finally decided to drill a hole in the bumper behind the plate. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

  • A person pulling a wire through a hole drilled in the car bumper.

    Next, we fished the wire through the hole and behind the bumper, routed it into the trunk, and connected it to the taillight wires. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

  • A closeup of a person removing the negative battery cable from the car battery's negative post.

    The first step for any installation is to remove the negative (-) battery cable from the car battery’s negative post. Doing so makes the electrical system safe to work on. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

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Connecting to an existing dash display:
If your car has an in-dash display, you might be able to connect a backup camera to it instead of having to buy a separate display. We didn’t test this arrangement because of the variety of cars we’d need to cover and the assortment of options out there. If you want to connect your camera to a display that came with the vehicle, the easiest place to check for details is the parts or service department at your local car dealer. If a factory-approved option or accessory ever existed, they should be able to point you in the right direction. Mobile-electronics installers should also be able to help, since they’ll be the most familiar with third-party options and accessory radios, and they’ll be happy to sell you anything that will work.

For another option, the retailer Crutchfield has a tool that shows you compatible, model-specific cameras once you put in your car’s year, make, model, and type of audio system. Most of the models you’ll find there are made by Crux Interfacing Solutions and are compatible with common car makes and models from the past five years, with a few stretching back further. Naviks offers a wider variety of adapters for older cars with built-in displays, but most of them cost nearly $200—about 10 times the cost of sticking an add-on display to the top of your dashboard. If you find something that works, share the love and let other readers know in the comments below.

The competition


Rydeen MINy HD Camera: Rydeen makes nearly a dozen backup cameras. We chose the MINy HD Camera to test because it promised slightly higher resolution than the other models from the company, while sticking to the standard 170-degree field of view. In person, the higher resolution helped make for one of the crispest pictures of any camera we tried, but this model also had poor color representation that made picking out objects harder. We also didn’t like this model’s center-mount installation method as much as we did the license-plate-frame mounts that came with other cameras. For around 50 percent less money, our top pick provided a better picture all around.

Esky EC170-09: The main selling point of this license-plate camera is IR night vision and the fact that it’s embedded into a tiltable camera mount. We found the IR feature to be unnecessary, though: Every camera we tried worked just fine with standard vehicle backup lights. And during the day, this camera had the least-saturated colors of any we tried, making a lush green field look like a dead brown desert.

Like the Look-It Wireless Rear Vision system, the Pearl RearVision, our previous upgrade pick, is a truly wireless backup-camera system that displays its image on your smartphone. It’s easy to install and had the highest-quality image of any camera we tried. Because the Pearl model uses two cameras, it can also act as a rear-sensor system, alerting you if your car is getting too close to objects behind it, and as a rear cross-traffic-alert system that warns you if it detects a person or car moving behind your vehicle. The RearVision’s battery is charged by small solar cells in its license-plate frame, and the system includes a magnetic phone mount that you can attach to a car’s dash vent. Compared with the Look-It, though, the Pearl RearVision is more expensive and, in our testing, it was more difficult to activate, took longer to display video, and was more prone to glitchy connections, making it less useful overall.

Garmin BC 30 Wireless Backup Camera: In addition to the cameras and displays we discuss in this guide, we tested the Garmin BC 30 Wireless Backup Camera with the Garmin Drive 50 LMT car GPS device (a former top pick in our car GPS guide), which it’s designed to work with. In our tests, the resolution and color fidelity were noticeably better than those of anything else we tried, but that’s where the utility ended. The dealbreaker with this model, and all the wireless cameras we tried, was a slight lag between the camera and display. Though only a split second, such a lag when you’re backing up might mean the difference between stopping or not stopping in time to prevent hitting someone (although you shouldn’t depend entirely on a backup camera when in reverse, anyway). In addition, the camera’s field of view is so wide, the effect is like looking through a fish-eye lens that’s distorting and curving the images. And, as with all of the wireless cameras we tried, the camera takes a moment to connect wirelessly to the GPS display.

Chuanganzhuo Backup Camera and Monitor Kit: At less than $30 including a display at the time of our research, this offering was the least expensive backup-camera system we tested. The image seemed slightly zoomed compared with the image from every other camera, and this model was the only camera to have a significantly narrower field of view than standard. That combination made for an awkward and less useful viewport, even before we considered the subpar image quality. The display was equally unimpressive, with low resolution, poor color saturation, and inaccurate color reproduction.


Soled 5-inch high-resolution display: The Soled display had the best contrast of the bunch, with good dynamic range that provided detail in darker and lighter spots—but only during the day. At night, the image was too fuzzy for us to clearly identify objects behind our test rig, regardless of the camera it was connected to.

Pyle PLCM44: The display in this kit washed out more easily than on our top pick when capturing objects in bright sun, and in even lighting the picture was often darker than what we saw from the competition.

Esky ES-16: The flip-up design of this display made for a slick presentation when closed, but it wasn’t very practical in our real-world use. Flipping the screen up and down between uses was an extra step that added to the hassle of backing up. And because the angle of the display is fixed, you can’t adjust it to avoid glare, or to accommodate people of different heights or driving positions.


  1. Alexander Hrabe, Rear-view cameras buying guide, Crutchfield