Hooking-Up On Screen

By Dan Armitage

Back-up cameras take the "bang" out of reverse.

Photo of a truck towing a boat

We've all seen them: tow vehicles sporting rear license plates, or tailgates or bumpers so battered and dimpled they appear to have been pummeled by a sledgehammer. Let's face it (which, when you think about it, is the whole problem here), a tow vehicle driver can't see when backing toward the nearby trailer to hook it up. Until now, aligning the hitch ball on the truck to the trailer coupler has been a guessing game with luck being the main player. Add to this, the usual crowd who always appear when someone tries to do this and one can easily understand why a few great minds had to gather and design the backup camera. Technology and ingenuity were certainly part of their inspiration but ego probably had more to do with it. Today, back-up cameras are standard on many new vehicles and kits are available for everyone else.

Portable back-up cameras originally designed for trucks and RVs offered limited hindsight to the driver when backing but, in the early days, there was no such thing as "wireless," so a wire had to run from the rear of the vehicle to the dashboard in order for the driver to see the big picture. Today, wireless technology makes attaching a back-up camera easy and their use has morphed into the mainstream when the devices became popular options aboard minivans piloted by soccer moms ferrying kids back and forth through areas of high (kid) traffic. When Dad figured out he could see both the hitch ball and the coupler for his favorite boat trailer on the dash screen, and monitor, a new market was born for the aft cams. The wireless camera plugs into what used to be a cigarette lighter, which has also morphed into a phone or GPS or iPod charger.

More than a dozen brands of back-up camera systems intended for use on passenger vehicles are available today, some designed specifically for trailering. Many late-model trucks, SUVs, and passenger vehicles offer back-up cameras as standard equipment or an option. Most may be adjusted to show the hitch ball and its relation to the position of the coupler and can be used to assist the trailer hook-up process. The latest technology combines back-up viewing functions with traditional GPS directional capabilities on a common screen, so there is only one monitor to position, mount, and watch. Because our test vehicle had neither a built-in GPS nor back-up camera system, and we wanted both, we chose a popular Magellan combo unit in order to keep the number of screens to a minimum. This installation process is shared by several of the aftermarket units available on today's market. That said, read the directions on your model because different designs may require different wiring such as placing the camera on the hitch.

Step-By-Step Guide To Wireless Back-Up Camera Installation

Most back-up camera systems intended for DIY installation, including the Magellan RoadMate 1700 combo unit we installed, come with all the wiring required for the rigging. Tools required for this installation include hand- or power-driver, wire-cutting or crimping-pliers, and in-line wire quick connectors (some kits come with Scotch Lock Splicers for connecting two wires).

Step 1

Remove the screws securing the tow vehicle's rear license plate, which are used to secure the camera and the plate in this installation. Position the camera bracket to allow the pre-drilled holes to line up with those securing the license plate, thread the power and video cables leading from the back of the camera through the bumper, and reinstall the screws to secure the bracket and the plate back onto the bumper. Point the adjustable camera lens toward the hitch ball.

Step 2

Remove one of the vehicle's taillight assemblies and you'll see the wires powering the lights.

Step 3

Route the camera power and video cables from behind the bumper up through the frame to the taillight assembly. Plug the cables leading from the camera to the transmitter using the color-coded connections.

Step 4

Identify the vehicle's reverse-light wires. The ground is either white or black while the power wire is colored (many are red but, in this example, the power wire is green). Use the in-line quick connectors to secure these wires with the transmitter's power (red) and ground (black) wires (Crimp black to black and green to red). Secure the transmitter and excess wiring into any available void in the taillight assembly, using pull-ties if needed to keep it in place.

Step 5

In the tow vehicle's cab, plug the monitor's power cord into the 12-volt receptacle and the USB fitting on the opposite end into the power port on the bottom of the monitor screen. Then, plug the camera receiver cable into the designated port on the bottom of the monitor screen.

Step 6

Test to verify that the screen automatically switches (if applicable) from GPS to live video mode when the vehicle is shifted into reverse and that the camera lens is aimed to allow a view of the hitch ball. Once the system is tested and found to work, reinstall the taillight assembly.

*If you do not feel competent to perform the installation of an after-market back-up camera system, talk to your vehicle mechanic about handling the job or contact an installation facility recommended by the manufacturer of the system you choose. 

This article was published in the Winter 2013 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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