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.

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