As automotive technology improves, a growing number of features once reserved for high-end cars are trickling down to more affordable vehicles. Chief among them is the backup camera, which provides drivers with both added convenience and improved safety.

From a convenience standpoint, the reversing camera's benefit is obvious: It helps drivers back up safely. That's especially useful in large vehicles, such as minivans or SUVs. Drivers of bigger vehicles may have trouble seeing behind them when backing up, and rear-facing cameras can make it easier to get out of a tight spot. This can prevent costly accidents.

The reversing camera can be a major safety tool, as well. Dozens of serious accidents take place every year when drivers back over a child in a driveway or parking space. Pets, too, can be harmed in so-called backover accidents. While the reversing camera doesn't solve that problem entirely, it gives drivers another eye behind their vehicles.

Worth the Added Cost?

But not all reversing cameras are created equal. Some are great, while others aren't worth the added cost. So, we've prepared a quick guide to help shoppers spot the difference between a camera that's worth buying and one that they should avoid.

Quality is the most important feature in a good backup camera. When driving a car equipped with a camera, check for a clear, sharp picture. Make sure you can distinguish between items behind the car. If you can't tell the difference between a tree and a person, it's a sign the camera probably isn't worth its added cost.

If a reversing camera is very important to you, you'll also want to test it at night. While some cameras can be great during the day, they may have difficulty showing images when it's dark outside. Others offer exceptional visibility even in dark lighting.

Screen Size Matters

Size is another important aspect to consider. Most drivers will want their reversing camera to include a large display that clearly broadcasts images from behind the car. But many backup cameras show images on a tiny screen or part of a rearview mirror. For those who find the feature to be an important part of their next car purchase, we recommend choosing a car that offers a large screen. This maximizes the camera's benefits and ensures you'll get your money's worth.

Of course, another crucial aspect is the camera's display. We favor cameras that provide lines showing you exactly how far you are from the object behind you. Some automakers take this a step further and even add colors to the lines. Green, for instance, means you have a lot of room, while red suggests you should stop immediately. Better yet, several systems even move the lines as you turn the steering wheel. That shows you exactly how far you have to reverse in a specific direction.

Beyond the simple reversing camera, some systems go the extra mile to provide a view of the area around an entire car. Nissan's Around View Monitor, for instance, uses four separate cameras. It sends images to the center-mounted display screen, which stitches them together. The result is that drivers get a good look at what's on each side of the car. It also makes parking easy, since drivers can monitor all four cameras at once and pull snugly into a space.

Other systems offer multiple angles with one camera. This is highly useful for drivers who find themselves in a wide variety of situations. A top-down image, for instance, may show you exactly how close you are to the object behind you. Meanwhile, the same camera could provide a wide-angle view to inform drivers of impending danger from either side.

Clearly, a rearview camera is more complicated than it seems. While it's easy to just pick a car with a camera, some cameras are far better than others. But regardless of how functional your reversing camera is, it's important to remember that no camera is a substitute for having your eyes on the road.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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