Back in the ‘dark ages’ anyone reversing a caravan or motorhome had to rely on either a good set of towing mirrors or better still a person standing at the rear with a clear vision of what was going on.
That changed somewhat with the development of reversing cameras, particularly in motorhomes. There was no valid reason for motorhomes being first, except that the overall installation was probably easier and more essential in larger rigs. Of course for a caravan, a retro installation is a bit more difficult and there are extra connections required at the pointy end of the caravan.
Nowadays reversing cameras are everywhere, including everyday cars and SUVs. There’s no doubt that on a tow vehicle, a reversing camera makes things considerably easier for hitching up and on the caravan, much easier for not only reversing but giving a good view of what’s behind when driving on the road. It’s just my opinion but I don’t think reversing cameras are a substitute for good set of towing mirrors, just a helpful addition.
There are a surprising number of different reversing camera arrangements but for the most part, they all achieve the same end – a clear vision at the rear. Dealing with the driver’s cab the viewing monitor (usually an LCD variant) can either be dashboard, windscreen and if in a larger vehicle roof mounted. These are most common in retro installation and one asset is that large screen sizes are possible.
Another option is an in-dash system where the monitor screen is mounted where the radio/CD player/multi-function device might be. The asset of this style is that it’s much less intrusive than a dash-mounted unit but the driver does have to look down rather than slightly sideways – more of a problem when driving rather than reversing.
More an after-market system than anything else is a rear view LCD screen that replaces the internal rear view mirror. It’s less intrusive than the dash-mount screen and easier to install than an in-dash screen but does have size limitations and requires cabling for the power supply and camera connections. Not always easy across the vehicle roof.
On the subject of cabling, most rear view camera systems are connected by cable but there are some that employ wireless technology making them considerably easier and less obtrusive to install, like the JS056WK from AudioXtra pictured above. Wireless systems do require some cables, for 12V supply if nothing else and there is a downside of course – a wireless system is prone to interference and dropouts but their ease of installation is a massive plus. Good wireless systems are generally expensive but be wary of cheap options, they often lack quality.
Getting to the external camera itself, there are button/numberplate styles that are fitted to tow vehicles but the best type is what is known as the “Heavy Duty” model which can be mounted high up, set at a variety of angles, has night vision and preferably audio. You know, so you can hear your long suffering partner shouting “stop”!
Most rear view cameras are set for a wide angle and there are some that can be mounted on either side of the caravan/motorhome but I reckon the best type (and most expensive of course) are those with both a normal and a wide angle lens, which can be selected from the driver’s cab. The normal being for most driving conditions, the wide angle for manoeuvring in tight spots.
Which particular setup you choose often very much depends on the tow vehicle or motorhome but there’s little doubt about the safety benefits, as well as a more relaxing drive.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Malcolm Street began caravanning in the early 1970s, first in a Viscount and later in a York, the former towed by a Holden Kingswood. Malcolm has RV’d extensively across Australia, New Zealand and Britain. He became an RV journalist in 1999. Each year, he reviews around 40 caravans and motorhomes in Oz and NZ. Yes, he’s a well-travelled bloke with no shortage of campfire opinions about how a given caravan could be better put together.