Rear view cameras are becoming commonplace on SUVs, CUVs and luxury cars but only as part of very expensive option packages. If you prefer spending your money on things like groceries and house payments, or have an older vehicle, you’re pretty much out of luck. But not entirely. Peak (yes, the antifreeze people) offer the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System. To see if it passes muster, I installed one on my 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.
The Peak system comes with your choice of 2.4″, 3.5″and 7″ monitors. I tested the 3.5″ system, which retails for around $100, depending on where you buy it. Inevitably, the package proclaims it “Installs on vehicles in just minutes!” True—if you don’t care how it’s installed. Being borderline OCD, it took me a bit longer.
The first step: install the monitor. It attaches to the windshield via a suction-cup bracket. Run a power cord to the cigarette lighter or power outlet and voila! I put it right next to the Tahoe’s A-pillar, where it would be out of the way but still easy to see. I ran the power cord behind moldings and under the dash to the power outlet. if you’re so inclined, you can hardwire the power cord.
The camera mounts on the rear using the top bolts on the rear license plate (provided your state hasn’t declared a jihad against license plate frames and other items that might impede the revenue flow from their red light cameras and photo radar). One wire runs from the camera; a recess in the camera housing lets you wrap the wire behind the license plate. And then the problems begin. How do you get that wire inside the car?
The instructions suggest drilling a half-inch hole behind the license plate—if there isn’t a hole already. Personally, I’d balk at this suggestion, especially if I had to drill a hole in the body. Fortunately, my Chevy’s bumper came pre-holed.
The Peak Wireless Back-up Camera system wire attaches to the transmitter, which must be mounted inside the vehicle . . . somewhere. You also have to splice another wire into the backup light circuit. The kit comes with saddle type wire splices, or, if you’re lucky, you can hook the wires directly into the plug on the back of the taillight like I did.
Next “issue”: getting that wire to the transmitter. I managed to snake it through the wiring harness’s hole (with the help of a coat hanger wire) and pull it out under the car. Then I ran both wires inside at the bottom corner of the left cargo door and under the interior molding. From there I routed the wires behind the interior trim panels to plug into the transmitter, which I attached to the D-pillar next to the rear window. One glaring omission from the kit: any material with which to mount the transmitter. I used some double-stick Velcro® lingering in my toolbox.
The camera and transmitter power-up with the backup lights. The monitor activates when it receives a signal. The image is clear, if not high-res. But what do you expect for $100—HDTV?
When I was ready to test the system, no one wanted to loan me their toddler for the reverse-your-SUV-out-of-your-suburban-ranch-style-home test. So I took a trash can that’s about 22″ tall and a stuffed animal that’s about the same size as a crawling baby. I positioned them one, five, 10, 15 and 20 feet from the rear bumper. The camera picked them up at one foot, where obviously they couldn’t be seen in the rearview mirror. I was surprised to discover that my test items didn’t appear in the rearview mirror until they were 15 feet back—and that was just the very top of the trash can. I didn’t see the stuffed animal in the mirror until they were 20 feet away. The camera picked them up all the way.
There are a few caveats. The wire to the backup lights is only six feet long (and the wire to the camera is shorter). The Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System’s transmitter doesn’t look weatherproof. (If you want to install this on a pickup truck you’ll have to splice the wires to get them to the transmitter inside the cab.) The system works on 2.4 GHz; there may be some interference from Bluetooth and other wireless accessories. You’ll also find the monitor picks up stray signals from wireless security cameras at convenience stores and self-storage warehouses. No, really.
These are relatively minor problems, though. If you have small children or pets, or live in an area where kids and pets roam free and drive a large vehicle or one with limited visibility (you, not the kids and pets), the Peak Wireless Back-up Camera System is worth the investment. Obviously.
[Peak supplied the camera system used for this review.]