Last year, I fitted a custom aluminium canopy to my Nissan Patrol ute. While the addition of the canopy has been nothing but a positive for both my work and recreational pursuits, I lost the use of my rear-vision mirror.
With the canopy as wide as my standard tray, the side mirrors still did their job, but knowing exactly what was behind me at all times proved a little bit harder.
I’d always intended on fitting a rear-facing camera, but somehow never got around to it. There was always something more important to spend my money on.
However, a recent incident in the bush with an unsuspecting 6”-round eucalypt (that may or may not have been harmed in the process) prompted me to find out just what was on the market and what best suited my needs.
WHAT IS A REAR-VISION SYSTEM?
A rear-vision system consists of a reverse camera, mounting brackets, wiring and a display.
A reversing camera, also known as a rear-view or back-up camera, is installed at the rear of the vehicle. It is positioned in such a way to aid in the reversing of the vehicle and to help avoid blind spots. This is especially important in carparks, tight situations offroad and when hitching up a trailer.
Another added bonus of a having a reversing camera fitted is the extra safety it provides, especially if you have small children.
Depending upon your requirements, the display can be windscreen- or dash-mounted, or even replace the factory rear-view mirror.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT REVERSE CAMERA AND MONITOR
There are so many different options available to choose from, for both the type of camera and monitor. I had a couple of criteria that needed to be met:
- Both the camera and monitor had to have a 100 per cent duty cycle as I wanted to be able to use them just like a rear-vision mirror, especially when on longer trips.
- The camera had to be waterproof.
- The camera had to be robust.
- It had to be easy to install, as I was doing it myself (and I am no auto-electrical expert).
- Finally, it had to have a good warranty.
After a bit of Googling and watching a few YouTube clips, I jumped onto the Safety Dave website, clicked on their ‘contact us’ button, and enquired about a reverse camera and monitor to suit my above requirements.
A couple of hours later my phone rings and one of the Safety Dave sales reps is on the line. He goes through with me what type of vehicle I have, where I am going to be using it, where the camera is to be mounted, and so on. He was asking all the right questions.
I told him what I was planning to do and where I intended to go, making sure to mention my intentions for long-distance, offroad, remote travel. Suggestions were made and the positive and negative implications of different options discussed.
After our conversation, I felt confident that what was being suggested was going to suit my needs perfectly. As a bonus, the sales guy even threw in an extra 1m-long monitor extension cable so that I wouldn't have any issues with extending the wiring up to my roof lining. As it played out, I'm glad he did.
WHAT'S IN THE KIT?
So, I ended up purchasing the SD 5.8” Sunshield Rear Vision Package, which includes:
- SD 5.8in two-channel monitor
- SD square reverse camera (IP69 rated)
- 1 x dash mount and 1 x suction mount
- Cables and wiring loom
- Remote control
- Protective bag
- Installation instructions
The camera is a waterproof unit that also includes 18 night vision LEDs, a 92 degree viewing angle, an anti-glare hood and a 5G shock rating. An added bonus is that it also has audio functionality so you can actually hear if something is behind your vehicle. To match my canopy, I chose the powder-coated white brackets.
The monitor features a 5.8" screen that can view up to two camera feeds, which is just perfect if you tow a larger van with a separate camera.
The entire kit comes with a full two-year replacement warranty.
Early the following week, my package arrived and then it was time to work out the best way to mount everything up, where to run the cables, where was I going to get power from, could I actually mount the monitor where I wanted to, did I have all the correct tools and equipment to do the job, and so on.
THE SEVEN Ps
I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about here. If not, I suggest a quick Google. I wanted to make sure I was following the first three Ps so I didn't end up with the last three Ps.
Before tackling the install on my ute, I needed to go out and buy a few things. My biggest purchase was the step-drill or step-saw. Having never needed one before, but always wanting one, now was the perfect opportunity to add a bright and shiny new tool to my arsenal.
Not wanting to rely on tek screws to hold my camera in place over thousands of kilometres of corrugations, I opted to use 316 stainless-steel M5 bolts, washers and nyloc nuts. Nyloc again for the added security on rough roads.
My original idea for the mounting of the monitor was to have it mounted in a similar position to the original rear-view mirror. I was hoping that I would be able to invert and modify the supplied dash mount to hang from the roof of my ute.
Unfortunately, after many test fits, I decided that I would utilise a spare RAM ball mount that I had lying around at home as my mounting point. This meant that I had to purchase a RAM ball with a T-slot to suit the back of the monitor and a RAM arm to allow the monitor to be positioned just how I wanted it.
Other items required for the install that I didn't already have at home or in my ute’s spares kit was 10mm split tube convolute and a large cable gland.
Other than the step-drill, there were no other specialist tools required for the install. Here is what I used:
- 18V cordless drill
- Various drill bits
- Countersinking bits
- Phillips head screwdriver
- Small flat bladed screwdriver
- Soldering iron and solder
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers
- Ring and open-ended spanners
- Electrical tape
- Zip ties
- Self-adhesive zip tie mounts
- Rubber grommets
- Multimeter or test light
With all the parts, tools and equipment ready to go and all laid out before me, I was sure that I had crossed off proper planning and preparation. Now to the fun part.
REVERSE CAMERA INSTALLATION
Firstly, and most importantly before you start drilling any holes or pulling your dash apart, it is a damn good idea to bench test the entire system prior to installation. So, whatever you're going to use in the final install, set it all up first and then power the system up.
For me, that meant popping the bonnet and setting everything up in the engine bay before attaching the red and black wires to the battery. Fingers crossed, there won't be any problems and an image will appear on your monitor. You are now good to go.
Working from the back of the vehicle to the front, the first part of my install was definitely the most daunting. I wasn't just the teeniest bit nervous at having to drill a 20mm hole in the back of my custom canopy.
The old catchcry from my cabinetmaking days rang loudly in my ears: “M.T.C.O.” Measure twice, cut once, or in this instance, drill once.
After finding my centre point, I used an old set of dividers that haven't seen the light of day since 1997 to scribe a 20mm circle. This was to act as a guide for when I fired up the step-drill. But before I placed the step-drill into my cordless drill, I drilled a smaller pilot hole first.
With the big hole drilled, it was time to locate the camera and bracket in the preferred position and mark out the four holes for the bracket mounting bolts. Seeing as I was using M5 bolts to fix the bracket to the canopy, I used a 5.5mm drill bit. After drilling the four holes, use a larger drill bit (I used a 10mm bit) and lightly spin it between your fingers to de-burr the hole on both the outside and in.
Remove the camera from the mounting bracket and fix the bracket to the canopy, ensuring that it is level before tightening. The last thing you want is a wonky, lopsided image on your monitor.
WIRING UP THE CAMERA
With the bracket securely mounted, feed the camera cable through the 20mm hole and fit the grommet in the hole to protect it from rubbing through. Fit the camera and anti-glare hood using a single allen-headed bolt. When the monitor has been installed, come back and adjust the camera and fit the remaining screws to lock it in position.
I chose to run the cabling from the camera down the inside of my canopy to under the sub-floor. This required another hole to be drilled with the step-drill. I then connected the cable from the camera to another longer cable to get the camera feed to the monitor.
This cabling was then protected, by running it inside 10mm split-tube convolute, and zip tied to a couple of self-adhesive zip tie mounts that I had stuck inside the canopy.
A little tip is to put a little blob of Sikaflex in the middle of the pads. The sticky back of the pads hold them there initially, and the Sikaflex makes sure they don't come off over the corrugated roads.
With the cable through the sub-floor, it was run under my drawers to an existing hole in the bottom of the canopy where 12V cabling powered my LED strip lights. This hole was enlarged to take a bigger cable gland so both cables could pass through and be sealed. All cabling was again run through 10mm split-tube.
The remaining length of cable was run through more split-tubing for protection and run along the chassis rail following existing cables to a grommet in the floor under the passenger seat.
A small hole was drilled in the grommet and the cable passed through to inside the cabin. Sikaflex was used to seal the grommet to eliminate the ingress of dust and water into the cab.
The lower floor trim was removed and the cable was run along the underneath the carpet to the firewall before the interior trim panels were replaced. With the cabling through to the dash, it was now time to mount the monitor.
INSTALLING THE MONITOR
The original rear-vision mirror needed to be removed first, as this was no longer needed and was also going to provide the mounting point for the RAM ball mount. The original overhead console required removal as well to allow for the cabling to be run inside the hood lining.
To get under the hood lining, the driver's side sun visor and A-pillar trim and door trim also needed to be removed. With this all now removed, the monitor extension cable can be run under the hood lining and down the A-pillar to behind the dash.
The RAM ball mount that was to be mounted to the roof needed to be modified to suit the existing holes of the mirror mount. To do this, I used the factory mount and positioned it on the RAM mount using a single screw that aligned with one of the holes already in the RAM mount.
I then marked where the other two holes needed to be drilled on the mount before drilling them with a 6mm bit. To suit the factory screws, the three holes needed to be countersunk prior to fitting into the vehicle.
Using the original screws, the RAM ball mount was fitted up to the factory holes in the roof of the cab. The RAM arm was then attached to the ball mount.
The overhead console could now be refitted and once the RAM ball with T-slot was fitted off to the monitor, it could be attached to the arm and positioned to suit the driver.
The monitor cable was attached to the extension cable and the slack pulled behind the hood lining, down the A-pillar to behind the dash. Once this had been done, the trims and sun visor could be re-attached as well.
POWERING IT ALL UP
All that is now left to do is wire up the power loom and attach the camera and monitor cables.
When powering up a system like this, it is recommended to use an ignition power source — i.e., one which only provides power when the ignition, or at the very least accessories, is on. In most cases, you will go directly to the back of your cigarette lighter for accessory power.
Unfortunately, in my case, all of my cigarette sockets have been wired to constant 12V power from my auxiliary battery, so that was out of the question.
Instead, due to my lack of auto-electrical expertise, the only other thing that I knew that lived in my dash that had accessory power was my stereo. So this meant I had to pull apart my dash to find the power supply for it.
After using my multimeter to make sure I had the correct wire, I stripped back a section of wire, wrapped the positive wire from my power loom around it and soldered it in place. I then wrapped electrical tape around it for insulation.
The earth wire from the loom was run to the same earth point for the stereo, and then it was time to turn the keys on to see if I had got it right. The moment of truth!
Thankfully, the monitor fired up straight away.
The monitor has adjustments for brightness, volume, saturation and hue, so you can set the picture style up just how you want it.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Finally, when it's all said and done, the last thing you need to do is adjust the camera viewing angle and fit off the remaining four screws. This is best done with an assistant to save you having to run from the back to the front all the time.
So now, my newly installed reverse camera should not only make it easier to reverse park the ute when it does venture into the city; but those pesky eucalypts might also have a fighting chance to make it to maturity.