Most Backup Cameras Don't Like Bad Weather

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Face it, we're addicted to gadgets that make our lives easier. Drivers of cars with backup cameras, which display images on a dashboard or mirror screen when the transmission is in Reverse, come to rely heavily on them.

Tips for Starting Your Car in Subzero Weather

These cameras not only show the way when you're backing up, but they can save lives, make ham-fisted drivers look like parking champs and help countless motorists survive one of the scariest driving experiences — backing out of a parking space at a shopping mall during the holiday shopping season.

If only they worked as well in foul winter weather as they do on sunny days.

Subzero temperatures can distort the backup camera images shown on dashboard screens or, as some owners report, cause the system to conk out entirely — sometimes just for the first few seconds.

It doesn't matter whether it's an Acura, Volvo or any brand in between, owners complain in online forums that their backup cameras suffer winter blues that include blurry, foggy or dark images or faint lines across the dashboard screen during frigid temperatures. Some manufacturers say the cameras can't handle the cold, but a Nissan spokesman said the LCD dashboard screen is to blame.

Backup cameras are available on a growing number of vehicles and are likely to be required on all new vehicles within a few years, so the complaints from disappointed owners will probably increase.

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Making matters worse, snow, slush, road salt and all the grime that accumulates on cars in the snowy sections of the country can render a backup camera useless once it's covered in this wintery mix, which can happen in a matter of blocks. Even a few rain drops on the camera lens, which is usually mounted above the rear license plate, can create blurry images.

Owner forums for all major brands are filled with questions from drivers who wonder if their vehicle has a faulty camera or what they can do to prevent snow and slush from obscuring the view.

"It's a little much to go out and clean the lens after every drive!" an Audi Q5 owner lamented in a forum.

But that is the principle cure for a slush-covered backup camera. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the lens with a soft cloth dampened with water or a non-abrasive cleaner.

That shouldn't be necessary if you own a version of the Nissan Altima that comes with a self-cleaning rear camera, a feature available since the 2013 model year. To keep the Altima's camera clean, a drop of windshield wiper fluid is regularly squirted onto the camera lens. An air compressor releases a burst of air to finish the cleaning process and dry the camera.

Volkswagen has a different approach. On the CC sedan, the rear camera is mounted inside the rear end's VW emblem; this location protects it from the elements. The emblem pivots when the transmission is in Reverse to expose the camera lens.

David Zuby, chief research officer for Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, expects to see more such approaches to keeping backup cameras clean in the future. There are things automakers can do to make backup cameras "less reliant on the driver to do something," Zuby said, adding that drivers need to recognize that backup cameras will still have limitations.

"Bad weather aside, our research shows that some conditions like shadows and sunlight low on the horizon and shining right into the lens can make the images useless. The camera may be working and the lens may be clean, but there are conditions that the camera cannot overcome," he said.

Until self-cleaning features become common, most motorists will have to keep their backup cameras clean the old-fashion way. Some vehicle owners suggest coating the camera lens with a hydrophobic fluid, such as Rain-X, as a way to keep snow and slush from clinging to the lens. Rain-X advises to apply the fluid at more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, however.

As auto manufacturers install backup cameras in more vehicles, they warn buyers in the legalese buried deep inside owner's manuals that backup cameras are designed to assist the driver, not do all the work for them.

By Rick Popely | January 10, 2014 | Comments (11)

Comments 

Jay

I can't believe how spoiled we are. Car owners are only inconvenienced a handful of days during the year with a tiny camera they can rub the dirt off in less than 2.3 seconds. I also wonder why there are not more complaints about headlight washers for lamps getting dirty from rain, sleet , and snow. That something worth complaining about...

Derrick G

Amen Jay. I mean, rear windows get covered with rain and snow and ice and there's a lot more area to clean with them.

cody

I am now driving a rental Velostar with a backup camera...a first for me. While I think it's handy, I don't like the location. It requires me to look forward while backing up, instead of the direction that I'm actually going.

Skankzilla

Someone on here suggested the display be at or near the rear window, forcing you to look back to use it. I liked that idea.

Derrick G

It's not the camera that forces you to look back; it's the Veloster's short rear window and huge pillars that do that. The idea is that you should check the camera before backing to see if anything's right behind the car and then back normally looking back, checking the camera only quickly for any traffic approaching from the side.

austin

we are truly spoiled in life because we got cars with cameras and games we are so spoiled but and we don't know it

nick

in snow or mud the tail lamps should also get a wipe. maybe audi owner will need to hire a lens cleaner!

WTF

Yes, I was the one who thinks the display should be projected onto the rear window. It only makes sense. The proper technique is to look back when in reverse and not to rely on your side or rearview mirrors. A camera display in the dash promotes the wrong technique.

Derrick G., the camera is only meant to show you the blindspot directly behind the vehicle, not whether cross traffic is coming. It is intended to minimize unintended rollover accidents with small children, pets, etc.

J

In other news, it is cold in Chicago during Winter...
Isn't it common sense that the cameras are not good in bad weather?

Derrick G

WTF, intended or not, the camera does offer some view of traffic approaching from the sides.

Infosaur

It'd be nice if we could have back up cameras on 18 wheelers.

But to be effective you'd really need to mount it on the trailer. The general public has no idea how badly abused the average semi trailer is and something as fragile as a camera unit would probably be the first thing to break and the last thing to get fixed. In 2014 the average trailer still doesn't have reliable ABS! (because many of the components are exposed to the elements and not cost effective to repair)

So the next time you think about how tough it is to back out of Bloomingdale's imagine doing it with a 53' trailer, no camera, and only side mirrors.

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