Blue is a pleasure to drive. He has great visibility ahead and great side view mirrors, virtually eliminating blindspots while we're on the road. He also has a good backup camera, and between it and the mirrors, backing up is rarely a problem. Much better than my dad's RV backup technique of putting it in reverse and moving backwards until someone honks or you bump into something.
We do have one problem, however. Since we don't have a window in the cargo door, the visibility on the right side is limited. When we are backing out of a parking space or our driveway, I can see quite well behind us, but I can't see if there is a car coming from the side. This usually isn't a big problem in a parking lot – other than angering the occasional driver that I just backed out in front of. It can be a real issue, however, if I am trying to cross an intersection or make a left turn onto a road when the traffic on my right approaches at an oblique angle. As long as Marcie is aboard, she can look out her side and let me know whether it's clear. If she's not, I usually resort to making a right turn, then a u-turn at the first opportunity.
There are three solutions I can think of: 1. Never drive anywhere without Marcie. This is close to a working solution, because, as my sibs say, we're virtually joined at the hip anyway. Still, there are those rare occasions when I actually do drive somewhere by myself. 2. Install a window in the cargo door. That's a project we've been going back and forth on and haven't really decided whether it's something we want. 3. Add a side view camera. As it turns out, our GPS has the option of adding a wireless camera, and the camera itself was less than $100 – much less than installing a window.
Once we decided to install another camera, there were a few things to work out. The first decision was where and how to mount the camera. Putting it on the roof seemed best, since this would give us the best view, but it should be in a protected location. The camera is quite small and might well be damaged if it was hit by a low tree branch. In addition, the camera can only be mounted in one orientation – otherwise the image on the GPS will be rotated 90-180 degrees.
Once that was resolved, the next issue was how to route the wiring. The camera is 'wireless', meaning it doesn't require running a cable between it and the GPS. It still needs power and ground, and a connection to the wireless antenna, however. This means I'll need to put another hole in the roof and route the wiring between the ceiling and the metal roof to make the connections.
The final issue was how to turn the camera on and off. It's meant to be used as a backup camera, and would normally be powered by the 12 vdc feeding the backup lights. Whenever the van is put into reverse, the camera would come on and the image would be displayed on the GPS – not a great arrangement for a side view camera. One of the auxiliary switches located below the dash would be ideal for this application. Whenever I wanted to turn the camera on, all I'd have to do is flip the appropriate switch on to enable the camera. And since I've already routed the switch connections to a terminal strip behind the electrical panel, making the connections should be easy.
I decided to mount the camera on the rear side of one of the solar panels. I made a small right angle bracket out of 1/8” x 1-1/2” aluminum bar and screwed it to the back of the starboard solar panel. I used two self tapping screws, reinforced with a small strip of 3M VHB tape to hold it in place.
I attached the camera to the underside of the bracket. I drilled and tapped a hole in the aluminum for a 1/4-20 machine screw, and used a short panhead screw, liberally coated with Loctite Blue thread lock to hold the camera in place. I left it slightly loose until I could make any final adjustments to the camera angle.
I removed the ceiling panels from the area, then drilled a pilot hole through the roof and down through the plywood ceiling backer. Once I was sure that the hole was in a good location and that I could route the wiring to it, I used a 5/8” hole saw to drill the hole large enough to fit the watertight wire gland, and applied primer to the bare metal of the new hole. Then I drilled a 1-1/4” hole in the ceiling backer to give me access to the underside of the gland, allowing me to attach and tighten the nut when it was time to assemble everything.
Once the primer had time to dry, I inserted the gland into the hole and attached the gland nut on the bottom. Then I fished the wire down through the gland and between the ceiling liner and the roof insulation to the side of the van. I secured the wire underneath, pulled it tight, then tightened down the gland. I re-installed the ceiling panels, and when everything looked secure and watertight, I added a generous glob of roof sealant to the top of the gland as a little extra insurance against leaks.
Making the power connection was straightforward. The camera power cable was long enough to reach the auxiliary power switch terminals, so all I had to do was route the wire and attach crimp ring terminals to the ends. All the wiring was secured in place with cable ties.
The last step was to plug in the GPS, switch the camera on, and make any adjustments necessary to the camera direction. Once I was happy with the camera orientation, I tightened the screw holding it in place.
The GPS has a much bigger, brighter display than the built-in backup camera, and the picture is quite clear. I have to admit, however, that so far, it's been more of a new toy than something that was really necessary, especially since I haven't been anywhere without Marcie as co-pilot since I installed it. I'll do another review in six months or so and let you know how we feel about having it then.