How To Guide: Parking Sensors and Vehicle Cameras

sensors cameras

Before the starting the conversion of the new Ford Transit cargo van (ETA October 2015), I’d like to add a few electronics gadgets. Being frugal or cheap by choice, I declined one or two factory options with the purpose of saving some money in addition to creating a more personalized solution.

Reverse Sensing System

As an extension of your backup system, a reverse sensing system produces an audible (and sometimes a visual) signal, indicating an unseen obstruction behind the vehicle.
The optional Ford accessory consists of several ultrasonic sensors mounted into the rear bumper. This type of technology has the benefit to be able to detect objects and obstacles even when the vehicle is stationary, yet it has a limited detection range and the sensors have to be cleaned regularly to stay operational.
Another technology incorporates electromagnetic parking sensors, where an adhesive transceiver strip is installed along the length of the inner side of the bumper, thus avoiding the need to drill holes. However, these sensors lack the capabilities of detecting objects when the vehicle is in motion, but are invisible and virtually maintenance free.

car sensorsThe latter should be easy to install, except for the fact that the Transit’s rear bumper is very narrow with lights possibly obstructing the adhesive strip. Connecting the sensors to the backup lights, makes them operate in conjunction with the backup camera. They optionally come with a visible indicator, which isn’t required in combination with a backup camera.

Besides the savings, I’ll put an additional sensor strip in the front bumper, where it may help overcome the lack of visibility in front of the nose of the vehicle. To avoid any nuisances while driving, a separate switch on the dashboard can turn it on, when needed.

Car Camera System

Cameras are invading every part of our lives and so too in our vehicles. Choosing the right configuration for our van, is a bit more complex. Several cams were on my wish list:

  • A backup camera – easy to install but the new 2016 Ford Transit has it included as a standard feature.
  • I would have used the backup camera to get a continuous view of the traffic behind me (not allowed in some states), but that’s not an option with the factory installed backup camera, that only works when backing up. I still like the option, not only while driving, but also as a security measure when parked in an isolated area.
  • Side cameras, mounted on the underside of the exterior mirrors, provide coverage of the blind spots while driving and the security when parked.
  • A car DVR that records the events in front of the driver on an indefinite loop (to get the next crashing meteor on tape), may be replaced by a tiny front camera.

All this camera equipment is virtually invisible and leaves the interior of the van clean and uncluttered. To accomplish this goal, I could install one of 2 systems:

  1. Four cameras (front, side and rear) with a 4 channel display (4 video inputs for each of the cameras).
  2. Four cameras, a 4 channel DVR unit and a single channel display monitor.

Cameras With A 4 Channel Monitor

Simple configuration, where the four cameras are connected directly to the monitor, which can display up to 4 video inputs at the same time. This setup has no recording capability and the front camera is largely redundant, unless it is replaced by a separate camera that can record what is in front of the vehicle and sometimes to the back into the interior of the car.

Four Cameras, 4 Channel DVR Unit And Single Channel Display

The system I choose, has what it takes to perform a multitude of tasks. The cameras and monitor are connected to the base unit, which can be installed out-of-view, but within reach, under the dashboard. Equipped with a 32Gb-256Gb SDCard (or optionally a 500Gb-2Tb harddrive) makes for many hours of recording of all four individual screens, it also allows for loop recordings, where the previous data is overwritten after a specific number of hours. For security purposes, a reduced frame rate (1-30 fps) lets you videotape for hours at a time, to catch any suspicious activities, day or night.
You can buy 4 identical cameras, as long as they can rotate in every direction and most sets of four are interchangeable; I prefer different types of cameras. A fixed camera at the rear and 2 rotating for each of the exterior mirrors. The front camera can be installed outside, below the hood, yet I favor one high, behind the front window screen. This avoids most dirt and its high position produces a better recording, that then can be used in the video production of approaches to off-road campsites, scenery or similar endeavors.
You may also contemplate an additional camera pointed at the interior of the van or even at the driver. But where do you draw the line; for me the use of cameras help with driving (especially blind spots), independent accident documentation and recording for travel future videos ( p.e. approaches to locations at times a single person is always short of a third hand to hold the camera).

dashboardPlacing the front and rear cameras should be fairly easy; the side cameras involve dismantling the mirrors and the inside door panels, which seems quite an undertaking. On top of that, hiding the wires above the cabin ceiling and behind the dashboard will be extensive.

Mounting the monitor on the dashboard is possible for me (I only have the standard radio option and no SYNC or navigation) above the radio in the dip of the dashboard. It could flip up for use and could be mounted in a self-designed and constructed wood holder, finished with some nice burl veneer.

Some specs that I’m looking at are:

car dvrDVR

  • Video inputs (4)
  • Video outputs (1)
  • Audio in/out unwanted (audio on cameras, likely makes the camera not waterproof)
  • Harddrive is unnecessary
  • SDCard 32-256gb
  • GPS and wireless inclusion is expensive, but can be used to track your vehicle at all times, even when stolen
  • Codec H264
  • Loop recording
  • Automatic start up detection
  • USB (optional)
  • Best affordable resolution is currently D1+3CIF for the 4 different camera signals
  • CIF (352×240), HD1 (352×480), D1/960H (4CIF) (720×480)
  • Price $85.00 and up



  • Nightvision
  • Illumination 0.0-1lux
  • Mirror image (rear camera)
  • View angle120d-170d
  • Image sensors: CCD is the best but too expensive, 1/3 or 1/4 CMOS
  • Resolution: 510×496 – 712×486 – 728×582
  • Waterproof IP67 or IP68 (6-dust tight – 7/8 immersion in liquid up to/beyond 3ft/1m)
  • Shockproof
  • RCA connection
  • Grid must be available and removable
  • Automatic white balance
  • Price $10.00 and up each

car dvrMonitor

  • Size 7in.-9in.
  • Video inputs (1-4)
  • Resolution: 800×480 – 1920×1440
  • Brightness 400cd/m²
  • Contrast 100:1 500:1
  • Price $25.00-$125.00

Buying Options

In anticipation of the conversion I’m researching my buying options. As always it’s primarily a matter of price. Go to your local store and pay a substantial premium; for that you get to see what you pay for, get a readable manual, a warranty and you should expect some decent service afterwards.
Then you got the likes of Amazon and Ebay, where prices are often much lower, but where the product’s quality is less attainable. Products are usually shipped from one of the 50 states, but with technology increasingly from China or Hong Kong. Payment is fairly safe and regulated by Ebay, Amazon and alike.
Finally there are the Alibaba’s and AliExpress’. Very good deals can be found, but you’re entily on your own. Product descriptions are often inaccurate, you have to learn Chinese to read the manuals, payment methods are often iffy and warranties lacking. Delivery often takes many weeks and import duties may have to be paid by you the buyer (but under $200.00 often but not always a non-issue).

You have to decide, whether it’s worth to take a chance or just to stick with what you’re used to!

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