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. 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. Studies have confirmed the benefits, showing that backup cameras can play a role in significantly reducing reported crashes.
If only they worked as well in foul winter weather as they do on sunny days.
Federal regulations made backup cameras mandatory on all new vehicles as of the 2019 model year, but according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, the feature was only installed on an estimated 49% of all registered vehicles as of 2021; the agency predicts that by 2040, 95% of registered vehicles will have backup cameras.
Backup Cameras in Cold Weather
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.
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 wintry mix. Even a few raindrops 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, lamenting the effort required to clean their cameras after driving.
Inconvenience aside, simply wiping the camera lens is the principal cure for a slush-covered backup camera. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the lens with a soft cloth dampened with water or a nonabrasive cleaner. A Mazda CX-5 owner described in a thread how they prepare for poor backup camera visibility: “I keep a microfiber cloth in a [zip-close bag] in my glovebox [for] a quick wipe down of the cameras and front emblem when they’re dirty or snowy, [and it] takes literally five seconds. It’s not high-tech, but the problem is pretty low-tech.”
Some vehicle owners also 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, so it’s best to plan ahead for colder weather.
Self-cleaning backup cameras aren’t yet widely available, but if you own a vehicle such as the 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee or Grand Cherokee L, manually cleaning the camera may not be necessary. These SUVs offer a rear backup camera washer that can squirt washer fluid onto the lens when it gets dirty or dusty. For now, the availability of the feature is limited to select trims equipped with a 360-degree camera system as part of the advanced ProTech Group or Lux Tech Group packages.