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Adding a Furrion Backup Camera to the RV.

 

 

Another recent trend RV manufacturers have been leaning towards is the installation of a backup camera, or at least the RV being pre-wired for a backup camera. Pre-wired typically means the installation of the mounting bracket (with blank panel), and wiring the 12VDC power connection for use of a wireless camera such as a Furrion Backup or Backup/Observation camera. Several RV manufacturers are now including these as a pre-wired installation, including Grand Design, Keystone, Open Range, and Forest River.

That is how my fifth wheel was manufactured. It came with a mounting bracket and 12VDC pre-wired so all I needed to do is purchase the camera and install it on the bracket. Generally it was a straight-forward installation - but there is some important consideration you should make as to how the 12VDC power connection is configured. You may need to make a change.

Generally, there are 4 available configurations of the Furrion camera:

  • FOS48TAPK-BL, which is a Backup/Observation camera and a complete kit for new installs.
  • FOS48TA-BL, which is the same camera, but for use when your RV is pre-wired for a camera.
  • FRC12TAPK-BL, which is a Backup only camera and a complete kit for new installs.
  • FRC12TA-BL, which is the same camera, but for use when your RV is pre-wired for a camera.

 

Note:

Furrion is now calling the FOS48TA (Observation/Backup) Camera "Vision 2" and the FRC12TA (Backup Only) Camera "Vision 1".

 

I asked Furrion what the difference between the Backup and Backup/Observation camera was, and in the RV industry fashion, they never replied. Therefore, the differences I gleaned was by reading the different owner's manuals (which may or may not be totally accurate).

The Backup camera is intended for backup use only, and has a range of 100Meters or less, and a power consumption of around 220mA @ 12VDC. The monitor for this camera is somewhat different than the Backup/Observation camera as it allows two backup cameras to be viewed - switched between the two by the UP/DN switches on the monitor.

The Backup/Observation camera is supposed to have a high-speed capability, and has a range of 300Meters or less, a power consumption of 300mA @ 12VDC, and the monitor can only support a single camera. It is also about 20% more expensive. I am not sure if the "high speed observation" feature means the refresh rate is faster or not, but my guess is that it might have some such capability to support watching the rear of the RV as you are traveling 60mph down the highway.

Warning:

Before installing an Observation/Backup Camera, check all laws governing use of a video monitor during vehicle operation.

I ended up purchasing the FOS48TAPK-BL which is the full installation version and includes the bracket and power cable for the camera. I did not need these items, but the full kit was slightly cheaper than the pre-wired kit!

One word of caution: Placement of an observation camera in the cab of your tow vehicle may be illegal in some areas, if the driver can see the video. Therefore check your applicable laws in regards so such activity.

Power options. You can power the camera via backup light, clearance light, or dedicated power. Using the clearance light is a popular option if you are doing a clean installation as you will typically locate the camera fairly close to the center clearance light. That way, the camera is powered anytime you have your tow vehicle headlights on.

The factory ended up wiring my camera with a semi-dedicated circuit (meaning they tapped off an existing overhead light). However, they did not provide any means to turn the camera off. I do not like this as the camera can use up to 300mA (especially at night with the IR LEDs on), and even with an 80AH deep cycle battery, you can discharge the battery below the 50% charge point in only a couple of weeks. So I have to figure out a way to turn the power off.

After some difficulty poking around the wiring (and using my trusty inspection camera and B&K clamp meter), I was able to locate where the camera tied into the wiring (it was connected to the overhead lights). From there, I was simply able to install a switch - which I did in the ceiling of a rear cabinet so that it is out of the way.

 

For you 2016 Reflection 29RS owners, the wiring for the camera is likely under this puck light on the right side of the rig, at the rear above the sofa (however, who knows if any two are built the same). Simply pull down on the light fixture and it should expose enough wiring that you will see the cable for the camera. If not, CAREFULLY pull on the wire so you do not rip anything out, and eventually the cable should be exposed.

 

 

Of course, if you have a 29RS, there is no guarantee that your coach will be wired the same way.

It was not the best location, as I cannot reach the switch unless the slide-outs are deployed. A far better location would be near the main switch panel, but I could not do that without a major project to run a set of wires - and I did not want to rip up a new RV. So I compromised on the switch location... at least now I can turn the camera off.

So again, the RV industry wants cheap - whether or not it actually works (or is the best solution).

 

 

Another common wiring scheme used by manufacturers is to wire the camera to one of the clearance lights. This works fine for both backup-only and observation-backup versions, and is one way to alleviate having to wire in a switch. The camera simply comes on when the tow vehicle lights are on (and turning your lights on while towing is not a bad idea anyway).

 

 

Finally, one of my subscribers indicated their trailer (Forest River) had the camera connected to the reverse light of the trailer. Of course, this means you cannot use a observation/backup camera as the camera is only powered when the tow vehicle is in reverse (backup camera only).

Assuming you want to power an observation/backup camera, there are two possibilities here. One, if the trailer has reverse lights, the camera might be tied into one of the lights. But most trailers don't have reverse lights, so it might be a dedicated wire going from the camera to Pin-7 on the trailer connector. If this is the case, it might be possible (see warning below) to move the wire from Pin-7 (if you are very sure it only powers the camera) to the tail-light Pin-5 on the connector.

Do not do this if you have backup lights or anything else but the camera connected to pin 7!

 

Warning:

The ideas here are presented as conceptual only. Re-wiring a trailer connector should only be accomplished by a qualified technician. Check all laws governing use of a video monitor during vehicle operation.

 


Project video.

 

 


Operational test video.

 

Improving Reception

One thing I noticed - and experienced by others is that the angle of the antenna on the camera may not provide the best reception. The type of antenna used has a donut shape radiation pattern as shown (called omnidirectional).

If you were to slice the donut down the middle, the radiation pattern would resemble a figure-8 laying on it's side. This is the characteristic of all "whip" antennas, like the one used on the camera.

The size and shape of the "donut" is highly dependant on the transmitter power (in this case, from the camera), as well as the antenna's gain. Typical antenna gains are 3dB, 6dB, 9dB, and 12dB. As shown, the higher the antenna gain, the flatter the donut. As well, as the donut "flattens" it becomes longer.

In practical terms, a higher gain antenna will exhibit a longer range front and back, with a more limited range above and below the antenna. Unfortunately, I do not have the specification for the antenna's gain used for the camera, but similar antennas of this fashion and length are in the 3~6dB range.

So why is all of this important? The antenna's orientation is all-important for achieving the longest distance for reception of the signal. The maximum distance is dependant on the antenna's gain, as well as the vertical angle of the antenna. And the higher gain the antenna has, the more important the vertical angle is. For example:


Effect of raked antenna

When the antenna is raked back, the radiation pattern is not optimum, and can result in loss of signal intensity at the cab. If, however - the antenna were to have a vertical orientation, the front lobe of the radiation donut is lowered so that a much stronger signal may reach the receiver.

Therefore, the single-most thing you can do to improve reception is to orient the antenna vertical. Howver, since the design of the camera favors a non-vertical antenna, you will have to re-orient it to the vertical. Luckily, the antenna has a "knuckle" that will allow this - but unfortunately, it may not stay put.

Options are to use a bit of electrical tape, heat-shrink tubing, or even a dab of glue to orient the antenna vertically. So if you are having reception problems, try orienting the antenna vertically and see if it doesn't improve things.


Vertical antenna

Another issue that can affect camera range is powering the camera from a sufficient circuit. If powering the camera from an existing circuit, determine whether there is sufficient wire size to accomodate the camera. This is true anytime you add additional loads to DC circuits, but especially true when powering the camera from the tail-light circuit. Often these circuits can be overloaded due to the number of clearance lights the manufacurer adds to the trailer.

For example, a trailer manufacturer may use 14SAE wire for the tail-light and clearance light circuits. While at first glance, the 14 gauge wire allowable 35Amp current rating would seem enough, you don't have the full picture without considering voltage drop.

There are up to 16 light bulbs in a typical RV tail-clearance lights; two (or 4) for the tail-lights themselves, 5 clearance lights across the top rear, another 5 clearance lights across the front, and 4 side clearance lights.

Say the tail lights consume 2Amps each, and the 14 clearance lights are #194 bulbs, with a 0.25A current demand each. So we are looking at around 7.5A full current demand. And consider the length of the wiring to be around 35 cable ft for a typical 30ft trailer. So lets say half of the clearance lights are the full 35ft, along with the tail-lights, and half of the clearance lights have a 10ft run.

Using my voltage drop caculator We find that the total voltage drop for this circuit will be 10.4V, which is acceptable for incandescant light bulbs as it is less than a 10% voltage drop.

However, should you wire the camera to this circuit, we can expect an additional drop of 1/4Volt due to the camera's load, which result in the total voltage at the camera to be just a bit more than 10V. This is a low-voltage condition for an electronic circuit (3% or less is ideal), and while the camera may still function, it may have diminished range. The culprit here is not that the 14 gauge wire has enough current carrying capacity - it does. The problem is the excessive voltage drop along the wiring.

The solution here would be to either run a dedicated power feed to the camera or swap out the lights for (DOT approved) LED equivalents, which should result in an overall voltage drop of less than 3%.

 


Improving Camera Performance

 

Conclusion

After installing my camera, and with shared experiences of other owners, do NOT buy the Backup only camera (FRC12TA). Rather, consider only purchasing the Backup/High Speed Observation camera (FOS48TA). The cost differential is minor, and the FRC12TA will not provide sufficient signal when you are traveling down the road - it is for backing up only. Many owners are reporting loss of signal when using the Backup-Only camera while moving.

The Backup/High Speed Observation camera (FOS48TA) does not have this issue, as it maintains the signal while moving. I have noticed that the signal strength indicator on the monitor does drop when moving, but still maintains sufficient signal for using the camera. This has an advantage as you are on the highway and want to see behind you before changing lanes or for other purposes.

Also, turn the camera off when you are not using it. If your camera is powered by the running lights, it will only be on when you turn your tow vehicle's headlights on. But if your camera is constantly powered by another circuit, make sure you put a on-off switch in the power feed. Leaving the power on constantly seems to burn out the cameras according to other owners I have talked with.

 

Alternatives

There are some RV owners that have a pre-wired Furrion system, and they may want a larger monitor (7" vs. 4.3"), or have heard too many negative reviews about the Furrion. Fortunately, there is an alternative. 4UCam makes a backup system as shown to the right, that has an adapter that can use the Furrion mounting plate.

I have no experence with this system other than I know that it exists. So you may have to do some research to determine it's suitablity should you desire to use this system.

I am including it in this article as that is what we do here at RV-Project.Com... give you as much information as we can on a project, and leave it to you to determine which way you want to go.

   

 

The photo on the left is the 4UCam Furrion adapter bracket, while the photo on the right shows the bracket in use. I am not sure about you, but that looks awful to me. It would be better to just remove the Furrion mount and be done with it. You may have to fabricate a square mounting plate behind the 4UCam mounting bracket to cover the Furrion bracket holes, but anything would be better than this!

 


 

           

        

 

References:

Furrion FOS48TA on eBay

Furrion FOS48TA Observation/Backup Camera Webpage
Furrion FOS48TA Technical Specifications
Furrion FOS48TA Owner's Manual

Furrion FRC12TA BACKUP ONLY Camera Webpage
Furrion FRC12TA Technical Specifications
Furrion FRC12TA Owner's Manual

 


Last reviewed and/or updated May 9, 2017