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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
When I first purchased my Ascent Limited, I immediately wanted four additional features:

1). A front grill camera which was only available on the Touring.
2). An upper liftgate camera which also was only available on the Touring.
3). A front/rear dash cam which wasn’t OE available on any trim.
4). The ability to add more cameras in the future, including a WiFi camera for an RV.


The Ascent is much larger than my previous Forester and I discovered that an upper liftgate camera and front grill camera would be very useful, especially since I already haul a boat and will eventually haul a travel trailer. And Dash cams are a must-have for me as I think they’re very important for security:
Reason to have a Dash Cam

There appeared to be no apparent practical way to install a front grill camera, but dash cams are commercially available in many forms. There is also only so much available space for either, so I had to find a way to combine them, if possible, since I needed some kind of display to view the front grill and liftgate cameras. This was going to be tricky (and it was).

So which dashcam to get? It had to have an excellent display for the front grill camera and a way to input it. It had to have GPS to track the location and speed, and it had to have both front and rear recording cameras since problems can just as easily occur on both ends. It had to be a high-quality unit, I didn’t want to go through all the trouble to install it only to have it fail down the road. However, because of Ascent’s Eyesight cameras, it couldn’t be mounted on the windshield. Additionally, I wanted the ability to eventually add more cameras, such as one in back of an RV, perhaps using WiFi cameras which are now readily available. All these criteria broke the specs, I couldn’t find a single dash cam that could handle more than one additional camera (other than the front dash camera) except for very large, ugly units designed for tractor trailers and other large trucks. These would look ridiculous in an Ascent with their clunky displays with wires and connectors in full view going everywhere. I want a sleek, modern unit that would look great in an Ascent with no wires visible.

So now I had to get creative. If everything I wanted didn’t exist, I would just have to somehow put it together myself. So I first searched for a dash cam with an excellent display, advanced functions, and which would look great in an Ascent. I had a decent budget, but ideally it wouldn’t cost too much. I searched everywhere I could think of and finally found this:





This amazing unit is typical of something relatively new to automotive electronics. Over the last decade, a massive amount of time, money, and effort has been spent designing smartphones. Since smartphones are now a multi-billion dollar market, there is a plethora of readily available, low-cost, yet super-high functionality electronics available to build them. Smartphones are essentially tiny, highly sophisticated computers capable of doing much more than phone functions and applications. They can be programmed to do so much more, including all the required functions of a dash cam. And they also have excellent displays and integrated cameras. So it makes perfect sense to build a dash cam out of smartphone electronics.

As we all know, virtually all such electronics are manufactured in China where all the parts are easily and inexpensively available for manufacturers to use. If that weren't enough, these electronics run on the free, readily available, highly sophisticated Android operating system. With all these electronic and software superpowers available for a song, many companies had the brainstorm of adapting them for dedicated automotive electronics. You can now purchase Android head units to replace older head units in cars, bringing them up to date. I purchased one for my 2010 Forester and it has better and more functionality than my Ascent infotainment unit.

So this dashcam is actually an Android OS based unit designed using smartphone electronics. There are many such units sold by various manufacturers (all Chinese). They’re similar, but some standout. The Anstar unit I selected has the following incredible specs:

- MediaTek MT6735 64-bit Quad-Core 4G LTE platform based on the ARM® Cortex® A53 64-bit processor
- ARM Mali T720 graphics.
- 16GB onboard memory
- 1 GB RAM
- 32 GB expandable SD memory
- 8” IPS 1280x480 Touch screen display
- 1920x1080p Front Dashcam camera 5.0M image sensor, 140 degrees wide angle
- Digital rear camera, 140 degrees wide angle
- Digital front grill camera, 140 degrees wide angle (added by me)
- GPS
- Bluetooth & WiFi Connectivity
- 4G Connectivity
- 1080p 30 frames/sec video encoding/decoding
- FM Transmitter
- Dual Cam simultaneous recording, front dash cam and rear/front grill cam switchable (added by me)
- Dual Cam simultaneous view, and all cams viewable via hardware/software switching (added by me)
- Expandable to many more wired cameras
- WiFi camera capable
- Auto reverse parking selectivity
- Parking monitor
- G-Sensor
- Microphone with noise canceling
- ADAS Advanced Driving Assistant System
- Android Lollipop OS



You’d think that with all these features this would be very expensive, but this unit it only $128 delivered. Since it’s basically a smartphone you can additionally load any Android Lollipop capable application on it of which there are thousands. For example you can load an OBDII based application to monitor your engine and electronics such as Torque or a GPS nav app like Waze. Anything you want, your imagination is the limit, geek out. This is just icing on the cake.

All the necessary applications to run the dash cam are already pre-installed as are a compass, Bluetooth phone app, media player, Google Maps, Google Play Store, and several other apps. All nicely laid out on the home screen. From there you can install any other apps you want.

Dash cam features:
The dash cam has an integrated front camera and comes with an optional rear camera. It starts recording automatically when you start the car. It records both the front and rear cameras simultaneously both with precise time and GPS coordinates. There’s nothing you need to touch. When you turn off the ignition, the screen turns off but the cameras can still record via an internal battery for the time limit you preset. The video recordings will continue to accrue until you reach the limit of the SD card (32GB) after which it will loop over the oldest recordings. If the G-Sensor senses a shock, such as if you got into an accident or someone bumped your car in a parking lot, it will lock those recordings and not allow them to be recorded over until you release them. The dash cam app has all the controls you require to view the front/rear dash cameras in real time, or play back the recordings. You can set the screen to display the camera(s) or the home screen or any other screen, such as your own application, as desired. There are also the usual Android settings you are used to if you own an Android smartphone. The unit offers amazing functionality for something so inexpensive. It gives you an excellent dashcam plus all the features of a typical smartphone. It has to be one of the best dash cams you can buy with all of this power.

So what about installing an additional front grill camera and rear liftgate camera like on a Touring? The rear liftgate camera is simply the dash cam’s rear camera which you install in the same place as the Touring’s rear liftgate camera. You can easily view it anytime and it works much like the Touring’s camera. You can even optionally wire it to display automatically when the car is in reverse giving you two camera views to look at when backing up, an upper and lower. It even displays grid lines which you can fine adjust for the Ascent. This all works great. I’ve been testing it now for over a month.

Adding the front grill camera is where it got really tricky. There is only one input for an additional camera (the front dashcam camera is hardwired) and the rear liftgate camera ordinarily uses it. However, there is nothing to stop you from switching multiple cameras. So to get a front grill camera like the Touring’s, you purchase an additional camera, then, with some minor wiring skills you make a simple camera switch using an ordinary inexpensive DPDT switch. I’ll explain exactly how to do this in the installation guide later.

This first turned out to be problematic. The initial problem I had was that the dash cam’s external camera view would fail to display each camera when switched between front grill camera and the rear. The display would just freeze or turn black. This was perplexing until I realized that it was not using ordinary analog cameras. They turned out to be digital USB cameras such as you’d use on a laptop computer. This was not obvious since the dash cam’s external camera uses a 4 conductor 2.5mm TRRS (tip, ring, ring, sleeve) plug rather than a typical USB style plug so it looks like an analog camera at first glance. Since the camera is actually a USB device, the Android OS first needs to read what device is on its USB port. So when I immediately switched between the front grill and rear liftgate cameras, it was not giving the OS time to read the digital USB signature of the switched camera which caused it to freeze. The solution was to simply change the ON/ON DPDT switch to an ON/OFF/ON DPDT switch and give the OS a second to read each camera when switched. This worked perfectly and reliability. One problem solved.

The next problem was almost a showstopper. Without thinking it through, I simply purchased a spare rear camera when I purchased the Android dash cam to use as the front grill camera. Obviously, when you use a rear camera you want it to display a mirror image of what it sees just as if you were looking in a rear view mirror. This is accomplished by the Android dash cam internally mirroring the external camera image via a software setting. The included camera output itself is not mirrored. However, when you switch to the front grill camera, the displayed image stays mirrored, something you definitely don’t want for the front. What I needed was one camera to output a normal image and another to display a mirrored image. Finding a natively mirrored image USB digital camera turned out to be very difficult. I had to work with a dozen Chinese suppliers to find one. Only one understood what I needed and had one for sale. Happily, it worked perfectly. I’ll include the link to purchase it in the parts list. Second and final problem solved. Now the rear camera displays a mirrored image and the front grill camera displays a normal image. Perfect.

All design problems solved. Now it was time to test it which I’ve done now for over a month. I was expecting some issues, but happily, none occurred. It all works great. The dash cam is excellent, it records automatically as soon as you start the car. The recordings are superb and include precise GPS location as well as speed and time stamps. You get both a front and rear recording every time you drive the car. You can play these recordings right on the dash cam’s beautiful 8” color hi-res display or you can upload them to your computer. The dash cam’s display can be set to view the output of any camera in real time, or the home view which displays all the available apps plus a detailed compass, or any other view from any other application such as Torque. To switch between the rear liftgate camera and the front grill camera, you simply flick the external switch first to off, and then to the other camera. Like the rear camera, the front display can be set to a normal view or to a very wide view with adjustable grid lines. Your choice, depending upon how you want to wire it (details to come). The unit itself looks great on the Ascent’s dash has never interfered with any Eyesight function as far as I tell.


It’s black like the dashboard top so the Eyesight cams do not appear to see it. You can also easily turn the display to a minimal view or turn it off entirely with the button on the front. This does not affect the dash cam from recording. You can even fold the display down flat without affecting the recordings so it’s very versatile depending upon how you wish to use it. I keep it on all the time and now my Ascent looks like an airliner with four displays total, but I’m a geek and that’s exactly how I like it. The dash cam attaches to the dashboard via two strong magnets and can quickly and easily be removed and reinstalled. The wires are virtually invisible as I’ve installed it. All in all, it’s a fantastic addition to my Ascent. Next, I’m going to get a Bluetooth OBDII transmitter and run the Torque app and also try out a WiFi camera to be used on an RV.

In my next posts, I’ll include the parts list and detailed installation instructions for those who are interested in replicating this system.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Parts List

Parts List:

The dash cam and front grill camera are very hard to source locally or even online in the US, although this may be beginning to change as I’ve seen a few available on Amazon. Like all such electronics, these parts are manufactured in China, and that’s where they’re sourced. I used AliExpress to order the components. This is roughly the Chinese version of Amazon. The prices are great, often incredible, and the quality is usually as good as most such US sourced electronics as they’re mostly manufactured in China anyway, there’s no getting around that. Even iPhones are manufactured in China. The only real downside is delivery times which can range from about a week to over a month. If you’re spoiled by Amazon’s two day delivery times, you're not going to be pleased with AliExpress delivery times. Patience and planning are required. AliExpress is quite safe to use though, they guarantee you’ll receive your orders from their merchants as described and on time or else they’ll refund your money. I’ve been using AliExpress for years and have had no more issues with them then I’ve had with Amazon. I’ve had some minor issues, mostly with delivery times, but I’ve never lost money and the merchants have always quickly answered my inquiries, even better than on Amazon, although rarely there may be a language barrier. So buy at your own risk, but the risk is really no greater than any typical online merchant.

- Dash cam:
ANSTAR Pro 3G/4G Car DVR Camera GPS 8" Android 5.1 FHD 1080P WIFI Video Recorder Dash cam Registrar Parking Monitoring Dual Lens

Cost at time of this post: $118 (3G), $128 (4G)

You can order either the 3G or 4G unit. You don’t need to use either 3G or 4G connectivity, but the 4G unit also includes ADAS which is redundant with Eyesight, but is still nice to have. It actually works quite well and provides some interesting info such as how far the car in front of you is. I also think the electronics on the 4G unit may be a bit more upscale. I tested only the 4G unit, it was only about $10 more. Do not order an SD card with this, just buy a name brand 32Gb Class 10 SD card from Amazon or somewhere else so you know exactly what you’re getting.

- Fuse Tap:
ABN Fuse Tap Fuse Holder

This fuse tap will allow you to quickly, easily, and safely tap into the Ascent’s fuse block to add a 12V DC power socket for the dash cam’s cigarette lighter style plug. It allows you to access power without disturbing any OE wiring.

- 12V DC Power Outlet:
Female Cigarette Lighter Outlet 3Ft

This outlet is where you’ll plug in the dash cam’s cigarette lighter style plug.

- Black Ty-Raps, large and small:
You can find these at Lowes, Home Depot, or Amazon. These will be used to secure the wiring.

- Optional:

Posi-Lock Connectors, 10-24 Gauge Wire
These connectors can be used if you don't want to solder the 12V DC socket to the Fuse Tap. Posi connectors are incredible. They're the best connectors you can buy, far better than crimp connectors which often fail. Once you use Posi connectors, you'll never use anything else. Only solder connections are better. This is an assortment pack which you can also use for other projects. It's always great to have some on hand.

Posi-Tap Connectors, 10-22 Gauge Wire
These connectors are for tapping into the OE wiring for the rear liftgate camera reverse function option (see instructions). Posi-Tap connectors are the best solution for tapping into existing wiring without the need to cut or otherwise disturb or damage the wires. They're the best taps you can buy. This is an assortment pack which you can also use for other projects.

Automotive Panel Removal Tools (recommended)
These tools will help you remove body panels without marring them.

Electrical Tape or Heat Shrink Tubing
These will be used to insulate or protect the wiring. They're available at Home Depot or Lowes.

Rosin Core Solder
Use only rosin core solder meant for electrical connections. Never use plumbing solder. Available at Home Depot or Lowes.

This is all you’ll need if you only want the dash cam with a rear liftgate camera. If you also want to add a front grill camera you’ll also need the following:

- Front Grill or Rear Liftgate Camera:
Mirrored USB Camera, FK2 Version for Android

Cost at date of this post: $12.98

Ignore the merchant’s description of this camera. This is one of the few mirrored output USB cameras I could find and it's been thoroughly tested to work. Be sure to click on the “FK2 Version for Android” option selection and the “5V” selection. This is important. These are inexpensive so you may wish to also order a spare. You can use this camera for the front or rear. The camera that comes with the dash cam is not mirrored so you'll need a mirrored camera to complement it. A software setting in the dash cam OS switches the aux camera display to either mirrored or non-mirrored, so it does not matter if you use it front or rear.

- Camera Switch:
DPDT ON/OFF/ON Switch (mini) or DPDT ON/OFF/ON Switch (full sized)

You can use any quality DPDT switch you wish (or even a DP rotary switch for more than one extra camera) as long as it has an ON/OFF/ON capability because you need to first break the connection before switching cameras to give the Android OS time to identify the switched USB device.

I used a mini switch because I wanted it to be virtually unseen, but you can use a larger switch if you want. The larger switch shown here has screw connections if you're not good at soldering, just be sure to tin the leads with solder.

Use these or select your own switch. Just use a quality switch, if you add any resistance to the circuit, the USB camera’s low voltage signals might be attenuated to the point where the camera is no longer detectable.

- Camera Cable:
Dash Cam Rearview Backup Camera Extension Cable, 2.5mm Male to Female 4 pin (10 ft)

This cable will go from the camera switch to the dash cam head unit. You won't need the full 10 feet, you'll be cutting it to length. For best signal quality, the shorter the cable the better.

- Misc:
JB Quick Weld

This will be used to attach the front camera to the Ascent's grill. JB Weld is an amazing product.

Firm but Flexible Wire

You'll need some wire to use as a wire snake to get the front grill camera cable into the Ascent's cabin from the engine bay. An actual wire snake is too large and a coat hanger is not long enough. You can get this at Home Depot or Lowes.

That's it. The cost for all the parts is very reasonable for the added function you'll be adding.

In my next post, I'll be providing detailed installation instructions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Installation Instructions

Installation:

Sorry for the length of these instructions, I go into detail to try to provide you with all the info you'll need.

Please attempt this installation entirely at your own risk. Be aware that you may damage your car if not done properly or if you lack the required skills. The instructions included here is only a general guide and may not be 100% correct or complete. You assume all responsibility for your install.

Installation time is several hours for experienced installers. Plan on an entire day or even a weekend if you are not experienced. Panels will be removed and wiring will be installed, so try to plan to not drive the car until completed.

Installation is fairly straightforward, anyone with ordinary handyman skills should be able to do it. If you lack basic handyman skills, please get someone to help or pay to have it done. You’ll need to know how to remove and reinstall body panels and run wires. This is not difficult, but if you lack basic skills you may find it difficult or you may break something. Also, do not remove plastic body panels when it’s cold, they may become brittle and break. Use automotive panel removal tools to avoid breaking or scratching the panels (see parts list). The ambient temperature should be at least 60 degrees and the plastic panels should not be cold. If you don’t know how to remove body panels, please first watch a tutorial on YouTube such as this one:

How to Remove Car Panels

YouTube is your go-to place for such tutorials, there seems to be one for just about everything.

If you want to add the front grill camera you'll also need to know how to strip delicate wires and have decent soldering skills. If you lack these skills please ask for help or pay someone to do this part. At the very least watch a YouTube tutorial on soldering before attempting if you don’t know how to solder:
Beginner How to Solder

And watch a tutorial on how to strip a multi-wire cable:
Stripping Multi-Conductor Wire

And the individual wires:
How To Strip a Wire

Dash cam Head Unit:
The dash cam head unit is very easy to mount. You get two magnetic mounts which attach to the dashboard with adhesive tape. The adhesive is strong but you have to first very carefully clean the area where they will mount with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. If you don’t do this they won’t stick. Clean the area several times with a clean cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. Let it completely dry.

Decide carefully where you want the dash cam, then leaving the magnetic mounts attached to the bottom of the dash cam, remove the adhesive backing. Now precisely set the dash cam exactly where you want it and gently push down. Carefully remove the dash cam leaving just the metal pads in place. Apply pressure to each pad for at least one minute to set the adhesive. Test to ensure the pads are firmly affixed in place. Now replace the dash cam. The magnetic mounts make it easy to remove and replace the unit whenever necessary.


Power Wiring:
Disconnect the negative lead going to the battery to power off the car.

You need to use the power cable that comes with the dash cam. It contains an FM transmitter and also an integrated fuse. It’s a typical 12V DC cigarette lighter type connector. You can always plug this into the Ascent’s 12V DC socket of course, but if you don’t want the wire to show, read on. First, remove the A-pillar cover panel on the left side (behind the windshield). Behind the A-pillar panel is an airbag so be very careful not to disturb it in any way. To remove the A-pillar panel you need to pull it off starting from the top. It has a catch there probably to prevent the panel from flying at you if the airbag deploys. You have to rotate the plastic catch 90 degrees until it releases. You’ll see how it’s done when you get there. The middle snap is a bear, you have to pull very hard to get it off, but it will come off. Now pull the panel up and out. This is the only panel that is somewhat difficult to remove and reinstall so leave it off until everything is completed.

Now, from the bottom of the dashboard on the driver’s side, snake the power cable up into the area behind the A-pillar cover. Run it along the top of the dashboard to the dash cam head unit. Once in place leave a little slack for removing and installing the dash cam head unit and then gently push the power cable under the rubber molding that runs along the bottom of the windshield. This works wonderfully and completely hides the wire.

Now you need to get to accessory power which is only on when the engine is running or the car is in the accessory mode. You’ll need the ABN Fuse Tap Holder:


and the 12V DC socket:


First, wire the 12V DC socket’s positive (red) wire to the ABN Fuse Tap. I recommend soldering only but you can also use a Posi-Lock connector (see Parts List). Do not use crimp connectors, I find they fail way too often. Now connect the 12V DC socket’s negative (black) wire to the ground screw located behind the left side lower kick panel.


This panel is easily removable simply by pulling it off after first removing the round stud cover on the upper side.

Remove the cover to the Ascent interior fuse panel on the lower left side. Locate the fuse socket labeled “7”:


Insert the ABN Fuse Tap Fuse Holder exactly as shown in the photo. If you reverse it, you will not have a safe connection. You can use the fuses that came with the Tap Fuse Holder and Power Socket, as long as they're 3 amps or greater it will be fine. The dash cam’s power plug contains the actual properly rated fuse. Now, firmly insert the dash cam’s power plug into the 12V DC socket you just installed. Route the power wiring carefully. For extra protection wrap it with black electrical tape. Now find a good place under the dash where you can safely tuck the 12V DC socket and plug and carefully secure it using Ty-Raps so it will never fall. Note exactly where you installed in case you ever need to access it.

Test to see if the power works. Restore power to the car by replacing the negative cable going to the battery. Power on the Ascent’s accessory circuit as usual. You should now be able to power on the dash cam. The first time you use the dash cam, the internal battery will probably be discharged, so it will take a while to boot up. Once the battery is charged, it will remain booted much the same way your smartphone does and goes to “sleep” when accessory power is off. If the internal battery ever again becomes fully discharged, it will have to fully boot again. This only happens if you do not use the car for several days. Either way, your settings will be remembered.

Now, turn off the Ascent’s accessory circuit. The dash cam will remain powered on for a few seconds (on its internal battery) and then will automatically power down.

Note: The dash cam can be set to continue to record for a short period of time after you turn off the car. It uses its internal battery for this. The internal battery does not have a lot of capacity so it can only continue recording for a short time after car power is lost. If you require the dash cam to continue to record when the car is off, you can purchase a 12V DC UPS kit to do this. This is an optional, advanced installation and will not be covered here.

After the power test is complete, once again remove the negative battery cable.

GPS Antenna:
Mount the GPS antenna right behind the dash cam head unit. It works well there and you won’t see it. Stick it to the dashboard using the adhesive tape it comes with. Be sure to clean the area where it mounts with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol first, this is critical for proper adhesion. Press firmly for at least one minute. Run the long GPS antenna wire along the left side dashboard and tuck the wire in between the rubber molding on the bottom of the windshield like you did for the power wire. Run it all the way to the A-Pillar, tuck any excess wire there and then run the wire back to the dash cam head unit, tucking it away under the rubber molding. This way the GPS wire is hidden.


Rear Liftgate Camera (Optional):
Use the rear camera that comes with the dash cam. You begin by mounting the rear deck camera to the interior to view out of the upper center liftgate window. Mount the rear camera using the included double-sided tape. First, carefully clean the mounting location on the plastic panel with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to ensure proper adhesion. Now stick the camera on. Now use the two tiny black screws that came with the rear camera mount for a secure installation. To properly aim the camera to your liking, you can gently bend the mounting bracket as required. Do this after the head unit is installed so you can view the display.


Routing the wiring requires that you remove the necessary panels going from the upper center of the liftgate window to the driver’s side cargo area panel. This is not difficult, they snap right off and push back on. You’ll need a set of automotive panel removal tools and some patience. The panels above and to the left of the rear liftgate pull right off very easily but the cargo area left panel requires removing some screws and bolts where the hook attachments are and also behind some removable covers. You’ll see them. You need to run the wire inside and along this left panel to get to the left side rear passenger door area where you then run the wire underneath the door’s sill plate. Continue to run the wire underneath the driver’s door sill plate. You can then run the wire behind the driver’s side foot kick panel and push it behind the dash panel near the driver’s side door. If you are not installing a front grill cam, then continue to run the wire up behind the left side A-pillar next to the windshield. Now run the wire behind the panel and to the center of the dashboard. Carefully push the wire between the bottom of the windshield and the rubber molding there as you did for the power and GPS wires.

If you do plan to install a front grill camera or any other camera, just leave the rear camera wire under the dashboard for now, we’ll get to it again later.

Optional: If you want the rear camera to automatically display on the head unit with grid lines when backing up, you’ll need to run the separate red wire to the reverse light on the left side of the car.


This is a bit tricky so do this only if you have decent skills, it’s optional and not required, but it’s a really nice feature. You’ll find the light wires behind the left cargo area panel going through a grommet to the rear lights. You’ll need to tap into the reverse lamp wiring. I used a Posi-Tap connector for this because they do not damage or alter the OE wiring. The rear light unit is removable via several screws on the liftgate frame and then pulling it toward you. Be careful not to drop it. Identify the hot wire going to the reverse lamp and tap the red camera wire into it. I don’t recommend cutting OE wires. Use a Posi-Tap connector only, these superb connectors allow tapping into wires without damaging them.

Replace the rear panels when finished. Hint: When replacing the panels you removed, ensure that all the plastic retainer clips are in place. They often get pulled out of the panels and stay in the sockets. You need to properly reseat them all before the panels can be replaced. Note the location of each clip so you can bang on those areas with your fist or a rubber hammer to reseat the retainers. Leave the A-pillar cover off until you finish the rest of the wiring.

Dash Cam External Camera Cable (Optional):
If you are installing the front grill camera you’ll need this cable:


Use the Dash Cam Rearview Backup Camera Extension Cable from the parts list. It goes from the dash cam head unit’s external camera connector to the camera switch. Run this cable from the dash cam along the bottom of the windshield, down the A-pillar to the bottom of the dash. Leave it there for now, it will be wired in below.

Front Grill Camera (Optional):
Use the camera from the parts list that you purchased separately. Yes, I know this is the mirrored camera, but the image will be mirrored again inside the dash cam so it will be displayed as normal. This is controlled by an Android software setting so you can actually use either camera front or back as long as one camera is mirrored and the other isn’t and you properly set the software setting. I hope this makes sense to you. Plug this camera into the dash cam head unit to test it. Carefully note and mark which end is up so you can mount it in the proper orientation. The end with the bracket attached should be the top, but we will be removing the bracket.

The external red wire coming out of the camera cable connector is for instructing the dash cam to immediately display the camera with grid lines. This is normally used for automatically displaying the rear backup camera when in reverse but this can also be optionally used for the front grill cam. If you connect this wire to the 12V DC accessory wire used to power the dash cam, when you switch to the front grill camera it will immediately appear on the full screen with adjustable grid lines. If you don’t hook up this wire, you’ll need to use the touch screen display to manually select the external camera. Either way works, so decide how you wish to use it. If you decide on the auto display option, attach a long length of wire to the red wire and run it into the cabin along with the camera cable. Then, wire it to the 12V DC accessory power wire used to power the dash cam. If you don’t wish to use it, simply cover it with electrical tape and tie it off.

I recommend first wrapping the front grill camera wiring with electrical tape. This will give it some additional protection against chafing. This is optional but may save you a repair later on. You’ll see that the wire also has an odd plastic attachment. This contains a USB hub circuit. Why a USB hub? Well as far as I can tell, it’s used to repower the USB signal after going through such a long cable. Wrap it carefully too to prevent water intrusion. The cable also conveniently contains a plug and socket so you can replace just the camera easily if ever necessary. Remember where it is if you wrap it.

Remove the upper plastic retainers holding on the front grill and air intake panel:


This is quick and easy to do. Simply pry the center up with a flat blade screwdriver or fastener removal tool and then pry out the fastener. Carefully save the fasteners and note exactly where they all go. There are two different styles. Now remove the plastic grill bracket from under the front grill. It rotates up and out. Remember how it went in so you can replace it easily. It only comes out and goes in one way. If you have to force it, you’re doing it wrong. Once this bracket is removed, you have all the access to the inside of the front grill that you need:



There is no need to remove the front bumper. All of this takes only a few minutes and is simple and easy.

The front grill camera simply wedges inside the grill slots. Amazingly it fits like a glove:


The camera is rated to get wet so don’t worry about that. First, remove the camera’s bracket, you won't need this. Wedge the camera in place and aim it facing front. Be sure to orient it correctly, top up. Now, using some JB Quick Weld, glue it to grill in the back of the camera only (clean both the camera and mounting area first with isopropyl alcohol first). Let the epoxy set for about 10 minutes. JB Quick Weld is amazingly strong and will easily hold the camera in place for many years, there is no need to use any other attachment. If you ever need to remove the camera, you should be able to break the connection without damaging the grill by twisting it.

Use Ty-Raps to secure the wire to the grill supports and route towards the battery area, but do not use any of the holes where the retainers go or else the retainers won’t pop back in. When finished, replace the grill bracket and air intake cover and replace all the retainers.

There is an issue getting wires from the Ascent’s engine bay into the cabin. As far as I know, there is only one route. There is a small grommet going into the engine bay. You can find it by locating the cable that goes from the engine hood latch release inside the car to the back of the firewall. This grommet is very tight. I don’t believe the plug from the camera would fit through it so I didn’t even try. Instead, simply cut off the plug. This is fine since the wire needs to be soldered to a switch anyway, the plug is not going to be used. You’ll need a firm but flexible wire to snake through the firewall grommet into the engine bay. A wire snake is too clumsy and a coat hanger is not flexible or long enough. Snake the wire into the engine bay where it will bunch up under the left front fender. Remove the fender cover inside the engine bay:


This comes off in seconds by removing a couple of retainers. Now you should be able to see the wire you pushed through. Pull out this wire and carefully and firmly attach it to the camera wire using electrical tape. It has to be narrow and secure enough to make it through the tight firewall grommet. Now carefully pull the camera wire through the firewall grommet and leave it under the dash for now.

Camera Switch:
Decide where you want to install the camera switch. I didn’t want mine to be visible so I mounted it under the steering wheel:


Here I can easily reach it, but it doesn’t really show. You can mount your switch whenever you want. Once you decide where you want it, route the front and rear camera cables to it as well as the dash cam cable. Leave about a foot of extra wire and then cut all three cables to fit. Do not leave excess cable, to get the best signal from the cameras, the shorter the cable length the better. Just leave about a foot extra for wiring, routing, and service.

Now you need to wire the front grill and rear deck camera cables and the dash cam cable to the DPDT (double pole, double throw) switch. Again, this requires decent wire stripping and soldering skills. If you can’t do it yourself, try to find someone to help. Hopefully, you have something like this to hold the switch and wiring while you solder. If not, it’s more difficult to do.

The USB cables contain only four wires with the following standardized color code:

Red: +5 VDC Power (Vcc)
Black: Ground
Green: Data +
White: Data -


You do not need to switch the Power and Ground wires, only the Data wires. So all the Red and Black wires are simply connected together. Twist them together and solder them. Insulate them with electrical tape or better yet, heat shrink tubing.

The Green and White data wires go to the switch. The switch wiring is simple. There are three cables to wire. The front grill camera (Cam1), the rear liftgate camera (Cam2), and the dash cam cable. See the wiring diagram and switch photo below for the proper wiring:



Use care wiring the cables, the wires are thin and delicate and are easily damaged. If you damage the wires cutting them, peel back the cable covering and begin again. As I mentioned previously, this takes some skill and patience. Tin the wires before attaching them to the switch and then solder them onto the switch leads. Once you have all the wires soldered on, check the wiring again to ensure you got it right. If so, power up the dash cam and test the switch. Remember, when switching between cameras, move the switch lever to the Off position first The dash cam will then say “Rear camera out”. Now you can switch it to the On position for either camera. The dash cam will then say “Rear camera in” and you can then switch to the external camera view. If the test is successful, you can now mount the camera switch. If not, carefully recheck your wiring. I also recommend covering the back of the switch leads with JB Weld to protect them.

After the switch is mounted, test everything out again and then use Ty-Raps to secure all the wires under the dash and in the engine bay. Replace all the body panels you removed and you’re done.

If you have any questions concerning this installation or any of the components, please let me know.
 

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Too bad I already installed BlackVue dash cams. I really like this setup, might even consider it for front view and for running Torque since I have an iPhone. Please let us know if torque app works, pictures would be appreciated. Thanks for your write up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Too bad I already installed BlackVue dash cams. I really like this setup, might even consider it for front view and for running Torque since I have an iPhone. Please let us know if torque app works, pictures would be appreciated. Thanks for your write up.
I'm working on adding the Torque app right now. I'll let you know how it goes.
 

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There’s an even better setup that’s being released soon. Check out Hudway Drive with their camera package. By chance I was using one of their apps and their accessories tab showed the soon to be released system. It’s a projected lcd hud that connects wirelessly as well as to obdii scanner to show vehicle info. I know some of us have been trying to get the top lcd and this can be a good solution. The system works with your smart phone and mirrors wirelessly. No cable hook up necessary. I’ll be getting this and installed as soon as its out. The system is even on sale prerelease and their side and front/back camera is very reasonably priced the front/back camera even has parking sensors which is exactly what I’ve been looking for with the front camera. I’d get their night vision/thermal imaging camera as well but it’s a tad pricy
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
There’s an even better setup that’s being released soon. Check out Hudway Drive with their camera package. By chance I was using one of their apps and their accessories tab showed the soon to be released system. It’s a projected lcd hud that connects wirelessly as well as to obdii scanner to show vehicle info. I know some of us have been trying to get the top lcd and this can be a good solution. The system works with your smart phone and mirrors wirelessly. No cable hook up necessary. I’ll be getting this and installed as soon as its out. The system is even on sale prerelease and their side and front/back camera is very reasonably priced the front/back camera even has parking sensors which is exactly what I’ve been looking for with the front camera. I’d get their night vision/thermal imaging camera as well but it’s a tad pricy
I wouldn't call it better. The Hudway products do have promise, but there are a lot of unanswered questions which would need to be resolved before I would recommend them to anyone. Currently, a lot of their products are vaporware. They were supposed to start shipping in Q219, but it's the end of Q2 and they're still taking pre-orders. Critical reviews of their existing products have been mixed and their products are expensive. My biggest concern is if the HUD will interfere with Ascent’s Eyesight cameras. That needs to be tested.

I'm also not sure if a HUD type display would be superior to a smartphone type full-color, high-resolution display. The only advantage of the HUD is that it's see-through, but the LCD display does not interfere at all with visibility when driving and you get a far better screen for camera monitoring and applications.

Also, keep in mind that the Hudway system as it is currently designed is just a simple HUD display. It must be paired with a smartphone, it can't do anything sophisticated on its own and there is currently no dashcam feature. Also, unlike the system above, it is not a touch screen. You'll need to access your smartphone to control functions which means you'll have to look down, which will be distracting. The system above has it's own integral smartphone and touchscreen and you're looking up when you access it.

If you do decide to purchase Hudway products, please post reviews on this forum. I'd really like to see them tested with the Ascent. I'd do it myself but I've already spent a lot of time, money, and energy developing this system which I'm extremely happy with. It's been performing perfectly for many months now. In addition to the automatic front/rear dash cam and front/rear monitor cams, I'm currently using it with Torque to monitor all of the Ascent's OBD parameters. Amazing versatility. More on that later.
 

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Thanks for this post! While I will not be doing this to our Ascent, I will however be doing this install on my '99 F350 towing truck since I've been wanting a camera system for it. Plus with torque pro, I can use my OBD scanner to monitor my trans temp on my truck while towing! Fantastic Idea! I will even experiment and see if I wired in a camera on my RV, then had a disconnect plug where the normal trailer plug is, if the camera would still work. Voltage loss over the long USB run is my concern. Im an Avionics guy so electronics in airplanes is my deal. You def gave me another project!
 

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Thanks for this post! While I will not be doing this to our Ascent, I will however be doing this install on my '99 F350 towing truck since I've been wanting a camera system for it. Plus with torque pro, I can use my OBD scanner to monitor my trans temp on my truck while towing! Fantastic Idea! I will even experiment and see if I wired in a camera on my RV, then had a disconnect plug where the normal trailer plug is, if the camera would still work. Voltage loss over the long USB run is my concern. Im an Avionics guy so electronics in airplanes is my deal. You def gave me another project!
If you went with such a long wired run all the way to an RV and the camera didn't work, you could install an inline USB Hub which will repower the connection.

Or, you can simply use any WiFi Smartphone backup camera which works with Andriod. The Andriod dash cam will be able to connect to it and display it. This is what I intend to do when I purchase my RV.
 

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Now that you've had this set up for a while -- how do you feel about it? In particular I'm interested on how you feel about the DIY front camera setup -- is it useful for {parking lots, narrow spots}? What is good, what is annoying? Anything you would have done different if you'd do it again?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Now that you've had this set up for a while -- how do you feel about it? In particular I'm interested on how you feel about the DIY front camera setup -- is it useful for {parking lots, narrow spots}? What is good, what is annoying? Anything you would have done different if you'd do it again?
It's still working great, I enjoy it every time I drive. I installed DashCommand on it and use the display for additional gauges and vehicle info which I really like. The dashcam has been working flawlessly and I have a detailed front and rear camera record every time I drive. This is a solid unit, it's performance is far better than I expected for the relatively inexpensive price. It's now been through both a very hot summer and a cold winter, so it handles temperature extremes with no issues.

I use the front camera in the same situations where the OEM rear camera comes in handy, mostly in tight parking situations where you need to see exactly how close you are to the car or other obstacles in the front or back. Is it a necessity? No, but it's a nice extra. If you want to save yourself the extra work of installing the front camera when installing this dashcam, you won't miss it much, it's not really necessary.

There is really nothing I would do different with this installation, I was very fortunate to get it right the first time which is rare for such a modification. I expected to have to spend time tweaking it, but it works great just as it is. If I were to give anyone advice, I would say that if you're not adept at wiring, simply skip the front cam. If you do that, this unit is pretty much an easy plug and play install.
 

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Really cool setup!!!
Only one thing stops me - this device looks like a smartphone/laptop left on the dash.
Would such an object object attract some criminal that might decide to break your glass to get it?
Sorry for being "devil's advocate" here...
Do you keep it inside your car at all times?
Have you considered alternative places to mount display unit? to mount them in a less attractive place. For example, on the shelf to the left from the steering wheel?
Have anyone seen smaller display units?
Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Really cool setup!!!
Only one thing stops me - this device looks like a smartphone/laptop left on the dash.
Would such an object object attract some criminal that might decide to break your glass to get it?
Sorry for being "devil's advocate" here...
Do you keep it inside your car at all times?
Have you considered alternative places to mount display unit? to mount them in a less attractive place. For example, on the shelf to the left from the steering wheel?
Have anyone seen smaller display units?
Thanks!
I don't think anyone would mistake it for a smartphone because it's attached to a base and has an external camera sticking out of it in plain view. However, like any electronic item inside a car, someone might try to steal it. Most professionals wouldn't bother because it really has no street value.

I live in a low crime area and leave it plain sight all the time. However, I've also left it in plain sight for extended periods in major cities such as Boston, Springfield, and Hartford. No one seems to have any interest in stealing it.

If you're concerned, it is fairly easily removable although I wouldn't want to do that every time I used the car. A simple solution would be to place something like a baseball hat over it when you leave the car. Out of sight, out of mind.

I never considered mounting it elsewhere because the front dash camera requires a clear view out of the front windshield, so it really needs to be where it's shown.

Whatever dashcam you choose, someone could conceivably steal it. Unless you live in a high crime area, I wouldn't be too concerned about it.
 

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@pro10is very nice write up!

I've got a Touring so I already have the smart mirror and the front camera. I however was thinking of adding front and rear dash cams and had a few questions.

It's been a while since shopping for a dash cam and rather than getting a pricey unit that daisy chains the rear camera off the front camera, I might just install a cheap "front" camera in the back too. I have a cheap camera with a miniscule display in my other car and would never try viewing on the cam but it's simple enough to pop the SD card in a PC or a tablet.

For the front camera, I'm assuming I'd run the power along the top of the windshield and down the A pillar as I have in other cars. Never had to remove the A trim, there was always enough play to push the wire in far enough to stay and be hidden. Since the Ascent has airbags in the A pillars, should this be avoided?

For the rear cam, I thought I'd be able to pull power from one of the third row USB ports. Do those ports turn on and off with the ignition? Is the driver or passenger side panel easier to remove to get to splice into power?

Thank!
 

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For the front, it's easy to feed the wire above the eyesight cams and then under the front edge of the headliner by prying the headliner down slightly. The A pillar pops off. Gently pry it away from the windshield. Run the wire behind the airbag. The door gasket near the left side of the dash simply pulls away so you can route the wire down behind it. Use a 12V to usb power supply and fuse taps to connect to full time or switched 12V on the under-dash fuse panel as desired.

Whether the dash usb ports and which ports remain live when the vehicle is off depends on the year.

Rear, I have no idea.
 

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Never had to remove the A trim, there was always enough play to push the wire in far enough to stay and be hidden. Since the Ascent has airbags in the A pillars, should this be avoided?
For the front, it's easy to feed the wire above the eyesight cams and then under the front edge of the headliner by prying the headliner down slightly. The A pillar pops off. Gently pry it away from the windshield. Run the wire behind the airbag.
behind the airbag is the way to go. There’s already a wire harness back there so you can run the dashcam wire along that
Be gentle with the A pillar trim or it might not seat properly when put back on.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
@pro10is very nice write up!

I've got a Touring so I already have the smart mirror and the front camera. I however was thinking of adding front and rear dash cams and had a few questions.

It's been a while since shopping for a dash cam and rather than getting a pricey unit that daisy chains the rear camera off the front camera, I might just install a cheap "front" camera in the back too. I have a cheap camera with a miniscule display in my other car and would never try viewing on the cam but it's simple enough to pop the SD card in a PC or a tablet.

For the front camera, I'm assuming I'd run the power along the top of the windshield and down the A pillar as I have in other cars. Never had to remove the A trim, there was always enough play to push the wire in far enough to stay and be hidden. Since the Ascent has airbags in the A pillars, should this be avoided?

For the rear cam, I thought I'd be able to pull power from one of the third row USB ports. Do those ports turn on and off with the ignition? Is the driver or passenger side panel easier to remove to get to splice into power?

Thank!
If your dashcam is mounted near the upper portion of the windshield or the rearview mirror, you can easily run a wire unseen along the headliner. I do this for my radar detector.

If, like mine, your dashcam is mounted near the lower portion of the windshield, you can easily run a wire unseen along the base of the windshield. There is a rubber gasket there. In my case I run several wires there.

In either case, the wire then goes into the A-pillar and fed below the dash. The trim is removable, see the writeup in this post on how to remove/reinstall it.

If you get power from a rear USB port, keep in mind that USB voltage is 5 VDC, not 12VDC. Most car accessories require 12VDC. I don't know how the USB power distribution is fed in the Ascent. There may be a single central 5VDC voltage source or each USB port may contain a 12VDC to 5VDC converter. Check the Ascent's schematics if you can find them.
 
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