There are a lot of famous mirrors out there.
But… there’s a mirror far closer to home that—while perhaps a tad less interesting to ponder—is at the heart of saving your life Prince-Charming-kiss-style every day.
This unsung mirror hero? Yep. Your car’s rear-view mirror. Ok, ok, we admit it: side-view mirrors and baby car mirrors also deserve a lot of street cred.
Get it, get it? STREET cred?
We crack ourselves up. Seriously, though, your car’s mirrors are perhaps some of the most important safety features in your car. Without your mirrors, you’d only see a tiny slice of the road at a time, and it would be impossible to see obstacles all around you.
It would almost be like driving with those horse-blinder things on. If you did, your chances of crashing would exponentially increase. Fortunately, a quick look in your car mirrors tells you all you need to know to navigate even tricky roads smoothly.
Let’s not forget about baby car mirrors! Although they are fairly new, the little drop-down mirror that allows you to keep an eye on the baby or other passengers in the backseat of the car while driving down the road has become a welcome addition to many vehicles for people who never drive alone.
So, about those mirrors. Do ya have to use ’em? How? Why? We’ve gotcha covered.
Why Your Rear View and Side View Mirrors are SO Important!
To summarize some really boring technical jargon from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and DMV for states around the country, here’s what you need to know about your mirrors:
- Every car has to have a mirror. (We know, we know. Duh, right? How else could you see behind you?)
- Legally, your mirror has to be located in a position that allows the driver to view the road behind them for a minimum distance of 200 feet. (That’s about the height of Cinderella’s Castle in Florida, to keep our Disney references going. In short, it’s a long way behind you.)
- Technically, your car only has to have one rearview mirror to pass inspection. (Or, if there’s no rearview mirror, you must have two side mirrors.) However, your side mirrors work in conjunction with your rearview mirror, so we don’t advocate using one over the other. More on that soon!
- Your car can fail to pass a vehicle safety inspection if any of your car’s mirrors are:
- Position in a way that obstructs your view
- Located in a position that doesn’t allow a clear, unobstructed view behind you
- Not mounted securely enough not to swing or vibrate
That’s all well and good, but how do you use your mirrors? (Let me clarify. We know you know how to use a mirror—you look in it—but how do you ensure that your mirrors are tilted for maximum visibility, and when and how often should you check your mirrors?)
How To Adjust Your Rear View and Side View Mirrors
Driver’s Seat Positioning for Optimal Car Mirror Performance
To best use your mirrors, first thing’s first. You should shimmy into the driver’s seat and get comfy. Make sure you can easily and comfortably reach the steering wheel, the brake pedal, the accelerator, and the gear shift.
When you’re in the right position behind the wheel, only then are you in the best position to start fiddling with the mirrors.
If you adjust your mirrors before you find where you’re actually going to sit when driving the car, you’ll find yourself in the frustrating position of having to readjust… and possibly while your driving… while you can’t see! Take it from us: settle in first, then adjust those mirrors.
Adjusting Your Rearview Mirror
After you’ve settled into a comfortable driving position, shift your mirror around until it points directly to the middle of the road behind you.
You should have a clear view. If instead, you see heaps of bags you intended to drop off at Goodwill or stacks of books or your kids’ hockey jerseys or a mountain of billy goats—if you see ANYTHING in your way of a clear view of the road, stop then and there and clear out your car.
Keep in mind: all this shifting and positioning should happen BEFORE you start the car!
Adjusting Your Side Mirrors
Once your view in the rearview mirror looks good, it’s time to check out those side mirrors. Almost always, there will be small buttons to the left of the steering column that control the mirror adjustments.
Find these buttons, and click on the “L” button to adjust the left mirror and the “R” to adjust the right mirror. When the button is clicked into a position between “L” and “R,” this means that your mirrors are “locked into place” until you flip the “L” or “R” buttons again to readjust the left or right mirrors. Before you take off, be sure that the “L, R” button is switched to this neutral middle position!
To actually adjust the mirror position, after you have switched to the “L” button to indicate that you want to adjust the left driver’s side mirror (assuming you don’t live in England or Ireland…), then you can usually adjust the physical tilt of the mirror using a joystick or a little directional pad. (Keep in mind, this is for newer cars with electronic controls).
If your car doesn’t have electronic control, you may have to adjust your mirrors with a manual joystick, or you’ll have to give it some elbow grease and physically push the mirror into the position you want. You’ll know the mirror is in the right position when you can see behind you for 200 feet without having to turn your head.
The goal is to be able to tell in one quick downward glance where everybody is on the road. After the driver’s side mirror is adjusted, click over to the “R” button and do the same for the passenger’s side mirror.
Testing Your Vehicle’s Mirror Positioning
Double-check all your mirrors before you drive, then recheck them on the road. If you still can’t see approaching cars, pull over, and make further adjustments to your mirrors. DO NOT FIDDLE AROUND WITH YOUR MIRROR ADJUSTING BUTTONS AS YOU DRIVE.
Note: for the first test drive, don’t rely on your mirrors before changing lanes!
Check their position by glancing in the mirror, then physically turning around to check behind you to ensure that the mirror is giving you a clear picture of what’s really there. If it is, then you can start relying on the mirrors.
Careful, though! Especially if your system is electronic, it’s pretty easy to bump the controls and move your mirrors accidentally. Make sure that, after adjusting, the “L, R” button is in the neutral position so that a little elbow bump won’t throw your mirror off-kilter!
Car Mirrors Positioned Correctly Will Improve Your Driving Abilities
That wasn’t so hard, right? Now, what about when to use your mirrors? Our short answer is: constantly. You should always be flicking your gaze toward your rearview and side mirrors to keep tabs on your surroundings. However, there are a few situations in which the use of mirrors is a must:
- Parallel parking
- Pulling a trailer
- Backing up, especially out of tricky parking spaces
- Merging onto a different road
- Before changing speeds
- Before changing directions
- Changing Lanes: If you’re merging left, use your left side mirror and vice versa. Be sure to check it all the way through your lane change, giving yourself ample space if there’s an approaching car. Remember, objects may appear farther in the mirror than they are in real life (or the other way around! Be sure you know the relative distance differential between your mirror and real object!).
A final tip: always use your turn signal when changing lanes, merging, or turning!
Rear and Side View Mirrors: I Can See Clearly Now the
Rain is Gone Mirrors are Adjusted!
Well, there you have it! Sure, it would be nice if your car mirrors were enchanted, but the fact is, they are like magic at making the world visible all around you as you drive. And who knows? Although they can’t talk, it’s almost certain that your car mirrors think you’re the fairest person in the land, so be nice to them and look into them often so they can see your beautiful/handsome face! Just remember, as magical as mirrors are, you may not always see what you want to, even with proper adjustment. Stay safe out there!