Americans Are Not Adjusting Their Car Mirrors Properly

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While I tend to get along fairly well with people who don’t care about cars, there are three things non-car people do that truly frustrate me. The first is refusing to test drive multiple vehicles. The only two things in life that will cost more than a new car are a house and a college education, and you owe it to yourself to buy the car you like best. The second is ignoring basic maintenance. Again, cars are expensive, so why not take care of them? The third is more of a matter of personal opinion, but stop adjusting your side-view mirrors the wrong way.

For whatever reason, Americans love making sure they can’t see out of their cars. People in other countries probably do the same thing, but any time I’ve been out of the country, how drivers adjust their mirrors has been the last thought on my mind. Until I can convince my editor-in-chief to send me around the world to study side-view mirrors, I’ll just have to stick with the country I know.

Anyway, people have a variety of opinions regarding how to best adjust their mirrors, and almost all of them are wrong. Why are they wrong? They’re wrong because they intentionally create blind spots for the sake of making sure drivers can see things that are entirely irrelevant.

While you’re driving down the road, the side of your car isn’t going to magically disappear. Despite supposedly developing object permanence at age 2, American drivers are constantly terrified that the sides of their cars are going to disappear if not constantly monitored. To help assuage this fear, they set their side-view mirrors to help them watch and make sure their cars haven’t magically opened up into sideless wonders at some point.

Then again, maybe it’s the name of the mirrors that confuses people. After all, they’re called side-view mirrors. Perhaps drivers hear the name and believe they’re intended to help them view the sides of their cars. Nobody believes that rear-view mirrors are intended for viewing the rear of their car — that would be silly and useless — but then again, using your side-view mirrors to view the sides of your car is equally ridiculous.

Side-view mirrors are on the side of your car, yes, but they’re actually intended for viewing what’s beside your vehicle, not the sides of your vehicle itself.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

If you set up your mirrors properly, a passing car will appear in your rear-view mirror, transition into your side-view mirror, and then transition into your peripheral vision. It will do so seamlessly, and it will do so without ever fully disappearing from one of your mirrors until it is clearly visible in your peripheral vision. Those blind spots you’re constantly worried about just disappear.

How exactly does one go about obtaining this miraculous arrangement? It’s simple, really.

First, you sit in the driver’s seat and lean your head against the driver’s side window. Adjust that mirror until you can just barely see the edge of your car, then sit back up. Lean approximately the same distance toward the passenger side, and do the same thing to the passenger side mirror. Once you sit back up straight, you’re done.

The exact positioning of each mirror may require some fine-tuning, but once you get it right, you won’t ever have to worry about changing lanes and accidentally hitting a car you couldn’t see. A car in your rear-view mirror will be partly in your side-view mirror as it begins to pass you, and even when you can see a car beside you out of the corner of your eye, it will also still be partly in your side-view mirror. Brilliant, right?

Sadly, American drivers are so committed to the idea of having blind spots that changing the mirrors to eliminate them is usually considered unacceptable. Drivers don’t like not being able to see the sides of their cars. They don’t like the idea that they can’t constantly monitor their rear bumpers or their rear wheels, and they’ll come up with all manner of excuses to justify intentionally leaving blind spots that don’t need to be there.

The most confusing thing is, even if being able to keep an eye on your rear bumper helps a little with parallel parking, most cars these days have backup cameras, and those are much more accurate than a mirror view of the side of your car. If you refuse to use a backup camera, go buy a BMW 5 Series from the late ’90s or early 2000s. It will cost you $3,000, and even if you adjust your mirrors for driving without blind spots, it has a motor that moves the passenger mirror to show your rear tire every time you put the car in reverse.

Even if people say they need it for parking, the truth is, doing something different can be scary, and people don’t like having to learn something new. Doing one thing slightly different and spending a week adjusting to the newness of it could actually save you thousands of dollars in car accidents you don’t have, so is it really not worth it to at least give it a shot?

It’s also probably worth pointing out that I’m not the first person to come up with this method. I learned it from the guys on Car Talk. If you like having blind spots and think I’m an idiot for suggesting you stop intentionally creating them, take it up with Click and Clack. They’re the ones who taught me what I know.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.