How to Adjust Your Mirrors

A couple of months ago, Car and Driver wrote a short story about a 15 year old SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper that told how to adjust your car mirrors to eliminate the traditional ‘blind spot’ just behind your car in the adjacent lane. Funny thing was about 15 years ago I heard about this very technique on the old WXYT talk radio in Detroit on the excellent David Newman program. I gave it a try and have used it ever since.
While I appreciated Car and Driver’s write up (and their excellent graphic below), I felt like it really only adequately described the goal of adjusting the mirrors like this (no overlap between the center mirror and the outside mirrors) it didn’t give an adequate ‘How To’. It’s a slightly tedious process, but if you’re the only one driving the car, you only do it once.
The key to making the adjustment is to do so while the car is parked.  Don’t do it while driving because it distracts you from the road and the changing scenery in the mirrors makes it hard to do. You’ll also need several points of reference about 2-3 car lengths behind the car, so an open lot isn’t the place to do it. Parked in my suburban driveway, the far curb or something in the neighbor’s yard across the street is good. Parked in a parking lot, the cars on the opposite side of the aisle are pretty good too.
Adjust your rear view mirror so you can see the entire rear window.  Find something at the right edge of the inside mirror (or, more likely, at the right edge of the back window) at that 2-3 car length reference distance. Now, adjust the passenger side mirror so that the same object is at the left edge of the passenger mirror. You only want the tiniest sliver of duplication between the mirrors. The green car in the C&D illustration is a good example.
Now repeat the process for the driver’s mirror, using the left edge of the center mirror and the right edge of the driver’s mirror.
That’s it, no more blind spots.
There are some drawbacks:

  1. Some cars I’ve driven will not allow the mirrors to adjust outward adequately to achieve the full panorama. This is especially true if, like me, you need the seat all the way back.
  2. If you use an object too far behind you as a reference, the blind spot in traffic isn’t fully eliminated.  After the initial setting, you should check the positions on the road and tweak it if necessary to eliminate the overlap.
  3. On a multi-lane road, this does NOT eliminate the blind spot for the cars two lanes over. Mostly that’s not an issue, but if you both change lanes at the same time or if you need to move over two lanes, it may be.

Once you get used to seeing only the passing grass in the side mirror, this technique is amazing.  You now have a panoramic view to the rear between the three mirrors.  As you drive, passing cars in the adjacent lanes will approach in the rear view mirror. As they leave that mirror, they’ll appear in the side mirror and as they leave that mirror they appear in your peripheral vision.  They are never out of your sight.  It’s beautiful.
Adjust Your Mirrors
Image Credit: Car and Driver

6 thoughts on “How to Adjust Your Mirrors

  1. I hear ya, but I refuse to feel bad about using the side mirrors for backing. Adjust those side mirrors too wide, and you can’t back with them. I shoot for a compromise that leaves me able to do as much of both as possible.

  2. I find that for backing, a little leaning one way or the other brings the side of the car in view in the side mirror, which is exactly what you need for backing up. Considering the amount of time spent in reverse versus moving forward, having to lean isn’t a big deal. Definitely a worthwhile compromise.
    I simply won’t drive far without these mirror settings, they’ve become that valuable to me. Well, except for the T’bird which only has 1 side mirror. 😛 When I bought my Mazda, I looked at a Protege5 and the RH mirror wouldn’t go out far enough. I loved that car, but I was seriously wondering if I could have lived with that mirror. Then I found the Mazda3 and I didn’t have to worry about it.

  3. I’ll have to check it on my truck. I have a feeling that there will be blind spots. But if you have a big truck who cares! LOL
    I used to drive a box truck and a tank truck, (both single axle). I got used to using side mirrors to back up with that as that is all you had. You just picked a reference point on the truck and where you were going. It’s worked for me so far. I rarely use the middle mirror for backing up now.

  4. Should work great on your pickup truck, but not so good on the grain truck or a box truck. The pickup has fish eye mirrors too, though, right?
    I don’t use the center mirror as much for backing as I do the side mirror. On our Saturn, however, the backup camera is in the center mirror. It’s both a help and a distraction. It’s such a wide angle view it’s deceiving. Real handy for hooking up the trailer though.

  5. My dad put a backup camera on his truck and it really is handy for hooking up a trailer. You have to remember it’s there which is my problem.
    Yeah, I got those fish eye mirrors. I didn’t know they were called that. Actually, if your just looking to see if anyone is in your blind spot they are great for that. But, I guess if I had my mirrors adjusted right there wouldn’t be one.

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