By Simon Hill

Monday Rant: Mirror, Mirror on the Door the monday rant opinion Monday Rant: Mirror, Mirror on the Door the monday rant opinion
Monday Rant: Mirror, Mirror on the Door. Click image to enlarge

Old habits die hard. Eighteen years after the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) released its 1995 paper on optimal mirror adjustment, it seems people still just don’t get it. Not even those who are supposedly automotive authorities.

I know this, because, being an average-size kind of guy who swaps cars every week with a lot of these supposed automotive authorities (that is, other automobile journalists), I’ll often get into a car and find that everything is already adjusted pretty much how I like it. Well, almost everything: The seat will be the perfect distance back for my average-length legs. The seatback will be almost exactly the right degree of recline. The steering wheel will be tilted and telescoped just so to work with my medium-length arms. The inside rear-view mirror will be almost spot on for my average-height eye level. And the exterior mirrors will be completely out of whack, showing vast expanses of the car’s flanks, and a uselessly direct view backwards. Folks, if I wanted to look directly behind me, I could look at the inside rear-view mirror.

Our kids know better: most driver education programs these days teach the SAE style of mirror adjustment. It provides a much clearer picture of what’s happening around your car, and allows you to replace neck-craning shoulder checks with much quicker, easier shoulder glimpses. Meanwhile, the older generation refuses to learn, preferring instead to spend good money on expensive blind-spot information systems to help overcome our poor mirror adjustment habits.

Learning and acclimatizing to the SAE adjustment method is quick and relatively easy. The old-school adjustment method says to adjust the exterior mirrors so you can just see the flank of your own car in the mirror (the idea here is supposedly that it helps you judge exactly where your car is in relation to what you are seeing, but that’s pretty pointless if it means you can’t actually see half of the things you may be about to hit, and it also doesn’t explain why so many of the press cars I get into have their exterior mirrors set so that half the field of view consists of nothing but the car itself).

Monday Rant: Mirror, Mirror on the Door the monday rant opinion
Monday Rant: Mirror, Mirror on the Door. Click image to enlarge

The SAE method of adjustment ditches the concept of ‘seeing your own car’ and instead has you set the mirrors quite a lot further out, eliminating most of the overlap between the interior mirror and the exterior mirrors (so if someone were to stand a few metres behind your car and then slowly walk off to one side, they wouldn’t appear in the exterior mirror until just as they were leaving the interior rear-view mirror). Think of it as stitching together a panorama view in your camera. The only slight cost is that you actually have to move your head toward the mirror if you want to catch a glimpse of your own car’s flank, but this is a very small price to pay for having vastly reduced rear-quarter blind spots. And when it matters most to see your own car’s corners, during parking, craning your head is a natural instinct.

Related Articles:
The Monday Rant: I Can’t See Clearly Now
Advice: Blind spot solutions
Auto Tech: 2013 AJAC Best New Technology

You can order the full SAE mirror adjustment report, but there’s a nice summary available online here, and a Canadian insurance-related overview here. You’ve got no excuse now. Open your eyes, adjust your mirrors right and see the whole picture. You can take the money you save on blind spot information systems and opt for the sunroof or upgraded stereo instead.




About SimonHill

Simon Hill rebuilt his first engine, an air-cooled Volkswagen, at 14. He started writing professionally about cars in 2009 and is also the editor of Boat Journal magazine. He lives in Vancouver, BC.