When you're dealing with mirrors, size is important. Let's say you're in a department store trying on a new pair of pants. However, the dressing room is equipped with only a handheld mirror. You probably won't be able to get a full view of those dungarees because the reflective space is so much smaller than what you're trying to look at.
The same thing goes sometimes for towing. If you hitch a trailer, camper or other transportation accessory to the back of your vehicle, standard side mirrors may not be large or high enough to reflect the length of your additional load. Blind spots are a major hazard with driving in general, and magnifying those zones when towing can be dangerous. In fact, blind spots are the top cause of towing-related accidents on the road [source: Smith]. That's why safe towing involves evaluating your visibility and, if necessary, installing side towing mirrors to ensure that you can see all traffic and obstacles around you.
Not only will towing mirrors help keep you, your cargo and people around you safe, they'll also keep you within the bounds of the law. States mandate their own towing mirror regulations, but the general rule of thumb is that the driver should be able to see the entire length of the trailer and beyond to the traffic behind it. Depending on the size of the trailer, that may require towing mirrors.
As with most car accessories, you have a lot of options to choose from if you need towing mirrors. Some towing packages come with mirrors, but if not, you can purchase them individually. On the next page, we'll set our sights on different categories of towing mirrors and what towing tasks they're suited for.
Choosing Towing Mirrors
After you safely hitch your trailer to your vehicle, it's time to evaluate if you need side towing mirrors. As mentioned before, if you cannot see the entire length of the trailer behind you, you should invest in towing mirrors. Many times, if your trailer is wider or taller than the vehicle hauling it, the trailer will block your line of sight and could be hazardous to operate.
Once you conclude that you need towing mirrors, there are a number of options to sift through, ranging from a couple dollars to a few hundred. The size of your trailer will determine the added mirror height and the length needed. Then, think about how often you tow in order to decide whether a permanent or a portable towing mirror would better serve your needs.
Portable mirrors are quick to install and attach to your vehicle in addition to your standard side mirrors. These are usually the best route for people who don't tow often since you can remove them when you aren't hauling.
Types of portable towing mirrors include:
- Hot spot or convex mirrors: These small, convex mirrors have adhesive on the back that stick directly to your standard side mirrors. You can position these to reduce blind spots.
- Custom slip-ons: These towing mirrors are custom-made for car makes, models and years. They attach by sliding over the existing mirrors and locking in place.
- Universal fit: Instead of being tailored to specific types of cars, these mirrors can fit on any vehicle. Brands offer clip-on, fender mount and window mount varieties in assorted sizes. Certain ones may increase your drag and cause wear and tear on the car body if not properly mounted.
If you perform regular towing jobs, permanent towing mirrors may be the more convenient alternative. Permanent towing mirrors replace your standard side mirrors and require more intensive installation. In exchange for such bonus features, they generally cost more than portable ones.
Permanent options include features that you can use separately or combination, depending on your needs:
- Telescopic trailer tow: The telescopic design enlarges the view of the end of the trailer.
- LED mirrors: During installation, these towing mirrors are wired to light up with your braking and turn signals for added safety.
- Heated mirrors: Often combined with LED features, heated towing mirrors can warm up to melt frost or ice.
Once you've determined the type of towing mirror you need, all that stands between you and the open road is installation. Head to the next page for tips on towing mirror installation.
Towing Mirror Installation
The time and complexity of installing a towing mirror depends on the brand and type you purchase. Usually, portable towing mirrors require minimal assembly, while you may want to consider professional installation for permanent models. Whether dealing with portable or permanent options, however, secure installation is important to reduce the added drag on the car and the chance of a towing mirror flying off while you're cruising down the highway. For that reason, read the directions before attempting to attach one to your car.
Hot spot mirrors are the simplest to install. You only have to peel off an adhesive strip, find the appropriate spot on your side mirrors and stick them on. Slide-on mirrors are customized for car makes, models and years, which should make their installation process quick and easy. You simply slide the towing mirror onto the frame of the side mirror and hook it into place with the tailored hardware that comes with the towing mirror.
Bulkier universal fit mirrors that strap to your fenders aren't necessarily harder to set up but may take a couple minutes to assemble since they may not come in one piece. Clip-on universal fit towing mirrors shouldn't call for any tools. Basically, you clip the towing mirror to the top and bottom of your existing side mirror, then pull the strap tight to mount it securely to the vehicle. For fender mount mirrors, you'll have to pop the hood of your vehicle to affix the mounts to the fender at the hood line. Then, attach the bottom mount to the fender above the front tire. Some brands also include straps that you pull taut to hold the mirror in place. Door mount mirrors work similarly, except that you attach them at the passenger and driver doors.
Things get more complicated with permanent mirrors. Permanent towing mirror installation often involves removing your driver and passenger door panels, which may be tricky to do without damaging the car. Permanent mirrors with LED lights and heating functions will also entail rewiring. For that reason, manufacturers recommend professional installation for permanent towing mirrors.
After your towing mirrors are properly installed, you're on your way to safe towing. To learn more about towing and auto information, visit the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Cook, Miles. "Trailer Towing Q&A." Edmunds. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/howto/articles/44921/page001.html
- "Installation of Towing Mirrors." TruckChamp. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.truckchamp.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=20636
- "Mirrors." RV Towing Tips. April 27, 2004. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.rvtowingtips.com/mirrors.htm
- Scott, Randy. "A Good Reflection." Boating World. July 1, 2004. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://boatingworld.com/Articles/2004/07/howto/aftermarket-trailering-mirrors.html
- Smith, Bruce W. "The Complete Guide to Trailering Your Boat." McGraw-Hill Professional. 2007. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=l-qmybqJWAQC
- "Types of Towing Mirrors." TruckChamp. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.truckchamp.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=20635
- "Why You Need Towing Mirrors." TruckChamp. (Oct. 14, 2008) http://www.truckchamp.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=20634