How to Use Mirrors While Towing

Definitely look back: special mirrors for towing vehicles give drivers the best possible views next to a behind the truck, SUV or recreational vehicle.
Definitely look back: special mirrors for towing vehicles give drivers the best possible views next to a behind the truck, SUV or recreational vehicle. See more car safety pictures.
Angela Ollison/

Without rear and side view mirrors, driving would be significantly more dangerous. Just imagine: Not only would you have to stick your head out of the window to switch lanes, you'd have to turn completely around in your seat to see the traffic directly behind you. Fortunately, mirrors make it possible for drivers to see most of the road, and a quick turn of the head to check for blind spots or to back up is usually the only physical action necessary.

On towing vehicles, however, rear view mirrors are usually rendered useless by a trailer or a boat, and regular side mirrors aren't enough to drive safely. To make up for this, bigger trucks, SUVs and recreational vehicles towing heavy loads use a variety of specially-designed towing mirrors that allow drivers to see everything to the side of and behind the vehicle.


There are generally two types of mirrors that you can purchase. The first are wide, extended mirrors that can replace your current mirrors. This requires removing the inside panels on the front doors and installing the new mirrors, so unless you're experienced in the matter, professionals usually take care of the task. The other are separate, attachable mirrors that you can secure to your existing mirrors. They either clip on or slip over your existing mirrors to provide greater visibility.

Using your mirrors correctly will help to ensure a safe towing trip -- read the next page as we reflect on towing mirrors.



Tips for Using Mirrors While Towing

Towing mirrors should be both wide and tall enough to enable drivers to see as much of the road as possible.
Adjusting your mirrors into the correct position will give you the best possible view of what's behind the towing vehicle.
Luis Carlos Torres/

The first and most obvious suggestion for using towing mirrors is to make sure they're clean. If you've recently had your tow vehicle out on the road, it's likely a lot of dirt, dust or even mud has found its way onto ­the mirrors. With dirty mirrors, visibility becomes drastically reduced and increases your chances of causing an accident while turning, backing up or changing lanes.

The size of the mirrors is important -- the bigger, the better. The general rule states that for every 10 feet (3 meters) of overall vehicle length (that's the tow vehicle and the towed vehicle added together), your mirrors should be one inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. Therefore, a 50-foot-long (15-meter-long) vehicle should have five-inch (13-centimeter) diameter mirrors attached to it. If you're worried about hitting or scraping your mirrors in a tight squeeze, you can buy ones that fold back toward the side of the vehicle.


You'll want to make sure the mirrors aren't only just wide enough, but also tall enough. The extended width of towing mirrors, especially when they're angled in slightly toward the vehicle, allow drivers to see greater distances behind them. Towing vehicles are also typically taller than other cars on the road. So the mirrors need to also reflect as much of the ground below the driver as possible. This improves blind spots and additionally increases child safety, since the little ones are often too small to see from inside a truck.

Adjusting your towing mirrors to the correct position is also very important. With the mirrors in a straight position, perpendicular to the vehicle, sit in the driver's seat and begin by adjusting the left mirror. If you're able to see 200 feet (61 meters) or more behind the left side of the vehicle, you should be ready. Do the same with the right side, again sitting in the driver's seat, only this time, you should have someone help you adjust the mirror.

Bob Dylan once wrote: "She's got everything she needs, she's an artist, she don't look back." Clearly, the girl Dylan was writing about wasn't into towing. Towing mirrors give drivers the ability to look back and acknowledge any potential hazards -- using them properly and paying attention to even the smallest detail can reduce the risk even more.

For lots more information on towing and towing maneuvers, take a careful look at the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links

  • "Towing mirrors." (Sept. 23, 2008)
  • "Towing mirrors." (Sept. 23, 2008)
  • RV Towing Tips. "Mirrors." Oct. 8, 2007. (Sept. 23, 2008)
  • "Towing mirrors." (Sept. 22, 2008)