Side view mirrors, also known just as side mirrors or even wing mirrors, are an integral part of your vehicle's safety system. Side view mirrors are as important as your car's windshield. They are required by law on road-use vehicles and provide drivers with a safe view of their surroundings, while still being able to keep their eyes on the road relatively easily.
The use mirrors on cars can be traced back to the early 1900s. Motorists originally used hand-held mirrors to glance back once in a long while, if at all (most just turned their heads). There is an account of a race car driver using a fixed rear mirror, rather experimentally in 1911. By 1914, vehicles were manufactured with rear view mirrors. Rear view mirrors became common from then on, but the development of side mirrors was slow to follow.
Early roads in America were mostly just two way, with no need to see side-to-side. This began to slowly change though, and by the 1960s, side view mirrors were deemed as a necessity. They didn't originally appear in the way you know them today though. Many early style side view mirrors were round and mounted on the A-Pillar and B-Pillar of the car. These pillars are the two thin strips of metal body that run vertically up alongside your car's windshield. These mirrors were manual, so the mounting position allowed for easier adjustments. Another side view mirror position that was more commonly found on foreign cars was mounted forward on the front fenders. The position of these mirrors allows a larger degree of visibility, and makes for a narrower vehicle.
Side view mirrors typically are found mounted on a car's door today. Although once a simple piece of glass moved manually, these car mirrors are now packed with technology. One of the first developments was making these mirrors convex.
Convex mirrors slightly distort the reflection by making objects look further away than they really are. The trade off is that convex mirrors offer a much wider viewing angle. This is why the commonly known "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear," phrase appears on side view mirrors. Some mirrors even have two sections that can be adjusted separately of each other in order to eliminate blind spots. Drivers without this feature often opt for aftermarket stick-on mirrors. These take up only a small corner of the mirror but provide and increased viewing angle because of greater concavity.
Next came the folding mirror, doubling as what is called a breakaway mirror. This type of mirror conveniently folds in towards the body of the car, making parking in narrow spaces easier and cutting down on the risk of damage. Some high-end vehicles even have auto-folding mirrors that close after a car has been parked. The breakaway mirror was invented for safety reasons as well. In the event a car mirror strikes someone or something while the car is moving forward, the mirror will absorb a majority of the force and fold inward so as to avoid damage to the mirror and what it came in contact with.
One of the more convenient technology developments in side view mirrors was the invention of electric mirrors. These mirrors allow the driver to adjust the left and right mirror independently using a toggle switch, usually located on the dashboard or door. Electric side mirrors allow the driver to adjust the mirrors while sitting in a normal driving position rather than making trial and error adjustments over and over. Some high-end vehicles are even equipped with memory settings. Cars driven by multiple drivers can have their side mirrors reset to their specifications with one touch of a button.
In addition to adjusting side view mirror glass left, right, up and down, larger pickup trucks have towing mirrors. Towing mirrors are able to be extended outward from the body of the vehicle, which allows for an extended view further back behind the vehicle, which is essential when towing trailers. Some towing mirrors are extended manually, while other electronic tow mirrors are able to be adjusted conveniently inside the cab. Smaller trucks generally come with standard mirrors, so towing mirrors are a popular aftermarket upgrade for many of these drivers.
Heated side view mirrors are another convenient feature that can be priceless in the wintertime. This is an option that rarely comes standard, but can be found in “winter weather packages” as an upgrade from car manufacturers. Heated side view mirrors act similarly to a defroster on a rear windshield, allowing snow and ice to melt off quickly. It is a particularly popular option for those drivers who live in northern states.
Other features added to side view mirrors as of late include integrated turn signals. These amber lights on the front of side view mirror housings provide just another visual indication to other drivers when a vehicle has their blinker or hazard lights flashing. This extends beyond the rest of the car's body, making it more visible.
The latest safety feature built into side mirrors is blind spot detection. Many vehicles always seem to have a blind spot, no matter how well the mirrors are adjusted. Blind spot detection systems aim to eliminate scary close calls, and even accidents, by using sensors to detect when other vehicles are passing in an area not easily seen. Typically a small amber light will show in the driver's field of vision. This is usually located on the mirror itself, letting the driver know that a vehicle is in their blind spot.
The technology of side view mirrors continues to develop. What's next in the world of automotive side mirrors? Maybe nothing. Literally. Government regulations still require mirrors, but technology advancements predict that the side view mirror will soon be a thing of the past. Side view mirrors may instead be replaced by cameras and sensors integrated into a vehicle's body.