Written by Andrei Zakhareuski. With over 16 years of expertise, Andrei leads Driving-Tests.org, a top online resource for driver education. His leadership has established vital partnerships with over 2,600 libraries, educational bodies, and state agencies.

There is a reason driver’s education teachers hound you about checking your mirrors.

Your side and rear-view mirrors are among the most important safety features on your vehicle. Without them, you would only be able to view a fraction of the roadway at a time and your odds of a collision would skyrocket. While glancing from side to side and upwards every few seconds may be a bit awkward at first, developing the habit of correctly using your mirrors is a top priority.

Image of a side mirror of a vehicle

Understanding Car Mirrors and Their Uses

Each mirror in your vehicle plays a crucial role in ensuring safety and enhancing visibility. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of mirrors and their functions:

The most commonly found mirrors, either manually or power-adjusted, offer a comprehensive view of the area behind and to the sides of your vehicle. They are fundamental for everyday driving.

By understanding the specific functions and advantages of each mirror type, you can significantly improve your driving experience, ensuring you’re well-equipped for any situation on the road.

Pre-Drive Safety Check

Before you even adjust your mirrors or start your engine, performing a detailed pre-drive check is essential for both safety and efficiency. Here’s a breakdown to guide you through:


Inspect the Surroundings

Start with a walk-around. Check for any obstacles around your vehicle that might block your path.


Tire and Pressure Check

Examine your tires for wear and tear, and verify they’re inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.


Light Inspection

Ensure all your lights—headlights, turn signals, and brake lights—are working correctly.


Look for Leaks

Glance under the vehicle for any signs of leaks. This could indicate a potential problem.


Secure the Interior

Make a quick check inside your car, paying special attention to the back seat, to ensure everything is secure.

This systematic approach doesn’t just get your vehicle ready for the trip; it emphasizes the critical role of safety from the moment you approach your car.

Next, before you hit the road, you must adjust your side and rearview mirrors so that you have clear visibility in each of them. Here’s how:

How to Adjust Your Mirrors Properly for Safety and Comfort

Properly adjusting your vehicle’s mirrors is key to minimizing blind spots and maximizing visibility, crucial for safe driving. Here’s how to optimize each mirror’s position:


Driver’s Side Mirror

Sit in the driver’s seat. Locate the levers or buttons that adjust the side mirrors. Many newer models have a small lever or joy-stick on the driver’s side door that electronically adjusts the side mirrors. Older models often require you to manually adjust them using a lever or by pressing on the mirror itself. Now, lean your head to the left, close to the driver’s window. Adjust the mirror until the side of your car is barely visible. This alignment reduces blind spots on the driver’s side. mirror buttons (Never experiment with these buttons while driving.)


Passenger’s Side Mirror

Shift your position right, leaning toward the center console. Set the mirror so you can just glimpse the car’s side. This arrangement lessens blind spots on the passenger’s side.


Rearview Mirror

Tilt it to achieve a direct view of the rear window. For taller drivers, consider flipping the mirror upside down, if your mirror allows, to enhance the field of vision and diminish blind spots. Rear view mirror


Comprehensive Check

Once adjusted, verify that the view from each mirror smoothly transitions to the others, creating a continuous panoramic perspective of the areas around your vehicle.

Customizing mirror settings according to your driving posture and stature not only bolsters safety but also augments comfort, significantly cutting down the need for over-the-shoulder blind spot checks.

Now that your mirrors are adjusted, here are some driving scenarios that require you to use your mirrors:

How to Use Your Mirrors Properly

  1. Merging on the Interstate: When changing lanes, first check your rearview mirror to see if any cars are following you. As you begin to signal your intention to turn, check the side mirror on the side you plan to merge to. For example, if you plan to merge from the left lane to the right lane, check your right side mirror for traffic approaching in that lane. Continue to glance between your rearview and side mirrors as you complete the merge.

  2. General Driving: Safety experts recommend that you keep a constant scan of all your vehicle’s mirrors while driving. Take a quick glance at one mirror every five seconds starting with the driver’s side mirror.

  3. Parallel Parking: All three of your mirrors are essential to successfully parallel parking your vehicle. Check out How to Parallel Park for more information on how to use your mirrors to squeeze your vehicle into a tricky parking space.

  4. When Pulling a Trailer: Checking your mirrors is a must when your vehicle is pulling a trailer of any kind. When making turns, watch the mirror to the inside of the turn to ensure that the trailer’s wheels do not hit the curb.

Reversing in Tight Spaces

  • Use both side mirrors to gauge the distance from obstacles.
  • The rearview mirror should guide your straight-line backing, while side mirrors help avoid lateral hazards.

High-Speed Highway Driving

  • Frequent checks in all mirrors are crucial to understand traffic flow and prepare for lane changes. This is especially important when vehicles in adjacent lanes are moving at significantly different speeds.

Dense Urban Traffic

  • Mirrors are invaluable for *monitoring cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles that might suddenly enter your path from side streets or driveways.

Why It Matters

Proper adjustment and usage of your vehicle’s side and rearview mirrors will prevent dangerous blind spots and keep your vehicle out of the path of approaching traffic.

(Ladies, remember that your rearview mirror really isn’t for make-up application, especially while operating the car!)

Tips for Effective Mirror Use

Regularly glance at your mirrors to stay aware of your surroundings, especially before and during maneuvers like lane changes or turns.

Dealing with Glare

  • Night Driving: Use the night setting on your rearview mirror to reduce glare from headlights behind you.

Maintaining Your Mirrors for Optimal Safety and Visibility

Ensuring your vehicle’s mirrors are in top condition is key to safe driving. Here’s how to maintain them properly:

  • Keep mirrors clean and free from obstructions. A clear view is essential.
  • Regularly check for damage or misalignment. Even small issues can significantly impact visibility.
  • Verify the functionality of special features like heated and auto-dimming mirrors. These features enhance safety in various driving conditions.
  • In colder climates, prevent ice build-up on exterior mirrors. Use covers or activate built-in heating elements, if available, to maintain clear visibility.

Remember, well-maintained mirrors are crucial for clearer visibility and, by extension, safe driving in all conditions.

Mirror Positioning for Different Drivers

Each driver is different, and mirror positioning should be adjusted each time a new driver uses the vehicle to ensure optimal visibility.

Effective use of mirrors is a key aspect of defensive driving. Regularly adjusting and properly using your car mirrors enhances safety and confidence on the road.

For more information on driver’s education and safety, visit Driving-Tests.org.

Was this page helpful?