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Do you adjust your mirrors or seat first?

How to adjust your wing mirrors correctly

Your car’s wing mirrors are there to allow you to see behind your car so that you can manoeuvre in car parks, change lanes and pull out of parking spaces. They are not a complete replacement for turning your head and looking over your shoulder – they’ll always have a blind spot – but they help minimise the blind spot and keep you abreast of what’s going on behind your car. The problem is that many people just don’t have them set effectively and that increases the risk of pulling into the path of another road users.

We’re going to show you how you can easily set up your wing mirrors using three photos we took while were were in New Zealand of all places. Wing mirror setup is universal, so don’t think that we’ve done it a special Kiwi way; it’s just as relevant in the lucky country.

Moving the mirrors

Before you start, you need to find out how to adjust the mirrors in the particular car you’re in. If it’s a modern car there will be some kind of electric adjustment (see below). If it’s an old(ish) car then you might see a lever poking into the passenger cabin where the wing mirror joins the bodywork. If it’s a really old car then you might have to wind down the window and move the mirror or the whole assembly with your hand.

Modern systems tend to look similar to this one which is off the Commodore in the driveway.

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wing mirror adjustment

Or this one, which is off the Toyota.


Both have a selector to choose between the left and right mirror, and a four-way button to adjust them up, down, left or right. The Toyota also has a button to fold the mirrors inwards – useful when parked in tight spaces to avoid damage by pedestrians passing between cars, and to reduce the risk of other vehicles hitting them.

The correct angle for the mirrors

Too far in

You can see far too much of the car in this shot. You don’t need to see that much – the mirror can be angled further out so that you see more of the lane beside you. Angling it like this increases your blind spot.

wing mirror too far in

Too far out

When the mirror is too far out you can’t see cyclists approaching from behind, so it’s dangerous. While you can see further into the lane beside you, you don’t have any reference point as to exactly where the vehicles are.

wing mirror too far out

Just right

This mirror is adjusted perfectly. You can only just see the car that you are in. It means that you get the benefit of being able to see back up the line of cars parked behind you (good for spotting cyclists approaching), as well as a good deal of the lane beside you. Having your mirror adjusted correctly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look in your blind spot, too, though. Every time you change lanes or pull out from a line of parked cars you must check your blind spot.

wing mirror just right

Once your mirror is properly adjusted remember that objects in it will always appear further away than they really are because of the convexity of the mirror. This is another reason why turning your head to take that final look is a good check.

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Your rear view mirror should be adjusted so that you can see as far back up the road as possible. Most rear view mirrors are large enough so that you can see more than the rear window, therefore adjust it so that it’s suitable for you and remember that if you adjust your seating position you will also need to readjust your mirrors.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

The Basics: How to adjust car mirrors for maximum visibility

Whether you’re a learner driver and want to brush up on your knowledge, or awaiting driving lessons and want to get ahead, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about adjusting your car mirrors.

At Bill Plant Driving School, we help thousands of people to learn to drive every year. The basics are where we all start. So in this series, we’re covering everything your instructor will teach you in your first few driving lessons.

In this guide, we’re going to focus on how to adjust your car mirrors to allow for maximum visibility. But first of all, you need to make sure you’ve set up your car seat and arranged your steering wheel into a suitable position. Once this is completed, you’re ready to adjust your car mirrors.

Having properly adjusted mirrors for your height and seating position is paramount for your and your passenger’s safety. Every time you change your seating position, you will need to readjust your mirrors to ensure you have maximum visibility of everything that is going on around you.

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Adjusting your car mirrors is part of the cockpit drill, and your driving instructor will teach you how to do this during one of your first driving lessons.

Adjust the rear-view mirror

The rear-view mirror is mounted onto the upper part of the windscreen, and is there to give you a clear view of what’s happening behind you.

  • Make sure you’re sitting in your normal driving position, as leaning to adjust the mirror won’t provide you with the best visibility of the road behind you.
  • Adjust the mirror until you can see the entire rear window with a minimal amount of the interior of the car.
  • Try not to touch the glass when adjusting your mirror as this can leave fingerprints and hinder your view of the road behind you.

Adjust the side mirrors

Side mirrors, also known as wing mirrors, are placed on the exterior of the vehicle. These are curved mirrors that provide a wide viewing angle of each side of your vehicle.

Depending on the make and age of your vehicle, there are two different types of controls for adjusting your side mirrors.

  • Electric controls – Most modern cars have electric controls, which allow you to adjust your car’s side mirrors with simple buttons.
  • Manual controls – Older vehicles often come with a joystick or lever that you manually control, or you may have to physically move the mirrors themselves.

Right side mirror

  • When adjusting the right side mirror, you should sit in the driver’s seat in a suitable driving position.
  • You want to adjust your mirror so that you can only see a small section of the car, but have a clear view of the road and traffic behind you.
  • For the mirror angle, the horizon should be in the centre. The horizon is the further point that you can see, where the distant road disappears.
  • Adjusting your right side mirror to the correct position is crucial, as you rely on this mirror particularly for moving off, overtaking and joining dual-carriageways or motorways.
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Left side mirror

  • Make sure you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, in the correct driving position. If you have manual mirror controls, it may be trickier to adjust the left side mirror. Try moving the mirror a little at a time until you get the correct position, or you can always ask the person sitting in the passenger seat to help you.
  • As with the right side mirror, you want to adjust the left side mirror until you see just part of the car, and a good view of the road behind you.
  • The difference with the left mirror is that you want it angled slightly lower. This will give you a better view of the curbkerb when pulling over or making a manoeuvre.
  • Make sure your mirror is at a height that you can still see the end of the road behind you.

What is a blind spot?

Blind spots are the areas around your car that aren’t visible through your windscreen or car mirrors. Depending on your vehicle, you may have a smaller or larger blind spot.

It is important that you don’t solely rely on your mirrors when driving. When completing manoeuvres, changing lanes or turning, you should always look over your shoulder to check if it is safeit safe to do so.

What else do you need to consider when adjusting your car mirrors?

  • If at any point when driving, you decide your mirrors have not been adjusted correctly, make sure to pull over in a safe and legal position before properly adjusting them. You must not adjust your car mirror whilst driving, as this can compromise safety.
  • If you’re driving somebody else’s car, it is important that you properly adjust the mirrors to suit you as the driver, even if you’re driving for just a short distance.
  • You should check your mirrors are adjusted to the correct position every time you set off to drive or change your seating position. Doing this will ensure that you have a clear view of the road around you.
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Bill Plant Driving School helps you with the basics

Here at Bill Plant Driving School, we help thousands of people of a variety of ages to learn how to drive. Whether you’re hoping to learn in a manual or automatic car, our instructors are here to take the stress away from that first lesson.

Your driving instructor will teach you everything you need to know, including how to start a car, move off and stop, and what gears are and when to change them.

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