Fender Mirrors Look Cool, Are Useless

Photo: Rex Grey, Flickr

There are some pretty great automotive designs from the past that have fallen out of use for one reason or another. Some of them, like fins and rocket-shaped tail lights, should make a comeback. But most of them are gone for good reason, like mirrors mounted forward on the fenders.

You don’t see fender mirrors too often these days unless you’re taking a taxi in Japan, but they used to be pretty common, especially on Japanese cars. They look great a lot of the time. Functionally, however, they are garbage.

They seem to have an advantage: They are more in your forward vision so you don’t have to completely take your eyes off the road in front of you to use them. You don’t need to check your blind spot. Unfortunately, the fact that they are far from your eyes makes this unrealistic.

Photo: Guillaume Vachey, Flickr

A quick glance at a modern door mirror, followed by a quick glance to your side will tell you clearly if another car is in the lane you want to be in. A fender mirror takes more time. It’s hard to tell with a quick glance because the viewable area is microscopic.

In the ’60s, it was decided that a tiny 3 inch round mirror was adequate by the same people who decided that your femur made an acceptable crumple zone. Thanks to the fact that we live in a three-dimensional space, fender mirrors make that tiny area exponentially worse. My driver’s side fender mirror is three times farther from me than a door mirror would be. Thanks to the inverse square law, that results in one-ninth the viewable area. Eleven per cent of an already tiny mirror is basically useless.

Is that a large truck that is far away, or a small car that is closer? You could drive for miles, afraid to change lanes because you think a car is in your blind spot when in fact it was just some bird shit on your mirror. It’s too far away to discern anything.

Photo: Rutger van der Maar, Flickr

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that my car is right-hand drive. When pulling out of a parallel parking spot, my entire view of traffic coming towards me is rendered in a three-inch circle on the opposite fender, with zero depth perception. For sure, right-hand drive on the right side of the road is not the intended use case, but it does a great job of illustrating the uselessness of the mirror.

You also can’t adjust them from inside the car. You get buckled in and then notice that someone had bumped the mirror again. You have to get out, adjust it, get back in, check it, get back out and adjust it again, and do that about five times for each mirror. You could also yell at a random passerby to help you.

“You, ma’am, yes you with the baby stroller! Can you help me adjust my barely usable mirror so I can drive? Yeah, just rotate it up. A little more. Little more. Too far, go back. Now left. No, left. No, my left.”

I honestly don’t know how anyone decided these things were a good idea.

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