A Driving Instructor's Blog

Someone found the blog on the search term “adi how to check wing mirror position”. A bit of a strange question if it was from an ADI, but for pupils it is often a problem – certainly to start with.Wing Mirror Position

The wing mirrors should be adjusted to give the maximum view behind without creating blind spots. My own lesson plans use the image shown on here – however, this is not intended to provide millimetre-perfect guides for where to put the mirrors!

The bottom line is that you aren’t interested seeing birds and aeroplanes, or road kill. You want to see as much as possible of what is happening behind you and to your sides. You don’t want to be looking at half of your own car. It isn’t rocket science.

I currently teach in a Ford Focus and I’ve found that a good position position for the wing mirrors from the pupil’s position in the driving seat is when they can just see the tip of the front door handle in the extreme bottom right of the nearside mirror, and the extreme bottom left of the offside mirror. Anywhere near that position is fine – it doesn’t have to be measured with a ruler! Obviously, if you’re an ADI using a different car, you set the mirrors yourself and then look for a reference you can explain to your pupils when they have to do it.

One point I do stress to my learners is that if they plan on using the mirrors for any reversing manoeuvres, it makes sense to adjust them consistently each time they get ion the car (during their cockpit drill). If they don’t, what they see can vary – and early on that can be a problem.

An ADI needs to have their own reference positions from the passenger seat so they know if the pupil is doing things properly. These “references” are just based on instinct, because with the mirror position you have to remember that all pupils are different – some sit 4 feet behind the steering wheel because they’re 6′ 7″ tall, whereas others sit only a few centimetres away because they’re 4′ 10″! You just get a feel for it over time.

I remember one occasion when one of mine had driven to a location for a manoeuvre. Just before we started I casually glanced at her offside mirror and something struck me as being odd. I couldn’t immediately pinpoint it, but then it hit me: I could see the side of the car in it from the passenger seat. When I tested the position later I confirmed that she would have been unable to see anything but the side of the car and quite probably just her own reflection!

Lord knows what she was thinking, or better still what she thought she was seeing. She’d been through her cockpit drill and insisted everything was OK. She was religiously doing the MSM routine throughout the lesson, but was obviously seeing nothing at all. It just goes to show what you have to look out for.

What is the correct position for my mirrors?

You want to see as much as possible of what’s going on behind you and to your side, and not leave any unnecessary blind spots.Blind Spots

You can see from the diagram that there is overlap of the mirrors’ coverage behind the car – but you don’t want this overlap so far behind that you have huge blind spots that could conceal things, nor do you want to increase the blind spot area to your left and right (i.e where the red car is).

There is no advantage to being able to see the birds and aeroplanes anymore than there is to being able to check out the squashed hedgehogs. And it goes without saying that the interior mirror is not for checking your hair and make-up.

How you achieve the correct mirror setting is really up to you, but it makes sense to have a consistent position so that you can see the same space around the car whenever you go out. If the mirrors are too high then you won’t see the lines when you’re reversing into bays, for example, but too low means you can’t see behind you properly when you’re driving, particularly when the road isn’t level and you’re going up and down hills.

On my Ford Focus, I get them to use the door handles as a reference position for the wing mirrors, as explained above. For the inside mirror they want to see all of the back window with a slight bias towards their left ear. But remember, this is just a very general guideline that I use – it isn’t written down anywhere that you have to use it.

How much of the car should I see in the passenger mirror?

Almost none of it – just the same as with the one on your side.

Although there is no rule that says they have to be set in a precise way, common sense dictates that the mirrors are there so that you can see what’s going on around you – not so you can stare at the side of your car. Therefore, you want to adjust them so that you can’t see much of the car at all, and not too much sky or road.

Remember not to try to adjust your mirrors too far outwards to try and cover your shoulder blind spots – otherwise you’ll just create two more of them between the car and the inside of the mirror! What you’re after as continuous coverage from the nearside mirror left edge, through the interior mirror, and across to the offside mirror right edge.

How can I adjust my mirrors to eliminate blind spots?

If you mean the ones you need to turn around for, you can’t – not with the mirrors fitted to the car, anyway.

The only way to cover your shoulder blind spots using mirrors is if you buy additional piggyback ones that fit on top of your existing mirror housing and which can be angled differently. These are often used by disabled people who can’t turn around properly or in cases where the driver cannot see behind properly due to the vehicle design.

Unless you have a medical condition or some genuine reason for needing extra mirrors, you should not be looking for ways to avoid checking you blind spots properly (i.e. by turning your head and looking directly into them). A mirror is useful if there is absolutely no other way – but it is dangerous if the mirror replaces a better way!

Remember not to try to adjust your mirrors too far outwards to try and cover these blind spots – otherwise you’ll just create two more of them between the car and the inside of the mirror! The mirrors should provide continuous coverage up to your shoulder blind spots.

My instructor told me the car should fill one third of the mirrors

As I said above, there is no absolute mirror position. However, that doesn’t mean they can be adjusted badly, and your instructor is wrong to suggest this – there is absolutely no point in being able to see a large swathe of the car. If you adjust the mirrors like this, you are wasting one third of your mirror area. I’ve also heard some nonsense about “two [or three] finger widths” of car being visible. This is also wrong.

Your mirrors are there to show what’s behind you. Adjust them so that they show a tiny sliver of the car, and not too much sky or road.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors for particular manoeuvres?

Yes. My own pupils only adjust it for the parallel park, because I have a method which accurately positions the car relative to the kerb. For normal observations, they don’t really need to be moved – if they’re adjusted properly in the first place they will show you everything you need be able to see.

If my side mirrors aren’t adjusted properly will I have trouble with parallel parking?

In order to parallel park you need to know where the kerb is and to judge your position relative to it. It doesn’t matter what method you use, you have to be able to judge your proximity to the kerb. If you use your mirrors to make this judgement, then it is obvious that having them pointing any which way is likely to cause problems.

This is true of any manoeuvre or situation where you use your mirrors – if they are badly adjusted then you won’t be able to see what you ought to be able to.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors if I’m on my Part 2 (driving instructor) test?

Yes.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust my mirror for me?

If you only have manually-adjustable mirrors, yes. The examiner will not refuse this request. The examiners’ SOP (DT1) says:

The candidate may ask the examiner to assist in adjusting the nearside door mirror before a manoeuvre. The examiner should not refuse this simple request, and assist the candidate as appropriate. The candidate should not have to lean across the examiner to adjust the mirror.

Would I fail if I touched (clipped) someone’s wing mirror?

If you mean clipping it with your wing mirror (or any other part of your car), almost certainly, yes! You could fail just for being too close to someone’s wing mirror, so clipping it would be even worse.

Like most things you can never be 100% certain that it would result in a fail – there might be extenuating circumstances – but in all normal cases it would mean that you were passing too closely, and that has its own box on the DL25 Marking Sheet. You’d get a serious or a dangerous fault for it depending on the actual situation.

I clipped someone’s mirror. Does it make me a bad driver?

Only if you keep doing it. Most people have done it at one time or another, but they learn from their mistakes.

If you actually break someone’s mirror, my advice is to let them know.

Who are you to tell people how to set their mirrors?

Yes, that question has been asked in those aggressive terms on more than one occasion (including on forums, where instructors are trying to score points off of each other).

The short answer is that that I’m a driving instructor, and if someone hasn’t done it before – and if they’re paying me to teach them – I will give them the guidance they need on all aspects of learning to drive. If your instructor isn’t helping you with stuff like this it is probably because he or she doesn’t know the answer either.

What am I checking for when I use the mirrors?

Anything or anyone that you might hit or inconvenience if you move off. And the mirrors are only part of it – you also need to check your blind spots, which are not covered by the mirrors.

How should I use the mirrors?

Generally, at least in pairs. Use your own common sense.

For example, if you’re parked on the left hand side of the road and want to move off, you would typically check your inside mirror, offside (right hand, or wing) mirror, and right shoulder blind spot to get the maximum amount of information about what is coming up behind you. However, if you were parked on the right hand side of the road then you’d check your inside and nearside (left hand, or wing) mirrors, and your left shoulder blind spot.

In either of the above examples, if you’d seen pedestrians, children, people getting into cars in driveways, or anything else that could be relevant, then you may well decide to check your other mirror and blind spot as well.

Do I need to check them in any particular order?

Not really, but checking the inside, wing, and blind spot in that order makes the most sense in most cases. If a car is coming up from behind on a straight road it will initially be visible in the inside mirror. As it gets closer it will appear in both the inside and offside mirrors, then move to only the offside mirror. Finally, it will only be visible in your blind spot until it passes you.

However, if you know there is a hazard of some sort behind you – cyclists or pedestrians, for example – look in the mirror most likely to tell you where it is and what it’s doing. You are not going to be marked on which order you check them in as long as your checks are meaningful.

Remember that it is your responsibility to check properly, so use the appropriate mirrors, check the appropriate blind spots, and even turn around and physically look in the appropriate direction if necessary. In extreme cases it may even be prudent to stop and get out of the car. For example, what if you see a small child on a bike, or even a dog, which then disappears from view as you’re about to move off? Where are they? This is especially relevant if you are doing a reversing manoeuvre of some sort.

Is it OK if I check all the mirrors every time?

It depends. Although checking all three mirrors to pass a parked car, for example, isn’t a fault in itself, the extra delay that the unnecessary additional check creates could cause problems. The most likely one is that you’ll steer out later and you’ll therefore be looking away from the obstruction at the same time you’re getting close to it. One of the most common faults (and causes of test failure) is passing obstructions too closely.

It’s the same when moving off. If you add unnecessary additional checks, the first one becomes quite stale before you’ve finished the last. If you then check your right mirror/blind spot first, someone could turn up while you’re looking needlessly to the left. If that happened – and you didn’t see them – you would probably fail.

If you are doing it because you’re trying to cover all the bases and make sure you don’t miss a check in front of the examiner, it’s the wrong way to go about it. Remember that learners tend to be quite slow with their checks in the first place, and extra checks make them even slower – sometimes, too slow.

However, if it’s because you used to ride a motorcycle, then as long as you’re aware it isn’t absolutely necessary – and if no other problems result – then it doesn’t really matter.

Instructors shouldn’t really be encouraging it, though they shouldn’t be trying to stop it if no other issues are cropping up.

I failed my test for observation when moving off, but I did look over my shoulder

The examiner is watching you to make sure you take effective observations before moving off (and in other circumstances). Looking isn’t enough. You have to actually see, too. That’s what is meant by “effective”.

Think about it. Looking in two mirrors and over your shoulder involves three head movements, but you could do this with your eyes closed and not see anything at all. The problem is that when people don’t appreciate why they’re looking or what they’re looking for, they won’t do it properly. In that case they may as well have their eyes shut for all the good their “checks” do.

I have lost count of the times my pupils have “looked all round” on lessons and not seen the car or lorry coming straight towards them. The chances are that something similar to this is what happened on your test. Or perhaps the examiner wasn’t happy that you’d have seen something if it was coming (even if it wasn’t) because you didn’t look properly.


First published in 2011. Updated 2014 and 2016.

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