Mirrors are crucial to the safe driving of an RV. After all, the RV is usually significantly larger (longer, wider, and higher) than your normal daily vehicle. So even if you do not typically use your mirrors to any extent while driving your normal daily vehicle (and many drivers do not), you will have to use mirrors while driving your RV. Otherwise, you will not be able to see your sides and rear area.
With that, if you are not accustomed to using mirrors—especially when backing—again, you will have to learn how. There’s nothing magic or strange or hard about this but it has to be done. Why? You simply cannot see the rear of your RV using only a rear-monitor camera or by sticking your head out the window or by turning around in the driver’s seat—your view is blocked. After all, if you turn around in the driver’s seat in a motorhome, you are typically looking at the kitchen.
[Author’s Note: You can easily learn and practice backing. I always recommend doing this in a large church parking lot about 10:00 on a Tuesday morning. There is rarely anything going on then and you will have space to maneuver. Take two or three of the orange traffic cones with you and use them as guides. What? No cones? Then take some cardboard boxes to use. Use anything you can see in the mirrors but that won’t be a disaster if you run over them.]
What to do First
When it’s your turn to drive and you move into the driver’s seat, sit down and adjust the seat first, the steering wheel second, and your mirrors third. Adjust everything to “fit” you before you even put it in gear—much less, drive away. Driving a new vehicle takes all of your concentration. We have joked in our seminars that driving an RV takes more than all your concentration. Be as ready as possible before you start to roll.
The following information is more applicable to large motorhomes but can be applied to other situations.
Convex Mirrors… Adjust your convex mirrors to allow both you and the copilot to see down along side your coach so that cars cannot be in a totally blind spot. Once set, the convex mirrors usually do not have to be moved. Note: Items in the convex mirror are closer than you think. Do not use them to judge distance.
A correctly adjusted convex mirror should show three “lanes” of traffic. One (theoretically) is the lane your RV is sitting in. You should see the side of your coach in the mirror but obviously, you can’t see the lane if your RV is in it. However, part of the side of your RV and pavement will be seen in the mirror.
The convex mirror will also show the lane next to you and one more. This is a total of three visible lanes seen in the mirror.
Flat Mirror… Having your flat mirrors adjusted correctly is crucial to being a safe driver. Here’s some “where” to set them and “why”…
- Adjust the large “flat” mirror so that you can see just a bit of the side of your RV along the inside portion (nearest the coach) of each mirror.
Why?… To ensure you have everything in sight up to the side of your RV. But, you don’t need to see much of the side of your RV.
- Next, set the Earth’s horizon about 2/3 to 3/4 of the distance up from the bottom of each mirror.
Why?… You don’t need to see much sky in the mirror and seeing this much “earth” will cover lots of highway.
Each driver will need to readjust every time you trade drivers. This is a quick and simple task with powered mirrors.
Flat mirrors are designed so that when set properly, you can see a vehicle 200 feet behind you. It will start to become visible as a small speck in the mirror and stay centered (ideally) until it approaches your vehicle. Then, because of the angles of the mirrors, the approaching vehicle will move out of your mirror vision.
The Trick to Adjusting Those Mirrors
You always set the mirrors for the individual driver. Drivers come in different sizes and mirror settings will simply not work for different size people. Besides, no one ever wore out an electric mirror motor so adjusting them each time you trade drivers is just fine. Your mirrors and their respective motors will last a long time.
You want to adjust the mirrors on a motorhome so that you have no blind spots along side your coach. This is easy to do and it works like this…
In the left picture, you can see the vehicle approaching you. The flat mirror is set to see 200 yards (183 meters) behind your vehicle. With our flat mirror adjusted correctly, you can also see the highway vanishing near the center of the mirror. (Note that the camera angle causes this to appear off to the right just a bit. Also note that I shot this photo with someone else driving and could not get in their way.)
The left mirror shows the vehicle passing us and it starts to disappear from the flat mirror. Just before it disappears, you can see it appear in the convex mirror below. This means that you can see that vehicle at all times while it is approaching and passing you. The vehicle never disappears from your sight and therefore, does not move into a blind spot—assuming the mirrors were set correctly.
Windshield Reflections… If windshield or side-window reflections are a problem—especially at night—use a dark colored, non-reflective cloth (like a dark blue polar fleece) to cover your light-colored dash. It needs to be washable. Get two pieces instead of one large one so it will be a bit more manageable.
Rain… Since you are using only outside mirrors, you are subject to rain. This drastically cuts down on your vision, clarity, and ability to know what is going on around you with other drivers. While you could wipe them off, if it continues to rain, then that effort is wasted.
Rear-View Monitors… Many of the rear-view monitors found on motorhomes will adjust automatically or they will have settings (a switch) for day usage and night usage. Change the setting as needed. Using the night setting will greatly reduce the glare and will be easier on your eyes when driving at night or heavily overcast days. This will have a similar effect as decreasing the brightness of your dash lights.
Rear-View Cameras… Some rear-view cameras may be adjusted and may have a wide-angle lens that enables you to actually see a part of the traffic lanes beside yours—on both sides as well as farther behind. If so, you may also be able to see along the lower part of other vehicles as you pass them. For example, you might be able to see only the bottom half of their tires or a lower portion of the front fender or bumper. If so, you should also be able to see when you have cleared that vehicle, when passing. Of course you need to have additional clearance before you pull back into the driving lane ahead of the other vehicle. However, just being able to use the rear-view monitor to verify when you have cleared is a safety factor.
Using mirrors is not difficult but it does take practice. Unfortunately, in normal cars/pickup trucks, we find that people rarely use their mirrors other than occasionally checking behind them while driving forward. It is almost unheard of to use the typical car/pickup truck mirror to help while backing the vehicle. Granted some truck mirrors may be adequate but car mirrors—almost a joke.
When you drive the RV (pulling it or driving it), you will have to use your mirrors. Take some time, set them correctly by following our guidelines, don’t be afraid to adjust them to individual drivers, have fun, and be safe.