Imagine for a moment that you’re leisurely motoring your way to the beach doing around 80kph with an eight-metre-long caravan in tow. And for just one minute, you don’t bother to check your side mirrors. One minute isn’t a long time – in fact, it’s nothing compared to the hours you’ve already spent on the highway.
But those 60 seconds are enough time for a motorbike travelling at 135kph to have entered the highway a full kilometre behind you and to have gotten within 15 metres of the rear of your caravan. In another five seconds, not only will that bike have completely closed that distance to you, but it’ll be a full 40 metres ahead of you… and you never even saw it coming.
This isn’t an algebra lesson, no, it’s not even an indictment of fast-moving bikers. However, it is a reminder of just how important it is to have a good set of mirrors whenever you’re towing, and how critical it is to check them regularly to see what’s happening around you.
Mirror, mirror …
In all fairness, mirrors will probably be the last thing on your mind after you’ve purchased a spanking new caravan but if you don’t already have a pair of side towing mirrors, then investing in a good set could actually turn out to be your best purchase of the day. They’re a legal requirement for almost every instance of towing a large caravan, so it’s to be expected that opinions can – and sometimes will – differ on them. Their purpose is to help you and your trailer get to their destination safely which makes them an essential accessory that doesn’t cost very much, and whose benefits are priceless.
What you want
When you’re shopping for trailer mirrors, you want to keep in mind that it’s really no different from shopping for any other type of safety equipment. That means you shouldn’t hesitate to consider a pair that’d be appropriate for a larger sized camper or caravan than what you expect to be pulling.
As a minimum, Australian Design Rule (ADR) 14/02 requires tow mirrors to extend beyond the widest point of the vehicle being towed but you’re going to want a mirror that does more than just offer a legal minimum. Here are a few of the characteristics to look for when shopping for mirrors:
· A universal fit that attaches easily
They can either clamp onto your vehicle’s existing mirrors or strap onto the door. Regardless of how they attach, they should be easy to install and adjust by hand. The fastening hardware used to attach the mirrors should be heavy duty and corrosion resistant, as well as stable at speed and able to resist unnecessary vibration caused by either the towing vehicle or the wind. Remember too that extended side view mirrors can only be used when towing so easy removal is just as important as easy attaching.
· Chrome glass reflectors
Chrome glass mirrors are better reflectors than aluminium glass ones. They won’t discolour after a few years of use and are overall more durable. A pair of large, swivelling single- or dual-headed mirrors that are suitable for positioning on either the right- or left-hand side of the towing vehicle are the best choice regardless of whether you’re towing a camper, trailer or boat.
· Favourable field of vision
The ADR14/02 requires that mirrors provide a full-length view of the vehicle plus an additional 20 metres behind it and that means a mirror with a convex surface that won’t alter your field of view. It’s an advantage that’s especially helpful if you have either an exceptionally narrow vehicle or exceptionally wide trailer. And nothing should obstruct your view of your vehicle’s original mirrors. Not even the ones you’re towing with because the more vantage points you have, the more confident you’ll feel about your surroundings.
No smoke and mirrors
There’s no sleight of hand or trickery about them: a great set of towing mirror extensions are designed to assist drivers in the areas that every driver needs help with when they’re hooked to a trailer. It doesn’t matter if you’re pulling a 4.5metre pop-up camper or a condo-sized fifth-wheeler, mirrors increase all the attributes of attentiveness that you need to get to your destination.
Mirrors help to keep you aware of vehicles approaching your trailer either from the side or rear, of the trailer’s general ability to block your view of the other vehicles around you, and of the tendency for vehicles to disappear into the blind spot directly behind the trailer. Most drivers who’ve never towed a trailer simply aren’t aware that if they can’t see a towing vehicle’s mirrors, that the towing driver can’t see them at all. You need the tools to maintain that crucial awareness for all parties.
You want to maintain visibility of the trailer, top to bottom, to ensure that all the doors, windows or other attachments are properly secured at all times, as well as being able to quickly identify if the caravan is experiencing any type of mechanical difficulty. With mirrors attached, you can immediately spot a slow tyre puncture or other wheel-related problem before it becomes a major hazard.
You need to know at all times precisely what’s around you when manoeuvring through traffic, parking lots, or other environments – especially when backing. Sure, a rear-facing camera, or other driving aid, can help with your orientation, but it can’t show you what’s closing in on either side of your caravan.
There’s no substitute for seeing exactly what’s there with your own eyes, which is why mirrors are irreplaceable. It is, after all, all about safety and as important as it is to keep these points in mind when you’re shopping for mirrors, they’re twice as important when you’re on the road.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to risk getting poorly constructed or low-quality mirrors. There’s no getting around getting them because having sufficient width mirrors is the law, so why not get the best towing mirrors available at the very start? Ultimately, they’re not expensive, you can move them from one towing vehicle to the other, they’ll last forever, and the potential costs of not having a pair are simply too high.
Even where opinions may differ, there’s hardly an argument worth making against them. Before you start prepping your caravan for your next holiday, be sure that you’ve got a good pair of mirrors to rely on. And if you need a new pair, get in touch with a retailer who puts safety and quality at the top of their list. That’s a fair reflection that any mirror would be proud of!