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Tow Mirrors: What Do They Do & Do You Need Them?

Tow Mirrors: What Do They Do & Do You Need Them?

When you think about the equipment required to provide a safe and comfortable RVing experience, it’s important to keep tow mirrors in mind. Good towing mirrors, adjusted and used correctly, are critical parts of a towing setup.

We recently posted an article about how to hitch a trailer to tow it safely, and it got us thinking about another aspect of safe towing.

So, in this post, we’re focusing on the towing gear that lets you see what’s behind you and to the side of you as you roll down the highway. While we’re focusing on towables today, many concepts we’ll cover also apply to motorhomes!

Let’s talk about tow mirrors – the “eyes in the back of your head” that’ll show you what’s happening around your rig, literally at a glance.

What Are Tow Mirrors?

Tow mirrors are larger-than-standard mirrors that extend out beyond the side of your towing vehicle. They’re designed to improve the view alongside and (a little bit) behind a towable camper (travel trailer or fifth wheel).

They may come with a new vehicle (usually a truck) that’s intended for towing and can be manually extendable or powered.

Depending on your pickup truck’s year, make, and model, towing mirrors can also be purchased to replace the original side-view mirrors with larger and/or extendable ones.

Clip-on extensions are also available as a simple, removable option.

Do I Really Need Towing Mirrors?

Towing mirrors exist for the purpose of giving you the best possible overall view around your camper (or any trailer) and what’s alongside or approaching it at any given moment.

Having a good view of the area surrounding your trailer is critical to safe towing. Standard side view mirrors will likely leave significant blind spots.

That’s important to remember — when you’re towing anything, especially a long travel trailer, blind spots can leave your view incomplete. That’s dangerous to you, those traveling with you, and anyone traveling near your rig.

This is why we see large tractor-trailer trucks with multiple mirrors showing what would otherwise be blind areas.

Multiple mirrors on a large cargo truck

Large trucks have multiple mirrors, allowing the driver to see traffic and other objects in various locations around their rigs that would otherwise be invisible.

So, safety is the top reason for tow mirrors.

Towing mirrors are also mandated in the United States, though laws vary from state to state.

The bottom line is that if you can’t clearly see traffic and other objects, both alongside and approaching your rig without blind spots impeding those sight lines, you may need to add tow mirrors to your vehicle.

Tow mirrors can also be a huge help in backing up, maneuvering into a tight campsite, and hitching up your trailer.

Why Do Tow Mirrors Have Two Mirrors?

The two pieces of glass included in towing-specific mirrors address different needs and fields of view.

The purpose of this is to reduce blind spots left by a single mirror, even though it might extend significantly beyond the side of the towing vehicle. No one mirror can do it all.

Convex mirrors are curved to provide a wide viewing angle. But that curve both distorts the image that’s seen in them and makes things appear smaller than they actually are (so harder to see details).

Flat mirrors provide a smaller viewing angle, but allow you to see far more detail and further into the distance.

The perspectives of flat and convex mirrors shown

Flat and convex mirrors offer two different (and complementary) perspectives to drivers. The curve of a convex mirror provides a wide overall view but lacks detail due to objects appearing smaller than their actual size. Flat mirrors have a limited viewing area. That’s why both are needed together, working as a team.

This is why you need both mirrors to provide the best view possible with less potential for blind spots.

As mentioned earlier, mirrors that offer multiple fields of view don’t only apply to those towing travel trailers.

If you’ve seen our RVgeeks Driving School videos, you’ll know that those of us with motorhomes need to learn how to properly adjust and use our mirrors for safe travel. (See our post on how to adjust RV mirrors for details.)

But, even though a rig might come with the mirrors necessary for adequate viewing behind and around your rig, knowing how to set and use them is key.

If you’re unsure how to optimize your mirrors, the video below features Peter (a former professional driver and the Safety & Training Manager for a large bus company), showing how to adjust and use RV mirrors and monitor & maintain your rig’s lane position.

Can I Use a Camera Instead of Towing Mirrors?

While exterior cameras can and do add to the overall picture of your surroundings, they don’t replace properly designed and adjusted side-view mirrors.

Even if you have the best camera(s) in the industry, you still need towing mirrors, not just for safety, but to stay legal.

If you happen to be involved in an accident without the appropriate mirrors as required by law, your insurance company could refuse to pay the claim, leaving you fully responsible.

Cameras are a tool to add additional views, not a replacement for mirrors.

What Are the Best Towing Mirrors?

Tow mirrors come in a variety of types, and which is best for you will depend on your particular towing vehicle as well as the type and size/length of your travel trailer.

So, it’s difficult to suggest a specific towing mirror because they’re not universal to all towing or towed vehicles.

However, if you need to add tow mirrors to your setup, the following choices are available.

We’ll include a link to an option for each type. But remember that your particular vehicle and towing situation will determine which type of mirror is best, including how the mirror mounts to your vehicle.

Most online retailers offer a filter or fitment guide to help you to determine which mirrors would work best with your specific vehicle.

Manual Towing Mirrors

This is one of the easier types of tow mirrors to install as a DIY upgrade.

They’re basic, but they’ll give you an improved field of vision without the need to deal with wiring.

To install a manual mirror on most pickup trucks (or other vehicles), you’ll need to remove the door panel to access bolts that hold the mirror in place.

Simple tools like these can be very helpful in door panel removal.

Sale
DUXAA Auto Trim Removal Tool Kit,5 Pcs Car Panel Door Window Tools Kit,Auto Clip Fastener Remover Pry Tool Set
  • 5 Pack Trim Tools Kit : There are 5 pcs different kinds of trim tools, including 4 pcs car door panel removal tool and 1 pcs fastener remover .
  • Multifunctional Use : These Car Trim Remoaval Tools work great for car audio/radio system installing or removing, door panel, moldings, emblems,...

Here’s a basic manual tow mirror to consider as an upgrade to standard side view mirrors:

Scitoo Set Door Mirrors fit 2006-2011 for Ford Ranger Manual adjusted Folding Tow mirrors Non extended
  • DOOR MIRRORS FIT - 2006-2011 for Ford Ranger
  • FUNCTION - Manual Folding Non-extended, Glass are Manually adjustable

Power Towing Mirrors

A power tow mirror will of course use your vehicle’s electrical system to power it. Some models offer not only power adjustment, but additional features such as heat and turn signals.

Power mirrors generally have 2-3 wires extending from the base for connection to the vehicle’s electrical system. You’ll need to connect them to the mirror controls using the wiring on your towing vehicle.

Installing these as a DIY project isn’t especially difficult, but is slightly more involved than installing a simple manual tow mirror.

But because so many vehicles have power mirrors today, this could be the type of upgrade you need.

This option offers power operation of the mirror as well as heat to defrost it.

AERDM New Pair Towing Mirrors Power Operated Heated Textured Black Telescoping Trailer Side Mirrors Fit Chevy/GMC/Cadillac Silverado Sierra Avalanche Suburban Tahoe Yukon XL Escalade EXT ESV
  • These Mirrors Will Fit The Following Models With Power Operated (On Glass Movement) & Heated Mirrors Only, Not Fit Models With Manual Operated...
  • 2pcs Brand New Power Heated Telescoping Towing Trailer Style Side Mirrors

Extendable/Telescoping

Extendable or telescoping mirrors allow you to move them further outward to increase vision around a wide trailer.

The ability to adjust how far out the mirror extends can be very useful, particularly if you tow more than one type of trailer with your truck. For example, if you sometimes tow a camper, but also tow a boat or a utility trailer at times, an extendable tow mirror might be the perfect upgrade for you.

Extendable mirrors may be manual or powered.

Telescoping versions offer similar features to non-extendable mirrors such as heat, a turn signal, the ability to fold them in, etc.

These extendable tow mirrors are powered and offer heat as well as a built-in turn signal:

YITAMOTOR Towing Mirrors Compatible for 99-07 Ford F250/F350/F450/F550 Super Duty, 01-05 Excursion Pair Set Extendable Smoke Power Heated with Signal Light Side Mirrors
  • Fitment: compatible with Ford 1999-2007 F250/F350/F450/F550 Super Duty, 2001-2005 Ford Excursion, 03-07 Ford F250 F350 F450 truck, 99-03 Ford F250...
  • Package contents & dimensions: a pair of telescoping trailer tow mirrors, including driver side and passenger side; side mirror length is 16.5”...

Additional Features (Turn Signals & Puddle Lights)

We’ve looked at tow mirrors with turn signal lights embedded into the casing (above). Other power mirrors offer similar features including puddle lights.

There are small lamps built into the lower part of the housing for the purpose of lighting up the ground near the front doors. These are typically activated when the driver unlocks the doors or when exiting the vehicle.
 
Here’s an example of a tow mirror upgrade that offers puddle lights as a feature:
 
Trail Ridge Tow Mirror Power Heated Signal Puddle Light Black Pair Set for F150
  • Direct Fit, OE Replacement Door Mirror Set
  • Vehicle Specific: Check fitment information in the listing for compatibility

Clip-On Tow Mirrors

Given their name, clip-on mirrors are exactly what you might expect.

These are generally universal-fit tow mirrors that clip directly onto your current mirrors to offer an improved field of view.

They’re pretty basic, meaning they’re feature-free. But they are simple to install. These might be perfect for someone who doesn’t tow all that often.

Clip-on tow mirrors run the gamut in terms of quality and price. You’ll find cheap clip-on mirrors that’ll run you about 10 bucks apiece. But you’ll also find reviewers who’ve had these types of cheap clip-on tow mirrors fly off at highway speeds.

Here’s a good option for clip-on towing mirrors from Dometic. (Note that this package includes two mirrors – one for each side of the tow vehicle.)

DOMETIC DM-2912 Milenco Grand Aero3 Towing Mirror (Twin Pack)
  • UNIVERSAL DESIGN - Dometic Milenco Aero3 has been designed to offer superior vision and a no-vibration view far past your caravan. Perfect view...
  • EASY GRIP CLAMP ATTACHMENTS - This clip on towing mirror is easy to assemble and does not require the use of any tools.

Are Tow Mirrors Worth It?

Absolutely! Good towing mirrors are critical to your safety and those around you whenever you’re towing.

Mirrors that allow you to see alongside and all around your RV as you drive down the road are well worth the investment.

We’d suggest that the reduction in blind spots afforded by quality tow mirrors is well worth the cost.

Remember that knowing how to position and use your mirrors is just as important as having them in the first place!

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MikeM

Sunday 6th of August 2023

Are there any laws that say when a trailer mirror is sticking to far out?

TheRVgeeks

Monday 7th of August 2023

Good question, Mike. Unfortunately, those rules vary by state… with some having total width limits, others having total mirror extension limits, and others having both (or none!). Your best bet is to check with your home/licensing state’s/province’s motor vehicle regulations.

Deanna

Friday 12th of May 2023

Wow. I've read a few of your posts, and really enjoyed them, but this was phenomenally helpful. I actually bought an "online" course/ebook specifically to learn more about tow mirrors (I'm trying to decide which type to get), and this post was hands-down far more informative than the content I actually paid for. I truly appreciate the work you guys are doing, and will be doing my best to support your content by buying things via your links, etc. Thanks again for creating such helpful content for fellow RVers.

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