Looking Back

These look-down, door, or curb mirrors from Prutsman can be added to existing West coast style mirrors with nothing but a wrench.

One of your biggest challenges is seeing what’s around your truck, whether speeding down a crowded highway or backing into a tight dock. You can minimize vision limitations by shopping carefully for the right add-on mirrors or, when purchasing new equipment, taking a careful look at mirror options.

This is an upgrade that’s within reach. A quality West Coast mirror may sell for $49. One line of premium mirrors with motorization, heating and lighting options runs from $69 to $290. Replacement is usually easy. When a mirror fits existing brackets, you simply unscrew the mounting nuts, install them on the new mirror’s studs and plug it in. Many truckers, by drilling a couple of holes, install mirrors on fenders.

UPGRADING MIRRORS
A common option for expanding your rear vision, if you have the traditional C-shaped brackets mounted above the door window and below it, is a 7-inch-by-16-inch West Coast mirror. This provides a large field of view, says Jeff Walters, truck product manager of Commercial Vehicle Systems, the company that supplies Moto Mirror and Sprague Prutsman aftermarket mirrors.

Lang-Mekra and Commercial Vehicle Systems offer four-way, remote-control mirrors. Steve Traylor, market manager for Lang-Mekra, says his company’s product “can be retrofitted to the bracket systems of some older trucks with some modifications.” It uses mounting clamps generally made for a 11/8-inch tube. Traditionally, these brackets were made of 3/4-inch or 7/8-inch tubing, so they’d require putting a sleeve around the tube where the clamping occurs. The sleeve would have to be of a durable material, such as a high-quality radiator hose. The critical issue with four-way mirrors is increased field of view, says Traylor.

The Commercial Vehicle Systems offerings of this type are the Moto Mirror and Moto Mirror Plus. The Moto Mirror is a large, West-Coast style flat glass mirror, but it rotates horizontally via a 6,200-rpm, high-torque motor that has a 26-gear planetary geartrain. The result is up to 14 pounds-feet of force to break ice and sludge that may inhibit rotation. The horizontal adjustment is critical to maintain broad visibility, especially in right turns, notes company information: “It only takes a 5-degree angle between the trailer and cab for the driver to see only the side of the trailer in a fixed mirror.”

The Moto Mirror Plus, operated by a joystick, combines a 22-inch four-way flat glass upper mirror with a lower convex mirror. The upper glass is motorized so as to tilt downward as much as 7 degrees. This “allows drivers to see the ground area from the tractor drive axle to beyond the end of any length trailer,” says company literature. The entire housing rotates horizontally, giving you a view of 1,400 square feet of ground, versus 70 square feet with a fixed convex mirror. The increased vision area is “most dramatic in tight right turns where those ‘squeeze’ accidents occur,” the company says.

Both products should be retrofittable if you have the traditional C-loop bracket.

“The other area of critical importance for routine visibility on most trucks is immediately to the right of the cab from the front axle to the fuel tanks,” Traylor says. “This is a major blind spot because cars can easily ‘hide’ there due to the height of the truck’s door and hood.”

Two types of mirrors address this area, Traylor says. The first is a convex mirror mounted over the right side door and pointed down at the roadway, often called a “look-down mirror, down-view mirror, curb mirror, or roof mirror.” He adds that many older designs have “very limited adjustability and have a glass surface that is only slightly larger than an average woman’s compact mirror.” Lang-Mekra’s updated versions are highly adjustable and have “substantially larger glass surfaces and larger fields of view,” Traylor says.

The second type to cover the right-side view is the fender- or hood-mounted convex mirror. “Because they are mounted farther forward on the truck and farther away from the driver’s eyes, these mirrors can provide improved visibility both immediately beside the truck and out into adjacent lanes of traffic, as well,” Traylor says. Mirrors of this type often suffer when subjected to “high vibration, truck wash solutions, roadway snow and ice removal chemicals.” The mirror heads and brackets sometimes rust and then fall apart in a relatively short time.

Lang-Mekra has recently begun to supply stainless steel mirrors of this type to the aftermarket.

Sprague Prutsman makes high-quality, stainless steel mirrors of both these types.
If you should be operating a small straight truck with a box on it, you can install a “cross-view” mirror, says Traylor. This mirror, which can be viewed via the left-side main mirror, “is positioned in such a way that it will cover the area just behind the truck’s rear bumper.” While the image is small and distorted, you gain enough information to act upon.

SPEC’ING MIRRORS ON A NEW TRUCK
If you’re buying an aerodynamic tractor, you automatically face limited mirror choices. “It doesn’t leave you the option of installing anything different,” Walters says. The problem is that the aero mirrors have a single arm. “To retrofit a different mirror, you’d need to design a set of C-loop brackets,” he says.

“Most trucks should be equipped with heated main mirrors and good-sized convex mirrors (also available heated) on both sides of the truck,” says Traylor. But it’s a fact of trucking life that you may need something more. If the driver gets into many backing or tight, in-city maneuvering situations, having a remote-control main mirror on the right side of the truck is extremely advantageous. Even better than the traditional left-right movement provided by most older remote control mirrors are those that are adjustable both up-down and left-right.

Traylor says another critical concern is mirrors regularly exposed to those difficult maneuvers. “There are three areas of importance in these tight situations: First, can the mirror brackets be easily folded into the side of the truck by the driver when he knows he will be in a tight spot? And, second, will the mirror fold away upon impact if the driver has not already folded them in?” This protects both the mirror system and the vehicle door or other mounting position from damage. Traylor adds, “The key to this is having mirror brackets that fold away easily, but that are stiff enough to keep the mirror head from vibrating excessively as you drive.”

To meet those criteria, the bracket must be of high-quality materials and sophisticated design. It must also resist corrosion, which can prevent it from turning easily enough to prevent damage when the mirror collides with something.

A third point is: “Does the mirror have components, especially glass, that that are easily replaced in the field if the impact breaks the glass?”

Traylor says mirrors that meet these specs are being installed more commonly as standard equipment on new trucks. “Unfortunately, retrofitting mirror brackets of this type that provide higher performance to existing trucks with traditional West Coast-style mirrors and brackets can be difficult,” he says. You might be able to retrofit the breakaway feature if you have the same basic bracket. But new brackets of this type normally won’t fit because the curvature of the door they’re designed for is likely to differ.

Aftermarket truck mirrors are available at many truck stop and accessory shops, as well as dealers and parts distributors. They are easy to install and inexpensive relative to the benefits you’ll gain by broadening your vision and reducing your operating stress and the chances of having a collision.

RESOURCES

Commercial Vehicle Systems
(800) 433-6686

Lang-Mekra
(803) 337.5264

Truck-Lite
(800) 888-7095

Muth Co.
(800) 844-6616

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2021 edition of Partners in Business.
Download
Partners in Business Issue Cover