Yes! Another bloody yarn about towing mirrors!

ByTim ScottSeptember 14, 2020
8 MINUTE READ
Yes! Another bloody yarn about towing mirrors!

If there’s one area of setting up your rig for safe towing that gets questioned the most; it would arguably be that of towing mirrors. So yes, it’s another bloody yarn about towing mirrors!

Should you fit towing mirrors? In a word, yes. However, the spirit of this yarn is more about experiences than legalities. It could also be called maintaining a long-term relationship with your towing mirrors, although some people might not be ready for that level of personal reflection.

Within the usual vagaries of Australian road rules, towing mirrors are directed to be used, íf you can’t see traffic from your seat, down the sides and behind the trailer you’re towing … that’s the precedent given for if you need mirrors. Who wouldn’t want to see behind them? Apart from Indiana Jones.

Now, is it the Aussie old-school hatred of authority? As in, if I can possibly get away with it – by the personal interpretation of available rearward vision – I will! Or is it today’s selfish society – I don’t care who or what is behind me – I am in front. Or is it people just don’t know? God knows, there have been enough stories like this one on the topic.

Anyway, sick of breaking sets of mirrors, I thought we’d look at the topic again, and cover off what’s available should you decide you’d a) like to see what’s behind you, b) feel like doing the right thing. And with sets available from less than $100 that do the job, I really cannot see the objection to just whacking on a set every time you hitch up and head off. Is that just me?

As we know, the top-tier products in this arena can be designed for and permanently affixed to your tow vehicle, that’s not always practical for everyone’s circumstances, especially if you’re only towing every now and again. With these type of permanent mirror sets, you’re starting at roughly $400 for OCAM electric Prado although the average OCAM set price is about $519-549. We’ll look at Clearview in a minute.

However, only towing every now and again is just one key to overlooking the mirrors, people forget. And don’t we know here at RV Daily if we forget to run them on a tow test! Talking of which, we have four sets in the office that we use for tests, and three are broken. Hence this yarn. It’s not about the legalities as such (see below), it’s about buying a set that works for you. Or just works!

A quick refresher

It would be remiss of me not to cover this off to begin with, so here goes. There is an Australian Road Rule that deals with the towing mirrors fitment, and it’s this: Australian Road Rule Regulation 297 (2) states:

“A driver must not drive a motor vehicle unless the driver has a clear view of the road, the traffic ahead, behind and to each side of the driver.”

If you get pulled over, then uttering, “Honestly, officer, I’m fine; I’ve got 20/20 hindsight,” won’t cut it.

Towing mirrors road rules

The visual interpretation of Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006.

Essentially, the trailer is interfering with your ADR required field of view, but the crux is the fact that if your trailer is wider than your tow vehicle mirrors are required. Why not just make it a rule that if you’re towing a caravan or camper, you need mirrors; end of chat? To my mind, it seems simpler than making things almost open to interpretation. Right, I have spent my two cent’s worth. Onward.

What’s on offer?

As you probably know, there are numerous types and brands of towing mirrors on the market. Names that spring to mind are Camec, Milenco, ORA, OCAM and Clearview. Plus, then you have the auto-store-branded units from places such as Repco and Supercheap Auto, and the camping chains and not that I have seen them yet but, no doubt, Aldi!

Towing mirrors in Supercheap Auto

With the exception of the OCAM and Clearview types the rest use straps, clips and/or a ratchet to fix them to the car’s factory mirrors and some use stabiliser arms to bolster the security.

The biggest enemy of the lightweight clip-on types is wind; especially the blast you receive from a passing semi (men of a certain age can understand that) that can deposit them in someone’s front yard or in the middle of the Nullarbor. However, even the more sturdy-looking adaptations can create problems of their own.

I bought two sets of Drive Pro mirrors from Anaconda to use on our road tests (above). As you can see from the picture below, you need to keep on top of the secure fixings.

Drive Pro missing mirror

Notice something missing?

Not only that, but both Drive Pro sets also produce noise at cruising speed akin to a kazoo band accompaniment. Now I don’t know about you, but 50 Kazoo Pop Greats is not on my Spotify playlist. I’ve had sessions hanging out of the window with rubber bands and business cards jammed into all sorts of places (on the mirrors) to cancel the noise, to no avail.

I’m also sure that cranking the ratchet type adjuster to its extreme adds undue pressure to places it shouldn’t, too. When set-up correctly, these types of mirrors work very well, it’s just fiddly set-up, making sure the nuts and bolts are secure and the baritone whistling that has put me off. You may love yours! Currently priced at $84.99 each at Anaconda. There are square chrome and black oval mirror types in this style.

So I looked for alternatives

While Camec offers quite a number of towing mirror options, from the “that’s going west as soon as I slam the door” types, to the unexpected little champions that accompanied one of our RAMS on Foodie Trails filming. Just called the clip-on towing mirror, it did the job superbly, right until one of the rubber straps snapped. They sit out in the weather and sunshine, so I guess they perish, under tension too. However, I much prefer the flexibility of the rubber over the hard plastic variants of these types of securing straps. Maybe they last better, though? I am still researching replacement straps (if not very urgently) but possibly a quick spray of a protectant treatment might elongate their lifespan. They’re $28.50 each, if in stock.

Camec clip-on towing mirrors

The second set we used on the Foodie Trails series were a mid-range price set at Supercheap Auto at the time. They’re more of a truck-style and sat on the RAM factory mirrors well, however, I have struggled with other vehicles due to the square nature of the arms and their clips. Still, they’re going strong. They use the same type of rubber straps, so a break may come at some point. A big plus on such a comparatively cheap set, is that these have a second, convex lower mirror to angle down at the wheels, or fog line, etc. They cost $72 per pair at the time.

Foodie Trails towing mirrors

Our mish-mash of working and non-working mirror sets

Distinct by their orange colour, ORA Rossa is a mirror set used by our contributor Phil Lord. I asked him for a reportable comment about what he thought of them since he’s been using them for years.

He said, “I don’t know about reportable, but I like them with the magnetic supports, they don’t move after 1000’s of kilometres [of] towing; except when towing with vehicles with aluminium doors. Then I don’t like them so much!”

We discussed others, when Phil mentioned, “There’s a brand that my colleague Chris has, maybe Camec, or similar? I was going to look into those pre-COVID. Didn’t go any further; but a simple, effective set-up,” he said. I mentioned our Camec experience to Phil.

“Camec is what Chris had – and, yep, broke a rubber strap the day we were using them. They were fairly old, though,” Phil added. So it’s not just me then. The ORA Rossa are currently $85ea, or $160 per set via ORA.

ORA Rossa towing mirrors

We’ve little experience of the Milenco units although they’re hugely popular, especially in Europe. Indeed, I read this DIY alteration on the UK Caravan Chronicles website that Amarok owners may find interesting, if you’re a Milenco Grand Aero 3 user. They seem very similar to our Camec faves, except the more aerodynamic Grande Aeros’ fastenings appear better, but they don’t have the rubber straps, though, neither do we, now. The Grand Aero 3 retail for $130 each at various online caravan outlets.

Of course, it’s the insecurity of some of the mirrors you may have used that leads to people looking to permanent installations like the Clearview brand, and the variations on that theme. Although, as we said at the beginning if you’re towing full-time, then it makes sense to have a set that looks part of the tow vehicle. You can’t lose them, and you won’t forget them. About the only thing you might do is to forget they’re extended and drive a la Mickey Mouse. It’s worth mentioning that you should always remove towing mirrors when you’re not actually towing.

Mirror Warning

A reminder to remove mirror when not towing

Clearview has recently announced its Next Gen towing mirrors, and it intends to have a version for every vehicle that it currently makes for – more than 50. Now, since I have already made the Mickey Mouse reference, I can address that immediately in that the Next Gen Clearview mirrors still extend, obviously, but they now retract to virtually the factory profile of the standard mirrors they replaced. Clearview also offers power-folding sets for certain vehicles. While there has been a heck of a lot of engineering work gone into these mirrors, and the price reflects that, the Clearview range also offers integrated lighting, heating and blind-spot monitoring plus certain provision for camera fitment. I guess the biggest drawback, once fitted, is if you or someone else manages to take one out, although it would be something to list on your insurance policy as an accessory.

Clearview Next Gen towing mirrors extended

Clearview Next-Gen towing mirrors

Not having had the pleasure of a permanent set, I thought I’d ask someone who has. As he is a full-time caravanner, contributor Marty Ledwich runs original Clearview mirrors on his 200 Series.

“We started out with a set of cheap mirrors from Aldi for our Patrol,” Marty told me. And he’s cleared up my earlier point about the German supermarket.

“They were pretty good, with additional straps that kept them steady, but it took time to fit them. We eventually bought Clearview mirrors for that car. When we went to a LandCruiser, we initially went with a set of Milenco mirrors. They were easier to fit than the Aldi specials, but the wind from a passing truck sent the Cruiser’s mirrors into self-protection mode. When we decided to travel full time, we returned to the Clearviews, and I’m so glad we did.” Clearview mirror sets range from around $700 upwards, Next Gen pricing is still TBC.

So what do you like, I asked Marty.

“Apart from the convenience with them, the biggest advantage is that you have just one mirror to focus on. With extension mirrors like Milencos, you have two mirrors, and your gaze tends to go to the factory mirrors rather than the extensions. I find that quite distracting. The Clearview [mirrors] are far superior in this regard and, in my opinion, are a safer alternative for frequent towers. No Kazoo chorus either!”

Conclusion

So, a serious topic treated with a little humour – but, serious hat back on, I reckon towing without effective mirrors is a bit like driving without a seatbelt or riding a motorcycle without a lid. I still think the law should just blanket the use, and that’s it. You may think differently. Tootling down the road with a van on the back and giving the whole rig a quick steering shimmy so the van moves enough to let you see down the back is a bit dangerous, but I recall it mentioned on one social media page.

If you’re a full-time tower, are going to keep the same vehicle or model, then fully integrated and fixed mirrors are great, if they fit your budget. You have to factor in the installation costs as well as the purchase price, where applicable; some are plug and play.

On the flip side, a very cheap set may do the job. I’ve given three examples of personal experience. You may lose enough mirrors to warrant a permanent set, but at least you can buy most individually.

They’re a bit like the socks and the washing machine, with odd pairs everywhere, and while there should be a law against wearing shoes with no socks, there is a law against towing without adequate mirrors.

Let us know what mirrors you use, and tell us why, in the comment section.