By on May 10, 2019


TTAC Commentator Volvo writes:

Why does the design of most newer vehicles have very poor driver visibility for objects close to the car? This is pretty much all around but especially the rear. I find the current design even makes it difficult to judge front and rear bumper distance from an object. This definitely was not the case for most cars prior to 1995.
  • Is it to lower drag?
  • Safety mandates?
  • Just design esthetic?

Sajeev answers:

Yes, yes, and sometimes a little bit yes. But mostly it’s your second guess: Safety mandates.

That’s because manufacturers force their product engineering/design teams to work on a budget. (Well, duh!) If outside influences (like pedestrian safety standards or mandatory backup cameras) deem a change, can they make it comply without throwing the budget out of whack? Or totally blowing the budget?

Let’s make up a totally hypothetical scenario:

  1. When safety mandates require a taller cowl and front fascia (or hood) to protect pedestrians from bouncing/slamming heads on the engine, that could very likely increase frontal area. Then designers do anything to lower wind resistance elsewhere: Air Curtains, flat faced wheels, buffalo butt trunks, etc. which likely took valuable resources/cash away from the R&D budget. And maybe thicker pillars (cheaper to make) saved cash while passing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216.
  2. From there, C-pillar needs to be ridiculously fast to complete a very strong, affordable arched roof pillar design. I mean, if it works for bridges
  3. But then visibility suffers. So they make larger side-view mirrors (more drag?) with blind spot monitors: originally pure concept car fodder, but now cheap and easy to implement. Since cell phones have cameras, why not have enough of those eyeballs so cars have optional 360-degree viewing?

And, of course, automakers claw back profit on high-margin safety options, so maybe everything works out. It’s quite the Rube Goldberg affair, but honestly, as we all age, these electronic gizmos make our lives easier no matter how much glass we get…

…provided we can afford to buy, repair, and replace these systems after a collision. 

It’s a bizarre world, but it ain’t gonna change: we keep everyone happy with this balancing act. Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Denise Lett]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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32 Comments on “Piston Slap: Visibility’s Unintended Rube Goldberg Effect?...”

  • avatar

    I don’t think every single car has visibility issues. I would suggest looking at taller glassier cars for better visibility

    • 0 avatar

      Some 2019 vehicles are better than others, but I’m not sure there’s a single current model that wouldn’t be considered below average to terrible in the context of, say, the 1989 marketplace. From that perspective, I think virtually every new vehicle does have visibility issues. Granted, vehicles have become safer. Sightlines have gotten worse, though.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford C-Max has fishbowl visibility, but they just discontinued it so I guess you’re not wrong.

        • 0 avatar

          Even the C-Max isn’t great in the context of cars with truly good visibility (for example,,_Co_Dublin_-_Ireland_(4799982672).jpg). Its pillars are thick-ish and is beltline is relatively high and rises toward the back, though not nearly as egregiously as many of today’s other vehicles.

          But fair point, by today’s standard’s the C-Max is excellent. It may be my favorite “form follows function” vehicle of the past five or 10 years. Kinda sad to see it go, especially with the Prius’ having gotten so ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      just make all cars Subarus tons of glass

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    A lot of it depends on how much the driver moves around in the driver’s seat. Maneuvering your head to provide a wider range of vision- both directly and through the mirrors- is the way I was taught.

  • avatar

    I would also suggest that short term ownership (3yrs tops) and poorly aimed rear view mirrors contribute to some of the issues mentioned. I’ve had my current DD long enough (20 yrs) that I can “feel” where the bumpers are in relation to an object. It’s a “practice makes perfect” scenario in a way.

  • avatar

    I think part of it is also the preference of women, who seem to think riding in a bunker like car is safer in a crash, and makes them less visible and vulnerable to rapists, murderers, and child snatchers they pass on the work commute or school run.

  • avatar

    That photo shows one of my pet peeves…the angle mirror installed dead center of the field of vision. Morons. I’m reminded of a Top Gear Episode where Jeremy clamps a satnav to the window in the center of the driver’s view…..and yes, I’ve seen that in the real world, NOT played as a joke.

    I have on my truck in the upper outside corners small round mirrors for the blind spot…works well with no interference of the rest of the mirror’s field. This is the same place Ford puts the angles on OE mirrors.

    I like Honda’s approach. On recent models, you activate the turn signal, and a camera in the mirror gives you a view of the blind spot on the center TV screen. Much preferred to the strong K band transmitters some use that just annoy detector users like me.

    My CTS, with the high belt line had huge blind spots, I had a set on that car as well, again top outside position.

    Euros, of course, do this better. I had on a BMW and Saab the German mirrors, which roll off at the edge, so the angle mirror is part of the OE deal. USDOT does not allow this, probably the same office that delays our headlight improvements.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Astley

      As your post is almost entirely anecdotal, i’ll only respond to your pet peeve:

      Where the best placement for a “blind spot mirror” add-on is placed is heavily influenced by the vehicle, seating position and height of the driver instead of some sort of “my way is the best way and therefore the only way” approach.

      Having installed these for friends, family and myself, it would seem that the best methodology is to have the primary driver of the vehicle inside while you test what location works best for them, instead of standardized ideals.

      In practice it seems that lower vehicles tend to place these in the “low inside” corner.

      SUV’s or high beltline sedans place the blind spot mirror higher than centerline of the mirror, often the “high inside” corner.

      The strangest location i’ve seen was dead center of a very, very, very small circular mirror tacked onto the passenger side of a 1941 Super Deluxe.

      Your “pet peeve” seems misguided to me, but you seem to be getting mileage out of it. As always YMMV.

    • 0 avatar

      The auxiliary mirrors are one thing I miss from my Fords. Right now I have the blinky orange light and shouty warning with my car. I have my mirrors adjusted wide so that only the tiniest sliver of the back of the car is visible, but the shouty beeping isn’t helpful and usually just makes me jumpy because I’ve already taken the object into account.

  • avatar

    Actually, the placing of fisheye mirrors any where but as far up and out as possible, only serves to give you a better view of the driver’s door….


    • 0 avatar
      Rick Astley

      Unless you position your mirrors more in-line with what you would do on track instead of what the masses do in practice.

      But I digress. There could be no other possible way, clearly (sarcasm).

      • 0 avatar

        Yep- adjust the side mirrors out so that you can *not* see the side of your own car. This makes a small wedge-shaped blind spot alongside the car, but not one that is big enough to hide an entire vehicle. That is, in the 360° surrounding your car, you will always be able to see at least part of a vehicle nearby you, whether it is in your rearview mirror, one of your side mirrors, your peripheral vision, or your focal vision.

        Of course, you ought to still turn your head (shoulder check) prior to any lane change or a right turn.

        I like the little round fisheye stick-on mirrors and I put them in the bottom inside corner of my side mirrors. They don’t affect what I can see in the side mirrors, they’re just too small. The fisheyes are enormous help when backing into a parking spot since I can see the parking spot lines and the sides of my car (and thus not park like a doofus). I much rather back into parking spots and driveways than back out. The fisheyes also have the added bene that they block the headlights of passing and not-quite-directly-behind-me vehicles from reflecting directly into my eyes.

        Somebody else mentioned the top/inside corner on tall vehicles and bottom/inside on short ones. I hadn’t thought of that but it kinda makes sense.

  • avatar

    U.S. population 327.2 million; U.S. household size 2.6

    U.S. April YTD auto sales 5.3 million -> 15.9 million annualized

    Roughly 87% of U.S. households will *not* purchase a new vehicle in 2019. Why is that?

    Possible explanations:
    a) Every household purchases one new vehicle every 8 years which serves their needs perfectly
    b) Something else

    I submit that the answer is b) and that there are unmet needs which OEM’s are ignoring.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re analysis is rather backwards. Given the lifespan of a car and the used car market, it’s a small miracle that 13% of people DO buy a new car in a given year. The avg age of a car on the road today is something like 11 years, and we’re buying new ones at a faster rate than the old ones are wearing out. Junk yards are full of vehicles that have more utility value than market value with a small repair need putting them over the top and into the shredder. I’d say the OEMs are doing a great job of providing a product that people want to replace ahead of schedule.

  • avatar

    I follow the Euro technique with my driver’s door mirror.

    That means buying and installing the Euro door mirror glass version. It’s convex because they don’t assume that drivers are too stupid to understand how that works. The companion passenger side mirror omits the “Objects in mirror…” warning.

  • avatar

    properly positioned mirrors dont need aftermarket add-on foofery

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, don’t knock PepBoys. I use a clip-on inside rear view mirror on rental cars to avoid the automatic dimmer that turns the mirror black. Headlights don’t bother me as much as not being able to see anything at all.

      Besides, people aren’t taught how to properly position side view mirrors. Even if they did, how many people get behind the wheel and don’t check the mirrors before driving away, only to find someone bumped one mirror and knocked it out of alignment?

      Heck, people don’t even read signs! A toll collector told me he had a woman who asked the toll. When he told her there was a sign in front of the booth, she said, “I don’t read signs, I just drive straight ahead.”

      • 0 avatar

        “people aren’t taught how to properly position side view mirrors”

        I’ve heard this all my life – please tell me if my current method for adjusting mirrors in a current production vehicle is off base?

        a) Flip a three-sided coin to decide between SAE recommendation, AAA method or general driver training style
        b) Attempt to locate the ISRVM – it is probably smaller than you remember, and shaped in such a way as to have no relationship to its purported function in the real world – also a large percentage of its reflective surface may be obstructed with various digital displays
        c) If successful in reaching the ISRVM (this may require unbuckling), adjust ISRVM
        d) Attempt to locate the driver and passenger side outside rear view mirrors – they will be the small, irregularly shaped dimly reflective surfaces concealed inside the obtrusive oddly shaped plastic housings located roughly at the base of the A pillars (which you will note have grown to provide new and improved blind spots out the *front* of your vehicle)
        e) Locate a functioning flashlight and some form of magnification for the next step
        f) Using auxiliary lighting source and magnification, locate the controls for the power adjustable outside rear view mirrors – they might be on the driver’s door (attached to that panel which is digging into your left knee), or they could be buried in the center console (rotate your head downward 115 degrees toward your spine to read the labels in this case) – possible future locations include inside the glove box or 5 levels deep in a digital menu
        g) Determine which style of power adjustable mirror controls the manufacturer has chosen for this particular model – pushbutton? flip the switch? rotate the dial?
        g) i) Note to yourself that injection molded parts require a one-time non-trivial investment
        g) ii) Further note that sharing common parts can reduce build complexity, improve quality and reliability and reduce cost (both investment and piece cost)
        g) iii) Wonder aloud why the manufacturer has not chosen to share this part (the power mirror control) across models or model years
        g) iv) Give up and blame the “beancounters” – do *not* assign responsibility to the engineers, and *never* consider laying blame at the feet of the ‘designers’ (read: “stylists”)
        h) Locate the labels – look for signs of barely-visible dark gray ink on a black plastic background – probably in a tiny barely-readable we-designed-it-in-house-ourselves-isn’t-it-wonderful font
        i) Adjust the outside mirrors
        j) Check the time, because you are now late for wherever you were planning to go

        Vehicle mirrors generally suck, and the suck factor is increasing at an increasing rate.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve rolled my eyes at the shapes that inside mirrors have taken over just the past five model years: mostly inverted-trapezoidal “smiley” shapes that provide zero functional value (with more visibility out the top versus directly behind on the bottom), and with dinky little versions in huge vehicles! (New Silverado and Ram, I’m looking at you!)

          It seems as though the trend might be shifting away from the “demented clown facial expression” mirrors in the Grosse Zwei aus Deutschland: BMW and Benz.. Tthe mirrors don’t have the German version of aforementioned “demented clowns,” but a “normal”-looking affair, albeit with the “rimless” design which leaves an inch of undimmed rim around the edge when the bro-dozer with the bazillion-candlepower driving lights is behind you on a pitch-black backroad at 1:00 in the morning!

        • 0 avatar

          I just had that experience getting into a rental car at night in an already very dark airport garage. Black car interior, black knobs and rockers with faint grey font.
          Whole digital display to learn to turn off radio etc.
          Luckily every phone is a flashlight now.

          Still something this trivial took a few minutes.

  • avatar

    Convex mirrors properly positioned are more effective than plane mirrors however positioned.

  • avatar

    My C-Max is the first car I’ve had with Blind Spot Warnings, though there’s none of the “shouty beeping” mentioned previously. They’re also superflous. The over-the shoulder visibility is excellent, compared to the Golf I was driving before.

    What’s hard for me to get used to is the short, blunt hood. With my seat down low as I like, the car seems three feet longer than it really is. in every parking space, I want to stop three feet from any obstacle.

    • 0 avatar

      I have that problem in the wife’s C-Max, well that and the fact that I normally drive much larger vehicles. Being so short even with an extra 2′ in front it isn’t usually hanging out past the other vehicles.

  • avatar

    Those enormously fat, incredibly shallow-angle roof pillars are responsible for driving people out of sedans and into CUVs. Instead of a car with pillars that block your view of pedestrians, a windshield that distorts your view, seats an inch off the floor, rear headroom unsuitable for adults despite the sedan being incredibly long, and a trunk so tall you can’t see the kid you’re about to back over, a CUV gives you great sightlines, upright seating with headroom front and rear, a near-vertical rear window for ample cargo and passenger space, and proper walls-o-glass all around…though you will still back over that kid.

    So naturally, manufacturers are now ruining CUVs too with fastback rooflines (wrong, BMW) and gun-slit windows (wrong, Mazda).

    I currently drive a 2018 Chevy Volt — probably the absolute nadir for driver visibility and a packaging efficiency. Fat pillars, near-horizontal front and rear glass, tall butt. I have half the safety nannies and I wish I had all of them, because I’m pretty sure I won’t know what I’ve hit until I’ve hit it. On the other hand, because it’s one of the few cars engineered for North America only, it doesn’t have the tall flat nose all cars have now to meet European pedestrian safety standards — there’s something alluringly retro-future about a 1990s-style plunging aero beak.

  • avatar

    I embrace the tech. I use my passing mirrors really just to confirm what I already know. I generally keep good situational awareness of who is around me, especially ahead of any lane changes. There hasn’t be a time when my blind spot system didn’t tell me someone was there that I didn’t know. I’d be 100% okay with replacing side mirrors with side cameras.

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