Cars getting loaded full of sensors and cameras brings a lot of benefits to drivers with all sorts of dramatic new safety and semi-automated driving features, even if it does mean the addition of a lot of expensive hardware that will eventually break and cost you a buttocks-load of money to fix. Still, there is at least one under-appreciated benefit to all of these new sensor systems and cameras: the death of the rear view mirror mounted to the windshield with adhesive. Adhesive-mounted rear view mirrors are one of the Great Automotive Engineering Shames, along with saggy headliners that plagued cars from the 1970s to the 1990s. I grew up surrounded by cars with these sorts of mirrors, and they would fall off more frequently than a drunk on a mechanical bull. They were awful, and they stuck around way, way longer than they should have. Let’s complain about them some more!
You know what I’m talking about, right? Chances are if you have a car, especially an American one, from the 1970s into, damn, the mid-2010s at least, it has a rear-view mirror that is mounted in place by sliding onto a little tombstone-shaped mount that is held onto the windshield via adhesives.
When they’re mounted, the effect is appealing, as it feels like the mirror is just floating there, with no obvious supports, ready to reflect whatever is going on behind you. It looks very clean and tidy. I should emphasize that I’m not certain here, but the research I was able to find seems to show the earliest patented reference to the adhesive-mounted mirror going back to 1964, and originally filed in 1958 by one J.D. Ryan:
The earliest production cars that had these types of mirrors I think were Fords, with cars like the Mustang getting them by 1968:
The inset mirror you see there is a 1967 Mustang, which clearly has an arm-type mount, and there, next to our pal Steve, you can see the adhesive-backed mirror that followed. Also in the background you can see a mid-’60s Valiant that also clearly uses an arm-type mount, and that car didn’t get the adhesive style until 1976. But it did, like so many others, end up with it.
So what’s the problem with these? Well, as I’ve alluded to and as so many people who have had these sorts of mirrors can attest, they tend to fall off. The adhesives go bad and the whole mirror assembly just drops right off without warning or fanfare. If you’re skeptical, just do a quick search for “rear view mirror glue” or “rear view mirror repair kit” and see how many different options come up. It’s a whole booming sub-industry.
Hell, even our very own Stephen Walter Gossin just recently had to deal with a variation of the rear view mirror mounting failure, where some of the adhesive stayed on but the little bracket doohicky didn’t, at least not enough of it, requiring the use of a heat gun and some razor blade skill:
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These sorts of rear view mirror repairs were only second to thumb tacking-in falling headliners on nearly all of my friend’s cars growing up. I was mercifully spared the nightmare, because the ’71 Beetle I drove in high school had a mirror mounted on a little arm, much like how my current daily driver, my Nissan Pao, has one mounted with a physical, screwed-in arm, too:
The number of times my friends would buy those little glue kits and re-mount the mirrors in their Dodge K-Cars or Buick Centurys or Ford Mavericks had to be at a rate of, oh, four or more times per summer? The summer heat seems to have been the adhesive’s biggest nemesis, as it was not uncommon for people to return to a car that had been sitting in the sun all day to find the rear view mirror lying prone and helpless on the transmission hump.
It’s not generally discussed much now, but this was a problem of epidemic proportions back in the day. Mirrors fell off like an oak’s leaves come September, on so very many cars. The auto industry had to be aware that this happened, that after a certain age, that adhesive was no longer reliable, and one good park in the sun could do it in. And, like so many other minor and yet annoying issues with how cars are built, they ignored it. Likely because mounting a mirror this was was cheaper.
I mean, think about it: adhesive mirrors could be universal for all models a company made, with no need for custom mounting brackets designed specifically for every car. All the cars had windshields with a flat-enough spot where the mirror should go, so, good enough! And if it eventually falls off, well, who cares, as long as it happens well after the warranty period.
Modern cars tend to house cameras and sensors in a little pod behind the rear-view mirror, looking out the windshield, which provides an ideal spot to physically mount the inside mirror. So, this means the cruel, unreliable tyranny of the stuck-on rear view mirror is finally coming to an end, not because carmakers suddenly decided to do something better, but because they now have to, due to unrelated reasons.
But I haven’t forgotten, and won’t forget, lest it happens again. The adhesive-backed mirrors we endured for so many decades just suck, and I couldn’t be happier to see them finally go away. Good riddance, you sloppy unreliable falling-off bastards!