Are Classic Rear View Mirrors For Cars Fragile?

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Restoring a classic car, you love means caring about the details, including the rearview mirror. Are all classic rear view mirrors fragile?

Until the mid-60s, rearview mirrors were considered optional equipment. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which addressed many safety concerns, stopped short of mandating them as required items. (The first rearview mirror was sold in hardware stores shortly after 1921 when Elmer Berger developed his “Cop Spotter” mirror). Other companies modified these mirrors, mounting them to the sides of the A-pillars or clamping them to front quarter panels.

Classic car rear view mirrors were made of reflective glass and can break, crack or even become cloudy. In addition, the back portion of the mirror or the gasket holding it into the housing can deteriorate over time. A restorer should take care any time a repair to the rear view mirror is made.

What should you do if you need to repair the rearview mirror on your classic car? Proceed with caution. The last thing you want to do is cause more damage to the mirror or windshield and spend more money than you wanted. How much does a mirror repair cost? Where can you get a replacement? Do they sell parts for classic cars like yours?

Well, let's try and sort through some things to see if we can’t answer some questions for you.

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How Fragile Are Rearview Mirrors on Classic Cars?

The truth is that the rearview and side mirrors on any car are somewhat fragile. Most classic car rearview mirror glass is fragile and is prone to breaking. (Think of the size of a mirror as being similar to the thickness of a women’s compact). One of the earliest manuals helping women learn to drive told them to use a compact mirror to check their rear surroundings).

Even though you may have seen many side mirrors sitting on the side of the road (caused by a close scrape with another vehicle), the glass inside them is still that - glass. And glass breaks. So replacing it can be a challenge and, at the very least, a slow and painstaking operation.

If the Mirror Glass is Cracked or Shattered

If the glass is broken or cracked, then the glass will need to be replaced. The easiest way to get the mirror fixed with minimal hassle is to take the mirror to a restoration shop and pay to have someone else do the work. In addition, many mirror units (complete with new glass) can be found on Amazon, eBay, or classic parts purveyors.

Should you decide not to pursue that course, by taking your mirror to a third party, there are videos online that can help you replace the glass. But be warned. Depending on the mirror, it can be a delicate process. Getting the mirror apart from the back housing can increase the chances of damaging the unit and prove challenging. (Some mirrors are held in place by a rubber gasket lining inside the rim of the housing). Getting the glass and the gasket out and then seating it correctly back into the housing is a repair that most technicians won’t touch. (For them, purchasing and installing a whole new unit is more manageable so that they don't have to mess with the glass). Many car enthusiasts and technicians have unintentionally damaged the rearview mirror by insisting on performing surgery on the mirror unit.

If the Mirror Unit is Intact but Detached from the Windshield

If the mirror is intact and has become detached from the windshield's glass, this is a relatively easy repair. Every auto store on the planet sells a rearview mirror kit with super glue that you can apply to the mounting bracket and then hold against the windshield until the glue sets. If you follow the instructions carefully, the reattachment of the rearview mirror should be no problem. A word to the wise here is that not all mirror glues are created equal. Many are superglue forms with limited time frames and can be a royal mess if you don't know what you are doing. If you attach the mirror incorrectly, you will return to the parts store to get another kit and start the project all over. (I have a mechanic with whom I am friends, willing to do small jobs like this for some fresh BBq and a couple of beers if you catch my drift).

If the Mirror Glass is Faded or Greying

The back housing might have deteriorated and created a residual issue on the glass. If the car is stored in cooler temps or direct sunlight, this housing and the inside of the unit can sweat, producing moisture. Over time, this can contribute to fading. Most mirror glass fades or looks grey and, if allowed to continue, can rust from the back of the mirror, degrading the surface of the glass.

You should examine the housing of the back or side of the mirror to see if there is an issue. Moisture can sometimes build up inside the housing and leak onto the glass, eroding the surface.  If there is damage to the back housing, you can attempt to repair the damaged area with sealant, but this is not likely to get rid of the moisture inside the unit. A more straightforward solution might be purchasing a new rear-view mirror from eBay or a classic parts store like

Several home remedies online can help remove the haze on the glass, but they will not remove corrosion that has pitted the glass. Many sites recommend dipping a microfiber cloth in vinegar and gently wiping it onto the affected glass area. Be sure to work quickly to remove the vinegar because it tends to dry quickly and will leave a residue if you don’t get it off fast enough. Other remedies include wiping the mirror surface with shaving cream, which works well, too. Whatever you do, try the remedy in a small spot first to see if you think it is working, and above all, be gentle with the rearview mirror. Most rearview mirrors in classic cars hang to the windshield with fifty-year-old bonding (or more) and are prone to break entirely off if you are rough with them.

Why Do Some Classic Cars not Have Passenger Side Mirrors?

Up to the 1960s, most roads were simply two-lane or highways with an opposing lane to the left and a shoulder to the right. There wasn’t a need to check the right side of the car because no one was coming up on your right. After the development of the Interstate Highway system, and the widening of highways in major cities, the need became more significant, and the public began to demand the addition of a mirror on the right-hand side.

Where Can I Buy Glass or Mirrors for My Classic Car?

Several websites specialize in classic auto parts. Amazon, eBay, and carry a wide variety of mirrors and have a good selection. Many car enthusiasts belong to forums specific to the make and model of their car (i.e., Mustang clubs, etc.), and these forums can often provide the names of purveyors that other restorers have had luck using.


Matt Lane

Matt Lane

My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.

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