Why some older cars have the right rearview mirror smaller than the left

The other day I was doing repairs on my old Audi S6 of 1995 model. It was about replacing the old mirror already damaged. The work was simple, but it reminded me of an intriguing detail: the mirror on the passenger side is much smaller.

I had to find out more about the matter, and what I discovered is that it is a trend especially rooted in German-made cars from the mid-to-late 90s, especially in large and medium-sized sedans like the S6. Volkswagen installed those small rear-view mirrors on the right side in their Passat. Audi also did it, and BMW, and Mercedes … Opel probably also fell into that strange trend.


The reason is precisely in the car size and not in the rearview mirror, in the car in relation to its environment. In Europe, large cars have to run through sometimes very narrow streets in the old cities or towns whose layout dates back to the Middle Ages. German manufacturers thought that making the right mirror smaller reduced the chance of damaging it by maneuvering those streets, and also reduced the possibility of pedestrians or cyclists crashing into it while parked.

An Audi sedan from the late 60s and early 70s, at that time did not have a rear-view mirror.
The 70s and 80s were a period of transition for many European manufacturers, and before that, the right rear-view mirror did not even exist. By the time the 90s arrived, the saloons had become so large that they needed some visual support on the right side. The answer to that need were those little mirrors that look like the fin of Nemo’s luck.

Why these mirrors disappeared without a trace?

In the mid-2000s, electric motorized mirrors became the norm in most high-end saloons and automobiles of the manufacturers, and the size of the streets was no longer a problem. The asymmetrical mirrors are a strange anachronism but that is part of the personality of the car. Now at least, I know why it is like that.