If you’ve never owned a car with blind spot monitors, you might see them as a frivolous and costly convenience. But ask anyone who drives a car equipped with blind spot monitors and they’re likely to list the technology among the last features they’d want to give up in their next vehicle.
While these monitors can work differently from automaker to automaker, they usually offer the same purpose: to help you find out if there’s an unseen vehicle in your blind spots. Given that these monitors are almost always optional, you might be wondering if they’re worth the extra money, so we’ve explained our thoughts to help you decide whether you should splurge on this new technology.
How Do They Work?
Although nearly every automaker is different, blind spot monitors generally work the same way. As you drive along, they monitor the lanes to your left and right, especially the spots over your shoulder that you might have trouble seeing.
When a car enters your blind spot, most monitors alert the driver to its presence. Usually, this is done with a light on the outside door mirror. For example, a car in the passenger-side blind spot activates the light on the passenger-side mirror.
In most cases, the blind spot monitors don’t need to do any further work, since they’ve already alerted you to the car’s presence. However, if you turn on your signal while a car is in your blind spot, the monitors usually send a more urgent signal to let you know it isn’t the right time to make a lane change. In some cases, this is done with a flashing red light; other times, it’s a chime you can easily hear.
A few cars even take the blind-spot-monitor idea one step further by using actual cameras that show you what’s going on in your blind spot. For example, put on your turn signal in a Honda equipped with the brand’s LaneWatch system and the center screen will display a large image of everything that’s happening in your passenger-side blind spot. It’s telling, however, that Honda has been moving away from its LaneWatch camera system in favor of a more traditional blind spot monitor system.
So now that you know how these monitors work, you’re probably wondering: Are they worth it? After all, they’re optional on many modern cars but rarely standard, and that means you’ll need to decide whether you should spend the money to add them to your next vehicle.
Our short answer: It depends.
One thing you’ll need to consider when it comes to blind spot monitors is the size of your vehicle. For instance, you’ll probably want monitors on a full-size SUV or minivan, if only because it can be hard to keep tabs on every inch of the vehicle’s exterior while you’re driving down the highway. The feature is also nice if you often transport children, since your attention can easily be diverted away from the road.
You’ll also need to consider your potential car’s visibility. For instance, if you’re considering a car with excellent visibility and huge windows, you may not need the monitors, since you can easily see out to all sides. If you’re thinking about a car with larger blind spots, you might want to spring for the monitors.
Before you add blind spot monitors, you should also consider the type of driving that you do. They’re most helpful on multi-lane roads or highways with frequent high-speed driving. If you’re usually confined to 1-lane roads or low-speed traffic jams, blind spot monitors are unlikely to do you any good.
Finally, we think you should give the monitors a true test before you order them for your next vehicle. Take a car equipped with the monitors on a test drive and see if you like them. This can be eye-opening: While some drivers wouldn’t order a car without them, others find that they’re too easily overlooked and therefore not worth the extra money.
To us, blind spot monitors make a lot of sense if you’re in a big vehicle, if your car has larger-than-usual blind spots, if you can be easily distracted by kids, or if you spend a lot of time driving at high speeds on the highway. Otherwise, we’d probably skip the option, as it adds unnecessary cost — and complexity — to your new car.