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How Come Rear Windows Don't Roll All the Way Down?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2018

Good news, Oversteer! It's time for a new installment of Ask Doug, which is everyone's favorite weekly column, where you get to ask Doug something, and Doug will potentially answer, or else maybe he'll read your question and laugh and move on to a better one.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just email me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I can promise you that I'll at least consider your question for publication on our esteemed website. I will also consider uproariously laughing at your idiocy.

Anyway, today's question comes to us from a reader I've named Roger. Roger writes:

Why did older cars have windows that didn't go down all the way but stopped half way (Think the Taurus) today cars have windows that go down in the back seats all the way down. Was it like this brand new window technology that came out that magically let windows go down in the back seat of cars? Was there a law against windows going down all the way?

Roger

Although Roger didn't say it, he's referring to automotive rear windows, not just windows in general. In most older cars, rear windows would roll down part of the way, or halfway, or sometimes three-quarters of the way, but most vehicles didn't have rear windows that would roll down all the way, as you can see in the photo here:

rear window

For many years, people assumed this was a safety feature, and I remember being told when I was a child that rear windows in vehicles intentionally didn't roll down all the way; the thinking was, according to these people who told me this, that rear windows stopped at a certain point so children riding in the back seat couldn't fling themselves out the window while the car was moving, resulting in certain injury or death.

As I grew up, I realized this was a nonsense explanation, and it was never really true at all. As it turns out, the real reason these windows don't roll down all the way is because of automotive door design; the windows rolled down as far as they could before reaching the top of the wheel arch, and then they had to stop, because they simply had nowhere to go. This is the reason why Subaru windows were always angled; Subaru had their windows tilt forward as they went down to allow the windows to drop a little further than windows that went down straight.

And so, we go back to Roger's question. Roger is asking why windows now go down all the way, and whether there was ever a law against windows rolling down the full amount.

Indeed not, Roger: There was never a law or regulation preventing windows from going down all the way, and indeed some vehicles had their windows go down all the way, even many years ago; the "XJ" Jeep Cherokee, for example, always had its rear windows go down the entire way, never stopping in the middle like the windows in some cars did.

So why do more windows go down all the way now? Two reasons: One is that automakers have learned customers would prefer windows to go down all the way, either for pets or simply because windows that don't drop all the way look unfinished and poorly designed. The other, I assume, is that cars continue to get larger, which has allowed automakers to pull back rear wheels and rear wheel arches, providing more space for the rear door and more space for the window to drop.

Of course, for windows that still can't go down all the way, automakers have a solution: By including a fixed rear-quarter window to move the window track away from the wheel well, vehicles can still have their windows go all the way down, even if they'd normally intersect with the top of the wheel arch. The larger you make the rear-quarter window, the further down your rear window can roll.

And so, Roger, there's your answer, and hopefully I've done my part to dispel one of the most interesting pieces of automotive misinformation: the idea that your rear window didn't roll all the way down to prevent a child from climbing out your vehicle while it was moving. Now you know the truth. The real truth.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
How Come Rear Windows Don't Roll All the Way Down? - Autotrader