Why new cars are hard to see out the rear window?

I think on an old Car Talk show they discussed the fact that new cars have a higher (and I’m not sure of the word that was used) ‘belt height’? This is the top of the doors/bottom of the glass around the perimeter of the car. The result being, it’s impossible to see fairly close to the rear of the car when looking out the rear window from inside.

So what has caused this narrowed viewing and is it pretty much the same for all new cars?



The laws of physics and the laws of the federal government are responsible. The shape that you see these days is the most aerodynamic and efficient. The federal fuel economy standards mean that carmakers have to do everything they can to increase fuel economy. The result is the shape you see now.

I think the need for a shape with less wind resistance and hence better mileage may have something to do with it. I remember when Nash came out with the Airflyte styling for its 1949 models. These Nash cars had much lower coefficient of drag than other 1949_cars at the time. The rear window on the 1949_Nash was more like a skylight. The rear window on my 1947 Pontiac Streamliner fastback was just as bad. The visibility in the new cars is ceetaiy better than these cars of the 40s.

While the quest for better fuel economy has surely been the major factor in the “streamlining” of modern vehicles, styling also plays a role. That was true in the 1940s and 1950s, just as it is today.

Don’t worry about it. What’s behind you doesn’t matter. That is Ferrari’s motto anyway.

Backup until you hear glass, many new cars now have backup cameras, and have always had the rectangular stick in wide view mirrors.

It is also the roll-over tests requiring more roof/pillar strength adding to the width of the pillars, hence reducing window area.

More metal & less glass = better crash protection.

Whatever the reason, I feel like a novice pulling a trailer. I can’t see it out the back window to back it up.

Must be a short trailer or tall cab, @Bing.

I disagree. While streamlining and safety play a part, most of it is styling. It’s what the public wants, or perhaps more accurately, what the designers perceive the public wants.

If the manufacturers wanted, the rear windows could be much better and still meet safety and economy specs.

When I selected the Subaru Forester for my current car, I went by CR noting it had the best visibility of the group, but it’s still poor. Given that this is a small SUV/station wagon, the rear window could be much larger and not change any safety or streamlining considerations at all. And the side windows could also be much larger.


My wife hates most of the new vehicles she drives because of this very problem. She’s only 5’2" so the problem is worse for her. The last vehicle she bought had a back-up camera or it would still be on the dealer’s lot.

One engineering trick to make a car quieter is to reduce the amount of window area. Ford started to do that in the 60s with the LTD and bragged that it was quieter than the Rolls. That and thicker doors plus better insulation can produce a quiet car and improve the quality of conversation. You can’t talk in many cars today because of poor insulation. 2013 Rav4 in the rain will make you think you’re underwater. The noise is loud from the back seat area.

Some cars actually do have excellent visibility; the Subaru Forrester for one. My wife’s Venza for another is poor. . The roof safety requirments and aerodynamics puts visability second for many cars. really though, not all are bad…but styling is important too. Some people want a car that looks better then you can see out of.

I’ve noticed this too. I’ve always thought this change is b/c people these days are getting taller, so the cars and seats are getting taller to accommodate the taller occupants.

And they conceal how bad it is by having rear windows with only a fraction that is usable. Much of the ‘glass’ covers bodywork.

A continuous arc from the front corner to the rear corner better directs forces around the passenger cabin to better protect the passengers. This forms has become pretty much necessary for new cars to perform well the new testing protocols requiring crashing of partial corner to partial corner,

High door sills mean more area to put structural components, creating better crash test performance in side collision tests. And while glass can effectively transmit force, it cannot absorb it well. That too means more steel.

Unfortunately, this all means less glass and more steel, much of it high-strength steel *you may have noticed how much your new hood weighs).

Some vehicles, particularly the Honda CRV and the Mazda3 hatch have gone for a sleeker look rather than give you a larger rear window, I was behind a late model CRV in white and you could really tell how small the rear window actually was and how much was black trim. Back-up camera’s do help on these vehicles but it still comes in handy to have a good view out the back window.

The one thing I could never figure out is that my Lincoln Mark VIII was given bad reviews back in the day for poor rear seat leg room and poor rear view vision.
As to the former, I absolutely loathe riding in the back seat of anything but I’ve ridden in the back seat of the Mark on some road trips and found it perfectly comfortable; and I’m not that small. There’s no leg room crush at all and I can actually stretch out a bit.

As to the latter, I can’t even see the rear pillars. It’s all open countryside. The only way either of the pillars can even be seen in the rear view mirror is if I lean clean over the center console and put my face directly behind the mirror and up close. Move 6" either way and the pillars disappear.
I have no idea how someone came up with the obstructed vision knock on these cars.

There are many cars that have obstructed rear vision as opposed to most of the cars I grew up with. The complaint is valid, I believe.