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Parking lights can illuminate the outline of a parked vehicle, allowing others to see it and get out of the way. These automotive lights are meant to be activated when the vehicle is parked in a location that has poor lighting. However, some drivers don’t use their parking lights as intended, which can lead to miscommunication on the road. We’ve put everything there is to know about parking lights in this article to help you understand what they are and how they work.

What Are Parking Lights?

Parking lights, also known as sidelights, are external automotive lights installed in a vehicle’s front and rear corners. These automotive lights typically have white or amber lenses in front and red lenses at the rear.

Parking lights were originally designed to help protect a vehicle that was parked in a narrow, poorly lit road. They used to be installed in the front of the vehicle and emitted a dim or faint glow that would alert drivers to evade the vehicle. They could be activated even if the headlights failed because they ran on a separate operating system.

headlight assembly with parking light
Parking lights, also known as sidelights, are external automotive lights installed in a vehicle’s front and rear corners.

Car manufacturers integrated parking lights into the same operating system as headlights in 1968. This meant that parking lights and headlights would light up at the same time when activated.

Parking lights can now be turned on using the light switch on the lever protruding from the steering column or using a button or dial on the dashboard. Some parking lights are located on the outer side of the headlights, while some can be found on the inner side or below the headlights. The exact location depends on the vehicle’s make and model.

What Are Different Types of Parking Lights?

There are three types of parking lights based on lens type and location: amber indicator-based parking lights, clear or white parking lights, and parking lights inside the headlight housing

Amber Indicator-based Parking Lights

Amber parking lights are the most common type of parking lights in the US. They illuminate a steady orange glow in the front indicators and rear tail light assemblies.

White Parking Lights

Though still considered legal, white parking lights are less common in the US. These parking lights show up more frequently on European and Asian vehicles. They feature a separate parking light with a clear or white bulb.

Inside the Headlight Housing

This is the least common type of parking light here in the US, and it’s typically found on older vehicle models. Small, clear parking lights were included in the same unit as the headlamps on Volkswagen Beetles and Porsche 356s built before the late 1960s.

parking light of a car
Amber parking lights are the most common type of parking lights in the US. Image source: Wikimedia Commons | Christopher Ziemnowicz

How to Use Your Parking Lights Correctly

You should leave your parking lights on when you park your vehicle in a dark or poorly lit location so that other drivers can get out of the way. Parking lights can protect your parked vehicle from scratches, dents, or fender benders caused by poor lighting conditions. However, you should be careful about leaving your parking lights on for too long because they could drain your battery

Apart from keeping your vehicle safe, parking lights also serve a secondary purpose as emergency lights when your headlights fail. One of your vehicle’s headlight bulbs can burn out while you’re driving at night. Having a functioning parking light helps prevent other drivers from mistaking your vehicle for a motorcycle, minimizing the risk of fatal collisions on the road. However, since most vehicles already have hazard and emergency lights, parking lights might not be needed.

Though there are no state or federal laws requiring vehicles to have parking lights, some manufacturers still include them in their vehicles as a standard safety feature. Some states may have strict laws on using parking lights while driving. In California, you can’t drive with your parking lights on unless you’re using them as turn signal lights or in conjunction with your headlights. We recommend looking into your state’s rules and regulations on parking lights before you hit the road to avoid getting pulled over.

Signs of Faulty Parking Lights

There are a few ways to tell whether your vehicle’s parking lights have failed. You should check your parking lights for failure if they exhibit any of the following symptoms:

Parking Lights Are Dim or Flickering

Dim or flickering lights are often a sign of failing light bulbs. Halogen bulbs are more likely to burn out faster than their LED counterparts. Replacement parking lights are sold with or without included light bulbs.

Cracked and Damaged Lenses

Parking lights are likely to be damaged in parking accidents or minor collisions due to their location in the front and rear of your vehicle. Cracked or damaged lenses may become a road hazard if parts suddenly fall off while driving at high speeds. Debris can get inside a broken lens and potentially damage the exposed bulb.

Moisture Inside the Headlight or Tail Light Assembly

As some parking lights are located inside the headlight and tail light assembly, any trapped moisture within the housing can cause premature wear. Condensation can also occur in a cracked lens or housing. If you notice moisture building up inside your parking light assembly, have it checked by a professional mechanic.

front headlight
Parking lights also serve a secondary purpose as emergency lights when your headlights fail.

How Much Do Replacement Parking Lights Cost?

The cost of parking lights can vary depending on your vehicle’s specific year, make, and model. Aftermarket replacement parts can cost anywhere between $5 and $700. These lights are often sold individually, in sets of two, or as part of a kit.

While it’s possible to install this part yourself, you should consider hiring a licensed mechanic to ensure proper installation. A mechanic can also help you diagnose any electrical issues that you might have with your automotive lighting.

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