What are parking lights and when should you use them?

14 minute read Published on May 14, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

A row of parked cars

Have you ever noticed those small, dim lights (sometimes amber) on the front and back of cars and wondered what they’re for? Those are called parking lights. In this blog, we’ll explain what these lights are for and when it’s best to use them. We’re here to help you understand why parking lights are important and how using them correctly can keep you and everyone else safe on the road.

What are parking lights?

Parking lights are small lights on the front and sometimes the back of a car. Unlike headlights, they are not as bright. Parking lights are used to help others see parked cars better in low light, like early in the morning, late in the evening, or when it’s foggy. You turn them on to let drivers and walkers know your car is there, especially if you’re parked on a narrow or busy street. These lights aren’t for helping you see the road better; they’re all about making your car more noticeable when it’s parked or in certain situations where it’s hard to see.

When must you use parking lights?

You should use your parking lights in a few key situations:

When parked on a street in the dark

Some municipalities will require you to turn on your parking lights if you’re parked on the side of a road at night or when it’s getting dark.

For example, in Ontario, according to the Highway Traffic Act, if you’re parking on a street or the side of a road/shoulder in urban areas between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise, your vehicle’s parking lights must be turned on. This helps other drivers see your car and avoid hitting or bumping into it.

During bad weather

If you’re parked and the weather is foggy, raining hard, or snowing, and you want to make sure other drivers can see your car, especially if you’re driving under the speed limit due to road conditions, you might use your parking lights.

In tight or crowded spots

If you’re parked in a place where your car might be in the way or hard for others to see, using parking lights can help alert other drivers.

If a parking area asks for it

Sometimes, certain parking spots, especially private ones, might ask you to use your parking lights for safety reasons.

Remember, the rules for when to use parking lights can change depending on where you are, so it’s good to know what’s expected in your area. Also, parking lights are not enough for driving at night. Always use your headlights when it’s dark to make sure you can see the road and others can see you.

What are the different types of parking lights?

Parking lights can be different types based on where they are on the car, the kind of light they use, and what they’re meant for. Each type has its own advantages, like LEDs being energy-saving and lasting long and halogens being bright. Let’s take a look at the various kinds:

Front parking lights

Think of these as the welcoming lights of your car. Positioned near the headlights, they shine a light forward, making sure others can spot your car from the front when it’s parked or in areas where it’s hard to see. Front parking lights are also commonly known as sidelights.

Rear parking lights

These are the back-end companions to your front parking lights. Located on the rear of your car, they illuminate to show where your car ends, helping people and other drivers see your car from behind, especially at night or when visibility isn’t great. It’s like your car’s way of making sure that it is not reared while parked.

LED parking lights

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, a modern technology for lights that saves energy and lasts longer, making them a favourite for newer cars. They shine brighter than traditional lights, which makes your car easier to spot, which is why many modern cars come with these as standard. They’re the eco-friendly, high-tech option.

Halogen parking lights

Halogen lights are the old-school cousins of LEDs. They use halogen bulbs, which have been around for ages. They’re not as energy-efficient as LEDs, but they still make your car visible, and they give off a bright and warm light that many people like. If your car is older, it might have these lights.

Side marker lights

These aren’t exactly parking lights, but they serve a similar purpose. They’re on the sides of your car and help others see how big your car is in low light.

How to turn on your parking lights

Unlike automatic headlights, parking lights must be turned on and off manually. Turning on your parking lights is a simple task, but it looks different depending on the type of car you drive. Nevertheless, here’s our step-by-step guide to help you through it:

Find the light switch

First, you need to locate where the light controls are in your car. Usually, you’ll find this switch on the dashboard near the steering wheel or on a stick-like lever (called a stalk) that’s attached to the steering column itself.

Learn the symbols

On or near this switch, you’ll see symbols representing different lighting options. You’re looking for the parking lights symbol, which typically looks like a small lamp with lines on one or both sides. If these symbols don’t make sense, just check your car’s manual. It provides instructions and explanations specific to your vehicle, ensuring you can confidently manage your lights.

Activate parking lights

Once you identify the right symbol for parking lights, you’ll want to turn the switch to that position. In many cars, this involves turning the switch one click towards you or to the side from its starting position (which is usually off).

Check that they’re on

After you’ve turned the switch to the parking lights setting, it’s a good idea to get out of the car and walk around to visually confirm that the front and back parking lights are indeed on. This quick check ensures everything is set up correctly and that your lights are in working order. This will also let you know if any of the lights are burnt out. This will also allow you to make sure that prior to parking your car there was no damage to it, in the event that something happens to it you will know where it happened.

Turning them off

When turning off your parking lights, simply rotate the switch back to the off position. This will turn off the parking lights and make sure they’re not draining your vehicle’s battery when you’re not using them. The last thing you want is to come back to your vehicle and find it has a dead battery.

Are parking lights the same as running lights?

No, parking lights and running lights, also known as daytime running lights (DRLs), are different, even though both help other people see your car better.

Parking lights are mostly used when your car is parked on a road or in places where it’s a bit dark to help others notice your car. Sometimes, people also use them while driving in the early morning or late evening light, but they’re not meant to light up the road for you. You’ll find parking lights on the front and sometimes the back of your car, giving off a gentle glow.

On the other hand, DRLs are there to make your car more visible during the day, especially when it’s fully light outside. They turn on by themselves when the car is moving and are brighter than parking lights but not as bright as your main headlights. DRLs are all about safety, making it easier for other drivers to see your car during the day. They don’t help you see the road better and aren’t used when the car is parked.

How are parking lights different from other lights on your vehicle?

Parking lights are quite different from other lights on your vehicle, like your headlights, taillights, brake lights, fog lights and hazard lights. Each light on your car plays a key role in keeping you safe by making sure other drivers know where you are and what you’re doing. Here’s a short breakdown of how they’re different.

Parking lights are there to make your car visible when it’s parked or in dim light, without lighting up the road like headlights do.

Dipped beam headlights (main beams) are much brighter than parking lights and are meant to help you see where you’re going at night. High-beam headlights point straight, making it easier to see further ahead.

Taillights are always at the back of your car, helping others see your car from behind. Taillights turn on as soon as you switch on your headlights or when you put on your parking brake.

Brake lights light up as soon as you engage the brakes (by pushing down the brake pedal) to let the driver behind you know you’re slowing down or stopping.

Fog lights are for when it’s foggy or misty out, and normal headlights just don’t cut it because they can bounce off the fog, making it harder to see. They’re placed lower on your car and shine a wide, low beam that helps you see the road right in front of you without glaring off the fog.

Both parking and taillights give off a soft glow, but they don’t flash or grab attention like hazard lights. Hazard lights, or flashers, are used to warn others when your car is stopped unexpectedly or in an emergency, flashing brightly to catch the eye of other drivers.

So, while parking lights increase your car’s visibility in low light, headlights help you see ahead while driving and help oncoming vehicles see you, hazard lights are all about warning others of potential danger, and taillights make sure drivers behind you can see your car.

What are the signs of a faulty parking light?

If you think your parking light isn’t working correctly, here are a few things to look out for:

They’re getting more dim or blinking

If your parking lights seem less bright or start blinking on and off, there might be a problem with their power source, like a battery not doing its job well or some wiring issues.

Only one light works

If just one parking light isn’t lighting up, it could simply mean the bulb burned out. But it might also suggest there’s a problem with the light’s socket or the wires connected to that light.

Both lights don’t work

If neither of the parking lights turns on, the trouble could be a fuse that blew out, a switch that’s not working right, or a bigger issue with the car’s electrical system that controls the lights.

The lights stay on

If your parking lights don’t turn off, it might mean the switch is stuck or there’s a glitch in the system that controls the lights. This can lead to your car’s battery running down or dying, so it’s something you’ll want to fix quickly.

There’s a dashboard warning

Some cars have a system that tells you when something’s wrong with your lights, including the parking lights. If you see a warning light or get a message on your car’s dashboard about the lights, it’s a good idea to check it out.

Catching these issues early and fixing them can help avoid bigger problems later. If you’re not sure what’s wrong or how to fix it, it’s best to ask a professional mechanic for help. They can figure out the problem and get it fixed the right way.

Tips for using your parking lights properly

Using your parking lights the right way, like not using them in place of headlights, is key for keeping you and everyone else safe. Here are some tips:

Know when to use them

Turn on your parking lights in the early morning, late evening, or any time it’s a bit dark, and your car is parked where others need to see it. This makes your car stand out and helps to prevent fender benders and scrapes.

Check local regulations for where you live

Different places have their own rules about parking lights. For example, some spots might want you to display parking lights if you’re parked on a narrow road at night. Make sure you know what’s expected wherever you’re driving or parking.

Don’t use them instead of headlights

Parking lights aren’t for lighting up the road while you drive. They are there to make your parked car visible. Always switch to your main headlights when it’s dark or hard to see.

Turn them on when parking on tight streets

If you’re parking in a tight spot or a busy area after dark, flick on your parking lights. This is a heads-up to other drivers that your car is there, especially if it’s a bit hidden or hard to spot.

Switch to headlights if you’re moving

If you’re driving and it’s foggy, raining hard, or snowing, always use your main headlights or fog lights, not just your parking lights. This makes sure you can see where you’re going, and others can see you, too, helping to prevent accidents.

Remember to turn them off

Don’t forget to switch off your parking lights when you don’t need them anymore. Parking lights drain your car’s battery if they’re left on too long.

Your parking lights are on, and someone still hits your car. What should you do?

If someone hits your parked car, it can be quite a headache, especially if they drive off afterward. Here’s how to handle it:

Take pictures

Snap some photos of the damage to your car and where it happened. Write down when and where the incident took place. This info is important for your insurance claim and for reporting the incident to the police.

Look for witnesses or cameras

Try to find anyone who saw what happened or check if there are any security cameras around that might have caught the hit-and-run on video. Witnesses can give details, and video footage can be helpful in finding the person who hit your car.

Report it to the police

Tell the police about the hit-and-run. Even if they can’t track down the person who did it, you’ll need a police report to file an insurance claim.

Call your insurance company

Let your insurance know about the incident as soon as you can. This is where having good car insurance coverage really helps.

  • If the person who hit your car stayed behind to make a report or is found and they have insurance, their insurance should pay for your repairs.
  • If the person who hit your car doesn’t have insurance or if they can’t be found, having uninsured motorist coverage is beneficial.
  • If you’re in a province that uses direct compensation-property damage (DCPD) and you’re not at fault, this coverage allows you to deal directly with your own insurance company for repairs or compensation, making the process smoother.

Think about what to do next

Decide if you want to file an insurance claim based on how bad the damage is and your deductible. If the repair cost is about the same as or less than your deductible, it might be cheaper to just pay for the repairs yourself.

Having the right type of insurance is essential for situations like this. While DCPD and uninsured motorist property damage coverage can protect you so you’re not stuck paying all the repair costs by yourself if you’re not at fault, having collision coverage can also help if you’re found to be at fault (e.g., you were parked illegally near a stop sign). It’s a good idea to check your insurance policy often and talk to your insurance company or broker to make sure you have the protection you need.


Knowing when to use parking lights is essential for all drivers. These lights help others see your car when there is not a lot of natural light or when you are parked on a street that’s either narrow or has a lot of traffic. It’s key to remember that parking lights aren’t the same as your main headlights, but they still have an important job in keeping things safe.

When you use your parking lights the right way, you help make the roads a safer place for everyone. So, whether you’ve been driving for years or you’re just starting, keeping these tips in mind will help you make the best use of your parking lights, making sure you and everyone else stay safe while driving.

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What are parking lights used for?

Parking lights make your car visible when it’s parked or in dimly lit areas, like early in the morning or late in the evening.

When must you use parking lights?

You should use parking lights when parked on a street in low light to help others see your car, or in some places, it’s also required when driving at dusk or dawn.

What are parking lights in Canada?

In Canada, parking lights are used the same way as in other places: to make your car more visible when parked or in low-light situations.

Are parking lights the same as running lights?

No. Parking lights are for visibility when your car is parked or in dim light, while running lights or daytime running lights are brighter and automatically turn on to make your car visible to others during the day while driving.

Should I use parking lights in a recognized parking bay?

No, you don’t usually need to use parking lights in a designated indoor parking bay, especially if it’s well-lit or during the day. Parking lights are more for when you’re parked on the side of the road or in an outdoor parking lot in dim conditions.

Do parking lights help with traffic flow?

Not directly. Parking lights make your car visible when parked in low-light conditions, which can help prevent accidents, but they don’t directly improve traffic flow.

What is the Ontario highway code for using parking lights?

According to Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, if you park your car on an urban street or by the side of the road 30 minutes after the sun sets to 30 minutes before it rises, you must have your car’s parking lights on.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.