Parking Lights vs Headlights: Everything You Should Know!

Have you ever driven your car at dusk and not sure whether to flick on your parking lights or headlights? Parking lights vs headlights have different purposes and it’s important to know which one you should use and in which situations you should turn these lights on. Don’t wait too long, buckle up and find out the proper use of these car lights.

What Are Parking Lights On A Car? 

Parking lights, also known as sidelights, are low-intensity lights mounted on the front and rear of the vehicle, automatically turning on when the vehicle is parked in low-light conditions.

Parking lights are arranged in the corners and sides of the front and rear bumpers. They are designed to indicate the position and perimeter of a parked vehicle at night or in situations of poor visibility due to rain, fog, or other weather phenomena.

The main function of parking lights is to enhance the visibility and recognition of a parked car, truck, or other vehicle at night by outlining its perimeter, which contributes to preventing accidents and collisions when other vehicles are moving nearby. Because parked cars without lights are nearly invisible in the dark, illuminated parking lights allow drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to perceive the vehicle’s location and general size and avoid running into it.

Parking lights also clearly indicate that a vehicle is currently stopped/parked and not moving on the road.

Compared to headlights, parking lights are dimmer and illuminate a smaller area, but are bright enough to determine the position of stationary vehicles to prevent accidents with moving vehicles and pedestrians.

can you drive with parking lights on
Can you drive with parking lights on (Photo: youtube)

Understanding The Headlights 

Car headlights play an important role in helping to ensure visibility for the driver, especially when driving at night. Headlights are designed to have high lighting intensity and are used when it is necessary to expand the lighting range. Simply put, when the driver needs to increase visibility, turn on the headlights. However, oncoming road users will be dazzled if you turn on your headlights. Therefore, in urban areas, there will be regulations to turn on headlights to avoid unfortunate accidents. Besides the main responsibility is lighting, the headlights also improve the aesthetic of the car exterior. 

Keep in mind that there are two primary settings of the headlight for car: dipped headlights (low beam headlights) and full beam or you can call high beam headlights:

  • Low-beam headlights are often used for everyday driving during low-light conditions. They are brighter than the parking lights and angled downwards to illuminate the roads. 
  • High-beam headlights are the brightest lights on your car, they are located higher than dipped headlights to allow you to see more of the road in front of your vehicle. They project a much stronger and wider beam of light, allowing you to see a significantly greater distance down the road.

>> Related post: Turn Light, Parking Light, And All Other Lights Fully Discussed

Difference Between Parking Lights vs Headlights

We summarize the key differences between the headlights and parking lights in the table below to give you an overview: 

Features  Headlights  Parking lights 
Purpose Light up the road Increase car visibility when parked
Brightness High Low
When to use Night driving, low-visibility conditions Parked car, low-light conditions
Legal requirement Required in low-visibility driving May be required when parked on roadways (depending on each state)

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When Should You Use Parking Lights vs Headlights

Turning on the parking light when:

  • Park your vehicle overnight on a dark or dimly lit street where your vehicle may be difficult to see
  • When stopping your vehicle on the roadside at night wait for assistance.
  • Park in a parking lot, garage, or other unlit area at night.
  • Stopping on the road at dusk using headlights will unduly dazzle oncoming traffic.
  • Parking in restricted areas with limited visibility.
  • Wait for someone in your parked car in an unlit area at night.

These lights can stay on for a long time without draining the car battery. Most of the time, you will use the parking lights along with your low-beam headlights to make your car more visible from the side. Additionally, the parking lights can also be used in case of an emergency If one of the low beams is burnt out. When can you drive using only your parking lights? for parked vehicles, not for navigating the road?

When should we use the headlights?

  • You should always use the low-beam headlights when driving at night or whenever visibility is reduced because of rain or snow. They help you to see the road better and be seen by oncoming traffic. However, if the visibility is reduced by fog, you should consider turning on the fog lights instead of low beams. 
  • For the high-beam headlights, you should only use them when driving at night, on open roads where there’s no oncoming traffic within sight and you need to see a greater distance ahead. It’s important to turn off these high beams for a moment as they could dazzle other drivers and cause accidents.

>> Read more: Why Headlights Not Working but High Beams Are?

During which time period do you have to use your headlights
During which time period do you have to use your headlights (Photo:

Can You Drive With Parking Lights Instead Of Headlights?

Sometimes, when driving at night you may use your parking lights instead of headlights, should we do that? Our answer is you should not drive with only the parking light on because parking lights are just for parking. And most importantly, this light is designed with minimal visibility, not enough to illuminate the road ahead. Driving with the parking light can cause potential risks:

  • You may not see the potential hazards on the road clearly, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Other drivers might not see you approaching, leading to potential collisions.

Not only risk your safety but driving with parking lights also causes legal issues. Some states have a law mandating the use of headlights under low-light conditions. It means that driving with parking lights can be considered a violation and could cost you a ticket. You should use headlights instead of parking lights at night when you are driving. They are more noticeable, and if it gets dark (and the driver forgets), parking lights would no longer be legal.

Always prioritize safety and legal compliance. For nighttime or low-visibility driving, use your headlights. They provide the necessary illumination to see the road and ensure other drivers can see you.