What purpose do parking lights serve?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

My sister and I are wondering about parking lights on automobiles; why do cars have them? The only time we ever see a car with parking lights on is during the "twilight hours" of the morning or early evening, and while the cars are MOVING, not parked. Are parking lights a relic from the past? Are they for driving or parking? Were they ever used for parking? We have more questions about parking lights, but these will do for now.

TOM: Wow! If ever there was a "sleeping dog" issue in the automotive industry, you've awakened it, Wilma! These tough questions are going to be asked in a lot of Detroit boardrooms tomorrow morning! Mark my words!

RAY: It doesn't take much to get him excited, does it? I think parking lights are a relic from the past, Wilma. Before they were called parking lights, they were known as "sidelights." And at one time, they WERE used to make a parked car more visible, when it was pulled over to the side of the road where other drivers might not expect it. But since the mid-sixties, we have emergency flashers or hazard lights for that.

TOM: They're also used during the "twilight hours," instead of full headlights. But there's really not much reason for that either. If the purpose is to make your car more visible to other drivers, headlights do a better job of that. And the losses, in terms of headlight life or gas mileage are really negligible.

RAY: In fact, a number of manufacturers, including GM, Volvo, and Volkswagen are now equipping cars with "daytime running lights." That means some kind of headlights will be on whenever the engine is running, so the car will always have the maximum visibility to other drivers. And that should make parking lights even more obsolete. Can something be "MORE obsolete?"

TOM: I don't know. We obviously need to come up with some other uses for parking lights to justify their continued existence....and perhaps a new name for them, too. Do you readers have any suggestions? Send them to us at Former Parking Light Division, care of this paper.

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