How To Test Your Reverse Lights All By Yourself

reverse light
Test your reverse lights to be sure you're operating safely. Getty

Your car or truck's reverse lights are important safety features. They illuminate the scene when you're backing up, which is important, but they also warn pedestrians and other drivers that you are about to back up. This is probably even more important than lighting the way for you. It's important to be sure your reverse lights are functioning. Some states require they be working in order to pass inspection, others do not.

Yours should be working regardless of the legality.

So you need to test your reverse lights, but you don't have a helper around to let you know if they are coming on. It's daylight so you can't tell by looking in your rear view mirror. What do you do? The answer is simple, but many people don't know their car works this way.

You'll be doing this test with the engine off. To test your reverse lights, turn the ignition key to the "ON" position, the spot where all of the dash lights come on but before you start it. Now put the transmission in reverse. If you have an automatic transmission, you might have to press the brake to release the shifter (a safety setting). Once you have the car in reverse, and the parking brake is on, you can get out of the car and have a look at the rear end. If you see two bright lights staring at you, all is well.

If one or more of your reverse lights is not working, you'll need to replace a bulb or two.

Don't worry, we can show you how to do that, too.

While we're on the subject of reverse lights, I have a bone to pick with certain automakers who decided that the reverse lights would also do a great double duty acting as spotlights to illuminate the area in back of a vehicle. The one that comes instantly to mind is General Motors, who used this trick on a number of vehicles, mostly SUVs.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me elaborate, and gripe. Your reverse lights are bright. Reverse lights do a great job of lighting up anything you're about to back into, run over, or navigate toward when driving backward. As soon as your put your vehicle into reverse, the lights come on, and you can see. Certain GM vehicles I've seen use the reverse lights for illumination at other times. For example, as soon as the owner unlocks the car with their key fob remote, the reverse lights come on to illuminate your walk to the vehicle. While I appreciate the need to see clearly as you're walking to the back of the truck, there's a hidden danger to this. I can't tell you how many times I've been walking or driving through a parking lot, seen those reverse lights come on, and stopped to wait for the vehicle to back out. As I'm waiting, I see a family walk up and get into the truck. Do you see the problem? As I said earlier, the reverse lights serve not only to light up the track behind us when we're driving backward, but to warn pedestrians and drivers that the vehicle is about to go backward! Anyway, that's my gripe. I hate that courtesy function. If you have it on your vehicle, consider turning it off.

Thank you.