Why are Reverse Lights White?

Are white reverse lights a rule, or can they be any color? Read on for everything you need to know about why reverse lights are white.

Why are Reverse Lights White?

Have you ever noticed that every car has the same reverse lights and that they are always white? Is this a requirement, or just a preference for car makers? Why are reverse lights white?

Reverse lights are required to be white in order to provide illumination around the car, to put other drivers and pedestrians on notice that you are backing up, and to differentiate reverse lights from tail lights and signals.

Read on as we “illuminate” why your reverse lights are white, and why you should make sure they are always in good order.

Why are Reverse Lights White?

There are a few reasons why you are required to have white lights on the back of your car. These are known as reverse lights or back up lights, and only illuminate when the car is in reverse gear.


One reason why reverse lights are white is that white light will best illuminate the way as you are backing up your car, just like your headlights provide illumination when you are driving at night.

When reversing, you will require the same illumination to see the way, though you only need it when backing up. This is especially true of reverse cameras, which many drivers rely on to see behind the car when reversing (you should always check around the car as well as using the reverse camera).

Some cars use the reverse lights when you unlock the car remotely, in order to provide illumination for safety when you are outside the vehicle. This increases safety when you are parked in a dark parking lot, but keep in mind it can at times be confusing to other drivers who think a car may be reversing. You can often disable this setting if you don’t need it.

Notice to Others

Reverse lights have to be the same color on all vehicles so drivers and pedestrians understand what they signify–that a car is backing up and others should use caution.

Differentiate from Brake Lights, Rear Lights, and Signals

Reverse lights also have to be white so they are different from the other lights on the back of your car. It is also a requirement in the U.S. and other countries that rear lights are red, brake lights are intense red, and signals are red or amber.

Can Reverse Lights Be Any Color Other Than White?

In the U.S., reverse lights have to be white. In some other countries, reverse lights can be other colors, such as yellow or blue, but in most countries reverse lights are white.

Do Cars Have to Have Two Reverse Lights?

In the U.S., you have to have at least one functioning reverse light, though almost all cars are manufactured with two reverse lights, one on each side of the car. Having two reverse lights will provide you more illumination.

In addition, it may be difficult to tell if a reverse light has burned out, unless someone outside the car puts you on notice that the light isn’t working. Having two reverse lights means you will always have a spare.

Further, if you have an accident on one side of your car (which is common), you will still have a functioning reverse light.

In Europe, cars must have one reverse light and one rear fog light. Both must be functional lights. It’s a good idea for Americans to remember that cars in other countries may only have one reverse light–and to watch out for reversing cars.

Do Tail Lights Have to be Red?

Yes, in the U.S. tail lights and brake lights have to be red, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. You cannot change the colors of most car lights and still be in compliance with law. Most other countries has similar laws.

Do Signal Lights Have to be Amber or Yellow?

In the U.S., many old cars use the red tail lights as signal lights or blinkers, which signal that a vehicle is turning. Red signal lights are still allowed in the U.S., though many newer cars are using orange/amber or yellow lights as signals.

Studies have shown that using amber lights results in a statistically significant safety advantage over red signal lights.

How Do I Test a Reverse Light?

It may be difficult to know if one of your reverse lights has burned out or is otherwise not functioning. You may have brand new lights but a sensor has gone bad, or it could be that the switch that turns on your reverse lights when you shift into reverse is faulty.

It’s a good idea to test all your lights occasionally, so you don’t get cited for not having functioning lights on your vehicle.

The best way to test a reverse light is for you to stay in the car with the car in reverse and have a friend or other person check the lights.

If you are by yourself, turn the ignition to “ON” but do NOT start the engine. The lights and radio will go on. You can put your car in reverse to check the lights, but make sure the parking brake is on! Do not put your car in reverse and then exit the vehicle if the parking brake is not engaged.

How Do I Fix a Reverse Light?

If you have a burned-out reverse light, you may be able to replace it yourself if you are handy with cars. If you don’t want to do it yourself, this is an easy fix for a mechanic.

You will need to follow these steps:

  • Unscrew the tail light covering with a Phillips screwdriver. Don’t lose the screws!
  • Loosen the light housing. You probably can’t remove it because you will want to keep any wires attached.
  • Gently unscrew the light holder where the bulb is sitting.
  • Pull out the old bulb (in older cars it may need a quarter turn). Put in your new bulb. Then reverse the steps to finish.


Safety is of the utmost importance with all vehicles. Reverse lights are white so others know you are reversing and can use caution. Make sure your car lights are functioning to keep others safe–and to avoid a ticket.