Not sure whether that GM car is backing up or not? Here’s how to tell

General Motors has made some questionable decisions in the past. In the past decade or so, they gave us a mid-sized SUV with a retractable roof, a convertible retro-styled pickup truck, and a turbocharged sedan delivery. Now, though, these wacky side projects have been discontinued, and GM is back to making relatively justifiable decisions. Mostly.

All vehicles have lights on their posterior body panels. When reverse gear is engaged, some of those lights — specifically, the white ones — illuminate, so people behind the vehicle know it is about to travel in reverse. This has been the case for decades. Therefore, white lights at the rear of a vehicle are universally understood to indicate imminent travel in the reverse direction.

At some point, General Motors decided these reverse lights should also mean something else, so they now illuminate when the car has recently been unlocked. This, of course, can lead to confusion — most drivers in a parking lot who encounter a vehicle with its reverse lights illuminated will assume that vehicle is about to reverse. If it’s a GM car, how do you know? Do you wait there like an imbecile, irritating the motorists behind you?

In fact, there is a simple way to know whether a GM car with illuminated reverse lights is actually in reverse gear.

How do you tell?

Most GM vehicles — the Tahoe, Silverado, Traverse, etc. — are only available with an automatic transmission. If an automatic car is stationary and in gear, it will move. To prevent this from happening, drivers will apply the brakes. Most drivers will want to do this when backing out of a parking spot so they can survey their surroundings and ensure it is safe to proceed. When this happens, the brake lights will illuminate. This means, if a stationary GM car is actually in reverse, its brake lights will be illuminated.

So there you have it. To determine whether a GM car is in reverse, look at the brake lights. Of course, this would not be necessary if GM were a normal car company, but they aren’t. Now, perhaps, your parking endeavors can be marginally less stressful.

13 Comments

  1. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the lifestyles of others, or to even subtly hint that they may have oddities, quirks, or perversities that are best left uncontemplated let alone disclosed, but who the Hell spends enough time cruising up and down the mall parking lots of America that this constitutes a serious problem in their lives?

    WAIT! Do NOT name names! I’d rather not know.

  2. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the lifestyles of others, or to even subtly hint that they may have oddities, quirks, or perversities that are best left uncontemplated let alone disclosed, but who the Hell spends enough time cruising up and down the mall parking lots of America that this constitutes a serious problem in their lives?

    WAIT! Do NOT name names! I’d rather not know.

  3. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the lifestyles of others, or to even subtly hint that they may have oddities, quirks, or perversities that are best left uncontemplated let alone disclosed, but who the Hell spends enough time cruising up and down the mall parking lots of America that this constitutes a serious problem in their lives?

    WAIT! Do NOT name names! I’d rather not know.

  4. In the court of Judge Batshit this case is thrown out for being a frivolous lawsuit. Plaintiffs seek internet fame through trolling General Motors and present no evidence anyone was ever actually aggrieved by this non-issue. Defendants are within the laws of common sense. Bailiff! Get these chiseling whiners out of my face.

    1. Also, driver training schools teach new drivers that when you see a ball roll into the street, you stop and look for a kid or a dog that might run after it.

      If you are driving through the parking lot and see the reverse lights illuminate on a parked car, I don’t think it is a bad thing or an inconvenience to be notified that a mom might be approaching the vehicle with her kid in a shopping cart.

      And a significant reason for reverse lights is to illuminate the area behind the car, so that people can see. If it was just a warning system, then green or blue, or some other color lens could be used. The light helps people see the puddles and maybe chase away some bad guys as the driver approaches the vehicle.

      1. I’m with you. I raised my eyebrows when the author said, “those lights … illuminate, so people behind the vehicle know it is about to travel in reverse.” One way to read that is that they are warning lights; they’re no more warning lights than headlights are. Reverse lights (don’t ask about the frivolous suit charging that the proper term is Reversing Light, or Back-Up Light, or that there is one single ‘proper’ name for them) are there for the driver to see where they’re going, all others can take their own risks.

        I really had to shake my head at the conclusion that “if a stationary GM car is actually in reverse, its brake lights will be illuminated.” Huh? DId we get rid of parking brakes and no one told me? I’m forever goosing the throttle in reverse, foot off the brake, then remembering the parking brake, popping the catch and taking off backwards under steam. I hope I don’t squash poor Ryan Lowe doing that, we can’t afford to lose another contributor from the masthead. (Anyway I drive a Ford.)

    2. There is an even easier way to tell if that GM vehicle is backing up or not: does it seem to be suddenly growing?

      If it starts to fill more and more of your windshield, chances are it is not ACTUALLY getting larger. It IS however getting ever closer. Use the appropriate gear to increase distance, or use audible signaling (commonly called ‘the horn’, even though there might not be an actual horn-shaped object) to signal the driver of the GM vehicle of a possible collision.

  5. If I’m reading this correctly, this must therefore be a plot by GM to remove their own manually-equipped vehicles from circulation by inducing a higher rate of low-speed parking-lot collisions with them while simultaneously painting all manuals as “dangerous” by association. Fiendishly clever of them.

  6. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the lifestyles of others, or to even subtly hint that they may have oddities, quirks, or perversities that are best left uncontemplated let alone disclosed, but who the Hell spends enough time cruising up and down the mall parking lots of America that this constitutes a serious problem in their lives?

    WAIT! Do NOT name names! I’d rather not know.

    1. I do! And it’s very disappointing when they don’t suddenly back into me resulting in a big insurance claim.

  7. I guess I’m one of the knuckleheads annoyed by this. I’ve always seen backup lights as more signal than illumination since they typically do little from the driver’s perspective. When you take what is essentially a warning light and start using it for other purposes you dilute the value of the warning. The boy who cried wolf and all that.

    The author does make a good point, however. Any GM vehicle from the last 20 years or so likely has a brake interlock that requires the brakes to be pressed to shift to reverse, unless it’s a stick shift. So reverse lights with no brake lights is probably remote locking.

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