What Is Automatic Parking? And What Cars Have It?

There was an old episode of Top Gear where Richard Hammond and James May tested the LS600. It was the first car designed “to help old people park,” declared Hammond, leaning out of the window.

What followed was a typical Top Gear segment where they don’t read the instruction manual, almost crash the car and conclude that it’s a bit rubbish.

Well, fast forward a decade or so and automatic parking, along with other autonomous technology, has been promoted from niche optional extra to mainstream motoring feature.

In this car technology article, I’ll look at automatic parking in a bit more detail, discussing how it works and what cars have it.

How does automatic parking work?

Automatic parking is basically the next step after parking sensors. Instead of just telling you where the space is and how to manoeuvre into it, the car takes control of the steering and acceleration and actually does the parking for you. (Some systems still require the driver to take control of the speed by applying the brakes.)

In order to understand its environment, self parking cars come fitted with a bunch of sensors that scan your environment as you drive along.

When the sensors detect a space that’s big enough for your car, it sends you a notification. Then you hit the ‘Go Park’ button and your car automatically parks itself.

But wait, it gets better.

With the UK government relaxing automatic parking regulations, we could be looking at autonomous drop off and pick up tech.

Just imagine it. You arrive at your place of work, hop out of the car and press a button on your key fob. Then your car trundles off — without you in it! — and finds itself a spot to park in.

When you’re ready to leave, you tap a different button on your key fob and your car leaves its parking spot and comes to find you.

What cars have automatic parking?

Despite debuting in the mid-1990s, automatic parking is still a fairly young technology and it’s only really just reaching levels where it can be reliably used.

Some variants of the Toyota Prius have had self parking tech since 2003. The Lexus LS I mentioned earlier has had it since 2006. Ford debuted their Active Park Assist in 2009 and BMW announced a similar system the next year.

Audi has a parking assistance pack on a handful of its cars and Mercedes is slowly rolling out parktronic (yes, they really called it parktronic) across its ranges.

In short, automatic parking is available sporadically across and within manufacturers.