Self-parking cars explained

Carlton Boyce / 08 February 2016 ( 02 December 2016 )

If you hate parking (or are not very good at it), a self-parking car could take the stress out of driving.

We’ve covered how to take the stress out of parking before, but for everyone who really hates parking, there is always the self-parking car. 

Yes, there are now cars that will park themselves in spaces so small it would take a Guinness Book of Records title holder to squeeze them in.

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Formerly the preserve of the well-heeled driver, self-parking can now be found on family cars such as the Ford Focus, bringing it within reach of every driver.

Here’s all you need to know about yielding complete control to your car, albeit temporarily…

How does it work?

Self-parking, or park assist as it is sometimes called, is a simple system that balances an enormous amount of information to undertake a complex manoeuvre. (See, it’s not your fault you can’t park!)

It starts with identifying a suitable space with its 360° onboard cameras, something you do by telling it whether you want to parallel park (for example, at the side of a road) or reverse into a space (like you would in a car-park). You also tell it which side you want to park by using the indicators. 

You then drive slowly forward, allowing the car’s cameras and sensors to scan the area for a suitable space.

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When it finds one, it’ll tell you. You then select reverse gear and let it do its thing. It’ll reverse slowly and carefully into the space, twirling the wheel as if by magic. 

You generally still have to brake (although some systems do the whole lot) but the positioning is automatic and inch-perfect.

It will, I guarantee, do a better job than 99% of drivers, helping you to squeeze into places that just weren’t possible before. 

It’ll also save that awful graunching, scraping noise that signals you’ve just dragged one of your expensive alloy wheels along the kerb…

The most advanced generation of self-parking cars will now park themselves while you stand outside and watch, something that comes into its own in the sort of ultra-tight parking spaces you find in old multi storey car-parks of the 1960s and 1970s that were designed when cars were much smaller than they are now.

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The next generation of self-parking cars

The technology behind self-parking cars monitors proximity, speed, and position, and that same information can be used to provide a fully autonomous car. 

By yielding control to your car for a relatively simple task like parking, you are freeing yourself up to the possibility of yielding control for more complex tasks like driving along a road (cruise control does a similar thing, but at higher speeds).

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Self-parking cars condition us to accept the viability of owning a fully autonomous car by demonstrating the technology in a simple, familiar context that (crucially) a lot of drivers find unrewarding; when your car parks itself, it is establishing its willingness to act in a subservient role by removing some of the drudgery of driving while still leaving you free to enjoy the pleasurable aspects.

Where the line between chore and indulgence is drawn in the future will be decided on an individual basis by drivers as they opt in and out of the various autonomous features that are offered on their new cars. How long they will be allowed to do so is not something I’d care to predict. 

Will self-driving or autonomous cars provide a lifeline to older or disabled drivers?

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If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.