Parking pain can really knock the wind out of all manner of fun days out. From visits to the big city, to a trip to the beach – either way a requirement for any far-away excursion you can think of, is somewhere to dump the car. Chances are, if it’s somewhere you want to be, it’ll be somewhere others want to be, too. That means one thing: limited parking, and when it is available, it’s expensive.
So here’s a guide from us on car parking, from booking ahead, to clever alternatives, to avoiding taking the car altogether. We start with the basics.
You never know who knows what. Finding somewhere to leave your car could be a puzzle solved with a simple query to a friend that’s been where you want to go before. Here’s an example. Having spent four years living in Cambridge, I personally know where all the free parking is in one of the most car-unfriendly cities in the UK, as well as what of it is most likely to be available. The life experience of your friends and loved ones is an invaluable resource for all any and all problems life throws at you, including finding good places to dump your wheels.
So your friends and family have come up short. What do you do? Thankfully, the world’s biggest brain, the internet, has your back. As its name suggests, Parkopedia is the Wikipedia of the parking world. The website claims to cover 75 countries and over 6,000 towns, giving you access to over 38 million parking spaces. This number is rising all the time, as demonstrated by the ever-increasing figure at the top of the homepage.
It’s all rather easy: you simply search for your desired location and Parkopedia displays a map of the car parks within the immediate vicinity. You can check out the prices and opening hours, as well as any restrictions or items of note.
The map also features a handy ‘traffic light’ system, enabling you to locate the cheapest car parks.
There’s also a smartphone app, while some car parks give you the opportunity to book ahead. Whether you commute to work or are visiting a city for the first time, the Parkopedia website could save you enough to pay for a good lunch.
Connected cars – the future of parking?
Connected cars create a variety of opportunities to streamline motoring life. Wejo is an app in development that uses this technology to, among other things, help you find free car parking spaces quickly and easily. Being connected to other cars, means those cars can ‘tell’ your car when they’re leaving a parking space. The car park ballet dance could become a thing of the past.
This is especially important if you intend to leave your car at an airport. Use the official Heathrow Airport website to book seven days of parking and the savings are significant.
The prices will vary depending on availability and how early you book, but you will benefit from booking in advance, even if it’s on the day of travel.
Long stay, not short stay
Sticking with airports, there are obvious benefits associated with short stay car parks. Take Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 – it’s a 2-4 minute walk to the short stay car park, compared with a 5-7 minute bus ride to the long stay.
In some airports it feels like the long stay car park is located in an entirely different continent, so you might argue the convenience of being closer to the terminal outweighs the pain associated with the 20-minute ride in a minibus.
Use a price comparison website
There seems to be a price comparison website for just about everything these days, including airport parking. Holiday Extras is one of the biggest and the most established of all the sites, and the savings can be significant.
The website claims you could save up to 60% versus the price you’d pay on the day. Holiday Extras also offers a best price guarantee, meaning they’ll refund the money if you find the same airport parking cheaper elsewhere.
It’s important to do your homework, because not all price comparison sites are as reputable as the market leaders. It’s also worth remembering that cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better. Research your options before you book.
Hotel package deals
If you’ve booked a room the night before your flight, ask if it’s possible to leave your car at the hotel for the duration of your trip. Some hotel operators offer a hotel+parking package deal, so ask about this when booking your accommodation.
This also applies to city centre breaks. Ask the receptionist if the hotel offers on-site parking, as this could save you tens of pounds over the course of a long weekend. Some hotels will offer free parking on a first come first served basis, while others will expect a small fee. Check to see if the local pay and display is cheaper.
Park on the edge of the city
In basic terms, the closer you get to the city centre, the more expensive the cost of parking. You’ll also have to do battle with the inevitable congestion and fight for that single elusive free parking bay.
Do yourself a favour and find a car park on the edge of the town or city. In some cases, the parking might be free, but it will almost certainly be cheaper. If you’re worried about the walk, take the bus into the city centre.
In our own experience, only last month we mored up in St Albans over the August Bank Holiday from Saturday to Monday, for free, and got the train into London. That’s three days of free parking. Lord knows what that would have cost in the city itself, and whether it would have even been available.
Park and ride
Speaking of which, using a park and ride facilities are the industrialisation of this tactic. They do tend to work out cheaper than parking in a city. Using Plymouth as an example, you’ll pay £3.40 for an adult return ticket from the George Junction park and ride.
Hire a driveway
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. During working hours, your driveway is likely to be empty, so why not invite somebody else to park there?
There are a number of websites offering a search facility, including yourparkingspace.co.uk, which includes well over 250,000 hourly, daily and monthly parking spaces across the country.
We searched for driveways for a Saturday visit to London. Over 2,300 results came back in a variety of locations, offering parking for over 24 hours.
Booking is easy: you simply select your arrival and departure times, key in your details, pay online, and the website provides the full address of the space along with the contact details of the owner.
Buy an electric vehicle
Buying a new car to save money on car park costs might be a tad excessive, but driving an electric vehicle will reduce the amount of cash you spend at car parks.
Many car parks offer free parking while your EV is being recharged, while some will allow you to park for free, regardless of whether you’re charging or not. Assuming you pay £2 per day to park at work, you might save over £400 a year by driving an electric car.
Look for cashback options
To encourage people back into towns and city centres, some local authorities and business groups offer incentivised parking. In other words, whilst you’ll still be asked to pay and display, the cost is refunded if you spend a certain amount in a participating shop.
Similarly, a supermarket situated in a town or city centre might offer a refund if you happen to shop in store. As one supermarket might say: every little helps, right?
Car park season ticket
If you park in the same car park on a daily basis, it might be worth considering a season ticket. NCP claims a season ticket could save up to 70% on the cost of parking, with the added benefit of not having to search for loose change.
On a similar note, it can pay to be a member of the National Trust. Spend a week on holiday in somewhere like Cornwall and you could spend a small fortune on parking at one of the many National Trust car parks. Membership starts from £72 a year – a cost you could recoup on car park fees alone.
Use the correct change
Those cheeky car park operators want to extract every last penny from your wallet and you’ll often see a ‘no change given’ notice stuck to the pay and display machine. It’s a simple thing, but make sure you use the correct change.
Alternatively, pay by card or use one of the parking apps, such as RingGo. This cashless solution allows you to pay via your smartphone and will provide an alert when your time is running out.
Look for alternatives to the car
Whilst we appreciate that you’re hardly going to take the bus to a famous Swedish furniture store to collect a new wardrobe, or cycle into town to pick up your groceries, you have to ask yourself: do I really need to take the car?
Would it be cheaper to take the bus? Could you walk into town? Would it be easier to cycle into work? Could you share a car with somebody else, going Dutch on the cost of the car park?
Railway stations are notoriously expensive places to park, so have you considered cycling to the station? The rail fares are expensive enough without the cost of moring up lumped on top.
Buy a car park space
Sounds extravagant? That’s because it most probably is. Parking is an expensive business, so you could consider buying a car park space. Not that this is the cheapest option. Spaces in London can stretch into six figures – enough to buy a house elsewhere in the country…
Don’t park in a hurry
If you’ve followed our advice, you’ll never have to park in a hurry again. If you’re forced into a corner, either through lateness or a lack of planning, you’ll choose the wrong and often most expensive car park.
A little forward planning goes a long way.