What is park assist?

Look like a driving whizz without even touching the wheel: the cars that park themselves

BuyaCar team
Jun 30, 2018

If the thought of manoeuvring your car into a tight parking space, while holding up a long queue of traffic brings you out in a cold sweat, then you;ve probably already got a car that parks itself.

Self-parking systems were one of the first autonomous features to appear in cars, almost a decade ago and they are now available in almost every model, including small cars like the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208.

Also known as Park Assist, the technology uses parking sensors fitted to the front, back and side of the car, which detect spaces and obstacles. Basic versions will control the steering - twirling the wheel automatically - whole the driver is in charge of the accelerator, brake and gear changes.

More advanced systems are now appearing too, including those that can not only park in a tight space, but drive out of one too - you'll find such a system on the Ford Fiesta. Nissan is introducing one that will park completely autonomously, taking charge of the brake and accelerator, as well as the steering.

There's even remote control parking on high-end BMWs and Mercedes models, allowing the driver to get out before the car drives itself into or out of a parking space.

How self-parking systems work

To engage the system, you press the park assist button (below) and - depending on the complexity of the system - tell the car whether you want to park in a parallel space or a parking bay.

The sensors will then start looking for a space that's big enough for the car and alert you when they find one. You then stop, put the car in reverse and let go of the wheel.

The car tells you when to accelerate and it controls the steering inputs, sending the wheel spinning left and right all by itself. It may ask you to stop and put it into first gear so that it can adjust the position until- in theory - you're perfectly parked.

Modern systems usually work well but can sometimes threaten to scrape wheels against the kerbs, or park in the middle of two bays. That's one reason why basic systems require you to remain in control of the accelerator and brake.

A new generation of self-parking is now being offered on a handful of cars from BMW and Mercedes. You control it from your car's keyfob, so you can get out of your car, and get it to reverse into a tight space.

Beware of parking in a narrow gap between two cars: you might come back to some angry owners complaining that they can't open their doors.

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