What is park assist?

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

BuyaCar team
Mar 29, 2021

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 BMW and Mercedes models, allowing the driver to get out before the car drives itself into or out of a parking space.

How Park Assist works

You activate the system by pressing your car’s park assist button when you’re in a car park or a street you want to stop in. Many cars can use their parking sensors to search for a space as you drive along, beeping when they identify a gap that the vehicle can squeeze into, but other systems require you to find the spot yourself and then stop the car next to it. You’ll normally need to indicate to tell the car which side you want to park on.

Once the space has been selected, and you’ve confirmed that you want to park there, the car takes control, telling you when you need to act (by accelerating or braking, for example) while it carries out the manoeuvre. You can stop at any time by pressing the brake, and override the steering by taking control of the wheel.

Park Assist systems

Steering assisted parking

This is the most common type of park assist system. You activate the park assist system and, once a spot has been selected, the car will display messages telling you when to accelerate, brake and change between forward and reverse gears.

The steering is entirely automatic, so the wheel will spin on its own as the car manoeuvres itself into a space.

Park and exit assistance

Park assist systems are increasingly able to drive cars out of a parallel space as well as into them, which comes in handy if you return to your car to find you’ve been sandwiched tightly between two other vehicles.

As with the standard system, the car takes control of the steering and tells you when to accelerate or brake.

Fully automated parking

This requires a further leap of faith from the driver. Your car doesn’t just manage the steering: it accelerates and brakes for you too.

There are safeguards: primarily the requirement to keep a button pressed throughout the manoeuvre. As soon as you take your finger off, the car will come to a complete stop.

Remote control parking

Neighbours won’t fail to be impressed by the sight of a car driving itself into a garage without anybody inside. The system is operated by a digital key fob or a smartphone app. Once everyone is out of the car, the driver can activate the system and watch as the car rolls slowly into its space.

Cars can drive themselves out too, making it particularly handy for narrow garages and tight parking spaces that have little room for doors to open into. It’s tough luck for anyone in an adjacent car, though.

Drivers have to keep pressing a button on their key fob or phone or the car will stop immediately. The vehicle also needs to be lined up so it can drive straight into the space.


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