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Autotrader: How does a car park itself, and which models offer self-parking?


Ever-larger cars with ever-worse blind spots make parking more of a chore. No matter, a self-parking car can help.

Maybe you’re trying to swing a big SUV into a suburban shopping mall lot. Or perhaps you’re wedging a little hatchback into a tight spot on a crowded urban street. Many of today’s cars can practically park themselves with the push of a button. They’ll seek out a spot big enough and then maneuver into it with limited braking input from the driver in some models.

Basic versions of self-parking tech come as features on vehicles such as the relatively inexpensive Ford

Escape and Hyundai Tucson. You can find more robust remote systems on various models from Hyundai
 Mercedes-Benz, Tesla
and others.

What is self-parking?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Most self-parking cars can’t completely handle 100% of the parking process themselves. They’ll need the driver to be present to modulate the brakes.

Self-parking systems automatically swing a vehicle into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot. Automated parking can reduce stress, but it can also save you money by reducing the risk of curb-inflicted damage to costly wheels and tires. Repairing a curbed wheel can cost upward of $150, while even the least-expensive tires can run $200 or more on many new models. Front and rear bumper scratches are another part of the story, especially if you’ve tapped another vehicle.

Since debuting on the 2007 Lexus LS 460, these automatic systems have become commonly available on many new cars, SUVs, and minivans.

Today’s self-parking cars use some of the vehicle’s sensors and cameras that also help prevent collisions and keep the automobile centered in its lane. Every automaker has a different trade name for its system. For example, Nissan

calls it ProPilot Park, and Ford names theirs Ford Active Park Assist.

How does self-parking work?

The most common systems are activated via a button somewhere on the dashboard or accessed via the infotainment screen.

Once turned on, these automatic parking systems use various sensors or cameras on the front and rear of the vehicle to scan for an open parking spot while you drive. When they find one, they’ll prompt the driver — typically via a tone and a message in the instrument cluster.

Then, the vehicle will instruct the driver to put the car’s transmission lever in either drive or reverse. That’s when the car takes over, at least to a degree. It will steer itself into the spot, correcting the steering angle as needed to ensure it doesn’t bump other cars or a tall curb.

Some basic systems require the driver to modulate the accelerator and brake pedals. The car’s parking sensors hidden behind the bumpers will beep louder and faster as you get close to obstructions. You’ll need to hit the brakes to prevent impact with other vehicles. The backup camera display on the instrument cluster will show you what’s happening behind you, too.

The system will prompt you to manually switch between drive and reverse as it slots the car into the spot.

Other systems may only complete part of the parking job. So, you might need to move the car forward to have a proper distance from the vehicle behind.

More advanced systems handle steering, braking, accelerating, and automatic gear changes. Even so, you’ll still need to pay close attention because self-parking features aren’t perfect. A low curb next to the car or a trailer hitch on the vehicle in front might confuse the system. Therefore, it’s best practice to hover your foot over the brake pedal and watch the camera display.

Automated parking generally targets the seemingly forgotten art of parallel parking. However, most newer self-parking systems can also swing a car into a perpendicular spot.

Do you have to be behind the wheel?

Not necessarily. A handful of systems don’t need the driver to be at the helm.

From the car’s key fob, those parking systems offered on select BMW
Genesis, Hyundai, Kia
Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla models, among others, can move a car forward or backward. These systems become especially useful in ultra-tight parking garages.

Kia, for instance, calls its system Remote Smart Parking Assist. From the key fob, drivers can start the car remotely and then move it forward and backward using buttons with arrows on them without the driver being in the vehicle. You’ll still need to watch the vehicle closely to ensure that it doesn’t bump any obstructions as it moves forward or backward into a tight spot. Narrow spots frequently found in many large parking structures are the primary targets for this self-parking feature. However, it can also be helpful if your garage at home is either narrow or stuffed with other things.

Smart Summon is a more advanced autonomous system in Tesla models. It can automatically extract the car from a parking spot and drive several aisles away to its waiting owner at low speed. Owners can also use the system to maneuver the car a short distance to a small garage.

Mercedes-Benz now offers its self-parking system called Intelligent Park Pilot, which is similar to Smart Summon, on its S-Class sedan. Ford has been testing tech that may be available on a broader range of more affordable models in the future.

What cars are self-parking?

A wide range of newer models can park themselves, either with or without driver intervention. Here are 10 self-parking cars. However, the parking assistance features may be optional equipment in some cases.

It would be best to closely read through these models’ standard and optional features to ensure that the car you’re planning to buy has automatic parking.

2022 Cadillac Escalade

2022 Chrysler Pacifica

2022 Ford Escape

2022 Genesis GV70

2022 Hyundai Sonata

2022 Kia EV6

2022 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2022 Nissan Rogue

2022 Tesla Model Y

2022 Volkswagen Atlas

2022 Volvo XC60

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