Car Advice

Do you need a self parking car?

Plenty of YouTube videos prove that parking is not easy.  Now cars can park themselves…but is the technology any Good?

Self-parking systems are becoming more and more common now.  Cars we’ve tested of late that can self park include top-end Mercedes to Hyundai SUVs to the example we’ll use, today, Honda’s Odyssey peoplemover.  As ever with car tech, there’s only a few suppliers of the system so they’re all broadly the same and typically, two modes; back-in and parallel.  Not all cars have both modes.
All the systems work in pretty much the same way; slow down below a set speed, usually less than 20km/h, set the system on so it looks for spaces.  When it finds a space, stop the car, select the space on the display and the follow the directions.  You will be prompted to move the car forwards and backwards with accelerator and brake, but all the steering will be done for you.  Once finished, the car will say it’s done, you switch off the engine and go about your business.  Some systems will even help you out of the parking space when it’s time to go.
The park assist tech works via the usual parking sensors front and rear which detect distance from objects, but also with cameras to detect spaces.
We recently tested a Honda Odyssey, and decided to use it to investigate auto-park in more detail as it is a longer and taller vehicle than the average. 

Is it any good?

Yes and no.  
Yes, the technology works, and works pretty well so it will guide you through the positioning of the car, and do all the steering for you.  But there are two major drawbacks.  First, it’s slow.  By the time you’ve had the system detect a space and selected it on screen most drivers could have slotted it into the space, although that assumes they actually have the skills to do so.  
We found the Odyssey insisted on two forward-reverse shuffles for each back-in parking manouver, when any average driver could have done it in one.  In fairness, autopark on smaller vehicles manages the manouver in one shot, although it’s still quite slow.
The second drawback is that the system can only handle relatively easy parking situations.  In this case:
I tried for quite a while to get the Honda to park itself, failing each time, to the extent a lady onlooker came up and offered poor old me assistance to park my bus.  Somewhat mortified, I disabled the electronics and promptly slotted the thing by myself, but I could see her point, I had taken ages to get nowhere.  
For the moment, you can’t expect auto-parking systems to work in complex situations, or situations where they can’t detect spaces.
The systems may not also detect small obstructions or problems.  You, the driver, still needs to take control of the manoeuver and ensure everything is safe and clear.  And sometimes it just does a messy job:
That’s not my doing, honestly!
Here’s a video which demonstrates back-in parking:

And here’s one for parallel parking:

Who should buy cars with that self-park?

If you do have trouble parking then this technology may be able to help in many common situations.  Australians rarely have to parallel park, and when they do it is in to large spaces compared to say Europeans, so parallel-park assistance may be of use to many.
But you’re better off learning how to park properly, a skill which can be learned from any decent driving instructor in less than an hour.  The only time I’ve used self-parking is for amusement or demonstrations, as if I’m in any form of a hurry then it’s quicker to do it myself.  
Finally,  enjoy watching some of the world’s worst parkers!

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper