Best apps to find and book a car park

IT was the comedian Victor Borge who noticed that aeroplanes and cars had been designed the wrong way around. How much easier it would be, he said, if you could take a flight to the airport and then drive between cities.

Parking apps are a Godsend, especially in an unfamiliar location
Parking apps are a Godsend, especially in an unfamiliar location

In a crowded island of contraflows, one-way systems and park-and-rides, taking the car to an unfamiliar city can seem more trouble than it’s worth, especially when the policies of many councils are predicated in dissuading you from so doing. But in such situations your phone can be a Godsend, and in more ways than you perhaps realised.

Getting there is often the first challenge, and no matter how good the sat nav in your car, the one on your mobile is almost certainly more up-to-date – especially in the delivery of information about delays en route.

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Unlike the GPS system on your dashboard, Google Maps updates itself whenever diversions or temporary road closures threaten to blow you off route, and its initial disadvantage in requiring a mobile signal to read and load the maps can now be overcome by downloading the relevant ones before you set off. Universal suction mounts to stick your phone to your windscreen can be had on Ebay for less than a fiver.

Having got your car to your destination, your next problem will be finding somewhere to abandon it, and a little planning can save you not only time and trouble but also money.

Technically savvy car park operators now list their spaces on apps like Just Park, which allow you to book them in advance, often at a heavy discount. The app finds the car parks closest to your destination and displays them on a map, with a price flag on each. Once you choose, the fee is debited from your PayPal account and you receive an email with instructions and a security code if necessary.

Apps like Parkopedia go a stage further, listing not only multi-storeys and off-road spaces but also roadside parking, with details of how long you can stay for free. It is becoming increasingly common for councils to manage such spaces with app-based services like RingGo and MiPermit, which offer an alternative to coins. York, Hull Scarborough and Leeds are among those to have signed up.

These are a faff the first time you use them, but they’re worth it in the long run, especially if you use such car parks regularly. You need to enter your car’s registration number and your credit card details and then the number of the payment point closest to you, but the apps store the first two for future use and can email you a VAT invoice.

All these apps make it easy to remember where you left your car, and you can ask for directions to get back there. But for those making their own way, a mini-industry has sprung up in getting wayward motorists back to their motors.

Find My Car, Honk, Parkify and many others use a combination of your phone’s GPS, mobile and Bluetooth signals to remember where you were when you parked. The best of these can do automatically, by remembering your position when the Bluetooth connection to your dashboard was lost.

Even without an app, you can easily put down a marker on Google Maps by touching the blue dot that denotes your current position and then choosing the option to Save Your Parking. A second option lets you send your location to someone with whom you’re arranging a rendezvous.

No app yet for when you lock your keys in the car. For such last-century eventualities, fortunately, there’s still the AA.