How to Park Perfectly When the Odds are Not In Your Favor

If you find yourself in a city with less-than-ideal parking conditions, such as steep incline angle parking and pothole-riddled parking spaces, you might be concerned about the potential long-term effects on your car. 

Just how much of an impact can uneven or severe angle parking have on your car’s tires and fluids? How worried should you be about your car’s suspension when parking on uneven surfaces? How long does it take for the effects to show up on your mechanic bill?


And more importantly, what preventative steps can you take to keep your car in tip-top shape Here at Spacer, we’ve dug up the dirt on imperfect parking surfaces to give you more control over your ideal parking options. So, pull that parking brake and let’s take a look!


Angle parking problem #1: Inclines


If you live in a hilly area, you know that parking at an angle is often unavoidable. Cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, some neighborhoods in New York City and, of course, the epicenter of inclined streets, San Francisco, all require drivers to learn how to park uphill, downhill, and every variation in between.


But how worried should you be about the long-term effects of incline angle parking?

According to the car pros at Top Gear, there are a few concerns to keep in mind. First, you may risk fluid problems because of inaccurate readings. When the car is at an angle, all of the tanks are, too. That means you could be driving around with low levels of fuel, transmission, brake and clutch fluid, or oil, which can negatively affect your car’s engine and brake system over time.


Speaking of brakes, they’re also at risk for damage from incline angle parking. Here’s the mechanical explanation: when you put your car into park, a device called a pawl—which may sound like a cute little animal but is actually a strong metal arm—engages to catch or jam the transmission. This keeps your car steady when you’re parked on a flat surface or small hill.


The problem is, when parking on a steep incline, the pawl has to work much harder to fight gravity. Over the course of weeks or months, wear and tear on this little device can lead to some very expensive transmission repairs. If you consistently ask your pawl to bear the weight of inclined parking, you might even need to replace the transmission altogether.


The common solution to combat this pawl problem is to rely on the parking brake. In most pre-modern cars, this parking system relies on strong steel cables to reinforce the parking system. When you pull the brake lever or press down the parking brake foot pedal, you can feel that reassuring flex of a parking brake being engaged.

The problem with this traditional design is that parking brakes weren’t really engineered for extreme angle parking. They’re perfect for the small inclines that the average American driver may encounter, but you can only expect a cable to withstand so much force. The more you use your parking brake in extreme inclines, the more you risk wearing out your cable, causing it to loosen or become ineffective.


Another issue with parking brake cables is that they can rust and corrode from disuse. If you’re planning a road trip to a particularly hilly city and your car has never seen an incline in its life, you’ll want to make sure your parking brake can step up to the challenge. Unfortunately, parking brakes cables have one more problem that could make angle parking dangerous: sensitivity to cold temperatures. Many hilly cities, like San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles, don’t tend to get cold enough for this to be an issue. But if you’re parking in some of the hilly cities with snow, like Seattle, Pittsburgh or any number of winter resorts, frozen parking brakes could be a serious concern.


Now, are these problems also plaguing modern cars? Lucky for the owners of new cars, not to the same extent.

In modern cars that rely on electronic operating systems, angle parking is a bit less stressful to you and your car. The best engineers of today have incorporated more sophisticated parking systems that can lower damage to the transmission and provide alternatives to the sometimes faulty parking brake cable system.


Of course, even newer cars are still susceptible to long-term wear and tear. But you won’t have to worry about as many costly parking brake fixes as you might with an older model. Instead of problems popping up after a few months, newer cars may start having issues from incline angle parking after a few years.


What is the difference between an emergency brake and a parking brake?


With all this talk of incline angle parking, you might be wondering, “What is the difference between the parking brake, e-brake, and emergency brake?” Do they serve different purposes? How are they supposed to be used when reverse parking or angle parking?


Here’s the short history.


Emergency brakes have been around since at least as long as the Model T, as Henry Ford was the first one to develop a hand-operated rear-wheel drum brake to be used in emergencies.  This backup braking system has been called a handbrake, emergency brake (or e-brake for short), and parking brake. And it served two purposes: to slow the car to a stop in the case that the primary system failed and to keep the car from moving once the car was stopped.


In recent decades, you might notice that more people opt to call this mechanism the parking brake instead of the emergency brake. This may be because brake failure is vastly less common today than it was in the 1920s when the Model T was puttering around. The handbrake can still be used in emergencies, but it’s much more likely to be used today as a parking brake.


One other thing you may not have known about the parking brake is that it should be engaged before shifting your car to park. To do this, simply maneuver your car into the parking space, put your foot on the brake while the car is still in drive, engage the parking brake and then shift to park and turn off the engine. This will help ease the pressure off of your transmission when parking, especially when angle parking on an incline.


Angle parking problem #2: Uneven surfaces


Parking on a hill is one way to think about angle parking, but it’s not the only situation this applies.

Angle parking can also refer to the alignment of your car wheels. If you live in a more rural place, for example, you might be accustomed to parking your car with two wheels on the road and two wheels on the dirt. Or, if you live in the city, you might accidentally go up on a curb every once in a while, or even park on a curb to save some space. Plus, some parking lots are better than others when it comes to maintaining potholes and concrete cracks.


So, what is the impact of these uneven surfaces on your car? Let’s talk about suspension.

Your car’s suspension has an important job, and it’s not just to make sure that you have a smooth ride.

In reality, your suspension’s main job is to ensure that you’re able to turn and stop easily and quickly. Damages to this system are costly. And their ripple effects aren’t cheap either.


Some impact that come from misaligned angle parking are immediate. Hitting your tire too roughly while driving up on a curb or scraping your undercarriage or exhaust pipe on an uneven surface will start to show signs of a problem right away.

Other effects are more gradual. When you put stress on your car’s suspension, either by breezing over speed bumps or forcing your car to carry weight at a slant, you can damage one or more of the many components that make up this system.


These types of alignment problems, such as poor steering ability, less shock absorption over bumps, and reduced tire traction, can start to appear within months of parking on uneven surfaces. So, just like you might see with inclined angle parking, parking with your wheels all out of alignment will hit you with a few costly repairs later down the line.


Your car’s dream parking space


Alright, so far, we’ve only talked about angle parking problems. Inclined parking, parking off country roads, and even curb parking accidents can all have negative impacts on your car. What kind of parking spaces should you be looking for instead? Here are a few elements that will make your car very happy:


A flat surface. You saw this one coming, didn’t you? On flat surfaces, you won’t have any of the wear and tear from gravity trying to pull your car down the hill. And you can get an accurate reading of your fluids for better maintenance.


Covered parking. Protecting your car from poor weather conditions is an obvious advantage. In addition to keeping your parking brake cords from freezing, you’ll also be able to better care for your battery and lower the risk of your fluids thickening. And if you live in an area with snow, then you know that any opportunity to avoid shovelling your car out is a huge relief.

 Debris-free. Your car tires may be able to withstand a great deal, but why push the limits if you don’t have to? If you’re parking in the same spot at the end of each day, you can save your tires from extra wear with a good sweeping as needed.

 How to park when the conditions aren’t great


Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find that perfect parking space. Whenever you’re out and about, it’s a good idea to have some tricks in mind for ideal parking when the odds are not in your favor.


Here are a few of our tips for a variety of less-than-ideal parking situations:


  1. Find level surfaces. No matter how hilly your city is, there are bound to be streets that are more level than others.  Even in places like San Francisco, anytime you find yourself driving up a steep grade, the perpendicular streets are likely to be pretty level. If you can, try to find parking on the roads that intersect the inclines. Take that same consideration for uneven surfaces, like off-road parking lots or berms on the side of the road. Instead of parking your car wherever you find a spot in these areas, take the time to avoid potholes and other angled surfaces that will damage your suspension.
  1. Choose your parking spot when possible. It’s often the case that parking provides the most level- parking options. Garages and parking lots are a great way to ensure that your car will be parked on steady ground. That said, there’s currently a rise in popularity of automatic parking garages that rely on angle parking to maximize space. While angled parking dimensions are definitely a plus in overcrowded cities, you’ll want to steer clear of them as a long-term solution. Of course, another concern with parking in a parking garage or private lot is that it can be quite expensive. Instead, you might consider renting a spot on Spacer. Across the country, you can find covered garages, smooth driveways and secure underground parking for cheap rates. By renting a parking space from a neighbor in your area, you can avoid the steep parking inclines of San Francisco, protect your parking brakes from the freezing rain of Seattle and find a parking space that actually fits your cars.
  1. Learn how to park the right way on a hill.  When inclined angle parking is inevitable, you’ll want to know how to park safe.  Keep in mind, proper hill parking won’t save your brake system from wear and tear, but it will prevent you from living out the nightmare of your car rolling down the hill. Here’s how it works: If you’re parking uphill alongside a curb, you’ll want to park as you normally would on a flat surface. Then, tur your wheels away from the curb and gently back up until your back tires bump up against the curb— not too hard! Remember that hitting a curb can damage your tires. Then, you can engage the parking brake, knowing that the curb will act as a block in the chance that your brake system fails. When parking downhill, you’ll do the opposite, turning your wheels towards the curb and gently pulling forward so that your front tires bump up against the curb. If there’s no curb, whether you’re parking uphill or downhill, you’ll simply turn your wheels to the right. This will ensure that the car will not roll into traffic.
  1. Have your brake system checked regularly. If you’re going to a mechanic in a hilly area, they might check your brakes automatically. But ask for it specifically if you’re not sure.
  1. Keep your wits about you. In this guide, we’ve covered plenty of stressful parking situations. From steep inclines to pothole-ridden parking lots to curb parking, it’s obvious that these parking scenarios don’t make for a calm driving experience. Unfortunately, it’s when we’re stressed that we’re most vulnerable to parking-related fender benders. If parking isn’t your strong suit, take a look at our recent article Types of Parking You Can See Out and About for a refresher on best parking practices. By brushing up on things like parallel parking, reverse parking, and angled parking dimensions, you’ll be more confident parking in less-than-perfect situations.
  1.  Consider upgrading your car. If you’ve been on the fence about whether you should upgrade to a newer model. you can add benefits to your list of “pros.” As we mentioned earlier, newer cars have better parking systems that are less susceptible to incline angle parking problems. And, with park assist technology, you’ll be able to park anywhere without the stress of fender benders. You can read more about the superior parking systems in modern cars by checking out our article, What Does the US Think About Parking Sensors?

You’re ready to park in even the most challenging parking landscapes!


While parking may sometimes just feel like a hassle or a chore, figuring out the ideal parking conditions and parking practices can actually help your car run better on the road.


Our hope at Spacer is that this parking guide to tough parking scenarios will help you build confidence behind the wheel, whether you’re parking in downtown San Francisco or uptown Manhattan. From incline angle parking to off-road scenarios, you now know how to take care of your car in any parking landscape.

More Articles Like This