Not all parking bays are created equal


Cars have got a lot bigger over the years, yet parking bays have stayed the same (at best) and, in some cases, they've shrunk. Therefore, if you are considering renting a space for your vehicle, make sure the "parking bay" is adequately sized and practically positioned.

Just consider what's happened to the dimensions of the hugely popular VW Golf, Toyota Corolla and BMW 3 Series in the past couple of decades. In the 1970s, when the earliest VW Golfs were a modest 1.6 metres across, the UK’s Institution of Structural Engineers and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation recommended a standard bay size of 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres, and those dimensions haven’t changed since. Meanwhile, including mirrors, today’s Golf 7 is 2.027 metres wide, almost as wide as a Range Rover!

Factor in the increasingly popular SUVs, and the average motor vehicle silhouette is far, far bigger than it was a generation ago. The standard parking space in this country is slightly bigger than that of the UK – 2.5m wide by 5m long – but it, too, hasn’t changed for three decades, while cars have bloated in what the Guardian calls “a vehicular obesity epidemic”.

A side-by-side comparison of the Golf 7 with its 6 predecessors demonstrate how the top-selling hatchback has grown.

A marked increase in parking 'dings'

UK company Accident Exchange, which rents out cars, has estimated that there had been a 35% increase in parking bay bumps and scrapes in that country due to the growing size of cars.

But finally there are moves to expand UK parking bays to better accommodate today’s cars.Buckinghamshire county council has reportedly approved a new guideline of 2.8 metres wide. And Q-Park, a Dutch firm with more than 60 sites in the UK, has introduced a small number of 3.6-metre “superbays”, and plan to add angle bays because they’re easier to enter and exit.

There doesn’t appear to be any parking bay super-sizing going on back home. In fact, the developers of some shopping malls and residential blocks have clearly shaved off a centimetre or two from the standard measurement here and there in order get more parking bays out of the available space.

Sadly, few cars can achieve the feat of the Smart ForTwo... and these parking bays are generously sized by modern standards. 

No wonder those scratch-and-dent policies have become so popular. A couple of years ago I was contacted by a woman who’d rented an apartment in Umhlanga, having signed the lease without asking to see the parking bay she’d been allocated.

Big mistake.

It was only after she'd moved in that she discovered that the bay was only 2.12 metres wide at the entrance, thanks to a really large pillar intruding into the space on the right. There was no way she could get her car into it.

When she complained to the rental agent, he told her she was the first person to complain about the parking; and that's it's a bay, that’s that.The block’s supervisor and the security guards told her otherwise, but she was forced to park her company car in an open, secure lot next door, paying R15 a day.

I challenged the rental agent to meet me at the parking garage in question, and we’d both attempt to park our cars in the bay in question.

The scale of progress... the original 911 (left) compared with its contemporary descendant. 

He arrived in a Golf 1  – yes, the original small little Golf – and, well, he got it in there. Just. But it’s a discontinued, particularly small car, with relatively tiny side mirrors. He wouldn’t have got a Golf 7 in there, and I certainly couldn't get my test car at the time – a Kia Cerato– a small-to-medium sized hatch - into it.

Fortunately, the tenant was allocated a full sized parking bay at no extra cost.

Ask to see it

So, when you’re flat hunting, don’t assume anything about the parking. Ask to see it. And better yet, see how easily you can get your car into and out of it. Size is one thing; but context is everything when it comes to parking bays. The approach angle may make it a real hassle to access.

“Some parking bays that are adjacent to walls… are effectively narrower (than a normal-sized bay) without an adjacent bay,” tweeted CapeTalk radio about the issue this week.

And Seán Crookson added: “The parking bay they rented to me was under a particularly nasty tree that shed sticky bits. Known to everyone but me. LOL.”

Again, assume nothing.

And, importantly, make sure that you have proper use of the parking – not some temporary “you can use it for now, as long as the owner says it’s okay” type arrangement.  Because when that arrangement ends, as they do, you’re left without a parking, which is a big problem.

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