A Guide To Courteous Parking Lot and Parking Garage Etiquette

The world needs more kindness, especially on the road.

Parking lots can feel like battlegrounds. Everybody is grumpy, in a hurry, or a bad combination of both. It’s a perfect place to activate one of our favorite strategies: Kill ‘em with kindness. What, you thought we were going to battle?

If everybody would take a second to think about others before themselves, parking lots would be much less stressful places to drive. We’d have fewer accidents, injuries, damaged vehicles, and damaged egos.

Nobody needs instructions for how to park a car in a parking lot or parking garage, but there are several practices that can make the experience better for you and everybody around you. As parking lots fill up for the spring and summer, as everyone is going to actually be able to get outside the house, keep these in mind. 

Slow down

Despite what you learned in Tokyo Drift, parking lots and parking garages are quite possibly the worst places you can speed. Not only are you surrounded by cars, but there are consistently dozens of obstacles, including texting humans, that could jump out in front of you at any moment. Take it easy and nobody will get hurt. 

Courtesy honks

If you are passing a wall or any other type of obstruction to your view, and you’re aware that you are approaching an intersection or crosswalk, give a few light taps to your horn to warn of your incoming vehicle. This simple procedure will prevent accidental collisions with other vehicles, or worse yet, fragile bipeds.

Claim spots with a blinker

The blinker is the most important tool you can use in a parking lot. Nobody will know your intentions if you don’t use it. If you’re waiting on a spot without a blinker and somebody swipes it, that’s your fault for not using a blinker. Blinker trumps no blinker. 

Back in when possible

Backing out of a parking spot will always be more precarious than backing into a parking spot, and it’s far more dangerous than having the ease and visibility of driving forward out of a parking spot. Back into spots as often as you can.

Pull through perpendicular parking spots

Driving forward is always safer than backing up while in a parking lot. If you are uncomfortable with backing into a spot (please go practice), you can find two open spots that allow you to pull forward through one and into the other so that you can drive forward to park and to leave.

Cars lined up in a parking lot next to each other.
Luxury, bargain, and commuter cars all park together in one parking lot. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Give people space to back out

One of the most frustrating parking lot experiences is attempting to back out of a parking space and getting blocked in because somebody is overly eager. Not everybody has the same awareness of their vehicle dimensions, the same acumen for backing up, or the same sharp eyesight, so practice social parking lot distancing and give them a few car lengths to get out.

Give people time to back out

Nobody likes to be put in the spotlight, and that’s kind of what it feels like when there is a stack of cars behind the vehicle waiting for you to pull out at Costco. Don’t make it worse by crowding the spot or honking your horn.

Likewise, don’t sit with your reverse lights on forever

This once again comes down to awareness. If you notice somebody is or will be waiting for your parking spot, don’t get in the car and watch the final 5 minutes of that Lakers game. Somebody is currently blocking the lane to wait for your parking spot, so get to movin’. 

If a spot is too tight, pick another

Everybody has walked out of the store to find the entry door to the car having an intimate moment with a stranger’s parked-way-too-close SUV. It’s annoying, it’s rude, and it can be avoided entirely. If that’s your only option, fine, but if there are other spots, be nice and don’t block somebody in or out.

A Guide To Courteous Parking Lot and Parking Garage Etiquette
Door dings could damage the paint or the door itself. (Photo: Tony Markovich)

Watch your doors!

When I first purchased my used Acura RSX, it only had a few minor marks on each door. After roughly 6 years of living in major and minor metro areas, each door now looks like a sprinkled epoxy floor. All because people aren’t careful when they open their doors. It’s really not hard, just place your hand on the outside of the door while you open it. You won’t ding the other doors, and if you do come in contact, it will be your hand, not a swinging metal hammer. Or, you know, just don’t hit other cars with your door.

Additionally, be aware of when and how far you’re swinging doors open into the parking lane and the spot next to you. Somebody might be going by or trying to park, and your door is a space-grabbing hazard.

Always put away your shopping cart

Courtesy extends beyond the automobile. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a parking lot is getting hit by a rogue shopping cart that can do 0-60 mph in 10 seconds on wind power alone. It’s happened to me twice, and in one instance, it cracked my taillight and damaged the bumper, paint included. There’s nobody to pin the accident on, so you’re just stuck with a slightly worse car than you had before that craving for Double Stuf Oreos sent you out into the world. Set the example and put your cart away in the designated areas, and if you see carts left out, be a good samaritan and put those away too.

Don’t park a gas car in an EV charging station

If you think trying to find a regular parking spot in a packed Meijer, Ralph’s, or Whole Foods parking lot is tough, try grabbing an electric vehicle charging spot. As EV popularity continues to ramp up, it’s going to continue to get more and more difficult to grab a plug. 

Only jerks park internal combustion vehicles in EV spots. Don’t be a jerk, nobody’s amused.

A Guide To Courteous Parking Lot and Parking Garage Etiquette
Stay in the lines and follow the arrows. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Follow the arrows

Everybody likely broke the rules and went against the COVID arrows in grocery stores, but don’t make that mistake in a parking lot. You might be aware of the vehicles coming your way, but parked cars backing out might not think to look your way because you’re going the wrong direction. It’s a matter of safety, so follow the rules.

Never park in handicap or expectant parent spots

We shouldn’t have to say this, but we are fully aware these types of people exist. Please do not make a routine trip to the grocery store more difficult for somebody who has to use a wheelchair. If kindness isn’t enough to convince you, how does a $500 fine sound?

If you’re a large truck, take it to the back

Large trucks cause all sorts of issues in parking lots. Their massively large lengths will stick out into the already-tight lanes and cause blockages akin to the Ever Given. They also typically take up more than one space. If you can afford the extra 3 minutes, take it to the back and add some steps to your day. 

If a car parked far away from everybody, don’t park next to it

It seems every parking lot has one vehicle that is parked way out in the boonies away from any possible contact with other cars or humans. Sometimes it’s a new Bentley, other times it’s a customized Chevy Spark. Regardless of whether you think the car is worthy of special treatment or not, if it appears the person is purposely trying to protect the vehicle, have some respect and leave the car be.

Extreme courtesy: park farther away if you’re able

Think about the people who actually need a parking space that is close to the door: the elderly, disabled people, those with medical issues, and those with children. If you have two working legs, do the nice thing and park in a middle or back space. Karma is real.

Most of all, be aware of your surroundings at all times

Parking lots are minefields booby-trapped with unmonitored children, evil shopping carts, speeding cars, broken glass, and rude humans. Like driving on a normal street, you need to be on alert and on a swivel at all times. Don’t text, don’t fiddle with the music, and don’t ghost ride the whip.

Tony Markovich
Tony Markovich

Tony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.