Cut your car park costs

Car parkIt's that time of year when hopping in the car is a much more attractive option than waiting for a bus in the cold. But if you're parking in town centre car parks for a Saturday shopping trip, you may have to fork out as much as £25 a time.

So what's the best way to cut costs?

Park at the station

You don't have to travel there by train, but if the town you're heading for has a station car park, check its charges. Many have discounted rates at weekends compared with their weekday 'commuter' rate. And unlike the town centre multi-storey version, it's unlikely you'll have to queue to get in.

I went to St. Albans last Saturday and paid just £2 for all-day parking at the main station. OK, so it was a ten minute walk to the main high street, but it saved me £8 as six hours parking in its Maltings town centre car park would have been £10.

Head for the supermarket

You don't actually have to shop there, but if there's one within walking distance of the town centre you can often get up to three hours of free parking. And you can always pop in and pick up a pint of milk on your way back if you feel you're taking advantage of their goodwill.

At the main Tesco store in Watford, just a five minute walk from the main Harlequin shopping complex, you can park for up to three hours without spending a penny. And in Milton Keynes you can park for free in its Sainsbury's town centre store for up to three hours, which is a five to ten minute walk from the indoor shopping centre. And while not as generous as Tesco or Sainsbury, Waitrose says the majority of its stores have a free two hour parking limit.

But do be sure to check parking restrictions at each location as some outlets may have different time limits or in some cases may insist you do some shopping in the store. And keep an eye on your watch as you can get a parking ticket if you run over your time slot.

Park and ride

This may not prove practical if you just want to pop in for an hour, but it's good value for all day trips.

Both Cambridge and Norwich run well established park and ride schemes, in fact Cambridge has five different routes with return fares from £2.50 if you buy your ticket before boarding. This makes for a huge reduction on its car park charges - if you drive into the centre you can pay £2 an hour on weekdays in the Grand Arcade car park. And Saturday parking is at an increased rate which means five hours or more costs a staggering £25.

With some park and ride schemes you'll pay a small charge for parking, but get the bus ride free, while with others it's free parking but you pay for the bus. On the downside this may not be cost effective if there's a car load of you as depending on the bus fare charged versus car park costs it could work out cheaper taking the car as far as you can. Check for details of schemes across the country.

Free parking

If you're in an area you don't know it can be tricky to track down free spaces which are often in residential roads or on the outskirts of town. And unless you want a tour of the one way system it's often easier to head into the nearest car park.

Take a look at for heaps of free parking spaces across the country. Just pop in a location and it comes up with a list of options and then you can set your sat nav for the street. Most spaces are within a short walk of the main stations, shops and town centre facilities.

Rent a space

Don't go parking in private driveways without permission, but if you book in advance you can rent one for the day through Plus you've much less chance of finding your car scraped by crowds of shoppers!

Parking in the John Lewis car park in Sheffield costs £9 for six hours on a Saturday, but a whole day's parking booked through costs £4 with a five to ten minute walk to the shops. And a central car park in Canterbury will cost you £10.20 for six hours, compared with just £4 for a private rental space.

Changes to clamping rules

Changes to the law mean wheel clamping, (and towing cars away), has been banned in car parks on private land since the start of October. The only caveat is if local by-laws give landowners the right to clamp or tow away vehicles which could be in areas like stations, ports or airports.

And if you get a ticket for parking on private land, (say a supermarket car park), there's now a new independent appeals service you can take your case too. It's funded by the British Parking Association and providing you get a ticket from a company that's a member of the BPA approved operator scheme, then you can use its free service.
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