Self-parking cars: Fact or fiction?

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Parallel parking is probably one of the most frustrating parts of operating a vehicle. Most of us don't do it well, so we avoid it whenever possible.

Now technology is available for some cars to automatically parallel park...But? Does it work?

Self Parking is an option available on several Lincoln and Ford models. The system uses sensors located on the car to detect and select a parking space and then park.

Keith Brawley at Cavanaugh Ford said it's quite simple actually. " You can actually hit the button. The sensors will pick up a space big enough for it to park. It will tell you to stop, put it in reverse, take your hands off the steering wheel, you do nothing but touch the brake and accelerator."

It sounds easy but there is a learning curve and some things drivers need to know about before you decide to add it too your vehicle.

Brawley says initially many customers don't trust the system.

"Their first reaction when they get the deal and they hit it is not wanting to let go of the steering wheel." Brawley said. Watching it in action shows that as fast as the wheel spins, that is a good idea. The Lincoln we rode in has no hydraulic steering, strictly electronic.

Brawley said he had the same reaction the first time he got behind the wheel. But, he says "Now it's easy."

Brawley, "When it tells you to stop; Stop the car, put it in reverse and let it do its thing."

I wanted to see for myself so we took the car to downtown Jonesboro to try it out.

Out on Main Street, the car didn't like the first spot. Brawley had to put his hands back on the wheel. We moved up the block. Looking good then it ran up over the curb.

So after circling the block, we tried it again. This time a passing car shut it down and more traffic kept shutting it . A car pulled in right behind Keith in a parking spot and again it didn't work.

On another lap I asked Brawley what was wrong. With a look of frustration that every Jonesboro driver gets he said. "Every time I go to back up it picks up the vehicles behind me and shuts itself off."

He went on, "People don't seem to realize that, Hey, he's gotta back up. I'm parallel parking,and they'll get up right behind you and it gets too close to the sensors and it picks them up being there."

That's a safety feature; but, it doesn't get the car parked. So we tried the West side of the street.

This time the car delivered a perfect parking job, but it missed the parking space and wound a driveway entrance. It also did a great job of parking in the right lane of traffic instead of a parking space.

Brawley, "It's set up mainly to park on the right side but if you turn on the left turn signal it will pick up the spaces on the left."

We finally got it to park on Main but you can see that a driver would have to make final adjustments to make sure you were centered in the parking space.

I wanted to see it from the inside so we drove around the block to Church Street....Twice, a car following too close shut us down again.

The second time we stopped, waved the following traffic on...and it worked as advertised.

Brawley, "It's not totally automatic. You do have to operate the gas and brake pedal."

With screens that show the rear view and danger zones marked out in red, yellow and green for distance it really worked well.

Brawley says this time the driver in back was courteous.

Brawley, "The truck there was back far enough back there so it wasn't picking it up and he stayed back there instead of moving in closer."

"Were you happy with the demonstration?" I asked. He replied, "This is the first time I've had this much trouble." "Do you normally demonstrate it downtown?" "Yes." he replied.

So skeptics, it does work under optimum conditions. But for a busy street like Main or a busy city, I'm not sure I'm sold on it yet.

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