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Tips for the Directionally Challenged: Finding Your Parked Car

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Directional Sense, Directionally challenged, parking, Wayfinding | 0 comments

Tips for the Directionally Challenged: Finding Your Parked Car


When was the last time you lost your car? When you parked in a huge surface lot at the mall? In the airport garage? On a city street? When you’re in a hurry, it seems sufficient simply to find your way to a destination and park. You locate a spot, get out, and run to your meeting, social engagement, or errand – all without a second thought. The problem comes on the way back, when the car has mysteriously “disappeared.” Faced with an inability to find the car, some of us (me included) have even been convinced that it’s been stolen! How else to explain that it isn’t where you’re sure you left it?

One way to lessen the chance of your parked car’s disappearance is to dial back your internal speed, just a little, as you park and leave your car behind. Going a little slower will increase your odds of becoming aware of your surroundings, noticing details about your car’s location, and determining the best way to retrieve this information as you return.


What to Remember About Your Car’s Location

Which Structure, Lot, or Street?
The first thing to know before leaving your car is the name of the structure, lot, or nearest (street) intersection. (Parking structures may also be called ramps or garages.) In the same vicinity there can be multiple structures, multiple lots, and even multiple streets with similar names, so this parking identification information is important.

In Parking Structures
When you leave your car in a parking structure, you need to learn the structure’s name (if it has one) and its location (the nearest intersection or landmark). As you exit your car, note the floor you’re on, as well as the area and row (if they’re labeled). (Floors can also be called levels.) See if the space itself is numbered. Pay attention to whether you’ve parked on an incline and if you walked up or down the incline to the elevator. Some garages have themes – sports teams, music, flowers, etc. – for different levels and/or areas on a level. These are landmarks useful for helping you remember where you parked. If there’s a parking location reminder card, grab it! As you leave the garage, note the elevator (there can be more than one elevator) and the pedestrian exit you use (there can be more than one exit).

In Parking Lots
Parking lots may or may not offer cues to help you remember where you parked. Some parking lots are named or identified with colors (such as the Red Lot). Some parking lots have areas and rows identified by number, letter, or both (such as Area 3A). In some parking lots, banners or signs on light posts identify areas and/or rows. In lots like these, be sure to look up as you exit your car, so you can note your location. Some lots number spaces. You may have to look on the ground for these identifiers. In parking lots without helpful cues, you’ll have to create your own locator system. As you get out of the car, look around and see if you can spot anything unique (and stable) that can act as your landmark.

On the Street
If you park on a street, take note of the nearest intersection (“I’m parked near the corner of Hollywood and Vine”) and a unique, stable landmark (My car is in front of the yellow awning of the “Rise n’ Shine Café”).


How to Remember Your Car’s Location

Channel Your Inner Sherlock
Take time to look around your car for clues about its location. What landmarks do you see? Are colors used that have wayfinding meaning? Are there unique images in the parking area? Is music or sound used as a location clue?

Look Back
As you walk toward the exit and before the car is out of sight, look back. Where is the car? It might be on the right or the left, close to the exit or halfway back, etc. This is the view you’ll have as you return.

Say it Aloud
Describe the car’s location to yourself, out loud. Don’t worry about looking silly – probably no one will be paying attention to you, but even if they do, you’ll be reminding them to do the same helpful thing. You can access a voice memo function on your phone and record it that way.

Write it Down
Another option is to write down the location of your car as a smart-phone memo, a text to yourself, or a note on old-fashioned paper.

Take a Cell-phone Photo
Snapping a couple of photos is another quick way to remember where you left your car. Shoot the view back to the car from the elevator or exit and the view of the outside of the structure or lot. If you should have to ask for help in finding the car, these photos will save a thousand words.

Be a Creature of Habit
If you regularly park at the same destination, but don’t have an assigned space, one option is to always park in the same area. Even if it’s not particularly close to the exit, you’ll have peace of mind always knowing where your car is. If you get to this area and still can’t find your car, your key “clicker” should sound the horn when you’re close by.



These tips will help you avoid the dreaded “lost car” syndrome. If you forget to do all of the above – and you have time to spare– you can always wait until all the other cars in the garage, lot, or street are gone. That lone, remaining car will be your very own – found at last.

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If you’re directionally challenged you need Directional Sense: How to Find Your Way Around, by Janet R. Carpman and Myron A. Grant.


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