Today’s cars help you park better, but tomorrow’s will park themselves

I consider myself a good driver and a better parallel parker than most. Yet, still, one of my favorite technologies in modern cars’ options list is semi-automatic parking assist. The smartest of today’s cars can basically park themselves at the touch of a button.

In addition to just making life easier for lazy automotive journalists, parking assist systems make parking faster, more accurate and safer for everyone. However, these systems come at many different levels of sophistication and not all are created equally. To make your life easier, I’ve put together a guide to the different types of parking assistance tech and what we look for when deciding on our favorites.

Passive parking tech

At the most basic level, parking assist technology is any device or feature that boosts the convenience and safety of parking your car. This could include passive systems like the rear camera that boosts visibility when reversing or the guidance lines on the camera’s feed that help to plot a course around obstructions.

Even more useful are proximity or parking-distance sensors that silently scan the area around the car and notify the driver when approaching an obstruction. These systems are especially useful because their audible alerts don’t require the driver’s full visual attention, you can keep looking around. However, the inclusion of a visual indicator on the dashboard (like those on BMW or Audi’s parking distance sensors) further boosts the ease of squeezing into very tight spots.

The BMW 5 Series demonstrates two different levels of passive parking aid tech: an around-view camera system and distance sensors with a visual heat map.

David Freeman/CNET

Most proximity detection systems use ultrasonic sensors that can double as rear…

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