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Lost in a Parking Lot? 8 Ways to Find Your Car

Get help in several ways from your smartphone, your key fob and your own body

spinner image a man in a suit with a briefcase scratches his head while looking for his car in a parking lot

We’ve all had that sinking feeling, looking around a crowded garage and not remembering where you parked.

Don’t beat yourself up. You’ve been running around all day and have a million things on your mind. Perhaps you were distracted while locking your car, talking on the phone and walking to a building’s front door without taking note of where to return across a vast parking lot.

Take a deep breath. Here are some ways, tech and not, to climb back behind the wheel of your very own vehicle. You can start on a few of these solutions before you need them.

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1. Make your car unique

White, black, gray and silver together make up nearly 4 of every 5 cars on the road this year, according to iSeeCars, an auto research company based in Woburn, Massachusetts. If yours is one of them, you need to find a way to make it stand out, similar to the principle of decorating your black suitcase so you can spot it quickly in an airport’s baggage claim area.

Not many vehicles have tall antennas any longer, but you can tie a large colorful ribbon around it if yours does. If not, stick a big magnet on the rear bumper; affix a see-through graphic to the rear window; or clip bunny ears, decorative flags or reindeer antlers to your side windows that will stick up when the windows are rolled up.

Some seasonal kits come complete with a fabric tail flowing out your back hatch to better showcase your vehicle whose rear end will likely be what you see first. You’ll want any option to be visible from far away.

Or for your next car, consider a more visible color. Fewer than 0.1 percent in the United States are yellow, such as BMW’s X3 or X4 M Series Sports Activity vehicles in São Paulo yellow; Chevrolet’s Blazer, Colorado, Spark or Trailblazer in nitro yellow; Jeep’s Gladiator and Wrangler models in high velocity yellow; Porsche’s 911 models in racing yellow; Subaru’s Crosstrek in plasma yellow pearl; and Toyota’s GR Supra in nitro yellow. 

2. Park near an identifying landmark

A good way to remember where you parked is to leave your vehicle near an easily identifiable landmark, such as a specific sign, building or anything else that can be seen from far away. If you go someplace regularly, try to park in a similar location each time and note that.

Airports, shopping malls and theme park lots often have letters or numbers on a sign, perhaps mounted to a lamppost, so you can remember whether you’re in Lot G or Row 4. In Toronto, one huge underground garage has signs with animal silhouettes to help you recall the “rabbit” section.

3. Stay away from everyone else

Some drivers like to steer away from the crowds and park at the farthest fringes of a lot. More people try to get as close as they can to an entrance.

Sure, an empty section could fill up before you return to it. But those without mobility challenges will find some bonuses of parking far away.

• The longer walk to the door will help you get your 10,000 steps a day.

• Fewer vehicles at the edges of a parking lot reduce the odds of someone dinging your car’s door or bumper.

4. Snap a photo or shoot a video

When you exit your vehicle, pull out your smartphone and take a photo of it — perhaps with a sign or landmark in the same shot — so you can easily find it later. Or shoot a short video that will give you a you-are-here idea of where it is in a large parking lot.

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Roughly 6 of 7 adults age 50 and older have smartphones, according to AARP’s Tech Trends 2022 survey conducted in September and October 2021, and this is a good use for yours. Simply delete the photo or video later when you no longer need it.

Another option: Open your phone’s built-in audio recorder app and describe where you are. Play the recording back later to refresh your memory.

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5. Press the buttons on your car’s key fob

If you’ve finished your errand without attempting any of the advice above and are staring at a sea of vehicles, get out your keys. Retrace your steps to the general vicinity where you think you parked.

Press your vehicle fob’s door lock button twice so it emits a sound, often a double-honk. Follow the sound.

If that doesn’t work, press your remote’s panic button, often red, to activate your car’s alarm. Once you find your vehicle, press it again to stop the loud noise.

Do you feel like you’re close, but nothing’s happening? To extend the range of your fob’s wireless radio, hold the key fob under your chin or beside your head, temporarily turning your skull into an antenna to boost the signal by several car lengths.

This works because people, including their heads, are made of a lot of water, which amplifies the radio waves from the fob. And you’re not endangering your health. If you happen to be carrying a jug of water, you can use that to the same effect, according to Roger Bowley, now an emeritus professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy in England who made a YouTube video on the subject. 

6. Go row by row

Walk up and down the rows of cars, starting at one row and methodically going through each one until you find yours. This is better than walking aimlessly in circles, which will only frustrate you further.

Some people look for their license plate number instead of the vehicle itself. You can pair this tactic with having your car emit a sound by also pressing the key fob, so you’ll know you’re in the general area.

7. Seek assistance

While you probably prefer to avoid asking for help, know that you aren’t the first person in this predicament. So go back and find an airport agent, office receptionist, security guard or theme park worker who can lend a hand.

Some parking lots and garages have emergency call stations that link directly to the security office. Don’t panic and explain what’s going on. You might discover that guards have a golf cart or other security vehicle to help, so you won’t have to keep walking.

8. Use a parking app

Several dozen free and moderately priced apps can mark your vehicle’s location and then give you directions back to it later. But your smartphone already has built-in maps — Maps on your Apple iPhone and Google Maps for Androids — if you know where to look.

Apple’s Maps app. If you connect your iPhone to your vehicle via wireless Bluetooth or use Apple CarPlay, you don’t need to do anything when you exit the vehicle. The app automatically drops a parked car marker on its map when you exit the vehicle.

This feature should be enabled by default. But if it’s not, ensure that location services are enabled, Settings | Privacy | Location Service. Then while you’re in your car, connected via Bluetooth or CarPlay, open your iPhone’s Settings, scroll down and tap on Maps. Under the Your Car heading, tap Show Parked Location so the toggle switch is green.

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To find your car later:

1. Open the Maps app on your iPhone when you go outside, making sure you’re safely on a sidewalk.

2. Look for a blue banner labeled Parked Car. Tap it.

3. Follow the walking route to your car, paying attention to nearby vehicles.

If you didn’t connect your iPhone to your vehicle, you can manually drop a pin.

1. Open the Maps app to see a map of your location with a blue dot showing that you are here.

2. Press and hold the spot on the screen that shows your location.

3. Tap the small version of the map that pops up, select Drop Pin | Add to Favorites.

4. Open Maps again later when you need to get to your vehicle. Select Favorites and tap your parking spot to follow instructions to return to it.

Bonus tip: If you get lost or stranded while you’re out, you can open Mapspress and hold the spot with your blue dot and then choose Send My Location. From there, you can text or email to share your location with family and friends who can pick you up. You can do a similar action in Google Maps by tapping the Share icon toward the top right of your screen or tapping the Share button as you swipe left on the row of buttons below the address.

Google Maps. Your phone can figure out when you’ve been moving in a car. When you’ve parked:

1. Open the Google Maps app that comes with your Android phone, such as a Google Pixel or Samsung Gallery device.

2. Tap the blue dot on the map that pinpoints your location.

3. Tap Save your parking. If you’ve been stationary a while and don’t see that option, tap the Save button to the right of Directions and Start. Google will ask you to sign in to save your parking location.

To retrieve your vehicle:

1. Open the Google Maps app on your Android phone.

2. Tap the search bar, followed by Parking location.

3. On the bottom of the screen, tap the Directions button.

close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

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close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

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Please Enter ZIP Code

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