How to park in a parking garage

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Knowing how to park in a parking garage can save you both time and aggravation

Whether you drive a beat up Buick or a classy Corvette, an SUV or a tiny Smart car, parking your car in a parking garage can be an intimidating process. These vertical parking lots are designed to hold as many cars as possible in the smallest amount of space. While newer garages are often bigger, more open and well lit, many older ones seem more like afterthoughts including in a building when someone noticed there weren't enough parking spaces in the lot.

Big or small, wide or narrow, these guidelines on how to park in a parking garage will help you get in and out safely and hopefully keep your car ding-free.

When pulling in, make sure you're entering the garage entrance and not the exit -- they're sometimes right next to each other and hard to distinguish. Look for a sign that identifies the entrance -- it will often list the rates for parking.

It's always good to know the rate before you pull in to avoid "sticker shock" at the window; there's nothing harder than getting people in line behind you to let you back out, although some garages will let you pull in and pull right back out if you change your mind.

Pull close to the ticket window or ticket dispenser so you can reach through an open car window - there are often concrete pillars or barriers that are easy to bump if you have to open your door. If the lot requires payment in advance, have your cash or credit card already out. Make sure you remember where you put your ticket and make note if it's supposed to be displayed in your window while your car is parked in the garage.

Once inside the garage, turn on your lights even if it's daylight. Besides helping you see parking spots and signs,  the lights will help oncoming drivers see you when turning blind corners. Watch for signs identifying reserved spaces - many lots will set aside spots for building tenants or valet parking. Drive slowly, both to avoid accidents and to find spots.

If you're concerned about dings and scratches, there are often less cars on the higher floors. Once you find your spot, use  your turn signal to let cars behind you know you're stopping and parking. This is especially important if you plan to back in.

Once in the space, check on both sides to make sure there's room to get out without bumping the cars next to you. Before getting out, make a mental note of where you are parked or, better yet, write down on a pad the space number (if there is one), the floor and your location in respect to the elevator or stairway. Don't forget to turn off your lights and lock the car - most lots aren't responsible for theft and there's nothing worse than returning to find out your battery is dead and you need a jump.

When leaving the parking garage, follow all of the same guidelines - have your payment out in advance, turn on your lights, drive slowly around turns and make sure you enter the correct exit lane.

It helps to know in advance what street the exit is on so you know which way to turn. If you have a question, ask the parking garage attendant - they know the area and are usually friendly. Use your turn signal when pulling out and pat yourself on the back for a successful parking garage experience.

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