Motorway Services Online

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Parking information sign

By far the most common question regarding motorway services involves parking. This page aims to give a general overview of the parking system and answer some of the questions. As always, for a specific answer you should contact the operator.

The Basics

  • All motorway services and TRSAs provide two hours free parking - this is a legal requirement.
  • As their primary purpose is to relax tired drivers, they need people to leave as many spaces free as possible. Many service stations receive complaints that the parking areas are full during the day.
  • For many people services are in good places to leave their car all day. To discourage this, steep charges apply for anyone wishing to park for more than two hours.

The Questions

A car park.

How much will it cost to park for more than two hours?
This varies by service area, where available, this information is included in the Services section. A general guideline would be £10 for cars (vehicles which use the car park) and £25 for other vehicles.

How long does that last for?
At most services the parking charges are for every 24 hours. Some will let you park for longer than this - you'll need to ask them.

How do I pay for parking?
Most services want you to pay by phone, with details on this being provided in each car park. You can also pay using the shop or restaurant with the services.

Isn't this just profiteering?
To an extent it is - there's no need to monitor the number of free spaces overnight, and most of the people who do park there will be staying for several hours. If you believe the operators, then these charges are necessary to pay for the upkeep - see the pricing page. The Highways Agency have suggested that services allow free overnight parking.

When the car park is busy, the issue of needing a system to discourage people from staying for several hours is true though. Services have had to extend car parking areas to meet demand by taking away from caravans, coaches and lorries, and in turn have faced complaints from those.

What if I forget to pay for parking?
I left my car but cannot collect it now. What should I do?
Contact the operator as soon as possible to discuss it with them. Many services allow you to pay for parking at any point before you take your car away, including the option of doing it over the phone.

Parking Areas

The layout of parking areas at motorway services usually needs to be approved by Highways England. The problem is that standards change over time, and what is important now wasn't necessarily a long time ago.

The Questions

Who is responsible for maintaining the parking areas?
The operator has the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance, but they may pass it on to someone else. If you have any queries you should contact them first.

The actual running of the parking areas is usually contracted out to another company - usually CP Plus or ParkingEye.

Who decides how many parking spaces are sufficient?
This document explains the system in place for deciding how many parking spaces and toilets a service area should have.

Where do I park if my vehicle's designated parking area is full?
Most operators won't have a problem if you choose to park in another suitable location, but it would be wise to take advice from a member of staff.

Where do caravans, motorhomes and towing vehicles park?
All new services are required to have a designated area for caravans and motorhomes. At older, smaller services, this might not be available, in which case it is usually advised that you use the HGV parking areas. Towing vehicles should always use these spaces.

Some self-branded signs

What is the situation regarding road signs within services?
All signs erected within a motorway service area since 2008 must comply with the current Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions. While generally this is happening, from a technical point of view the 'compliance' is poor at best. Any queries regarding road signs (or any other aspect of the roads within a service area) should be directed at the operator. For information on the system for signs on the road itself, see Motorway Signs.

This rule was actually introduced in 1998, but it wasn't very effective, and many operators continued to use their own design of road signs.


Whenever I mention 'parking fines' someone is always quick to point out that parking fines can only be issued by the council, police and courts, and that what we're talking about is merely an invoice. They are technically right, but for simplicity's sake we're going to ignore those people and move on.

Most services use automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras, which are positioned at the entrance and the exit to the services. These fine people who stay too long and don't pay for it. Being automated, these systems enforce the restrictions to the letter and often issue unfair or incorrect fines.

In addition to this, many services have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards people parking in the wrong places, particularly HGVs using the coach bays, and will charge anyone who does this.

The Questions

Is it true that you don't need to pay the fines? (penalty charge, to the pedants)
This has been rumour on the internet for years, and while it definitely used to be true, there are now circumstances where it will backfire. If you wish to head down this route then it's up to you to read about it and take that risk. Your predicament might fall under one of the other categories though, so read on.

What if I was fined for overstaying the limit, but I wasn't actually parked for two hours?
The cameras are located at the very entrance and exit to the services, to stop people avoiding them by parking on one of the access roads. If you fill up with fuel, get stuck in traffic on the way out or just cut it very fine, it's possible that you'll be fined because you weren't out of the complex after two hours. If this happens, you should argue your case - read on for details.

What if I had a good reason to be parked there? (bad weather, broken down, etc)
If you break down, you should make yourself known to a member of staff on site. Services have been known to cancel fines where the motorist had a legitimate reason to take a longer break than usual, or a good reason not to see the signs. See the next question for details.

Do hotel guests need to pay for parking?
No, hotel users and certain agreed event attendees usually get free parking and should be asked for their number plate upon arrival. If this hasn't happened, you should argue your case - read on for details.

How do I appeal against a fine?
Moto services have been known to allow fines to be overturned if you make your case to Welcome Break allow appeals to be sent to and Roadchef now ask you to send your appeals online. Further details of how to appeal should be included on any fine you receive, you should check with the operator and/or agency that you have their current contact details.

Who issues these fines?
The running of parking areas is usually done by another company such as CP Plus or ParkingEye on behalf of the operators.

The Background

All motorway services were originally required to offer free parking, at all times, and to monitor their sites for vehicles which had been abandoned. In 1966, following reports of abuse, services were allowed to install signs allowing parking for "a reasonable period of rest and refreshment only".

During the 1970s, a government study (the Prior Report) attempted to find out why services were providing such poor service by listening to what their complaints were. A long list of suggestions came out of this, which included allowing services to charge people who stayed more than two hours.

Due to differences in the way they are planned, it's becoming increasingly common for A-road service areas to consist of a series of separate facilities. Only one of these needs to offer free parking to fulfil its contract; the others can issue fines to people who rest without spending, however unfair or immoral that might seem.

Further Reading

  • PePiPoo - motorist's justice group. First point of call if you want to fight a charge.
  • Money Saving Expert - private parking tickets
  • Moto - parking queries page

This is a portal page, which tries to provide comprehensive information on a generic subject people are likely to be asking about. If you can add any more information, please do!