/ Motoring

Taking a break at motorway services? Don’t stay too long!

Service station motorway car park

Been driving on the dull, grey motorway for hours? Then it’s a good idea to take a break. Thankfully, most motorway service stations let you park for up to two hours for free. But what happens if you want to stay longer?

Everyone agrees that driving when you’re over-tired is dangerous. So is it wrong to penalise those people who take a break for too long at motorway services?

Well, the Highways Agency is now proposing that drivers who overstay the mandatory two-hour free parking period should be allowed to pay for the extra time rather than incurring a fixed fine. Currently, these fines can be as high as £100.

However, a number of service stations already allow you to buy a third hour of parking. However, the present rate of £8 at a service station in the Hampshire town of Fleet seems pretty steep to me. It costs just 40p per hour to park close to the local Marks & Spencer, but if you outstay your welcome at the M3 services down the road, you’ll end up paying 20 times that amount.

Maybe the Highways Agency can convince the service stations to charge a more reasonable price. After all, if you pull off the motorway, there are numerous places to park up for free.

Destination: service station

Maybe more motorway services should take a leaf out of the award-winning Tebay service station’s book, and become a destination in their own right. The independent, family-run M6 stop in the Lake District serves up homemade food and has gift and clothing shops that all sell local wares. It provides such a contrast to other service stations, that I know of people who plan UK driving holidays around stops there.

Hoping for more services like Tebay may be wishful thinking, but to me, more affordable parking at current sites doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Have you ever been charged a high price for parking at a service station?


I am aware of the two hour limit and the large fine for overstaying.

What happens at present if someone has to overstay because they are waiting for a breakdown recovery company to turn up to attend to a problem with their car, or if they feel ill and not fit to continue their journey?

I agree with Claire that extended parking should be available at reasonable prices.


I wonder how many people voluntarily stay in a services for more than two hours. An hour is more than most people can stand. I suspect a primary reason for a time limit is to deter overnight sleeping: some continental service areas turn into makeshift campsites with trucks, campervans and caravans parked up for the night. UK service areas aren’t set up for this sort of use.


A short repositioning drive round the car park might beat the system [unless they’re checking tyre inflation valve positions or have number plate recognition technology, perhaps].


Nice idea, John, though they could have cameras fitted at the car park entrance like my local Halfords, which automatically sends penalty notices out to the owners of all cars that stay in its car park for more than an hour. I found this out because my car has very difficult headlamp bulbs to change and it took them two hours to fit a new bulb.


I hope you sent the bill back to Halfords, on the basis that they caused you to overstay. It is disappointing that your Conversation on the cost of replacing bulbs did not attract more comments, but it can be a significant cost.

I reckon that John could do with James Bond-style rotating number plates to avoid or evade the additional parking charges.


When I use a motorway service station, I always feel obliged to buy something. Usually a coffee, sandwich, cold water and a book or a magazine. I know I can bring most of these from home, but I think it is only fair to spend some money there to assist them in maintaining a service. Although I’m not foolish enough to buy their cooked food. I would be prepared to pay if I overstayed the allowed time and agree that an hourly rate rather than a fine is the best and fairest option.


Aldi supermarket car parks limit parking time – time seems to vary from town to town, and they have numberplate recognition cameras. The operation isn’t run by Aldi, but by a contracted company.

I visited the Gillingham (Kent) store a few months ago which has a one-hour parking limit. A week later I received a fine notice – the store had been busy and it appears I stayed for 1 hour 4 minutes!
Fortunately I still had my receipt which I photocopied and sent to the parking contractor with a letter stating the circumstances. I was subsequently advised that the fine notice had been cancelled. The letter also stated that ‘in this instance’ the notice had been cancelled, but wouldn’t be if it happened again! I contacted Aldi suggesting their contractor’s attitude didn’t seem conducive to attracting customers……..there was no reply!

I recommend Aldi shoppers retain thie receipts for a few weeks in case they’re needed for evidence.

Some other contractors appear to be more aggressive. There is a small business park at Strood (Kent) that serves B&Q, Matalan, and a few more stores. Local press widely reported instances where some shoppers using the park also used the public conveniences situated across the road from the car park – either before or after using the shops. This was being noted by the parking contractors who promptly slapped fine notices on the cars because they were ‘using the car park illegally’…….the parking spaces were only for those using only the shops. Despite publicity the contractors remained unmoved, and also applied additional fines for people who didn’t pay up within a time limit.

Seems to be a need for control of ‘cowboy’ parking contractors. However, local authorities are often equally guilty of using car parking fines as a cash cow. Medway Council (Kent) is notorious, with mobile CCTV cars, issuing fines for ‘offences’ such as parking in a marked parking bay but overhanging the painted bay line, or laying parking ticket on dashboard where it can’t be seen unless leaning over the car bonnet. They’ve also slapped fines on district nurses attending patients and once, a fireman who had parked whilst answering an emergency call!
More recently, they approved ‘conversion’ of a long-established road in Chatham to a ‘bus station, from which cars are barred. Signage was, and remains appalling, and visitors’ sat navs take them through the road where (fixed) CCTV cameras prompt a £60 fine. High Court have confirmed council at fault but they remain unmoved…..it’s estimated the ‘bus station fines are generating over £½m revenue for the council.

J P Hamilton says:
15 June 2013

If there was no control over parking the situation would become chaotic. Unfortunately some that own or work in the parking management business tend to be of a certain type and is why Government did at last tighten up on things like wheel clamping.

I believe we have to control parking however, there should be much stricter rules on how these parking companies and councils are allowed to operate and impose their fines.

Any new legislation would need to apply across the whole of the UK.


Now I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong but a parking ticket issued at a motorway service station for an overstay in their car park is simply an invoice. Not legally enforceable without the issuer taking the offender through the courts.
My daughter received such an “invoice” following a breakdown situation. After some research this invoice was simply ignored, even after a reminder, and nothing has happened over a year later. Possibly because there’s little profit if they have to take everyone to court. After all making cash is what it’s all about and they won’t win them all. Plenty of people don’t contest this injustice and just stump up the cash so they just don’t bother if you ignore them, it’s cheaper.

We considered it unfair to penalise someone for a breakdown and unfair that motorway stations should charge for anything you buy there at inflated prices whilst still seeking to cash in on “parking infringements”, especially as the car parks are rarely more than half full.

We intended to fight the case but were not disappointed that it all went quiet.

Food for thought perhaps?


I believe that one of the conditions of operating a motorway service station is that visitors must be offered two hours free parking, toilet facilities, etc.

Commonsense suggests that the conditions should be updated to make provision for extended stops in the case of breakdown or illness. As we have seen, even those with breakdown cover may exceed the time allowed. Many motorists do not have breakdown cover.

Obviously motorists could abuse an exemption on the basis of breakdown or illness, so perhaps the service station operator needs to have a system to check that the problem is genuine and the driver may need to demonstrate that they have made reasonable efforts to remove their vehicle as soon as possible.

It is encouraging that Chris’s daughter was not pursued. If I received an invoice I would respond giving an account of the reason for overstaying and providing what evidence was available. If that did not work I would be tempted to take legal action.

One thing that concerns me is that drivers who are aware of a problem with their vehicle might be tempted to set off in the hope that they are able to get off the motorway and avoid a fine.


As Chris Gloucester said any ‘Parking Fine’ from a motorway service station or supermarket etc is just an INVOICE. It is not a criminally enforceable thing.

Just ignore it. DO NOT REPSOND to it.

If they want your money they will have to take you to a Civil Court and there they can only sue you for their losses which in a parking dispute will be minimal and difficult to prove.

D Mil says:
18 October 2015

Don’t ignore any more. The law changed. You need to defend these now.

m dalmo says:
4 November 2014

Shame on you Britain, shame on all of you parking cowboys. Bad enough you councils do not even allow us to park outside our houses without the purchase of a parking permit (usualy at an extortionate price) Now even service stations on motorways which you constantly advertise (TAKE A BREAK TIREDNESS CAN KILL) Yes you pompous councilors get off your butts and put an end to this madness because scraping bodies from twisted metal is not fun and inevitably costs you ‘Sorry us’ more money in emergency services, helicopters, 20 mile traffic jams, millions of pounds in wasted fuel and not to mention millions in lost business because we could not make our appointment. HELLO, WAKE UP BRITAIN !!