Is your car too big for the road? Our interactive graphics show how popular models outgrew UK parking spaces – here’s how to find out if yours is too fat

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Half of new cars sold in Britain are too big to fit into parking bays.

That’s the warning from green campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) this week, which calculated that new models sold in the UK are growing 1cm wider every two years.

It new report found the average width of a new motor sold in Britain last year was 180.3cm with the wing mirrors folded – or 200cm with the mirrors out. That’s wider than than the average on-street parking bay in major cities like London, which are just 180cm across.

T&E also fired a broadside at a breed it dubs ‘mega SUVs’ – which are 200cm wide on average, or 220cm including their wing mirrors – accusing them of being so broad that they are bullying cyclists off the road.

Manufacturers have defended the fact passenger cars are growing in size, saying the expansion is to improve crash protection for occupants. They say the switch to EVs with larger battery packs is also extending the scale of the latest cars.

Our interactive infographics show how popular new models measure up against parking spaces in Britain, and shows how the width of cars has grown from 2000 to today.

We’ll also tell you how to quickly and easily find the dimensions of your car so you can size it up against an average parking bay. 

Average parking bay sizes in Britain 

On-street parking bay in cities (adjacent to the footpath): 1.8 metres wide

Traditional parking space in a car park: 2.4 metres wide (4.8m long) 

Half of new cars too wide for on-street parking bays 

T&E’s study found that the average width of new cars (not including the wing mirrors) expanded by 2.5cm between 2017 (177.8cm) and 2023 (180.3cm).

It says more than half of new cars sold in 2023 were already too wide for the minimum 180cm on-street parking space in major UK cities. 

This is making legally parking large and luxury SUVs impossible – and can result in fines if the vehicle is outside the designated white lines.

Historical data held by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) dating back 20 years shows that this has been an ongoing trend.

Its most recent market analysis shows that the average new car sold in Britain has gotten 1cm wider every two years dating back to 2000.

Only Germany had wider new cars on sale than the UK in 2023, T&E’s study claimed. 

Wide load: Transport & Environment says the wider cars are not only unable to park in on-street bays, they are leaving less room for other road users

Wide load: Transport & Environment says the wider cars are not only unable to park in on-street bays, they are leaving less room for other road users

Green campaigners have pointed the finger at the increased availability and popularity of SUVs.

In recent years, SUVs have overtaken family hatchbacks to become the second most popular vehicle type in the UK – and are only marginally outsold by small cars each year.

Exclusive new car market analysis by This is Money showed just how much SUV sales have accelerated in Britain in the last decade against other passenger vehicle types.

Back in 2013, official registrations data shows that two in five (39.5 per cent) of all new passenger cars entering the road were superminis and city cars.

While they still remain the most commonly purchased new cars today, they represented just one in three (30.4 per cent) registrations in 2023 – and it is the SUV that’s eating into their market dominance.

A decade ago, ‘dual purpose’ sports utility vehicles represented only 11 per cent of the market. 

But a boom in demand in recent years has seen SUVs overtake family hatches to become the nation’s second most popular car type, making up 28.6 per cent of all registrations.

In 2013, SUVs represented just over one in ten (11%) of all new cars. Fast forward a decade and they now account for almost three in ten (28.6%)

In 2013, SUVs represented just over one in ten (11%) of all new cars. Fast forward a decade and they now account for almost three in ten (28.6%)

Failure to park within the white lines of a conventional on-street parking bay in a city - like this one in London - can result in a fine for drivers. However, half of new cars sold in Britain can't fit within the space

Failure to park within the white lines of a conventional on-street parking bay in a city – like this one in London – can result in a fine for drivers. However, half of new cars sold in Britain can’t fit within the space

The T&E report identified certain examples as having grown substantially, including the new generation Land Rover Defender being 20cm wider than the old 4×4, and BMW’s X5 growing 6cm in the last six years.

In 2023, the average new Volvo – a brand that is ditching conventional cars in favour of SUVs – sold in the UK was 4.1cm wider compared to the year previous.

How to quickly check the width of your car 

If you don’t want to go outside with a tape measure, there’s an easy way to find out the dimensions – including width – of your car.

Website Parkers has a car specs checker, which allows you to enter your number plate and it will provide all the specifications for your particular model.

This includes dimensions in section 3, which tells you the width of your car in millimetres with the wing mirrors out. 

The widest SUV currently sold in the UK – though in very limited numbers – is the electric Hummer EV.

London-based luxury car dealer Clive Sutton is importing the electric beast for UK customers – though with a width of 230cm, it is half a metre too thick to fit in an on-street parking bay in cities like London. 

T&E believes these hulking Chelsea tractors are ‘piling yet more pressure on roads from competing uses’. 

Its report said: ‘The trend towards wider vehicles is reducing the road space available for other vehicles and cyclists, while parked cars are further encroaching on footpaths. 

‘The wider designs have also enabled the height of vehicles to be further raised, despite crash data showing a 10cm increase in the height of vehicle fronts carries a 30 per cent higher risk of fatalities in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.’ 

Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at Cycling UK, agreed, saying drivers of the largest SUVs on the road are often those who are ‘most likely to pass people cycling more closely than those driving narrower ones’. 

She says this is particularly the case on narrow rural lanes or on residential streets with lots of parking, which often sees those on bikes ‘bullied off the road to make way’. 

T&E says the latest Land Rover Defender is some 20.6cm wider than the previous-generation off-roader. This is becoming a major problem for narrow city streets and single-lane rural roads, it believes

T&E says the latest Land Rover Defender is some 20.6cm wider than the previous-generation off-roader. This is becoming a major problem for narrow city streets and single-lane rural roads, it believes

The BMW X5 on sale today is some 6cm wider than the one in showrooms six years ago, according to the study

The BMW X5 on sale today is some 6cm wider than the one in showrooms six years ago, according to the study

The colossal Hummer EV is the widest motor you can buy in Britain at 2.3 metres wide. It dwarfs conventional cars sold in Britain and looks enormous on London's busy streets (pictured). It's also longer than a conventional parking space at a public car park in the UK

The colossal Hummer EV is the widest motor you can buy in Britain at 2.3 metres wide. It dwarfs conventional cars sold in Britain and looks enormous on London’s busy streets (pictured). It’s also longer than a conventional parking space at a public car park in the UK

This infographic shows just how much a Hummer EV dwarfs other large SUVs, like the Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The Ford Fiesta is over a metre narrower than the US vehicle

This infographic shows just how much a Hummer EV dwarfs other large SUVs, like the Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The Ford Fiesta is over a metre narrower than the US vehicle 

UK car manufacturers defend the growing size of new models 

Mike Hawes, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents car makers in Britain, responded to the T&E’s report this week.

He told This is Money that new cars are getting bigger in order to improve safety and to allow for cleaner powertrains to be used to slash emissions.

‘Modern cars are packed with advanced safety technology that protects passengers and other road users, from airbags to crumple zones, all of which contribute to vehicles being larger than before,’ Mr Hawes said.

‘Cars also increasingly accommodate electric batteries and motors rather than just engines which can affect size and shape. 

‘Ultimately, however, it is consumers that influence vehicle design with manufacturers responding to market tastes and preferences and ensuring that all cars – irrespective of size and body type – meet relevant regulations.’

Are new cars too big for supermarket parking spaces?

A 2020 study found the growing size of new cars is making parking an increasingly difficult task for Britons.

This is because the traditional parking space at a supermarket or multistorey car park has remained unchanged for half a century. 

Car owners are being left with almost no room to squeeze out of their cars in public car parks, which have space sizes that have remained consistent since the 1970s.

A comparison of vehicles on sale in and the similar models from 50 years earlier showed that some motors had expanded by as much as 55 per cent – and big SUVs were found to be taking up almost 90 per cent of a parking space (more now that sizes have grown in the prevailing four years).

Parking guidelines haven’t changed in 50 years, with the requirement for public bays to be 8 feet (2.4 metres) wide by 16 feet (4.8 metres) long.

The British Parking Association (BPA) says that these dimensions are ‘neither minimum nor written in tablets of stone’ and councils and car park operators are free to designate their own bay measurements.

Today's parking squeeze: Off-street bay sizes have remained the same since the 1970s, but with vehicles forever increasing in dimension they could soon be too big for car parks

Today’s parking squeeze: Off-street bay sizes have remained the same since the 1970s, but with vehicles forever increasing in dimension they could soon be too big for car parks

The British Parking Association says off-street bay dimensions of 8 feet by 16 feet are not a minimum requirement and operators can use larger sizes. However, with businesses looking to maximise the number of bays, the standard requirement remains most common

The British Parking Association says off-street bay dimensions of 8 feet by 16 feet are not a minimum requirement and operators can use larger sizes. However, with businesses looking to maximise the number of bays, the standard requirement remains most common

However, it remains the most common size used to ensure a maximum volume of parking spaces. 

While this might have been sufficient for mainstream vehicles in the 1970s, it is starting to put a squeeze on 21st century drivers.

In the most extreme example, car buying platform CarGurus found that a 2020 Range Rover takes up to 86 per cent of a standard car park bay, leaving just 21cm of room for drivers to get out. 

In contrast, the 1970s model took up just 69 per cent – the same footprint as today’s Ford Focus.  

The 2020 Range Rover (right) is far bigger than the original from the 1970s (left). The 2020 model takes up almost 90% of available bay space

The 2020 Range Rover (right) is far bigger than the original from the 1970s (left). The 2020 model takes up almost 90% of available bay space

The tenth generation Honda Civic, one of the biggest growers from its first generation, now takes up 71%

This has ballooned from 49% in the first generation

The tenth generation Honda Civic (left), one of the biggest growers from its first generation, now takes up 71%. This has ballooned from 49% in the first generation (right)

Today's Mini Hatch (right) is 55% bigger than the Mini that would have been used on UK roads 50 years ago

Today’s Mini Hatch (right) is 55% bigger than the Mini that would have been used on UK roads 50 years ago

A 1990 Peugeot 205 GTI (left) is 1,589mm wide. The French brand's supermini of today - the 208 (right) - measures in at 1,745mm across. That's an increase in breadth of 10% in 30 years

A 1990 Peugeot 205 GTI (left) is 1,589mm wide. The French brand’s supermini of today – the 208 (right) – measures in at 1,745mm across. That’s an increase in breadth of 10% in 30 years

The Honda Civic is another that is taking up a lot more parking space.

Today’s model fills 71 per cent of a standard-sized bay, ballooning from 49 per cent in the first generation from 1972.

The Mini is another substantial grower. Today’s is 55 per cent larger and taking up 20 per cent more of the typical parking space than the original that was produced between 1959 and 2000. This means it offers 16cm less room for drivers to get out.

The Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, BMW 5 Series, Ford Focus, Ford Mondeo, Mercedes E-class, Peugeot 308, Vauxhall Insignia and VW Passat have also all grown significantly compared to their 50-year-old equivalents to leave drivers with less than 30cm space to exit the vehicle, the report said.

CAR SIZE COMPARISON: 1970 VS 2020 VEHICLES 
1970s Make & Model Space to open door (cm) Area of parking space used up Today’s Make & Model Space to open door (cm) Area of parking space used up % increase in area
Morris/Austin/ Rover Mini (1959-2000) 50 37% MINI Hatch 3dr (2014-) 34 57% 55%
Fiat 500 (1957-1975) 54 34% Fiat 500 (2007-) 39 50% 47%
Honda Civic 1st Gen (1972-1979) 45 49% Honda Civic 10th Gen (2016-) 30 71% 44%
Peugeot 104 (1972-1988) 44 43% Peugeot 208 2nd Gen (2019-) 33 61% 42%
Renault 5 (1972-1985) 44 47% Renault Clio V (2019-) 30 63% 36%
Mazda 323 3rd Gen (1977-1980) 40 53% Mazda 3 4th Gen (2019-) 30 70% 31%
Audi 80 (1972-1978) 40 58% Audi A4 B9 (2016-) 28 76% 30%
VW Passat B1 (1973-1981) 40 58% VW Passat B8 (2015-) 28 76% 30%
Vauxhall Nova A (1982-1993) 43 48% Vauxhall Corsa F (2019-) 32 62% 29%
VW Golf MK1 (1974-1983) 40 52% VW Golf MK8 (2020) 31 67% 28%
Ford Escort MKII (1974-1980) 42 54% Ford Focus MKIV (2018-) 29 69% 28%
VW Polo MK1 (1975-1981) 42 49% VW Polo MK6 (2018-) 32 62% 26%
Ford Fiesta MK1 (1976-1983) 42 48% Ford Fiesta MK8 (2017-) 33 61% 25%
Range Rover Classic (1969-1996) 31 69% Range Rover L405 (2012-) 21 86% 25%
Toyota Corolla 3rd Gen (1974-1981) 42 54% Toyota Corolla 12th Gen (2019-) 31 68% 25%
Ford Cortina MKIV (1976-1979) 35 64% Ford Mondeo MKIV (2014-) 27 78% 22%
Vauxhall Cavalier MK1 (1975-1981) 37 64% Vauxhall Insignia B (2017-) 27 79% 24%
BMW 3 Series E21 (1975-1983) 40 61% BMW 3 Series G20 (2019-) 29 75% 23%
Vauxhall Astra MK1 (1979-1984) 38 57% Vauxhall Astra MK7 (2015-) 30 69% 21%
Peugeot 304 (1969-1980) 42 56% Peugeot 308 2nd Gen (2013-) 29 67% 19%
BMW 5 Series E12 (1972-1981) 36 68% BMW 5 Series G30 (2017-) 27 80% 17%
Mercedes 190 (1982-1988) 36 64% Mercedes C-class 4th Gen (2014-) 30 74% 14%
Mercedes W123 (1976-1986) 31 73% Mercedes E-class 5th Gen (2017-) 27 79% 8%
Source: CarGurus (2020)       

Campaigners call for passenger cars to be no wider than 1.9 metres 

T&E wants to see Government intervention to restrict new cars growing in size.

Currently, new models sold in the UK are subject to the same 255cm maximum width as buses and trucks. 

The campaign group has called for a review to be carried out about these rules before Britain’s streets are overcome with excessive vehicles.

It went on to say that the UK’s legislation around vehicle width is still that inherited from pre-Brexit EU rules – and therefore can be reviewed independently by the UK Government. 

It says a mandated width limit for cars – which should also be law for EU markets – should be introduced from 2030 to prevent passenger cars taking up more street space.

Some 3 per cent of new cars sold in the first half of last year were wider than 192.1cm, which T&E said should be set as a new maximum limit. 

Richard Hebditch, director for T&E UK, said: ‘The trend of cars getting wider has been progressing for decades and that trend will continue until the UK sets stricter limits. 

‘Currently we allow new cars to be as wide as trucks. This has meant our roads are now home to big SUVs and American style pick-up trucks that are parking on our footpaths, endangering pedestrians and cyclists and making everyone else on our roads less safe.’

Cycling UK seconded T&E’s approach.

Sarah McMonagle said: ‘We need government action to stop motor manufacturers fuelling our addiction to ever more obese cars. 

‘Bigger cars are not better, they’re less sustainable, make our roads more dangerous, and take up more space, increasing congestion.’

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