Aside from the fact they are located on motorways and A roads, motorway service station car parks are differentiated from private or council-run car parks by specific legislation and rules.

Moto Services, UK

Credit: Pranav -


Motorway service station car parks and the law

Since 1979 motorway service stations must - by law - provide a minimum of two hours’ parking free of charge. In practice, many services offer up to three hours for free.

The minimum two-hour free period applies whether the driver leaves the car or not.

If a driver stays longer than this maximum permitted time, they will be subject to a fee.

Most services charge in 24 hour blocks - so overstaying for a short period can be expensive (usually about £13).

This can be frustrating for motorists who doze off for more than the minimum period.

Fees can help manage parking (which is often in high demand), but their primary reason for being is to increase revenue.

Some service stations allow for parking charges to be paid retrospectively.

Motorway services before 1979

Before 1979 motorway services had no time limit on parking, but they had to alert the police to suspected abandoned cars.

Abuses of unlimited parking led to the introduction of the two hour free parking rule.

Do parking charges apply if I buy food?

You are liable for any extra parking charges no matter what you purchase at the service station.

Are motorway services required to provide parking spaces?

While motorway services are required to have parking available, if all spaces are full, they are under no obligation to ensure you have a parking space.

What about petrol station parking?

Some petrol stations may offer paid parking, which they are entitled to do so long as free parking is available elsewhere in the vicinity.

They may offer this to meet demand if a nearby motorway service station frequently fills up.

How do I know if a service station is very busy?

Most service station operators have websites that state how busy the facility is.

How do I pay for motorway service station parking?

Most service stations offer a variety of ways to pay for parking, including:

  • In person in the service station (often at one of the food providers/shops)
  • A pay machine (at non ANPR sites)
  • By phone
  • Online/using an app

Who runs motorway and A-road service parking?

Most UK service stations are run by one of four companies: Moto, Welcome Break, Roadchef and Extra. They lease units to operators like Costa, McDonalds and WH Smith.

As mentioned, their revenue is boosted by charging for parking (beyond the free minimum period).

They may hire a specialist parking firm to manage their parking.

Is parking free if I’m staying at a hotel at the motorway service station?

You do not normally need to pay for parking if you’ve booked a stay at a hotel on the service station site, but you must register your number plate when you check in.

Parking tickets on car windscreen

Parking Charge Notice vs Penalty Charge Notice

A Parking Charge Notice is handed out by private firms (such as motorway service stations), while a Penalty Charge Notice is given out by councils and the police.

While it is usually advisable to pay a Penalty Charge Notice, you may be able to appeal a private Parking Charge Notice if you have grounds. (Note it is difficult to enforce Parking Charge Notices - see below)

How can I appeal a Parking Charge Notice?

You may be able to appeal a Parking Charge Notice if:

● The rules were not clearly visible
● The service station was gridlocked and you could not leave
● You received the charge more than 14 days after the time of parking
● There was no way to pay

Note: this list is not exhaustive.

How much is a motorway service Parking Charge Notice?

A Parking Charge Notice issued by a motorway service station usually between £60 and £100, with a discount for early payment.

How do they enforce parking rules?

Most motorway service stations enforce their parking rules with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems. These cameras read your number plate and can tell exactly how long you were in the car park.
If you overstay the maximum free period, you may be sent a Parking Charge Notice.

How does the motorway service station get my address?

If a private parking provider is a member of the British Parking Association (BPA) or the Independent Parking Committee (IPC), they can request your address from the DVLA (using your registration).

What if I don’t pay a motorway service station Parking Charge Notice?

A Parking Charge Notice is simply an ‘invitation to pay’ - and is not backed by the law (unlike a police- or council-issued Penalty Charge Notice).

If you do not pay the Parking Charge Notice it’s possible you could be taken to civil court. However, it’s unlikely this would happen due to the small sums involved. But if it does go to court and you lose, you would not be able to pay at the reduced rate and may need to pay other costs.

Note that receiving a Parking Charge Notice is a civil matter - not a criminal one. It is therefore not as serious as a Penalty Charge Notice, which would lead to court proceedings if left unpaid.

It is estimated that around one third of Parking Charge Notices go unpaid.Man asleep in driver seat of car

Can I sleep in my car at a motorway service station?

There are no rules about sleeping in your car, whether in a motorway service station or other parking space. However, you’ll need to be aware of any restrictions (such as the fee charged by services if you park for more than the free period - at least two hours).

Can I park my caravan at a motorway service station overnight?

Yes, you can park your caravan overnight, but you’ll need to pay the applicable fee - usually between £25 and £30.

Do motorway services have disabled parking?

Yes, disabled parking spaces are available in motorway service stations nationwide.

You will need to display a ‘Blue Badge’, signifying you are permitted to use disabled parking.


Find out more on car park rules:

Supermarket Car Park Rules

Retail Car Park Rules