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10 Smart Tactics to Keep Your Car from Getting Nicked and Dinged

The holiday shopping season is here, and while you're bumping arms with other shoppers while reaching for the perfect gift, your car may be getting a few bumps of its own out in the parking lot.

Nicks, dings and scratches are common casualties to cars caused primarily in parking lots; beyond just looking unsightly, when it comes time to sell your vehicle or trade it in, those "little" nicks and dings can significantly reduce the value. The good news is, with just a little foresight on your part, they can largely be avoided.

The runaway shopping cart is every car's nemesis.

Parking lots are actually quite risky, and for more than just the little dings. "People know to be concerned about safety on highways and neighborhood streets, but they forget to be on alert in parking lots," said Bella Dinh-Zarr, Ph.D., AAA's Director of Traffic Safety Policy. "Crashes happen frequently in parking lots and have the potential to be quite dangerous, particularly for pedestrians."

They can be so risky, in fact, that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 20 percent of all collisions resulting in damage claims occur in parking lots. To prevent the crashes, bumps, thuds, nicks and dings, follow these top ten parking lot driving tactics:

  1. Don't park too close to the shopping cart bin. Though you may be tempted (after all, then only one car can park next to you), don't give in. Many people launch shopping carts at the bin with one hand behind their back, without stopping to look where the cart ends up (or what it ricochets off of). Also, if it's windy, carts can easily blow out of the bin and into your car.

  2. If the spot's small, keep going. You know the spot. It's the first in the lane or the closest one by half a block. You hesitate for a moment, then forge ahead, determined to wedge your car into it, no matter how tight a squeeze. This is a surefire way for your car to get bruised as the people parked next to you try to squeeze into their cars. You'll probably get a few bruises yourself when you try squeezing in and out. Remember, just because you can fit "in the yellow lines" doesn't mean you should take the spot.

  3. Park as far out as (safely) possible. As long as it's safe to do so, parking at the far end of the parking lot means lighter traffic, less congestion and lower risk of collision. Plus, a little extra walking could do most all of us some good, particularly during the holidays when you'll be sipping cocoa and savoring sweets more often than usual.

  4. Use side entrances. The main entryways of stores are the most crowded. Look for doors on the sides of the building; there will be fewer cars in the parking lot and more accessible parking spaces.

  5. Look behind you. When backing out of a parking spot, we're used to looking left and right, but don't forget to look directly behind you. A vehicle across the way may be backing out at the same time, or shoppers may be rushing by.

  6. Don't get sandwiched. Going back to the tight spot, avoid parking between two large SUVs, truck or minivans. If you are driving a large car, the space will be too tight. If you are driving a small car, you won't be able to see around the other vehicles while you're backing out.

  7. Use your headlights. Studies show that having your headlights on--even during the day--reduces your risk of a collision. And in certain regions, during the holidays many days are gray and cloudy, so turning on your lights will make your car easier to see for other drivers.

Being the "odd one out" is a good thing when it comes to parking spaces.

  1. Head to the top. If you're in a parking garage, many cars will be circling, looking for the "premium" close spots. You can avoid this frustration, and reduce your risk of collision, by simply heading directly to the top floors. There's likely to be much more space and less traffic, so even if you end up walking a bit farther, you'll be able to park quickly and safely.

  2. Slow down and be choosy. If you're finding that the holidays have you trying to travel at the speed of light, slow down; avoid risky driving just to get to a parking spot first. Just as with your shopping, you should be choosy about where you park: Is there enough space between your vehicle and the ones nearby? Could shopping carts or other debris blow into your vehicle? Is it well-lit and safe? Will you be able to back out of the spot without difficulty? "In general, don't allow the holiday rush to affect your driving, drive slowly, use your turn signal, park in safe areas and practice defensive driving skills at all times," said Sebastian Giordano, chief operating officer of the Top Driver driver education company. "By anticipating the actions of other drivers and pedestrians, you may avoid senseless accidents."

  3. Take public transportation ... or walk. By far, the best way to ensure that your car remains dent- and fender-bender-free is to not drive it at all! If it's available in your area, public transportation is a great choice. If you can, walking is the best choice, as you will also get excersie. Alternatively, some larger shopping areas offer shuttles between stores. This way, you can park your car in an outlying (safe) area, then shuttle between stores without having to worry about finding another parking spot.

Recommended Reading

The Top Six Winter Driving Dangers and How to Handle Them Safely

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Parking Lot Safe Driver Tips

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