How To Never Pay For Parking At Shopping Centres Again

How To Never Pay For Parking At Shopping Centres Again

Most large shopping centres offer free indoor parking for the first two to three hours, followed by a gradually rising fee. If you’ve just spent a bunch of money in their complex and don’t particularly want to fork out a gratuity for the privilege, here’s a simple hack that will raise the boom gate for free.

Boom gate picture from Shutterstock

All you need to do is bend the magnetic stripe on your parking card — the machine will still suck it in but wont be able to read it. Nine times out of 10, the parking staff will just open the boom gate rather than walk all the way over to your machine. This goes double if there are other vehicles queuing up behind you. The hack works best in complexes with large footprints such as Westfield, as the staff are spread pretty thin. You’re welcome.

This post is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Knowing evil means knowing how to beat it, so you can use your sinister powers for good. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page.


  • Could this be considered fraud? they own the land, they are offering their land as a service for you to park your car in at a price. i’m not against this life hack, but it just sounds dodgy.

    • In Victoria this would be considered obtain property/financial advance by deception under the Crimes Act. So the answer to your question is yes.
      People get done all the time for tricking the parking barriers with all sorts of methods.

  • Most Westfield centres use number plate scanners now. These are designed to stop people from constantly re-entering the car park to get around the 3 hour limit.

    However, they also use them for damaged/lost ticket scenarios. Don’t be surprised if they tell you exactly when you came in.

    • It works perfectly fine at Westfield Penrith. (Erm, if Westfield’s parking officers are reading, I wasn’t the one driving. Honest.)

    • Most Westfield centres use number plate scanners now. These are designed to stop people from constantly re-entering the car park to get around the 3 hour limit.

      While this is true, I don’t think they can actually do anything about it once you drive off for the final time that day. They aren’t the police or RTA, they can’t legally look up your license plate on a database and send you an infringement notice or anything.

      If they catch you re-entering during the day, then they can possibly put a letter under your windscreen wiper, but I haven’t heard of any shopping centres that do even that.

      • Private companies can look up your license plate to send you parking infringements, they need to pay for it, but they can do it (and they just add the fee to your parking “fine”).

        • They can send you a bill. It isn’t a fine, it’s contract law.

          And you don’t automatically have to pay it because they say so. And probably shouldn’t, because they are dicks who specialise in tricking the ignorant with official-looking ‘fines’.

          • I think compensation under a valid contract voluntarily entered into (which to save time the law has explicitly dealt with entering a car park and whether that is deemed agreement to an offer blah blah it is a contract if you don’t leave immediately) is a much more legitimate thing to pay than some government fine.

            The only reason I pay government fines is because they have the power to hurt me if I don’t. I uphold my end of contracts because I consider it the act of a virtuous person and virtue ethics guides my moral positions.

      • What shopping centres do with these license plate scanner is check the last time you entered.
        So if you do drive out then come back in again you are not entitled to the free parking, they start you at the rate after the free parking.

    • hm… I went twice to get away from 3 hours parking limit with the plate scanner… never got busted.

    • hm… I went twice to get away from 3 hours parking limit with the plate scanner… never got busted.

      I am sure in our right to get out and back in withing 3 hours period is ok. You are still moving your car for others to park.

  • I can’t actually remember the last time I stayed past the free 3 hours or whatever, but I can remember a couple of times I lost the ticket.

    Lets see, should I pay the $20-$30 lost ticket fee for my 2 hours of parking? Or tailgate another car out the boomgate, which rises again thinking I’m a trailer or similar?

    I’ll take the tailgate option 🙂

      • That’s why I carry a toolbox in my car. For boomgates and bodies – I mean boomgates….

      • Yeah, you should totally move to the country or the outer west because you save three bucks on parking at Westfield.

        • Canberra centre don’t let them into the multistories for free do they? I thought they were full length. Easy enough to park outside though around civic.

          • Ahh yeah I think you are right but I more meant that there were plenty of options (the outside and alley parks). Good clarification though, Canberra Centre car parks aren’t like Westfield Woden etc.

      • $3 here, $3 there, toll roads, waiting around, packed beaches, it all adds up. I’ll stick with where I am, about 2hrs south of Sydney.

        Actually, you’re right, best people stay in the city and have all those fees, more room for us down here.

  • Here’s a nice life tip: Don’t get so riled up about having to pay for parking at a shopping centre.

    A little secret: they don’t have to build parking complexes next to shopping centres, they just choose to to make it easier for people, it’s what they call a ‘service’. Services cost money. Also building, maintaining and running those car parks cost money.

    What’s more, you’re renting that space. Renting costs money.

    • Actually planning requirements normally require a minimum amount of parking based on the expected volume of visitors to a complex (this applies to shops, churches, kindgartens, etc). Funnily enough doesn’t seem to apply to train stations that are woefully underprovided for in parking spaces.

      Personally, I can’t see why anyone would want to spend that length of time in a shopping centre.

      • Personally, I can’t see why anyone would want to spend that length of time in a shopping centre.

        Two words: Movie marathons

          • There used to be a time when you could extend your free parking period for an hour or so if you show your movie ticket, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore in any shopping centre I’ve been in recently. It was only a short extension, not a pass to unlimited free parking.

      • While usually true, there’s not any universal mandate for them to provide parking, it’s negotiated along with their planning approval. Sometimes councils will take more money on the theory they can use that to greater effect than the local community could use the free parking.

        An especially interesting topic given the fact that while they are allowed to have people park on their land – they generally have no real authority to enforce fines in any way unless your local government has deemed otherwise (in which case they are giving legal authority over you to private companies – get out fast).

        In reality, these places make such ridiculous amounts of money that they should really just buck up and do it. I’m in WA and I have to say though that we have absolutely nothing like this here that i’ve seen thankfully.

    • Actually, its in their interests to make it easier for their customers. Making shopping more accessible means more people will come. We come to buy stuff not to pay for parking. We would probably buy more or spend more time there if we didnt have to pay for parking. Paying for parking is an easy way of getting more people in the centre in a short a time as possible IMO.

  • Paid parking exists because of commuters. The only shopping centres that have it (in QLD anyway), are ones that have a huge bus station next to it, that has a 50-car carpark. That’s why 3 hours is free, 5 hours is only about $2, but all day costs $20. If the council provided sufficient parking at their public transport hubs, all would be good.

    • Haha as someone who lives in Perth I both feel like i’m winning for once with this statement.. and losing that it’s probably only because Perth has nowhere worth going anyway..

    • Not so fast : – It’s the thin edge of the sedge, and it’s not the only one in Perth…

      It’s already started in Perth, and Wilsons are quite happy to tell Shopping Centres how much they’ll increase their revenue if the Shopping Centre pays Wilsons to manage the car park…

      Yes, the large centres in the Perth suburbs are still free – for now – but once the centres see a profit in it, that’ll change very quick, and small centres like this are the testing/proving/demonstration sites. You may not visit this particular centre, but enough people do.

      Also, you think people are going to stop going because they charge after 5 hours – think again, you may not, but enough other people will… Then it’ll be charged after 4 hours, then 3…

      • I haven’t stepped foot in a shopping centre in almost 2 years. I do everything online and if the centres commit to charging for parking then more people will just change to this way of operating. The people who will lose out are the minor retailers who make the majority of their business by people randomly walking past rather than a dedicated intent to shop there specifically.

  • Worked in Westfield shopping centers for 6+ years and in other jobs which required me to pay for parking my car in the 4 years since, have never paid for parking!

    When I’m at Westfield shopping in my own time and go over the 3 hours, I would (and have) pay the overtime fee.

    If I’m parking my car at a car park to go work for 8 hours and pay 35% tax on my wages and feed the unemployed bums via Centrelink, and they want to charge me anything over $2 a day, they can suck a fat d……..

    Employees at any level should have access to free parking.
    Or at least CHEAP parking.

    • Employees at universities need to pay for parking. Any employee in the CBD or most in the inner suburbs have to pay for parking. So do a lot of others. It’s not uncommon.

  • I’m pretty sure Westfields (at Penrith at least), if you’ve spent over a certain amount in store (I can’t remember the figure… it might be $200) allow you to go to the concierge desk, show the receipts and have your ticket validated for all day parking.

    On a related note – what’s the rules regarding literally putting fine print of conditions of entry at the boom gate? If someone actually tried to read it (at least 10 points in quite small font) they’d be there for a few minutes and I can’t imagine cars behind them will be too pleased. I have no idea what the fine print is actually saying (at least they put the prices in larger print!)

      • They also used to extend your 3 hours free parking to 4 hours if you showed a movie ticket, but pretty sure that’s been discontinued now too.

      • Yeah movie ticket deal stopped ages ago unfortunately, the $200 thing has certainly worked in more recent memory but could easily have been discontinued and I jUST hadn’t heard about i – I havent had a need for it in the last year.

  • If you pull on the ticket hard as it is printed (depending on the machine) , you can get an extra ticket printed at that time and give it for a friend.

  • The reason the public shopping centres were built in their locations was for the purpose of commuters. The big shopping centres before Westfield purchased them got the rights to build a shopping centre on the land because it would allow commuters a place to park. Initially it was designed to help commuters, not the paid parking is costing retail staff, commuters and shoppers. Giving the hugely profitable retail giant an extra 6 millions dollars per year.

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