Cars are a necessary part of our daily lives, but they can be prone to breakdowns, especially at the most inconvenient times. If you find yourself stranded with a broken-down car in a parking lot, you may wonder if working on your car in that location is legal.
It is generally legal to perform minor maintenance on your vehicle in a parking lot, such as changing a light or fixing a tire. However, it is not advisable to attempt major repairs in a parking lot. Always check the parking lot rules before beginning any car repair or maintenance work.
Of course, local laws may vary, so you should always check your county and state statutes before you attempt to work on your car in a parking lot. Additionally, they may forbid such activities if it’s a private lot. Don’t fret, however. We’ve got solutions for all your common car fixing concerns!
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Here’s a Quick Pro Tip!
If you’re stuck in a parking lot or in a similarly bad situation and need to do emergency repairs on your car, you don’t have a lot of options. This is why you should always carry the supplies needed in case your car breaks down.
Here are three of our must-haves to keep in your car in case of emergency, though we hope you never need to use them!
1. Emergency Car Kit – Contains portable air compressor, jumper cables, a headlight, and more!
2. First Aid Kit – Contains everything you need in case of emergency!
3. Tool Kit – Contains all the tools you need to do minor vehicle repairs!
Where to Work if You Don’t Have a Garage
Whenever possible, you should save your mechanical work for a garage. However, many folks don’t have a garage and don’t want to pay a mechanic to do things they can do themselves for way less.
So, how do you work on your car if you don’t have a garage? You don’t want to take up space on the street or in a parking lot, but there aren’t many other options. In some places, you can do minor repair work in your driveway.
However, check your local statutes (and with your HOA if applicable!) Many small cities have rules against doing major car repairs in your driveway.
Additionally, check your lease to ensure you can do work in your driveway if you rent your home.
If you don’t have a garage or a driveway where you can perform maintenance on your car, it can be very tempting to use public spaces, like parking lots, to do so. But, unfortunately, it’s not always safe or legal to do so.
For example, if you try to work on your car in a busy lot, you may run into issues if you need to get underneath your car, as people cannot see you when you’re lying down looking underneath.
If you have an emergency situation, such as a flat tire, and you cannot move your vehicle, you don’t have a lot of options.
Also, remember, just because it’s a parking lot doesn’t mean it’s public property. Many parking lots and garages are privately owned and operated.
These private lots have insurance and regulations to follow, and they may frown on you working on your car on their property.
Rent a Space to Work on Your Car
Did you know that in many cities, you can rent a garage space? While we don’t recommend attempting to work on your car in a storage unit, or other unauthorized space, there’s nothing wrong with renting a garage!
If you live close to a trade school or college, you can also touch base with them about their space. Sometimes, when classes aren’t in session, schools will rent or allow the use of their space and equipment for minimal fees!
This is also a great alternative for someone who lives in an apartment and who doesn’t have a garage to work from.
While some apartment complexes may be okay with you working on your car in their parking lot, many write clauses prohibiting that kind of work into their leases.
They may prohibit you from working on your car in their parking lot because it’s a liability and because it’s unsightly and often takes up more than one parking space.
Additionally, there is no room to keep your tools and equipment.
What Are Friends For?
If you don’t have access to a usable garage, or you don’t want to spend the money to rent one, consider asking a friend or family member.
While it might be a bit humbling, offering to buy a pizza in exchange for the use of a garage and tools can be a good deal!
If pizza isn’t a good enough incentive for your friends and family, offer to bring your own tools. If you use their equipment, clean up after yourself and leave the place nicer than you found it!
Where Not to Work on a Car
Now that we’ve discussed some appropriate places to work on a car, let’s talk about where and when you should NOT work on your car.
After all, you want to be safe and follow the law, right?
Let’s start by talking a bit more about parking lots. One common question is whether or not it’s okay to work on your car in the Walmart parking lot.
Can I Work On My Car in the Walmart Parking Lot?
Walmart is pretty low on my personal list of places where I want to be stuck due to a malfunctioning car. That being said, if it’s an easy fix, Walmart is actually a pretty desirable location to be stuck.
If your car has a flat tire or other issues that you’ll be able to fix immediately, start by talking to the store manager and letting them know what’s going on.
As long as you’re not being a hazard or disrespectful to employees or customers, odds are they’ll let you fix your car and be on your way.
Plus, they probably have most of the tools you’ll need to get the job done!
Though, just in case you aren’t fortunate enough to end up at a Walmart or similar business when your car breaks down, it’s always wise to carry an emergency kit in your car!
Can I Work On My Car at Night?
Another frequently asked question is whether or not it’s safe or legal to work on your car at night. You should only work on your car at night if you have a safe, well-lit place to do so.
Attempting to work on your car at night in a dimly lit parking lot or on the side of the road should be avoided as much as possible.
If your tire goes flat and you need to replace it, that’s one thing, but don’t attempt to perform major repairs at night.
However, if you have a usable garage or other space inside to work on your car, that’s a different story as long as you have bright lights.
But, if you are using your driveway to do these repairs, remember your neighbors and don’t do loud work late at night!
When is it Appropriate to Work on a Car in a Parking Lot?
Shops and businesses rarely allow you to do major repairs in their parking lot, as it’s typically considered a liability. However, some auto repair shops do allow minor repairs to be performed in their parking lot areas.
It’s time to talk about what parking lots allow you to work on your car in them. Luckily, many auto parts stores, including AutoZone and other similar places, typically allow you to perform minor repairs in their parking lots.
How To Be a Good Customer
This, however, does not mean you can rebuild your engine or do other major repairs in their parking lots. Try to limit these repairs to under an hour, and ensure you are not taking up extra space.
Additionally, always ensure you are not leaving hazards in their parking lot that other customers may run into. This includes yourself. Always make sure you have room to work without endangering yourself or others.
Here are some quick fixes that are appropriate for performing in an AutoZone parking lot:
- Checking oil levels.
- Checking windshield fluid levels.
- Topping off fluids such as windshield wiper fluid, oil, or power steering fluid.
- Changing a spark plug.
- Changing a head or tail light.
- Repairing a flat tire.
- Changing a flat tire.
- Changing a windshield wiper blade.
Who Should Be Working on the Car
Before we wrap up for the day, we’d be remiss not to talk about what kinds of repair work you should feel confident doing yourself versus what kinds of work should only be done by a qualified mechanic.
You can work on your car without mechanic qualifications, though there are only so many things you can do or fix without proper training, and I don’t mean watching a YouTube video!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned many things from YouTube, but I wouldn’t try to rebuild an engine after watching one video, and you probably shouldn’t, either.
When to Leave It to the Professionals
Even though you can do these minor repairs without taking professional mechanics courses, you’ll still need to leave the big jobs to a qualified professional.
Home care doesn’t take the place of a yearly inspection (if your state requires them.)
If your state doesn’t require inspections, it’s still wise to have someone certified look at your car if you’re noticing knocking noises or other issues that you don’t feel comfortable diagnosing yourself.
You might also enjoy our post on Can You Work on a Car in a Storage Unit?
Sometimes emergencies happen, and pulling into a parking lot and trying to fix it are your only options. For example, if you’ve got a flat tire, it’s only safe to pull over. In these scenarios, if you’re comfortable doing a minor repair on your own, do it.
If the store is open, it’s wise to pop in and ask to speak to a manager. Inform them that you have a flat tire (or whatever the issue is) and that you’ll be repairing it as quickly as possible and get out of their way.
That way, the store is informed, and you won’t get in trouble for doing work in their lot.
If the store isn’t open, or if it’s dark outside, make sure to keep your hazard lights on to inform anyone who might be driving that you are stuck while you’re making the repairs.
However, if the repair is more serious in nature, you need to find a better space to work on your car. When possible, rent or borrow a garage space. If you doubt your ability to fix the problem, go to a certified mechanic to fix your car.
Hopefully, you’re never in a situation where you are stuck in a parking lot with a broken car, but if it does happen, I hope this article helps you have what you need in order to get it fixed quickly!