Parking lots can be small, with just parking spaces for a few vehicles, very large with spaces for thousands of vehicles, or any size in between. Small parking lots are usually near buildings for small businesses or a few apartments, although many other locations are possible. Larger parking lots can be for larger businesses or those with many customers, institutions such as schools, churches, offices, or hospitals, museums or other tourist attractions, rest areas, strip malls, or larger apartment buildings.
In many congested areas where some businesses lack their own parking areas, there are parking lots where practically any driver can pay a fee to park. These types of parking lots are often effectively businesses in themselves. Some parking lots have parking meters into which coins must be paid to park in the adjacent space.
The area in parking lots is organized into parking spaces, which are generally marked with paint lines for each vehicle and driving lanes in between so that vehicles can drive into and out of the spaces. The arrangement of the parking spaces relative to the driving lanes can feature perpendicular parking spaces, angle parking (most common in North America, especially in large lots), or parallel parking (least common in parking lots, and usually only for a few spaces), or possibly some combination of these.
Most spaces in normal parking lots available to the public are sized for vehicles about the size of a car. The spaces are usually arranged assuming the vehicle can back out of the parking space. In many rest areas on highways, long parking spaces are also available for trucks or other vehicles with trailers, into which they can enter at one end and leave at the opposite end to avoid potentially cumbersome reverse driving.
A common arrangement in paid parking lots is to have a vehicle entry point with a cross gate where an entering driver presses a button to take a stub with the entry time and to open the cross gate for access to the lot. When leaving, the driver would pay at an exit point according to how much time was spent in the lot as determined from the stub.
In response the worldwide intelligent transport system initiative, Parking Guidance and Information systems have been developed for use in urban areas. These systems use variable-message signs to direct drivers to car parks with available spaces.
Many drivers prefer underground car parking over outdoor parking because it prevents the inside of the car from heating up on hot or sunny days and it also prevents the car from being wet on rainy days.
Much of the above discussion also applies to large parking garages and multi-level parking areas.