Parking charges made councils a £565m profit last year, according to the RAC foundation.
The surplus was up from the previous year, prompting local government secretary Eric Pickles to wade in and demand councils "rein in" their "unfair rules".
The figures are the combined surplus from on and off-street parking charges.
Most of the top earners were from London, and just 52 (14%) of the 359 councils reported a deficit on their parking operations in 2011/12.
The RAC Foundation said the data, produced for the foundation by transport consultant David Leibling, came from the annual returns that councils made to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Even after capital charges - money councils put in to replace infrastructure - are taken into account, the combined surplus in 2011/12 was still £412 million.
The authority with the biggest surplus before capital charges was Westminster Council in London, which made a surplus of £41.6 million in 2011/12.
Second, with a surplus of £28.1 million, was Kensington and Chelsea in London, with the north London council of Camden in third place with £25 million.
Only Brighton and Hove and Cornwall councils broke into a top 10 dominated by London authorities.
The surplus figures come just days after a judge declared that Barnet Council in north London had acted illegally in
setting parking charges to raise revenue.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "For many local authorities, parking charges are a nice little earner, especially in London.
"Not all authorities make big sums. Several run a current account deficit and indeed of those with surpluses many will see the money vanish when capital expenditure is taken into account.
"But the bottom line is that hundreds of millions of pounds are being contributed annually to council coffers through parking charges ."
Councillor Peter Box, the chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board, said: "Parking revenue is spent on paying for parking services. Any money left over goes towards transport services like filling
potholes, concessionary travel, park and rides, street lights and road improvement projects.
"As the (RAC Foundation) report makes clear, many councils have to subsidise parking services as the cost is not covered by charges.
"Parking charges and fines help councils keep traffic flowing and pedestrians and motorists safe. They also help keep the roads clear for emergency services and business deliveries, and ensure that people can park near their homes or local shops."
The RAC figures came a day after the Department for Communities and Local Government published English local authority revenue and expenditure plans for 2013/14.
These figures showed that English councils expect that net income on parking services (off-street and on-street parking) was expected to increase from £601 million in 2012/13 to £635 million in 2013/14.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: "This £635 million municipal parking profit shows why we need to review and rein in unfair town hall parking rules.
"This Government has scrapped the last administration's Whitehall rules which told councils to hike up parking charges and adopt aggressive parking enforcement. But councils aren't listening, and local shops and hard-working families are suffering as a result. The law is clear that parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers."
Councillor Daniel Astaire, Westminster City Council cabinet member for business, said: "If we stay in this Jurassic Age of pure rhetoric about cash cows and money making, innovation will be stifled and we cannot engage with motorists properly in order to find the best solutions that will benefit everyone."