How To: Parallel Parking
Parallel parking for some reason has a bad rep. But it really is not something to get wound up about and it can be nearly perfected with practice. There is no need to drive around the block 15 times looking for a ‘pull through’ or ‘pull over’ spot in order to avoid parallel parking! Learning it is not that bad.
The thing is, experienced drivers just do it, and when it comes time to teach someone else how, we are often at a loss for words. What are we actually doing when we parallel park? Do we even know? Hopefully these tips can give a rough guideline, even if they can’t teach a new driver exactly what to do down to an exact science; driving has always been much more of an art and the most important thing is to simply keep practicing.
1. Make sure to be familiar with the basics of reversing a car in a straight line, and to the left and right (and better yet, reversing in a U-turn shape and a Figure 8). If someone has not learned the basics of simple reversing of a car, then learning how to parallel park is going to be highly confusing; or it will be learned out of memorization without actually knowing how to properly do it and correct it if necessary. Read a bit about the basics of backing here.
Start with Calm
2. Start in a quiet residential neighbourhood and practice using one car only, so that you are parallel parking behind one car with nothing behind you. This is a lot less stressful than trying to park between two cars, even though that is the whole point of parallel parking (Baby steps, baby steps people). Starting with one allows you to practice without the stress, and benefits the driver, the co-pilot as well as someone’s shiny, expensive Mercedes that may be behind you otherwise.
When you do park between vehicles, make sure you have a reasonable amount of space between them; i.e. 1 and 1/2 car lengths.
The Other Vehicles
3. Make sure the car that you are parking behind is properly parked. Since you’re using this vehicle as a guideline, if it is crooked or on a weird angle, or very far away from the curb, then it’s likely you will also be too far from the curb or crooked when you are finished; and it may also be more difficult to correct it. A properly parked vehicle should be straight and within 30 cm/1 foot away from the curb. Sure, this may be no problem for the skilled, experienced driver. But for a new driver this is just a big headache.
4. Assess the size of the vehicle parked as well as your own. If you pick a vehicle the same size as yours, it may be simple to parallel park. If you, in turn park behind a Smart Car or a Ford F350 pick up truck, you will have to make adjustments as necessary. (I.e. you will not back up on a straight line as much for a Smart Car, and perhaps a little or a lot extra for a Ford F350 – see below). Quite simply if you start in a position farther away from the curb, you will have to get your vehicle that much closer so that it’s properly parked. If you start from a position relatively close to the curb, then you may not need much ‘getting closer’ at all.
5. Signal early and check your rear-view mirror; make sure if there is a vehicle behind you that it understands what you are planning to do and is not going to rear-end you! Watch the vehicle behind to see what they’re going to do. They will either wait patiently, or they will go around you. If they go around, stay stopped until they are gone because the front of your vehicle will swing into the lane once you start moving.
6. Some people say that you can line up your side-view mirror with the side-view mirror of the other vehicle. This might work and is a good rough guideline; but the main point here is to try and line up your rear-wheels with the rear bumper of the other vehicle. If you line up the mirrors, your rear wheels may be well in front of the rear bumper on the other vehicle and this may lead the front of your car to be much too close to the other vehicle’s rear when you start moving depending on the size of the vehicles.
If you look at your car from the outside, and draw an imaginary line from the rear wheels up to the window where you can see when sitting in the driver’s seat, does it line up with something? If you’re so inclined you could even put a small sticker at the point so you know where it is. In other words, from the drivers seat if you look over your right shoulder and you know that the rear-wheels are located directly below the small triangle window that your vehicle has in the back seat, then this can be helpful.
Otherwise, you must guess when the rear wheels are lined up with the rear bumper. Also, make sure the vehicles are sort of close, but not too close that you knock off the side-mirror of the other vehicles as those mirrors have feelings just like people do. Usually, aim for an arms-length. Again, this is art and not science. Do not get too technical. You do not need to bring a measuring stick.
Arms length between the vehicles
7. Shift into reverse to activate your vehicle’s white reversing lights and then do your 360 check to make sure there are no other road users who may be potentially planning to move into the same place as you, such as pedestrians, cyclists, or other vehicles about to reverse from a driveway or lane. Since you should be looking over your right shoulder for the most of this, you should start your 360 check with a left shoulder check and then do a complete scan of all mirrors and areas from left to right, and then continue looking right for your procedure.
360 degree check
8. Turn your steering wheel to the right with two hands, preferably quickly with the vehicle moving slowly as to not dry steer. You should be looking mostly over your right shoulder. You want the back of your car to go rightwards, so you turn your wheel to the right (unless we are talking about reversing a boat into the water, and that is of course a whole other story.) Usually, you should turn your wheel about one full circle, or maybe a bit more.
Keep the car moving
9. Hold the steering wheel at that place and let the car move slowly backwards until the vehicle is on about a 45 degree angle. This can be hard for new drivers to guess and I really don’t have any magical tips for this. It is about half way between being straight – the point at which you started from – and being on a 90 degree angle which would have you pointing directly at the house or building on the side of the road beside where you are parking. When you are on that angle, you must return the steering wheel to the straight position. So, if you turned it one circle to the right, this means you must turn it one circle to the left, so that the tires are now pointed straight ahead, but the vehicle is on the 45 degree angle.
Straighten the Steering Wheel
10. Let the car reverse in a straight line while on this angle for approximately one meter.You should be still looking mostly over your right shoulder; this time you can have one hand at 12:00 ish since you’re going on a straight line. Again, this amount may differ depending on the size of the vehicles. Some people have used guidelines for this but I have found they do not necessarily always work depending on the size of your vehicle. What I do personally is look in my right side-view mirror. In that mirror you can see perhaps a bit of the side of your own car, and a bit of the sidewalk, and then you can see a triangular-shaped chunk of the roadway. When you can no longer see the triangular shaped chunk of road – that is all you see is the side of your vehicle and the edge of the sidewalk or the edge of the roadway, then that is a perfect time to turn left. I know that might make no sense and I will try to make a video about this sometime soon. For the meantime don’t worry about it and just do your best. Practice is the main thing that will improve this skill, just like any other.
Go straight back
Look over right shoulder (most of the time)
11. Turn the wheel quickly to the left with two hands all the way at this point, with the vehicle moving slowly. If you turn the wheel to the left, but not enough, then you will probably get too close or hit the curb, so make sure it is turned swiftly and all the way.
12. Check and see how it looks in your right-side-view mirror. Since it is not very classy to wait until you hit the curb to determine that you have hit the curb, try to look carefully in the mirror and stop before you hit the curb if it looks like that is about to happen.
13. If all looks good, then let the car keep rolling backwards and hold the wheel where it is until the car is straight and parallel with the curb (again using the right side-view mirror as well as looking ahead and looking behind over your shoulder for safety). Make sure you stop when the car is parallel; if you keep going, you will hit the curb with the front tires since they are turned all the way to the left. If it looks good, then you can move the vehicle forward and straighten the wheels if you like, although there is no law that says you have to do this. Generally you want your car to be equally between the car in front and the car behind so that all vehicles can exit the parking spots as easily as possible and vehicles are not getting blocked in.
14. If it looks like you’re too close to the curb, then you can correct this easily. Simply move the vehicle back onto the 45 degree angle and then straighten the tires. This time, turn left earlier/sooner than you did the first time and the vehicle should now fit into the space.
Probably easier is to simply move the vehicle into a forward gear and turn right all the way (this is a lot of steering but is probably the easier way of correcting it as long as you have enough room in front of you, which you should if you have followed #6 above. This will get the front end of the car into the spot and then you can simply reverse a bit to leave some room in front of you.
15. If you have the opposite problem – you turn left and complete your parallel parking only to find that your car is too far away from the curb, then don’t panic. You can correct this problem without doing the whole entire thing over again. What you need to do is pull out and get the car onto the 45 degree angle again and then get the tires straight again. Then, reverse on that angle for a bit longer than you did the first time, and then turn left; and it should work out much better.
16. Make very minor adjustments when you are making corrections because it is easy to over-correct.
Helpful Comment from a Reader:
- John Smith below 2 years ago. Very close but slightly different to the method I learned. This advice was given by a world champion racing driver from Scotland many years ago and works for any length of vehicle.
- I used to work for a very large Provincial phone company in BC as a driver of a 6500 kg.. truck.
- First you arrive at the space you intend to park in and bring your vehicle to a stop, beside the space between the 2 other vehicles, and you make sure your vehicle can fit the space plus some extra at both ends.
- You then pull forward until the back of your vehicle is level with the back of the other vehicle, but not too close sideways (arms length)
- You then begin your reversing right turn carefully past the front vehicle and using your mirrors (only when experienced) sight down the left side of your vehicle using your left mirror until you can see the right marker light of the vehicle behind you.
- At this point you begin to turn the steering wheel fairly quickly the other way(left) in order to bring the front of your vehicle past the front vehicle (not too closely- do not hit) and into the space.
- At this point you can sight the right kerb in your right mirror and straighten out and stop your vehicle before hitting the one behind.
- If you are not perfectly parallel with the kerb you can make some quick corrections within the length of your space without the need to start all over again unless you badly misjudged the space.
- Truck drivers cannot see through windows and have only their mirrors to guide them.
- Trust me – with very little practice this works like a charm and served me well in over 45 years of professional driving.
Thank you Gordon for this helpful info!!
Many moons ago, Carmen became an ICBC-approved driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, and has spent many years working with new and experienced drivers around the lower mainland. She can be found reading the Motor Vehicle Act for fun while receiving strange looks from others. May the quest for great driving continue!
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