Reversing a Car – The Ultimate Guide

Reversing a car can be so confusing, especially for new drivers. Don’t worry. It just takes a little bit of practice. And we have lots of tips to help you make sense of this whole thing.

Keep reading for many practical tips to help you out when you’re learning to reverse a car, or simply trying to improve this skill.

Tip #1: Shift into Reverse FIRST 

Of course, when you’re about to reverse a car for parking, you would normally check your mirrors and signal your intentions.

Then, the first thing you should always do when you’re about to reverse or park is shift your vehicle into reverse gear.

This sounds obvious, but this is important because:

  • It will active the white, reversing lights on the rear of your vehicle.
  • This alerts other people around you that you plan to reverse.

While cars can’t talk, this is how they ‘say‘ they are in reverse gear.

reversing a car

If you don’t shift into reverse before reversing a car, the people driving behind you might not realize you want to back up.

They might drive too close behind you, maybe making it impossible for you to perform your maneuver.

Say you want to parallel park. If you don’t shift into reverse in a timely fashion, other people might think you are simply planning to turn right.

So, in light of the very obvious fact that we can not normally talk to – or hear – other drivers around us, or read each others’ minds… This is a crucial step to communicate your intent about beginning your reversing adventure. This is necessary because the other road users around you may be affected by your actions.

Do you need to get your ICBC driving record / abstract?

Tip #2: Do Your 360 Degree Check before reversing a car

The second thing you should always do any and every time you shift into reverse, is the 360 degree check. Some people call this a circle check.

reversing circle check

When you’re going to be reversing a car, it’s a lot more difficult to see what is going on around your vehicle as oppose to when you’re going forwards.

This is because when you’re backing up, the rest of your entire vehicle is blocking your view.

Cars commonly reverse in parking lots, driveways, malls.

These are areas where there is a high probability that there will be pedestrians walking, kids, dogs, skateboarders, other people reversing, etc.

So, it’s important to check around your vehicle in a full circle every time immediately before you reverse, especially remembering that people and cars are moving things.

One second there is nothing there, and one moment later, the entire scene can be different.

The idea is to spot any approaching hazards, and be aware of everything that is going on around your vehicle, in a full circle, the moment before you reverse; which minimizes time going by and the situation changing.

reversing a car in the parking lot

If you’re going to reverse to the right or in a straight line, look over your right shoulder when you’re reversing. This is so that you’re looking in the direction your car is going.

When you drive forwards, you look forwards. When you drive backwards, look backwards. so simple.

  • Like, turn your head and look behind you. Looking in the mirror does not count! This is because blind spots are a huge problem when backing up.

In this situation, you should start your 360 degree check from the left to the right.

This means, do a left shoulder check, scan the left mirror, scan the rear-view mirror, scan the right mirror, and then look over the right shoulder to back up.

If you’re going to reverse to the left, it means you’ll be looking left so that you are looking in the direction your car is going. So, you should start your 360 degree check from the right.

This means, do a right shoulder check, scan the right mirror, scan the rear-view mirror, and then look over the left shoulder (most of the time) while reversing.

Tip #3: When You Are Finished Reversing…

As soon as you are finished reversing, always shift out of reverse right away.

Shift into park, or drive, or neutral; something else, anything else, other than reverse.

shift gears when done reversing

Do not stay in reverse gear, while you ponder the universe, check your email or sit in the car waiting for someone.

People have forgotten that they’re in reverse and have accidentally backed up and caused collisions. This is very easy to do and only takes a split second.

This could be particularly devastating if you were in a parking lot where pedestrians were walking behind your vehicle.

Many automatic cars especially, could start moving backwards the instant you remove your foot from the brake.

Make this a habit that you do automatically without thinking.

Tip #4:  Your Seat belt Is Optional

seat belts are optional when driving backwards in british columbia

You’re allowed to remove your seat belt in British Columbia when reversing if it makes things easier for you.

Remember, though, that as soon as you are in a forward gear and moving in a forward fashion again, then you must legally have it on again.

Tip #5:  To Reverse in a Straight Line 

Shift to reverse & perform your 360 degree check.

Place your left hand on the top/middle of the steering wheel (12:30).

backing up in a straight line

Look over your right shoulder through the rear window. Focus on something in the middle of the window, if possible, such as a tree or parked car that is directly in the center of your rear window.

The car goes in the direction you are looking. it’s a real thing.

Proceed at a walking pace.

This is the only time that you are allowed to have only one hand on the steering wheel during the ICBC road test.

Tip #6:  To Reverse to the Right

 Shift to reverse & perform your 360 degree check.

Look over your right shoulder out the rear right window, or wherever you can see the most.

It’s okay to check the front or the mirrors momentarily.

You should use two hands to steer unless or until you’re backing up in a perfectly straight line, as above.

which way to turn the steering wheel?

A lot of new drivers are confused about this, so don’t worry if you are one of them. It’s very simple. Think about it this way: it is the same direction as when you are driving forwards, when you want your car to go rightwards…

If you are driving forwards and you want to turn right, you turn the steering wheel to the right, right?

So, when you are driving in reverse and you want to turn the car backwards and to the right, simply turn the steering wheel to the right.

The exception of course being if you are reversing a trailer. If you’re backing your boat into the water, and you need your boat to go to the left, you need to turn your steering wheel to the right. Which is really confusing and terrible for dyslexic people like me :lol: But we are just talking about the basics here for now.

backing a car to the right

Tip #7:  To Reversing a car to the Left

Shift to reverse & perform your 360 degree check.

Look over your left shoulder most of the time, out whichever left window that you can see the most.

It’s okay to check the front or the mirrors momentarily.

You should use two hands to steer unless or until you’re backing up in a perfectly straight line, as above.

Tip #8:  Don’t go Reversing a car Where it’s Illegal

in beautiful british columbia, it is illegal to reverse into an intersection and on a crosswalk.

British columbia Motor Vehicle Act

193: Caution in backing a vehicle

The driver of a vehicle must not cause the vehicle to move backwards into an intersection or over a crosswalk, and must not in any event or at any place cause a vehicle to move backwards unless the movement can be made in safety.

ICBC Claim centre information

How to get good at backing up

Good things come in 8’s

A common exercise I would get my student drivers to do when I was teaching driving lessons was this: have them reverse in a figure 8 shape. This works better, assuming of course, that you can find a large empty parking lot to practice in.

I know you will never “need” to reverse in a figure 8 shape while on your daily commute to work.

However, this is excellent practice for any new driver. If you can get good at this, then you are coming a long way with the whole backing up thing.

I used to have student drivers reverse in an 8 shape around poles in a parking lot. Of course, you don’t need the poles. But, it does make it easier since you have a marker.

If you are too worried about accidentally crashing into the poles, then you can try without them of course. It’s just hard to envision your 8 for some people. I suppose you could get creative and use some cones or something like that, too.

If you’re having a hard time picturing your 8, simply do a few 8’s going forwards first. That is way easier, and you can learn where your 8 would be for going backwards.

This is a pretty big 8 we are talking about, too. Don’t make it too small. Go big here. This is a lot of steering and can hurt a new driver’s brain, so going big gives you more time to do all of this steering and controlling the vehicle, which is the whole thing we are trying to learn and practice.

Additional reversing exercises for new drivers

Other ways to practice driving backwards is simply by backing to an L shape to the right and to the left. This is easier than driving in a backwards 8 shape. Don’t forget to practice driving backwards in a straight line, too.

This is an excellent exercise as well. Try doing your backwards ‘L’ type shape several times each to the right and left.

All of these crucial exercise help to:

  • teach you about backing, practice your 360 degree check to make it automatic
  • where to look, how much to turn the wheel, etc.
  • get you in the habits of safe backing
  • prepare you for real car parking

Parallel parking & reverse stall parking aren’t actually that different or hard. But they do tend to be a lot more stressful due to the obvious fact of commonly needing to do them with other traffic around. But they are a lot easier if you’ve learned and practiced these fundamental essentials.

Where to find big empty parking lots

These can seem hard to come by sometimes. Check out:

  • Malls when they aren’t crazy
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Church’s (most tend to be empty on days that aren’t Sunday)
  • Walmart, Superstore parking lots

I hope that all made sense.


Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada. She enjoys writing as much as driving, and hopes you have found this website helpful.

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