Reversing a Car – Ultimate Guide + 11 Tips To Stop Confusion


Reversing a car can be so confusing, especially for new drivers. Don’t worry if it’s your first time driving backwards – or forwards – and you are feeling lost. It just takes a little bit of practice. And we have lots of info to help you make sense of this whole thing, including:

  • How to properly start the reversing process
  • Reversing safety protocol and tips
  • Where to look when reversing
  • How to do the 360 check and when
  • Reversing exercises to improve the skill
  • Where it’s illegal to reverse a car

Keep reading for many practical tips to help you out when you’re learning about reversing a car, or simply trying to improve this skill. It’s the necessary foundation to moving on to bigger and more exciting things, such as parallel parking, reverse stall parking, and hill parking. Also be sure to check out which gear to leave your car in when parked.

Tip #1: Shift Into Reverse First 

Of course, when you’re about to go reversing 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 to 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; most are not psychic

Reversing a car: 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.

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. There are blind spots where each and every one of these things can ‘hide.’

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 A Car

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 When Reversing A Car

seat belts are optional when driving backwards in british columbia

You’re allowed to remove your seat belt in beautiful British Columbia when reversing a car 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:  Reversing A Car 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:  Reversing A Car 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 when reversing a car?

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 very terrible for dyslexic people like me. 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
  • if it’s unsafe

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.

https://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96318_05

ICBC Claim centre information

Tip #9: How To Improve Your Reversing Skills

Practice your backing with 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 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.

Tip #10: 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.

Tip #11: 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

Conclusion

Reversing a car is feared by many new drivers. It seems hard enough to drive forwards; how can anyone drive backwards?

However, it really just is a matter of practice; which is kind of the same as the driving forward thing as well.

Taking the time to do these basic backing exercises is worth every second. It makes your life so much easier when the time comes to actually parallel- or reverse-stall-park, or park on a hill and turn your wheels the right (I mean correct) way.

Attempting to parallel or reverse stall park without this important foundation can be one of the most confusing things in the world to a new driver.

It’s recommended to mimic real life as much as possible when practicing your backing and parking skills. Some people can drive quite well, but have never bothered to back up at all. They’re left with the non-fun task of parking and parking and parking, for hours, until they get it, so they can go pass the road test. How annoying is that?

In real life we don’t go to the parking lot and park for an hour. We drive somewhere and then we park once when we get there. Then we drive somewhere else, and park once when we get there. This is just a much easier method on the brain. Just a suggestion.

Carmen

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.

24 thoughts on “Reversing a Car – Ultimate Guide + 11 Tips To Stop Confusion

  1. I appreciate you providing some basic tips on how to reverse a car or park with the back facing the wall. It looks pretty simple indeed, especially that you provided some sample illustrations of the actual demonstration. You talked about the use of the seatbelt as being optional in tip # 4 and I somehow agree with what you said since you’re just backing up your vehicle. I would make sure to follow your advice as they would surely come handy every time I park my vehicle. Thanks.

  2. Hi Carmen,

    Thank you for the tips and explanations on your blog. I appreciate your clarity and level of detail. My N road test is coming up and I keep returning to your site to prepare for it. I took the road test once already in Surrey and failed. The examiner made me parallel park behind a pick up truck twice the size of my vehicle uphill 300 m after leaving the ICBC parking lot on a very busy commercial/industrial street. So much for chill parking on a neighbourood road. Basically, we started driving and 1 minute later she said parallel park right there. Oddly enough I did it correctly and didn’t lollygag and ended up at the perfect distance from the car in front of me and the curb. When I started doing the maneuver and signalled and did my 360 there were no cars behind me. When I was positioned at the 45 degree angle ready to start turning my wheels the other way and get in the spot I noticed that there was a car behind me stopped and waiting for me. As I start moving again, the car starts to pass me. At the same time I stop reversing and the examiner yells at me to stop and let him pass which I was already doing. I didn’t think much about it as I did everything safely including the 360 check and parked correctly. Apparently, she failed me right off the bat – Dangerous Action when reversing. So, my driving instructor doesn’t think I should stop as soon as I see a car behind me and the MVA is pretty vague on this point. Any thoughts? I am so nervous and confused.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi, Sorry to hear about that. It sounds frustrating. I’m not sure what happened there, to me it sounds pretty confusing as to what you did wrong. Technically speaking, people who are driving backwards must yield to people who are driving forwards. So you just have to take each individual case as it comes because some people want to stop and wait for you to park and some people are impatient and they don’t want to wait, and then there’s other people who decide to wait for you but then they change their mind and start moving again, and then you must remember that cars move quickly… So if you did your 360 check, that’s nice, but always remember that things can change in 1/2 second, a car could appear that wasn’t there before and you need to know about it and decide to do whatever thing is SAFE. I hope that helps?

  3. 1. When reversing to the right or left , and not properly into the stall, can I adjust the steering wheel while backing , or I can adjust only move foreward?
    2. Can I adjust my side view mirror down so I can see the parking line before backing? In your 5 steps of reversing , when I can adjust my side view mirror?

    1. Hi! 1) What do you mean?! If your car isn’t properly in the stall and you want to correct it? You can correct it by whichever way you like – forward or backward if that’s what you mean.

      2) Yes for sure. I would say you can adjust them anytime, whenever you need to, as long as you stop the vehicle while you do that and before you reverse again, remember your 360 check.

      1. For the first question: yes , that is what I means. Beacause it is not every time I can directly parking into the stall, may be too close to the left car or the right car so I need to correct it.
        Some people said I can’t correct it while backing, maybe they are wrong.

        1. Hi! I don’t think there’s any rules about it. You do need to correct it. HOW exactly you correct it is up to you!! You can go forwards or backwards, whatever works. As long as you’re safe and do your 360 checks and stuff,… it’s all good.

  4. do u have keep both hands on the wheel when backing up during the road test? or can u keep one hand on the passenger seat? or does that app;y to parrlel parking as well? am about to do my road test
    thnks

    1. Hi, the only time on the road test that having one hand only on the wheel is when you’re driving backwards in a straight line.. if you’re turning the wheel at all then you’re required to use both hands. So when you’re parallel parking you need to use 2 hands except for the parts your steering wheel is straight and your vehicle is going straight backwards (whatever angle it’s on). Hope that made sense.

  5. Hi Carmen,

    I am having a hard time passing my road tests…The 1st time (in Richmond) the guy said I shouldn’t have waited as long for a left hand turn and “gone for it” even though I didn’t see a safe gap and he said thats what failed me. The 2nd time (in Richmond) I thought I was out of the playground zone so I sped up and instant fail… The 3rd time (in Langley) he said I was going to slow at 45km/hour in a 50km/hour zone and I did that 9 times and the limit was 7 so I failed, he said I am a very safe and cautious driver and that I did all my signals, shoulder checks, 360 checks, parking and turns great and that if I had just sped up, I would have passed…The 4th time (in Richmond) I had waited all day for an appointment as I was on the standby list and then finally got an appointment but then I started the test and I was feeling nervous/anxious. The reason I failed was I was waiting to turn left and my light turned orange so I turned to go but then a J-walker ran out and decided to cross in the cross walk when they weren’t supposed to go and I didn’t see them right away so the lady said “woah watch out” and I knew I failed right then and there…

    I am really frustrated because the test and driving is all about different circumstances and being able to react/deal with it. How can I be more aware other than scanning the road every 5 seconds and do you have any tips for me to pass? I have been reading your entire blog and that has really helped, but I am now doubting my skills after failing this many times…Also, not having this license is now effecting my career as I am required to have a license for my new job and without it, I don’t get the job….

    I have a test booked for September 13th in the Richmond location as this was the earliest one to book…Langley, Burnaby, Point Grey, Vancouver, etc. were all in late October and November….

    I do suffer from anxiety and I get intimidated with a male licensor as I am not used to driving alone with a male…I don’t know what to do as I have done multiple driving lessons, lots of practicing and driving to different locations (Hope, Squamish, Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Richmond, Langley…) and I just don’t know what to do…I am starting to doubt myself and getting stuck thinking that I will never get my license…

    And because I live in Richmond, I am getting discouraged as I see all these terrible drivers not using signals, cutting people off, excessively speeding, causing accidents, terrible parking, taking risks at intersections and I wonder how they all got their licenses…

    1. Oh wow that sounds so frustrating. First of all, you aren’t the only one so don’t feel like as though you are because I’ve seen a lot of people fail the road test 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 times because of anxiety. Sometimes it’s good if you just stop trying, I know that sounds really weird but it might work! Do you know what I mean? Like go for the road test but pretend you don’t really care that much if you pass or fail just don’t try too hard, sometimes people try too hard and then it just causes too much stress and then people do strange things. Have you taken some driving lessons with a driving instructor ?? And yes you’re right other drivers do not always set a good example for you so that for sure doesn’t help. Don’t give up you’ll get it!! :)

      1. Thanks Carmen!

        Yeah I have done lessons and they don’t understand why I keep failing but I do drive different with the testers as I get all nervous/anxious.

        I try to just breathe and push the anxiety away but it always creeps up on me right before I start driving for these tests. I get what your saying and I tried that with the Langley one and I just got a strict licensor who didn’t like that I was going 45 in a 50 zone even though I did everything else perfect.

        Thanks again for this great website and replying so quickly. I really hope to pass next time and I’ll keep you updated with my next test. I really want the freedom/responsibility of driving and to just get it done!

        – Kylie

        1. Hey girl, yeah I get that because I have that problem with public speaking, I start to shake and then I think I might fall over even before I have even said one word, haha it sucks. I’m going to try and research how to become less anxious on tests, maybe there’s some secret tips or something. The other driving instructors I saw sometimes said to picture the driving examiner in their underwear. I don’t really get that but maybe it works for some people?! lol, Let me know how it goes and all the best..!!!

  6. when parked between cars how far should I back up before. steering my wheel right or left when getting out of the parking lot

  7. Hi examiner, I was wondering when I’m parallel parking should I put my right hand on the passenger seat or not. Also when I’m parallel parking should I look through the rear window and front windshield or just the rear mirror

    1. You can put your hand there if you want; it’s totally optional. When you’re parallel parking you have to keep checking all the different areas. You need to check the front of your car to make sure it clears the other car, you have to check the mirror to see how close you are from the curb so you can stop before you make contact with it, and also looking over the right shoulder when your car is moving backwards to make sure you’re observing your environment. So in other words keep your eyes and your head moving when parallel parking; if you keep them in the same place the entire time you’re probably going to miss some critical information or possibly be a danger to pedestrians or other vehicles that you don’t know are there.

  8. Hi the examiner ask me to pull over to curb in a short distance, and there is a car ahead (No car behind my car). I found I was too far away to curb. I try to fix it by back to right to curb, and straight the car by backing to left. May I fix it by back straight, and pull over again?

    1. I think as long as you fix it eventually… They are not usually timing you.. Just want to make sure you can pull over and/or fix it like if you were in real life, You wouldn’t want to leave the car too far away from the curb..

  9. Is it neccesary to put my right hand on the other seat to look over my right shoulder through the rear window when backing up straight? I have tried it but my car doesn’t keep straight when I do that so I keep both of my hands in the steering wheel to control it so that I can back up straight but I do look through the rear window but keeping both of my hands on the steering wheel

    1. You don’t have to keep your hand there, no!! It just usually helps to keep the car straight if your hand is on the top of the wheel. But do whatever works for sure, As long as the car is going straight and you are looking in the direction you are going it’s all good.

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