How To: Parallel Parking

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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. You don’t need to avoid parallel parking!

Learning it is not that bad.

Experienced drivers just do it. 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. Maybe they can’t teach a new driver exactly what to do down to an exact science.

But, driving has always been much more of an art (just my opinion) and the most important thing is to simply keep practicing.

parallel parking: Basics First

Make sure to be familiar with the basics of reversing a car. Back up in a straight line, and to the left and right. Better yet, reverse in a U-turn shape and a Figure 8.

Learning how to parallel park is going to be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the basics.

Learning out of memorization without actually knowing how to properly do it and correct it if necessary… won’t help anyone.

Read a bit about the basics of backing here.

parallel parking: Start with Calm

Start in a quiet residential neighborhood. Practice using one car only. So, you are parallel parking behind one car with nothing behind you.

This is a lot less stressful than trying to park between two cars. Of course, that is the whole point of parallel parking. But, baby steps, baby steps people.

Starting with one allows you to practice without the stress. And, it benefits the driver… the co-pilot.. as well as someone’s shiny, expensive Mercedes that may be behind you otherwise.

parallel parking: Adequate Space

When you do park between vehicles, make sure you have a reasonable amount of space between them. A reasonable space is 1 and 1/2 car lengths.

parallel parking: The Other Vehicles

Make sure the car that you are parking behind is properly parked.

Since you’re using this vehicle as a guideline, make sure it’s a good one. If it is crooked, on a weird angle, or very far away from the curb, then it may be difficult.

It’s likely you will also be too far from the curb or crooked when you are finished. 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.

parallel parking

parallel parking: Assess

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 park behind a Smart Car or Ford F350 pick up truck, you will need to make adjustments.

For example, 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.

Quite simply…

…if you start farther from the curb, you still need to get your vehicle close to the curb.

…if you start closer to the curb, then you won’t need to spend a lot of time getting closer still.

Am I making any sense? I can only wonder.

parallel parking Signal

Signal early and check your rear-view mirror.

Make sure – if there is a vehicle behind – that the driver understands what you are planning to do. This helps to make sure it 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.

This is important because the front of your vehicle will swing into the lane once you start moving.

parallel parking Guidelines

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. However, the main point here is to:

…try and line up your rear-wheels with the rear bumper of the other vehicle.

When you line up the mirrors, your rear wheels might be well in front of the rear bumper on the other vehicle.

This may lead the front of your car to be much too close to the other vehicle’s rear when you start moving.

Of course, it is all depending on the size of the vehicles.

Look at your car from the outside. 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?

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.

You don’t want to 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.

parallel parking tips

Arms length between the vehicles

when parallel parking

how to park the car
all you need is love

Moving backwards – parallel parking

Shift into reverse to activate your vehicle’s white reversing lights. 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. Examples are 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. 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 when parallel parking

360 check when parallel parking

Turning

Turn your steering wheel to the right with two hands. Preferably, do this 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.

Usually, you should turn your wheel about one full circle, or maybe a bit more.

parallel parking tips

Turn Right

Backing to the Right

Keep the car moving

Hold the steering wheel at that place. 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 and being on a 90 degree angle.

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.

The tires are now pointed straight ahead, but the vehicle is on the 45 degree angle.

Straighten the Steering Wheel

parking the car

Turn Left

parallel parking for beginners

Go Backwards

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. It depends 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. Then, you can see a triangular-shaped chunk of the roadway.

When you can no longer see the triangular shaped chunk of road – so, 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

driving backwards

Look over right shoulder (most of the time)

look backwards when driving backwards

Turn Left

Turn the wheel quickly to the left with two hands all the way. The vehicle should be 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.

parallel parking

Turn Left

turn steering wheel

Check

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,…

…try to look carefully in the mirror and stop before you hit the curb if it looks like that is about to happen.

If all looks good, then let the car keep rolling backwards and hold the wheel where it is. Hold 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. This way, all vehicles can exit the parking spots as easily as possible and vehicles are not getting blocked in.

Corrections

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.

OR

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. This works as long as you have enough room in front of you. You should if you have followed the instructions.

This will get the front end of the car into the spot. Then you can simply reverse a bit to leave some room in front of you.

If you have the opposite problem – 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. 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.

correcting your parking

Make very minor adjustments when you are making corrections because it is easy to over-correct.

fixing your parking
how to reverse a car

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!

How to Parallel Park: 10 Ridiculously Easy Parallel Parking Steps


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24 thoughts on “How To: Parallel Parking”

  1. 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. P.S. I would love to pass on my skills as a driving instructor if someone will hire me. Carmen, I would love to work with you and I really like your blog – Best driving tips I’ve seen yet !

  2. Hello
    would you Please help me with the followings ?

    … Arms length between the vehicles ( 2 feets ) .. while read in different texts 1meters ( almost 3 feets and half ) .. the reason if for any reasons the other vehicl door would be open .. nothing gonna happen )

    8. …. Usually, you should turn your wheel about one full circle, or maybe a bit more. .. Do you mean the wheel ? or steering wheel ???

    9. 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.

    Should not it be Half a Circle ??? ( as it was it first One Full Circle ?? )

    Do you suggest bringing mirrors down ??

    Thanks

    1. Hey Hey

      This is always hard to describe especially since when most experienced drivers do this parallel parking (this includes myself…) we just “DO IT.” We don’t even think about any of these steps, really. So these are just tips which aim to help brand new drivers hopefully get the general concept or idea.. It is not like a math or science where it will always work or not work, as there are so many variables and things, so don’t hurt yourself thinking about this too much, but anyway:

      Arms length between vehicles: This is a general guideline that makes it easier to park. If you are farther and farther away from the car you’re parking behind, then you’ll run into problems when your front end swings out when you back up (Your front bumper or front of your car will go over the wrong side of the road possibly being dangerous and getting close to oncoming traffic and/or traffic in the adjacent lane going the same direction as you and/or if you’re on a narrow street it will run into the parked car on the other side of the road, possibly. )

      In addition, you still need to have your car parked “properly” within 30 cm of the curb by the time you are done. So, the farther you start away from the curb, the longer you’ll have to reverse in order to get your car in the right spot. If you start closer to the car in the first place, then you don’t have to go back as far until you’re done, which leaves less time and space going by, which is always recommended for safety reasons.

      IF there’s someone sitting in the car you’re going behind, likely they will see you, but if they don’t, don’t be afraid to tap the horn very friendly/light just to let them know there is a car there, so they don’t open the door into you. However I have found if you pull very close people do tend to notice, it’s like there’s a shark creeping up on you from JAWS and you can kind of see this shadow lurking in the background; at which point most people hesitate to open the door because they are now afraid of being eaten by the shark, naturally.

      8) I mean steering wheel. Again, for some people it works if they turn their wheel a bit more or less than this general guideline.

      9) For this tip I was trying to say that if you turn the wheel a certain amount (whatever that may be, one circle or half a circle/ rotation of the steering wheel) then you do need to turn the wheel in the opposite direction in the same exact amount that you originally turned it, once your car is on the desired angle, from the “straight” position (when the tires on the car were straight and not turned, so that if you were going in a straight line you would keep going in a straight line and not turn one way or the other at all)… So if you turned it one circle, and then got your car on the angle, then you should turn it the opposite direction one circle to get the tires straight. This helps because if you’re too far from the curb, you can then proceed in a straight line (on your angle.. i.e. the car is on an angle but the TIRES and Steering Wheel are “Straight”) This allows you to go in a straight line and get your car closer to the curb, without the wheel turned. If the wheel was not straight, then you could not go back in a straight line and what would happen is you might either be too far away from the curb when you are done OR your car might be too close to the car in front and you may not be able to clear it.

      Sorry that is totally confusing! Hope you can make some sense of it. It is on my list of things to do to make some new Videos this year very soon and this will be one of the first ones. 🙂 Let me know if that helps.. lol

      1. Thank you for your Answer

        and how about

        Do you suggest bringing mirrors down ?

        If the answer is NO, then Why ?

        1. I think this is a personal choice. You can if you find it helpful. After all, that is why cars have mirrors, for you to look in them!!! Some fancy cars automatically tilt the side mirrors down whenever you put it into reverse. You can totally change them if you find it is helpful. I find personally it is helpful as I can’t always see the lines if I don’t adjust the mirrors down a bit. This is normal because most people when driving around don’t look in the mirrors in order to see road lines; we are looking for other cars and other road users mostly!! Hope that makes sense 🙂

  3. Tri today , was too far from curb when finished 🙁 . Out road is narrow , before it comes to 45 degrees , car’s front wheels hits the opposite side curb . How tackle this ?

  4. I used to have a lot of problems hitting the curb with my back tyre when I was learning. I’ve always found it very difficult to judge the distance you are from the curb. Even now after many years I still find myself too close (scraping the wheels) or too far. Have you any tips on judging your distance from the curb.

  5. Hi. I’ve been practicing parallel parking and there are two poles (one in front and back, both positioned in the middle) and I’ve gotten used to it. I thought the place where i’m taking the test would have it the same way cause someone told me but when I went to check it out, one pole was on the corner (like representing the corner of a car) but i’m so used to the poles both being in the middle, will this mess me up for my parallel parking test?

    Does it matter where the poles are? I’ve used the pole as a reference point to when to start turning (when the pole is in the little window space in the back)
    But I don’t know if the positioning will make me turn earlier into the spot or not. Will this affect my parking in any way?

    1. I am not sure, why don’t you practice with real cars since that is the whole purpose of learning parallel parking anyway?? If you’ve been practicing a lot then it can’t be that different to use real cars. Give it a go…!!

      1. Because its just for my test. And I don’t want to hit a car just practicing for something that’s not really used in my area :/

  6. after you get the car at a 45 degree angle (which is still hard for me to figure out) when you’re about to turn left, why do you say reverse straight a little bit before turning left? i shouldn’t turn left after i get the 45 degree angle?

    also, so we turn left, we turn the wheel all the way until its locked or stop?
    the person thats teaching me tells me to turn it slow and you say go fast, but me turning it slow might be the problem i keep hitting the curb 🙁

    1. The reason to go back in a straight line is to get the car closer to the curb, but this will depend on the size of the vehicles, if you’re driving a small car you might not have to go straight back, you might just turn left right away and it will work.
      Remember the speed of the steering wheel and the speed of the car are 2 different things! If you’re steering “fast” but the car is stopped your car will make a tighter turn, if your steering is slow and the car is moving fast, then your car might be moving too fast for the steering and the car would hit the curb. SO… just keep practicing!! If you keep hitting the curb it might be because you are going back too far before turning OR you are on an angle that is too much of an angle. Try using a lesser angle and play with the amount that you go back. good luck!

  7. What if you park a foot behind a car….my friend failed and te instructor said it was too close and a dangerous act, failing her right there….is that aloud?

    1. Hmm if you get so close that the examiner perceives you’re about to hit the car and they then have to warn you or stop you physically or verbally then they can consider that a dangerous action, and you can automatically fail a road test for any dangerous action. you have to stop before you give the examiner a heart attack/panic attack, even though stopping 1 foot away from a car is not technically dangerous now is it? the thing is they don’t really know how close you’re going to get before you stop, and they really don’t want to let you keep going until you make contact with the other car in the interest of obvious reasons, so it’s your job to make it very obvious that you’re being safe and not getting too close to other vehicles while parking.

  8. this is how i parallel park and i never had a problem. i pass the front car just a bit until my right side mirror passes the
    front bumper. i reverse and once my car is even with the other car
    bumper i turn all the way to the right and i look behind. once i can’t see
    the car right lights with my right back light bumper i turn the
    steering wheel once to the left and then i look at my right mirror and
    then i judge when i am close to the curb. you will need to practice in a
    parking lot learning how close you are to the curb with your right
    mirror. then i turn all the way to the left and i look
    at my left mirror and once you look at your left mirror you will have
    to learn when its at its closest to the the car front bumper. practice in a parking
    lot. have a friend tell you when you are at the closest to the other car
    front bumper and then study the mirror distance and remember it and
    then you will know how close you are. mirrors are tricky because they
    seem like you are about to hit something but in reality you have more
    space so its important to study your mirror distance when you are at its
    closest to the car back bumper. in a tight space its done the same but
    the difference is once you have done the 3 steps you will have to go
    forward and turn all the way to the right and then go backwards and turn
    all the way to the left and repeat this until you are in the tight spot

    1. Not necessarily; there are different degrees of ‘hitting the curb.’ If you hit the wrong pedal and drive over the sidewalk then that’s obviously a dangerous loss of control. But if you just gently tap the curb with the tire I can not see why anybody would fail for that (it’s not illegal, it’s not necessarily dangerous) I once had a student hit the curb and the hubcap fell off and she had to get out and pick it up and put it in the back of the car, and she still passed because the rest of her driving was quite good. So I don’t think there’s a yes/or black/white answer. It depends on how hard you hit the curb. OF course it’s better if you use your mirrors and stop the car before it touches the curb 😉

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