How to Parallel Park…Like a Man!

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 6, 2011 · 99 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

Picture this scenario.

It’s Friday night and Mr. Suburbia is driving downtown to the big city with Judy on a first date to catch a 7PM off-Broadway performance of Guys and Dolls. He’s running a bit late.

“I hope I can find a parking spot near the theater or else we’ll miss the start of the show,” he thinks to himself.

He drives by the performing arts center desperately scanning for an empty parking space. He spots one next to the curb right in front of the theater. But to Mr. Suburbia’s dismay, it’s nestled between two other cars.

“Oh, sweet baby Frank Sinatra on a stick…I’ll have to parallel park,” Mr. Suburbia thinks.

His palms get sweaty. Mr. Suburbia knows he stinks at parallel parking. It just isn’t something he has to do out in the suburbs with its vast expanses of near-empty parking lots.

Mr. Suburbia has a choice. Attempt to parallel park and risk being the guy that holds up traffic for 20 minutes while trying over and over again to back into the spot, consequently embarrassing Judy, or drive around a few more blocks hoping to find a spot that he can handle pulling into. Either way, he and Judy will be late for the show.

Mr. Suburbia keeps driving.

___________________

I’ll admit it. I’m Mr. Suburbia. I suck at parallel parking. I just don’t need to do it here in the Tulsa suburbs. I didn’t even have to do it in order to get my license when I was 16–the Oklahoma DMV removed it as a requirement before I took the test (it was recently brought back).

But it’s quite a useful skill in a pinch. Whenever I head downtown I usually need to parallel park and my lack of practice is quickly made apparent.

After a cringe-worthy attempt at parallel parking the other day, I decided it was time I brush up on this essential driving skill. So I pinged my former driver’s ed teacher, Scott Merkley at Merkley’s Driving School to give me a quick refresher.

How to Parallel Park

parallel parking diagram

Note: The steps below are for parking on the right side of the street. Reverse them for a space on the left.

1. Signal a right turn and drive up next to the car in front of your parking space so that you’re evenly lined up with that car, with 2-4 feet between the cars.

2. Put the car in reverse and slowly drive backwards until your rear bumper passes the rear bumper of the car in front of your space.

3. When you reach this point, turn the steering wheel all the way to the right. Continue slowly rolling in reverse. Aim the rear of your car towards the right rear corner of your space.

4. When your car gets to a 45 degree angle in relation to the car in front of you, turn the steering wheel one revolution to the left to straighten the tires. Continue backing up at this angle until your right front bumper just clears the left rear bumper of the front car.

5. Quickly turn the wheel all the way to left and roll backwards until you are behind the vehicle.

6. Straighten the wheel and center the car. Put the car in park.

7. Don’t forget to pay the parking meter. Do a little jig.

Scott suggests finding parallel parking spaces without any adjacent cars nearby in order to practice. If you can’t find any empty parallel parking spaces, make your own in an empty parking lot.

“With 10 minutes of practice, anybody can master parallel parking,” says Scott. There’s hope for Mr. Suburbia’s everywhere.

Are you a master parallel parker or does having to parallel park make your palms get sweaty? Did you have to parallel park to get your driver’s license? Share your parallel parking stories with us in the comments.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak. Copyright McKay & Slampyak

{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt Reeder October 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I’m hardly a model parallel parker, but I can usually get close on the first try, but have to wiggle the car 6 inches or so on towards or away from the curb so I’m in the right spot left-right after pulling in. That being said, I’ve always enjoyed telling my parallel parking story.

I’m a small car guy. I just like ‘em, and think they’re fun to drive. Up until my twins were born, I never owned anything bigger than a compact. Enough background. I went up to Chicago with a bunch of friends for New Years a few years back. My buddy had rented a Dodge Magnum, and my wife and I rode up with he and his wife. One day we were up there, “the girls” wanted to go to Michigan Avenue, and my buddy was cathing up with some high school friends, so I went along with my wife and a couple of her close friends for an afternoon of shopping. After driving into the center of Chicago, we actually managed to find a vacant parking spot along the side of the road (as nobody wanted to pay for parking in that area). So, my wife’s best friend, who had been driving, pulls the car up along the side of the spot and everyone in the car turns to me and ask “Can you parallel park?” So we did a Chinese fire drill right there on the side of the road, and I try to parallel park this monstrosity of a car, that had to be twice as long as my Civic with a teensy tiny window at the back, into the open space. And I nailed it! +2 man ponts for me. And yes, I still get to tease her about it.

2 Adam October 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I just got my CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) three months ago, and part of the test is to parallel park a commercial vehicle. After learning to parallel park one of those beasts, I am confident in my parallel parking abilities!

3 Wilson October 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I think one of the main elements to parallel parking well is knowing the body of the car you’re driving. That is, you know where your rear-wheels are, your bumpers, etc, in relation to the curb and cars around you. That’s how it is for me anyway. I can parallel park my Civic pretty well since I have a good sense of how much distance I have around my car, but give me another car I’m unfamiliar with, and it might be a little sloppy.

4 Kevin October 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

On a first date, I was running just-on-time to make the show we were going to, and had to parallel park. on a steep hill, with a stick shift. nailed it first time, and just barely got to the show on time. Had I been worse at parallel parking, we wouldn’t have made it. Definitely a worthwhile skill. Another time, I had about 10 seconds to parallel park in downtown DC rushhour before holding up traffic and nailed it. Parallel parking is a very valuable skill…

Some cars are just easier to parallel park too. You might have to practice, especially on cars with a longer wheelbase. A good sense of spatial perception helps too.

5 Library Desk Graffiti October 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I’m city-folk and have to parallel park in front of the house so it’d be embarrassing if I couldn’t do it. In my opinion trucks are actually easier than a lot of cars since you have a very stark visual of where the back end is. With sloping trunks/roofs/rear windows, it can be somewhat of an optical illusion in a car. Finding a spot big enough to fit your truck is a whole other story though.

6 Rob October 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Living in the city you either learn to parallel well (and more importantly quickly) or you start forking over the $5-30 a day to park in a lot.

While I would agree that everyone should learn this skill, in my experience most people who are unfamiliar with a city shold probably suck it up and pay for a spot. My reasons are the following;

1)Tend to underestimate the time/difficulty of actually finding an available street spot and the likely distance away from the desired location they will have to go
2) Do not know the location well enough to know where to look
3) With fees on metered parking going up (we know have up to $5/hr here) lot spots are becoming more competitively prices.
4) Most urban parking has some kind of regulation (ie. time of day, time of year, maximum time, etc) and I have seen tons of people unwittingly doom their car to a $50+ ticket.

7 Evan October 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

In my experience, there are usually two mistakes people make that result in an unsuccessful attempt to parallel park: 1) Skip #4 above. Straightening out is essential, and most people go from turning the wheels all the way one direction to all the way the other, which hardly ever works. The way I learned is that you should straighten the wheels once the middle of the vehicle passes the rear bumper of the vehicle in front. 2) Overestimate the amount of space needed in front or behind. Most people are afraid to get to close to the vehicle behind them, thinking that their rear end is bigger than it really is (the vehicle’s that is). Don’t be afraid to touch the vehicle behind or in front of your with your bumpers (just go really slowly). Overall, I also agree with Wilson’s comment that you have to know your vehicle well, especially when looking for the appropriate spot. If you are driving a small car, be courteous to others with bigger vehicles and park in a smaller spot (if one is available).

8 Michael October 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Parallel parking was a required skill to pass drivers education “back in my day,” so I’ve always been confident in my parking ability. Years ago, when I used to meet my now-wife on dates, I’d show up early and park, then she would show up, hand me the keys and have me parallel park her car. It was the equivalent of holding the door open for her.

Now she drives an F-150. I’m not sure I’ve had to parallel park that beast.

9 Joe October 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Back when I got my license, parallel parking was part of the driver’s test. In order to pass, I had to parallel park my Dad’s 1965 Chrysler Newport. Once I mastered that beast, it was easy.

10 Horse October 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Texas made me retake my driving test because I was a day late getting my license there because I did not know you had to have inspections, insurance papers, DNA samples, etc.

Anyway I was asked to parallel park. I told her this was the first time I was going to do so with this beast and it was. A 4 door long bed truck that takes a flagman and 2 tug boats to turn. Points deducted for being too far from the curb but otherwise perfect. Points added back when I bet the trooper weather or not she could do it better. Perfect score.

Parallel park same truck with a 40ft stock trailer. Yes. That good.

11 Michael October 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

I have never had to parallel park, as I have been able to find other spaces, however, there have been many times where it would have been useful. Its one of those skills that I want to learn (they didn’t even cover it in driver’s ed)…this article has given me a good starting point!

12 Shane October 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Well, I at least used to be a master of parallel parking, maybe not so much anymore as I don’t do it that often now. But when I was in high school, I had a stick shift 4-wheel drive truck, little Chevy S-10, I miss that truck sometimes! Anyways, the student parking lot was small, and you had to get there at the butt-crack of dawn to get a spot, all others had to park on the side of the road. And by the time I would arrive, the only road side spots left were the ones on the side of a hill (my high school was on the side of a hill). So I had to learn to parallel on the side of a hill with a stick shift… I got good, fast. I could see a spot, know whether or not my vehicle would fit or not, and get in in a perfect three point park or less. While in college I stayed sharp cause the closest spots to my housing were parallel parking spots that would always be a tight squeeze. Alas, the last few years I haven’t had to parallel park anywhere too often, and so have become somewhat rusty.

13 McCoy October 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

A tip:

A good way to know when to turn the wheels all the way to the other side once the rear of your car is getting in, is to look to your left door mirror. You should do it when both headlights of the car behind are in view within the mirror. Give it a try! ;)

14 Eric October 6, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I certainly earned my manliness a few times over the summer.

I spent a lot of time with this new girl, and she drove her parents little Yaris. (I’m just in college, and living on my own. No car for me). Every time we came to a spot where we had to park, I always ended up taking the wheel, because she couldn’t handle reverse or parallel parking.

The sad part to the story is her dad is a driving instructor…

15 Josh Knowles October 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Good advice here already. Not much I can add, other than to agree that the straightening out midway through the park is crucial if you want to get close to the curb. Oh, and if you want to be able to do this for real, do it with a manual transmission vehicle, on an icy street in the winter.

16 Doc October 6, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I live downtown so I have to parallel park everyday. All I can add is if you happen to get stuck behind a rookie parker, stay calm and lay off the horn. That’s not going to get them in the spot any faster.

17 Ray October 6, 2011 at 7:45 pm

In Spain it is mandatory to do street paralell parking to get the licence. Mine was specially tough: in a heavy downslope street with a double curb parking spot (the parking space was higher than the road but lower than the pavement), so when going in you didn’t know if you were doing alright or hitting the curb, a problem because if the wheel goes over the pavement you fail the test. And by the way, automatic cars are a rare sight in Europe, in fact I have never driven one… adding that the car was fully loaded (examinator, my teacher, 2 other guys that would get tested after me, and me driving) I think that car seat still smells of my sweat from that day!

18 Bryan October 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

When learning to parallel park, I did it in my neighborhood and used the family garbage and recycle cans as the “cars” between which I had to park. My little piece of Northern California, a town called Petaluma, didn’t require me to demonstrate the skill in order to receive my license.

19 René October 6, 2011 at 8:46 pm

In Germany it is mandatory to perfom a parallel parking during your license test. It sure is needed in the crowded streets of Europe.

20 R J Vincent October 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I had to parallel park to get my license back in high school (mid-1970′s) and have become a master at it. I’ve gotten into spots where friends didn’t think I could. One skill I learned when driving ambulances was how to drive my mirrors. You have zero rear visibility so you need to know how to use your mirrors to back up safely. I use that skill when parallel parking and backing up into my driveway, which we share with our downstairs and next door neighbors. A big part of parallel parking, which was pointed out already is knowing where your fenders and bumpers are. Being familiar with the dimensions of your car is a big part of it.

21 Elena October 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I also had to parallel park to get my license—it’s standard in Ontario. I don’t own a car and rarely drive (as I live downtown) so I find it trickier to parallel park, since on the rare occasions I rent cars I don’t have much of a chance to get familiarized with the size of them. Yet I manage to do just fine.
My strategy is always just to take my time— even if I have an audience, even if I’m kind of blocking the street a bit. I find it easier to go slow on the first try and get it right, rather than rush it, have to go for a second (and third, and fourth) attempt and get flustered.

22 MIke October 6, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Most of that illustration is ok. The easiest way to park is to use the mirror and aim the left rear of your vehicle towards the front rear of the person behind you. If you were lined up first with that illustration then the rest is easy.
Used to drive OTR. I was showing off to a female driver instructor and parked a Peterbuilt with a 48/102 trailer. First try and doubt if I could ever do it again.

23 annon October 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm

i had to parallel park on my test, but i totally messed it up. luckilly, i still passed.

24 Justin October 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I live in New York and parallel park everyday. If you pull up beside the car in front of your desired spot (your mirror between their mirror and door-handle), the following wheel moves (almost) never fail:

-1 full revolution of the wheel to the right. Reverse until your bumper is barely over the curb.
-3 full revolutions of the wheel to the left. Continue to reverse until you are parallel to the curb.
-2 revolutions of the wheel to the right. Drive forward until you’re perfectly in between the two cars.

1-3-2. Works like 99% of the time.

25 Peter October 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I have to admit, parallel parking kind of terrifies me, and luckily I’ve never had to do it. But I think that I would feel a little bit more confident now, after reading the article and commments.

26 caleb October 7, 2011 at 12:14 am

That was close to correct. The main point that was in error was the amount to turn the wheel – for most cars, you turn the wheel one full turn. For some cars (like the Hyundais I use every day as a driving instructor), it ends up being about 1 1/4 turns.

Turning the car all the way will not only run you into one of the other cars, but it will damage your power steering pump. Not the worst thing to replace, but totally unecessary damage. Like turning your wheels if you are not moving – unecessary damage with easy avoidance.

Mirrors work great for lining up, but only if a similar sized car. Bumpers are most reliable, but more difficult.

27 Mike D. October 7, 2011 at 12:51 am

Yeah I stink at this as well, in my defense I do drive a half ton Chevy pick up, I had to parallel park on my driver’s ed test which basically involved pulled over to the side of the road since there was no parked cars on that street for about four blocks, so I really appreciate the chance for the refresher.

28 Mike October 7, 2011 at 3:23 am

I’ve been driving trucks since I was sixteen. Never cars. So after being in the Army for 5 years I got married and needed something smaller. I bought a Sebring. Well I have been trying to learn to parallel park this little bastard for months and I cant do it. Though if I have to park my ’90 Jimmy that is lifted, I can do it without thinking twice about the matter. Trucks of any kind I am fine with. Even U-Hual box trucks. But a car is just impossible for me.

29 Jim October 7, 2011 at 4:39 am

I was taught by my driving instructor to pull up alongside the vehicle in front, about half way down the side with about a doors width in between the cars.

Reverse, and when you see the rear lights of the car beside you in your back left window (British here, I think you yanks would be using your right one!) turn the wheel all the to the left until you hit a 45 degree angle then straighten up you wheels.

At this point it’s important to keep an eye on your left (right for those over the pond!) wing mirror because as you back up a triangle should appear between the curb, your car and the mirror. The second that triangle disappears is when your lock your wheel right and straighten up your vehicle alongside the curb! This took me…

Two tries to master, after I got my wing mirror set up correctly!

Warning!

Do not use the vehicle in front or behind you as a reference for what is straight! They might suck at parking too and will just throw your parking out!

30 Ross Mc October 7, 2011 at 7:26 am

Parallel parking is a requirement on the UK driving test. If an 17 year old British guy can’t put his arm behind the passenger seat and slide the car into place, 6 inches from the kerb, on the first go and with the stereo blaring, then he’s unlikley to impress any ladies and will probably die alone. At least that’s how we thought it worked, back in the day!

That stands you in good stead to park nearly anything though, from a tiny hatchback right up to a high-sided LGV.

31 Nate October 7, 2011 at 7:38 am

Going to school at an urban college helped me hone my parallel parking skills. I remember riding with people who used to use the “braille” parking technique. Not pretty.

32 Dave M October 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

I’m like Horse, grew up driving 4dr dually pickups, pulling stock trailers. My Dad ran heavy equipment & made me learn to back with the mirrors (He wouldn’t let me look out the back window). When I got my lic. I had to put a 15′ long truck into a 17′ space, I was sweating bullets, but I nailed it. The examiner was impressed that I did it. That skill has served several times over the years. I’ve PP’d comercial trucks, Ambulances, Fire trucks, RV’s, and 40′ trailers. That ability has even helped me to get a job in the past, plus it never fails to get a few “Manliness points”. It’s a skill worth learning and worth teaching your kids (Daughters included).

I recently got a laugh after my daughter had to PP downtown because her boyfriend botched it!

33 Westicles October 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

Been living in Philly for years and park like a champ. I owe it all (suprisingly) to Maxim magazine. They had a special “how to” article a few years ago about parallel parking. It works PERFECT every time.

- Line up your front wheel with that of the car you will be parking behind 6-12 inches away from the car
- reverse
- when your front wheel becomes alighned with the rear of the other car, crank the wheel and keep going in reverse
- once your car is at a 45 degree angle w/ the curb, crank the wheel the other way and glide the rest of your car into the space

34 Daren Redekopp October 7, 2011 at 9:14 am

Perfect. Now if I could only figure out how to do this with a cool head in a Grand Caravan with a pregnant wife and screaming kids.

35 Jim Langer October 7, 2011 at 9:23 am

In the city I’ve had to do an “urban parrell pakring” as if you try to pull up to park here, you’ll often find two cars right on you and you can’t back up.
This method isn’t pretty and you need a small car to do it. When you see an empty parking space, don’t pull up alongisde it, Simply “dive” into it front end first, and wiggle your way in going back and forth until you’re close enough to the curb. Again you need a smallish car, no way will you be able to do this in a big truck, but when you need a parking spot and you’re in rush hour traffic sometimes it’s the only way to get that spot.
When I can I do use the traditional method though. I find having a hatchback immensely easier as it’s pretty easy to judge where your back end is.

36 Darren October 7, 2011 at 10:15 am

A little trick I learned in my Million + miles on the road as a truck driver:

Most cars have power mirrors these days. Simply aim the passenger side mirror down enough to see your right rear tire. This will allow you to see how close you are to the curb. Even my wife can parallel park using this method…and she was previously terrified of maneuvering our full-size SUV.

My biggest backing accomplishment was blind side backing a tractor trailer across 4 lanes of traffic during rush hour in Chicago. As you can imagine there were other drivers, dock workers and plenty of spectators around so the pressure was on. I nailed it in one shot. Yes, there was a little swagger in my step as I walked to the receiving office…

37 Grant Mulkey October 7, 2011 at 10:20 am

I had to parallel park to get my driver’s license, but my teacher (who was also my evaluator) never taught me. He just told me what to do, and when. It wasn’t a necessary skill in small-town Kansas. Consequently, I didn’t really learn to parallel park until I was in college helping a friend of mine (an international student from Hong Kong) practice to get his license. I realized that in order to teach him, I had to be able to do it myself. In that case, teaching was the best way for me to learn.

Now I live in the DC metropolitan area, and parallel parking is a way of life. I find myself in situations probably four days a week that require me to parallel park, so I’ve become quite adept at it. Additionally, I drive a MINI Cooper, probably the easiest car to parallel park (with the exception of a smart car). I’ve squeezed my car into spaces that were maybe only 6″ longer than the car itself. The only problem I run into occasionally is that my turning radius is so tight when I crank the wheel all the way to the right, sometimes I come into the spot too steep and have to pull out to try again.

It definitely is a useful skill. And I’ve actually used it to avoid being late to the theater!

38 Andrew October 7, 2011 at 10:22 am

I learned to parallel park in college. That was the only way I could park relatively close to my dorm. It was a choice of either walking a quarter of a mile or parallel parking. Parallel parked a pickup truck, with a stick shift, on a hill, in traffic, while raining.

Probably the most useful thing I learned in college, honestly.

39 Curtis October 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

I drive a bus for a university, and I spent a lot of time preparing for the Commercial Drivers License test just learning to parallel park. I’m grateful for the patience and dedication of my trainer, because I feel like I can parallel park almost anything now. I also live in an urban neighborhood so this skill has translated to all areas of my life. It’s easy to take this skill for granted.

40 Kurt October 7, 2011 at 11:45 am

I learned basically the above technique when I was a limo driver, but simpler: you don’t have to calculate angles. After a few times you don’t have to do it very slowly, either. You just slam the car in there. Works just as well with a stretch limo as with a compact. I used to drive forty different cars with different anatomy.
1) Don’t look over your shoulder. Use your outer mirrors only.
2) Reverse straight back, looking in your right mirror, until your rear wheels (not your bumper) are level with the other car’s bumper. Then turn your steering wheel fully to the right. (The “safety spot” on your car in a turn is just in front of you rear wheels driving forward, just behind them reversing. Either way, using your rear wheel as the swivel point, you’ll have a safety margin.)
3) Your right side is now safe. Forget about it and concentrate on your left mirror. Keep turning until the license plate of the car behind — or the spot where it should be — turns up in your mirror. Half of it is enough. That’s when you turn your steering wheel as much as it takes to set your front wheels straight.
4) Keep reversing straight back until your front bumper is clear of the car in front. Then turn you steering wheel fully to the left, and keep turning until you are parallel to the curb.
If you are a pro and on even ground, you’ll then turn your front wheels straight, before switching off the engine.

41 Jethro October 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

Parallel parking is one of my superpowers, and I use it regularly to impress my passengers. Things I see people do wrong most often? Not turn the wheel enough when backing up; not pulling forward far enough before starting their back-up; and turning the wheel back too soon. The vast majority of drivers have NO idea where their bumpers actually are, and are scared to get too close to the other vehicles. Those stupid backup cameras don’t help (although I admit they compensate for a lot of drivers’ lack of skill).

I think part of the reason for peoples’ lack of confidence in parking is that they don’t practise in a safe environment. Do the garbage can thing on a secluded or empty parking lot, and get an idea of how far from your eyes your bumpers are. Figure out what the turning radius of your vehicle is (this helps a lot when deciding whether or not to pull a U-turn in a busy street!), and get used to cranking the wheel all the way over when making tight maneuvers. The other important part of the equation is acceleration: knowing how to edge forward or backward gently is a good skill to have, so you don’t jerk the vehicle.

I made my kids drive over empty pop cans so they would get used to knowing exactly where their tires are in relation to the vehicle. This skill saves a LOT of cringing when approaching potholes!

42 Bryn October 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I got my licence this year (18), and parallel parking was part of the test. Isn’t in the same over there in the USA?

43 Thomas October 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I did not have to parallel park to get my license back in 2000. My driving instructor did, however, teach me how to parallel park so that I could know how to. His method of teaching was almost idential to the instructions you give in your post. That said, I nailed my first parallel parking job right away and have been pretty go at it ever since. Sure, there are times where you get distracted and need to take a second try, but those have been few and far between.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking parallel parking experience I had was when I was driving my wife’s Dodge Grand Caravan with my inlaws riding in the back seats. The parking spot was maybe two feet longer than the van and it was on a steep down grade, so I was having to back up the hill while trying to parallel park. I nailed that one — first try — too, but my palms were definiltely a little sweaty.

Happy Friday!

44 Joseph October 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Awesome. I should be taking my Driver’s Test within the month. This is a great article to have.

45 rory October 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I didn’t read the comments but another tip that is not mentioned in the article is knowing when to cut the wheel back after are getting in the spot. If you look in your rear-view mirror when you are doing it, there will be a point where the car behind you is gone from the mirror. When that happens stop the car, cut the wheel the other way and you should just slip into the spot with a minor adjustment.

46 Sean October 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

When I was learning to drive and preparing for the big test I was really mad at my old man because he didn’t take me to practice parallel parking until the evening before the test. Nerve racking. When the actual test came I kept hitting the curb with my back tire prematurely before ‘correcting’ and straightening the car out. I was sure he’d fail me for that but he was understanding I suppose and passed me the first time. Probably if I had been living in a city it would have been a different story. ;) Thanks for the refresher.

47 Seth Millican October 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

One of the best ways to address this is to learn to drive in the biggest car you can find. I was glad my Dad made me do it because turns out my wife learned to drive in a Ford F150 and was great at parallel parking. If I’d not been able to parallel park, not sure she’d have ever let me live it down!

48 Tom Sawyer October 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm

A true test of manliness! This should be a pass/fail component of every driving test!

49 Kerry Teeth October 7, 2011 at 11:36 pm

As a native New Jerseyan, mastering this skill has been an absolute must, given the sheer number of drivers and lack of parking spots (not to mention the abundance of narrow roadways in and around the town where I was reared). It’s a simple skill, really, but I can understand how some folks would have difficulty acquiring it if they reside in an area where the roads have been built wide, and parking is ample (I recently relocated to the suburbs of Detroit, and my new home is an asphalt playground for poor parking-jobs). The people of the Motor City seem to have virtually no concept of parallel parking.

50 Buck October 8, 2011 at 12:44 am

A small correction: I was one of the Oklahoma kids (I’m 20) who had to take the parallel parking test. It counted for very little at the time, and they’ve actually taken it back out already.

51 Bob October 8, 2011 at 5:38 am

Thanks for another good article!

Remember that the local conventions for parallel parking vary. Find out what the locals say. In some locals it is ok to touch bumpers with the car in front or behind.That is not the case where I live. To touch someone’s car here would place you squarely in the dim category and if noted by the owners could cause a scene.

52 Brian October 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Seriously, why is this not required on the driving test anymore?

Another Mr. Suburbia here. I’m 36 years old and had no clue how to attempt parallel parking until I read this post. My parents even paid for me to go to a private driving instructor (b-day missed the school cutoff that year) and the guy didn’t bother spending 15 minutes to show me how to park.

Thanks so much for this post. Think I might have to go find an empty parking lot and do some practicing this weekend.

And thanks to Jethro for this suggestion in the comments: “I made my kids drive over empty pop cans so they would get used to knowing exactly where their tires are in relation to the vehicle. This skill saves a LOT of cringing when approaching potholes!”

That’s such a simple thing, but I never would have thought of it. The roads around here are terrible, so maybe that’ll save my car some abuse.

53 Ryan October 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Another great article. I was required to parallel park for my drivers test, which was comprised of lines and barrels. Should I have crossed over a line or bump one of the barrels, I would have immediately failed the test. Thanks to driver’s ed courses and lots of practice in an empty parking lot with my father, I passed both the written and drivers test on the first try. I believe this should be an essential part of the driver’s test and a skill every man should have – just like knowing how to drive a stick shift!

54 Chris October 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm

While not REQUIRED to parallel park for the drivers test, we were expected to perform any typical driving situation for our small town. So my grader, had me drive to the downtown area where there were 3 blocks of parallel parking spaces and have me pull into and out of one. By the time we returned to the DMV, there was 12 inches of snow on the ground and I was the last test for the day; the DMV closed early due to the unexpectedly heavy snowfall. But I had passed! Great article, y’all, keep up the great work!

55 Practical Parsimony October 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm

How to Parallel Park…Like a Woman

Can a woman get in on this discussion?
In 1965 I did not have to parallel park to get my license. But, within the year I had to parallel park. I got it right the first time. No one had EVER told me how to do it. My husband at the time could not parallel park.

In grad school in the 90s I had to park on a sharp curve. I felt like I was blind since there was no straight line. Students were watching to see if the old lady could actually do it. The young girls cheered and congratulated me.

In this small Southern town, I have to parallel on a highway that runs right through the business district. I can do it with cars lined up behind me. No problem. Boyfriend cannot do it in one pass. I know I don’t have to pull forward a teeny bit, but I think it is polite to park in the center of my space and not crowd the guy behind if I get too close.

The only time I have trouble parallel parking is if there is a guy in the car, giving me instructions or yelling at me. I try not to listen and it only incenses guys. Not all the time do I have trouble with guys giving instructions! Yes, I am 65 and still have the parallel parking gift.

56 Craig October 9, 2011 at 12:36 am

The first time I parallel parked was during my driving test. I parallel parked so well the driving instructor didn’t believe it was my first time and ordered me to do it again. The second time i amazered her even more. I have been told that you parallel park by using your a,b,c pillars in your car to line you up to park. And it depends on if you are parking on the left or right side of the street for one way streets. 

1.  line up your car next to vehicle ahead of the spot you want about. Be about 1-5 feet away from the car. If you have a long car, the greater a distance you need. When you swing your car into the spot, your car will be much longer than the spot is deep, so if you dont allow for enough spacing next to you to start out with, you will either be side swiping the car with your front end, or jumping the curb with your back end. If you don’t have a good sense of where the perimeters of your car are before you think you can parallel park, your living in a fairy tale world and should not be parallel parking. Never enter a spot from behind. By reversing, you are using the pivoting action to guide yourself further into the spot with less space.
2. Go into reverse
3A. If your spot is one the left, wait until the sight path through b pillar is past the end of the car before cracking the wheel.
3B. if your spot is one the right, wait until the sight path through c pillar is past the end of the car before cracking the wheel.
4 aim the sight path of pillar c into the corner of the car behind you that is closest to the curb. When you are make the action of turning, drive extremely slow. You want to point your car in the right direction in as little as space as possible. This means turn the wheel quickly put drive slowly. Turning your wheel when stop “dry-steering” and is ill-advised because it is bad for your tires. 
5 This one is a judgement call. You have to decide two things. Is your front bumper clear of the car infront of you. If yes, you’ll have to decide whether there is enough space behind for you to swing your car into position. If you hit the curb before you could say you could swing your car into position without hitting the car in front of you, you have to completely reset. If you ran out of room behind you, you either didn’t enter into the spot sharp enough or the spot is to small.
6 quickly turn the wheel to straighten you car while driving extremely slowly.  A good parking job doesn’t require any further back and forth action.

57 Jake October 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

I’ve always found it helpful to line my steering wheel up with the car I pull up next to. It’s also more likely that you won’t turn enough instead of turning too much, so keep that in mind, too. Turn early and quickly and you shouldnt have much trouble at all.

58 Ryan October 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

Parallel parking can be frustrating even if you do it all the time. I always end up trying for the spot that’s just a little too small (there’s a reason the spot is still there). After years of having to give up frustrated, I found the answer: I bought a tiny car! City driving is no longer frustrating. Other side benefit: zipping between highway lanes like a needle. Oh yeah, and I get 40 miles to the gallon on a standard gas engine. Eat that Prius (Have fun buying new toxic batteries every 10 years).

59 Safeway_SAGE October 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Quick Tip: As soon as you reach the back bumper of the other car that is precisely the moment when you should start cutting the wheel… Happy parking! :) I drive a big old Crown Victoria and live in the city, if I can do it anyone can… Now actually spelling parallel, that’s a different story altogether.

60 Bernt October 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I work as a valet, and there are two simple things that work well for me to parallel park a wide variety of cars into a wide variety of spaces:
1. Simply try to match the back bumper of your car to the front bumper of the car behind you (the car you see when backing into the parking spot). When I’m angling into a spot I find it hard to know exactly when I’m at 45 degrees or sometimes how close or far from the curb I am. Playing the matching game is a lot easier – you know right away if you’re too far or close to the curb.
2. Make use of the side mirrors. Once I’m mostly in the spot I do a quick check on the passenger side mirror to align the car with the curb. Helps you leave the car looking like it was parked by a pro, know what I mean?
3. BONUS! I forgot this tip, but I pull up fully next to the car in front of the spot, not halfway as some people do. Better to have too distance to work with than too little when backing up.
Best of luck!

61 Tim October 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

On MA driving tests you need to parallel park. I’m taking mine next week.

62 Samuel October 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Nice Post. I’ve taught many people to drive and I’ve always found that teaching parallel parking really brings you in touch with how your car physically exists in relation to its surroundings. It ties together your mirrors, blind spots, turning radius and depth perception for the sides, front and rear. Not to mention a little finesse with the gas and brake pedal, especially in a manual transmission.

I once parallel parked a 16 foot box truck on a small suburban street between two parked cars while helping a friend move (yes, I’m bragging just a little). But it goes to prove the skill can translate to any vehicle, no matter the size.

63 Will October 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm

The other day, I watched a guy drift the rear of his car around the front, across the left lane, and into a parking space. I’m not suggesting it, but lord was it ever a sight to behold…

64 Rob October 10, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Here in Pennsylvania (at least where I live in the eastern side of the state — think Lancaster City, Reading, Philadelphia) parallel parking is the first part of the drivers test. If you fail to parallel park you can’t continue the drivers test. It made my two sons sweat and practice. With a little practice it is possible . . . they both have their licenses.

65 Chris October 11, 2011 at 7:43 am

I contest that most all of you who are giving tips/directions have never had to parallel park in a spot that is mere inches bigger than the car being parked. If so you are required to turn the car sharply BEFORE your front bumper gets to the forward cars rear bumper. This creates a nerve wrecking closeness due to the ever shrinking angle between both cars, but will allow you to park your car nearly anywhere on and hill.

You want a real challenge, try to parallel park a stick-shift on a hill. Ouch!

66 Patrick Soto October 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I didn’t take driver’s ed in high school, and I failed the parallel parking section when I took the test under my own tutelage (still passed the test). Fast forward a few months and I’m on my own again in the city, this time with a car, and my apartment building had very few parking spots on the street. In order to grab one, I had to learn how to parallel park then and there. After tapping a few cars’ bumpers, I can now parallel park in three moves 1). pull alongside the vehicle you’re going to be in front of 2). reverse while turning the wheel towards the curb 3). straighten the car out. Get out there and practice, that’s the only way I learned. p.s. You feel like a champ when parallel parking in 3 moves in front of people on the sidewalk, “Momma, there goes that man.”

67 Brian October 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm

On my driving test, we drove around for 15 min looking for a spot to practice. Then my tester turned to me and said, “You look like you know how to parallel park…don’t you?” To which the only propper answer is “Yup”. Glad I didn’t have to prove that…

68 R.L. October 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Generally sound advice, but I believe Step 2 could more realistically be stated as:

“2. Put the car in reverse and slowly drive backwards until some nitwit blocks you off and starts honking.”

Feel free to substitute, “…nosedives into your space,” as required.

69 Randall October 12, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I had to learn to parallel park a semi in order to get a job with C. R. England. People think that parallel parking a car is a pain in the rear.

70 Jesse October 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Nice piece of writing.

It’s interesting to see an article as explicit as this about such a basic skill. Do not get me wrong, parallel parking is though, but i live in Mexico City and done so since i was born. Parallel parking and many other skills are a must if you mean to survive in here.

Love reading your work Brett, keep it up!

71 Shreyas October 13, 2011 at 5:57 pm

This is pretty helpful; even though I can parallel park, I’m not the best at it.
the steps could have helped better when i first learned.

Thanks for this.

72 Helen October 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

I had to parallel park while taking a driving test. I couldn’t do it. I was driving a VW bug, no car in front of me, but a car behind me. After 2 or 3 times trying to do it, the guy giving me the test told me to give up and just don’t every try it again! He passed me though. I have paralled parked since, it’s not to hard, but can be stressful if there is a lot of traffic!

73 Ben R October 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm

One thing I do to help gauge my angle for a tight spot is use the driver’s side mirror. Once I can see the curbside headlight of the car behind me in the driver’s side mirror I know I am at the right angle to start going straight back.

74 Vince L October 17, 2011 at 4:32 am

The bad part about parallel parking is when there is some impatient guy behind and crowding in too close, all the while honking or flashing his lights! Still I still think it is essential to learn how to do it. Great work.

75 Jorge October 17, 2011 at 9:34 am

Related topic, when parking, why is it that we reverse in. Several (more than 3 for sure) women have asked me why men reverse in to a parking space.

I said two reasons…first, to show off your ride: best shot of a car is from one of the front two corners, ie. approaching it from a few parking spaces over. Second reason, “the gettaway”

comments?

76 alex October 18, 2011 at 9:18 am

as someone who lives more or less in a small city parking is always straight. coming to crowded cities with car always make me a bit nervous – until i find a parking space. :)

77 William October 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I had to figure a way of teaching my girl how to park recently. After alot of thought and study I found there was actually only one thing that I did that gave me the perfect park. The secret? All you do is start by lining
the back of your car up to the back of the car in front

78 Marcus October 20, 2011 at 2:42 am

I’m a parallel parking boss. With adequate space I can usually get the job done in 20 seconds or less. Maybe about 45-60 seconds if the space is a pinch. I’m only 20 and have had my license for about a year and a half. Feels good man.

79 Kyle October 22, 2011 at 7:33 pm

In Indiana, I had to do this on my test. Of course, the test is through a small course in the suburbs. I mean, I “parallel parked” with the nearest car behind be being a good 50 or 60 feet away. My only challenge was to not hit the curb. Oh wait, it was in the middle of winter after a blizzard. I was a good 6 feet from the curb (which was covered in LOTS of snow), and the instructor said “good enough.”

She actually got on me for driving too slow… Come on! My test was in the middle of winter and I barely drove on ice before D:

80 Chris October 23, 2011 at 7:11 am

Is it just me or does nobody else in the world get taught to reverse properly, Me , my mum, and my driving teacher seem to be the only ones I’ve ever met who have this training. Clutch, gear in reverse, turn your whole head around and face the back of the car, then just drive as though your were going forwards. So simple, but everyone i know tries to do it by wing or rear view mirrors, Why ?

81 Mike Haydon October 24, 2011 at 3:54 am

I’ve never had problems parallel parking. Dad taught me well. The only thing I’d add to your guide is that it’s better to start the turn too late than too early. If you start too early, you’ll go too deep and end up going over the curb. Too late and at least the traffic can pass while you fix up your parking.

82 Aurumgirl October 24, 2011 at 9:57 am

Where I grew up, if you couldn’t parallel park, and performed brilliantly everywhere else on the test, you still failed. Particularly if you hit a marker at any time during the parking test, as, technically, that meant you “hit” a pedestrian or the other parked car.

It’s not hard to do, my mother taught me how when she took me out for driving lessons and really the most challenging thing about it is to remember to signal your intention even if the traffic on the street behind you is heavy, and take your time–never feel like you’ve got to rush just because there are cars behind you. I learned to pull up right beside the car I’ll be parking behind, reverse until I can see the bumper end of the car right outside of my passenger window, then turn the wheel sharply and reverse until I’m at a 45 degree angle to the curb. Reverse and turn the wheel to the left to straighten out, then pull up so that you leave space behind the car in front of you and ahead of the car behind you. One other thing that you were dinged for on our tests: parallel parking on an upgrade or a downgrade. You had to remember to turn your wheels against the curb appropriately before you put the car in park. I don’t know what to think about the current option to purchase cars that can “parallel park for you”. I’m kind of afraid that people who can’t parallel park are even driving–but now they’re out there not even bothering to learn that skill because the car comes “equipped” to carry the task out for them.

83 Jason October 25, 2011 at 1:53 am

My father taught me to parallel park when I was 15 and still learning to drive. He taught exactly this and I’ve been a master ever since. I’ve seen plenty of Mr. Suburbias, even riding with a few and can say as the passenger, it is annoying to rock back and forth amid the fervent honking. Master this skill once and it very well may change your life…. or make it easier when in a crunch. It’s great to be a man!

84 Ken October 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

I am in fact a master parallel parker. It is amazing how impressed both men and women can be for managing what should be a universal skill in one attempt. I did have to do a parallel park for my driver’s ed course. The two most valuable things I learned in that class where how to parallel park and how to MERGE. The inability to merge is one of my pet peeves but that is neither here nor there. My grandfather is a true man’s man and I think the day I became a man in his eyes is when I parallel parked his car on a busy street first try. He boasted to the rest of the family about how good of a driver I was, he was probably so proud because everyone says I am just like him.

85 Johnnie October 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I used to drive a truck OTR. One boring weekend waiting to deliver in San Fransico not long after I started driving, another driver taught me to parallel park a tractor with a 48′ trailer. I’ve always been proud of that ability.

86 fatih uzgur October 30, 2011 at 5:12 pm

no need to read the article if you live in Turkey. In our country you can’t be a real driver if you can’t parallel park..

87 Matthew October 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I have to admit, Parallel parking is one of the few things I’m pretty good at. Why? Well I pretty much learned to drive in Massachusetts, so parallel parking in tight spots is a vital skill.

On that note, I learned no-nonsense driving in Mass. I’m frustrated with hick Midwestern/Western drivers who go slow and don’t know how to pass, or just love to cruise in blind-spots. Toughen up people! Don’t drive 10 under the speed limit please!

88 Tato October 6, 2012 at 10:33 pm

In Mexico we parallel park everyday, just a few places have private perpendicular parking so most people park parallel in the street.
I’ll say I’m pretty good at it but sometimes I park pretty badly if I’m in a rush.

89 Ryan October 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm

When I was learning, my driving teacher told me to start by pulling up alongside the front car “steering wheel to steering wheel” to make sure we were perfectly even. Great start, but hard to guesstimate from inside my car. Recently I discovered that “side mirror to side mirror” is much easier.

90 Fred November 28, 2012 at 8:37 am

The best post was Kurt’s.
I say that not because the other techniques don’t work but rather because if you follow the steps it requires no adjustment regardless of the vehicle. I have one addition:
0) Pull up next to the vehicle in front as close as you feel comfortable.
(usually not less then 1ft)
The closer you can get the more slack the process will give you.

As an added note in particularly tight spaces the time you drive straight #3 may be zero, getting closer to the vehicle in front will tend to make step #3 longer.
Thanks Kurt for step #3, I have always kind of squashed 3&4 together.

91 Simon J Stuart November 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I live in the UK (England, specifically) where parallel parking is a universal requirement for passing licensing tests for any vehicle with a reverse gear (I say this because I also hold a motorcycle license, on which parallel parking is done in the “Flintstone” gear and so isn’t a test requirement)… I digress…

I just wanted to say that this step-by-step breakdown and the accompanying diagram constitute the single best explaination I’ve come accross on the subject of parallel parking (and worlds better than my instructors’ attempts at explaining it)

You kept it simple… like a MAN!

92 Josh March 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I love how the picture is of a bug, I own a 67 bug and they are the easiest to park in any situation. Small and turns like magic, most times you don’t even have to parallel park like shown. Granted if I won’t hold up traffic I’ll brush up my skills!

93 Hans Verhoog April 4, 2013 at 7:11 am

I just read this one and it made me smile. I know many Americans who can’t parallel park simply because they never have to do it!

In The Netherlands our town are much more compressed due to their medieval origins, when a small circular town was easier to defend and thus we have lots of parallel parking going on. It’s never easy but my advice would be:
Don’t lose your cool, turn of the music and focus on the task at hand. Suggest your company to leave the car while you park, maybe they can help or redirect other traffic.

94 James Abrams August 9, 2013 at 6:44 am

It’s a skill that can be easily lost if you don’t practice. In QLD Australia it is part of the driver’s test to do one. Although they often suggest not to straighten the wheel and move forward but get the position right when you’re going in so you don’t have to turn the wheel at all when leaving the spot, (unless of course it’s a steep hill then it’s better to ‘curb’ the front wheels in case of handbrake failure)
With my first car it was an old 80′s Japanese Daihatsu and was small enough to drive in forwards rather than reverse :) I still miss that car for it’s ability to do those things. Oddly enough I find cars with long bonnets easier to reverse parallel park.

95 Sal October 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm

My fiance is a master. While we do not advocate using the phone while driving, I’ve seen her squeeze her SUV into a spot with one hand on the wheel and the other on the iPhone. She can parallel park her SUV like a champ in any situation…even other people’s cars that she has never driven before!

96 Matt October 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I learned how to do it for my driver’s test and maybe did it 2 or 3 times in the next 12 years. Then I ended up in the city and got a new car. Within a month I was a comfortable with it. You have to get a good feel for the length of your car so you can eye a good spot on the street and get a good sense of when turn the wheel.

97 Matt October 7, 2013 at 2:08 pm

That and I pay nothing for street parking. Some of my neighbors are suckers and fork over as much as $125- 200 a month for their own spot. You have to get a good feel of where to look for a good spot.

98 Jim October 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Pretty sure that little VW could just drive into that parking spot.

99 Manny October 8, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I’ve always been pretty decent for me at parallel parking. When I received my first car in high school, a 79 firebird, I had to really practice. The car was a boat!!

Fast forward 3 years and I was on a date. She drove because she picked up a group of friends. We were headed downtown to go see a show at a little spot on a Friday night. No parking. Anywhere.

Except for one spot. She attempted and failed. A couple times. And then one of the guys boasted he could do it. Tried 3 times. Ended up angled and 2 ft from the curb. Mind you this car is big ol gmc Envoy. She asked if I could.

Sweaty palms and an audience. Boom. First try. I felt like a champ. And she boasted about that for 2 months too everyone. And the whole group thoughr I was a hero. Great way to save a night!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter