I could assume that you're reading this article in frantic preparation for the behind-the-wheel test that determines whether or not you get your driver's license. But frankly, so many of us proceed through our driving lives (having utterly failed the parallel parking portion of the test) without ever mastering this crucial driving skill. We end up paying astronomical parking fees just to avoid parking our car on the street. I wonder how much money we've spent in the efforts to hide our shame...
Well, no more of that! Whether you're a teenager or a Baby Boomer, it's time to learn how to parallel park once and for all.
Relax! First of all, you could still pass your behind-the-wheel exam even if you fail to parallel park. How do I know? Personal experience! Not only did I shift the car back and forth too many times to pass the parallel parking test, but then I reentered traffic in reverse. In the end, it wasn't devastating at all - I got my license by focusing on other skills. The lesson: relax! Don't buckle under the pressure of parallel parking. To learn how to parallel park, you have to be in a relaxed state. What's true in the classroom is true on the street - abject terror isn't very conducive to education. Whether you're preparing for a driver's exam or you've had your license for years, the first step is to relax.
Start off slowly. Relaxation may not be possible if you're learning to parallel park on a busy street. Take your car to a street where you may still have an occasional car, but the pace is less frenetic. Start off by parking your car along an empty curb. Then, try to parallel park behind a car that's already parked. After that, try parking your car between two cars. Just make sure there is ample space between them at first. As you master each step and grow more comfortable, try to parallel park between cars that are closer to each other.
If there are no other cars along the street, then parallel parking will be as simple as using your turn signal to indicate that you're parking, then driving slowly in a straight line. If you can't do that, you may want to relinquish your license for your own safety. What gives people trouble when parallel parking is the presence of other cars along the curb.
Assume position. To parallel park your car behind another car or between cars, first use your turn signal and pull up alongside the car until your rear bumpers are aligned. You should always back into a parallel parking spot; if parking between two cars, you should begin alongside the front car. Make sure your car is parallel to the other car and a couple feet from it.
Prepare to back into the space. With your foot on the brake, put your car into reverse. Before backing up, check to make sure there are no cars foolishly on your bumper. If you use your turn signal and have pulled up alongside another car, it should be obvious to them that you're trying to parallel park. But we all know that some drivers are totally oblivious.
Setting up the angle, begin to move. Slowly remove your foot from the brake. Just as it begins to roll backward, turn your wheel sharply in the direction of the curb, so that your car begins rolling toward the curb. There's no set rule as to how much you have to turn the wheel. The generally advice is to turn the wheel considerably at first - maybe even as far as it will go. Often, when there is only one car along the curb, you have ample space behind it and won't have to crank the wheel much to angle your car into the space. The more space there is for parking behind the other car, the less severely you'll need to turn your wheel. If there's very little space - whether due to another car or some other obstruction), you should turn your wheel more in order to angle your car more severely. Every car handles differently, which is another reason why practice makes perfect.Take your time; make adjustments if necessary. As your car rolls backward, angled toward the curb behind the other car, feel free to slow down or stop completely and examine your trajectory. Do you feel that you're angled too much? Too little? You can always shift your car into drive and pull back out of the space to start again.
How can you tell whether the angle is good? In your mind, project your car backward at its current angle. Where will the car be when your back tire is about a foot or less from the curb? Keeping that point in mind, check out how much room you have behind you from that point, and how much clearance you can expect to have in front between the nose of your car and the rear of the other. If you make absolutely no adjustment to your angle, this is how much room you'll have for the final phase. But typically, when examining the angle, people make some adjustment to their angle. A good beginner's guideline is to stop when your front passenger window is almost to the bumper of the other car. If you started by cranking your wheel as far as possible, then you'll want to ease the angle at this point.
Checking the front and back. As you move, be constantly aware of what's happening in front and in back of your car. Use your mirrors and keep your windows clear as you parallel park. In front of your car, you must make sure that your angled entry will keep your nose from scraping the other car as you ease up your angle to bring the nose into the space. In the back, make sure your car doesn't run into another car or obstacle, if present.
Adjustments. You may discover that the space in front of your car's nose is dwindling too rapidly for your car to roll clear of the one in front of you. You may also find yourself too far away from the curb as a result of the adjustment, or simply unable to make it into the space now without bumping a car behind you. If you feel uncomfortable with your position, then pull back out and start over, making small adjustments, one at a time. As you do so, keep the following rules in mind:
- The wider the initial gap between you and the parallel car, the bigger the initial angle you will require.
- The smaller the available parking space, the bigger the angle you will need.
- The longer you roll in reverse before angling your car, the bigger the angle you will need.
- The smaller the initial angle of entry, the greater the space you will need to parallel park.
- Don't be impatient - experimentation is part of the learning process.
- Observe the differences in parking as you make these adjustments.
The goal. Your car should be about a half-foot from the curb in the end, and (surprise) parallel to the curb.
You say you don't have the hand-eye coordination to parallel park? That will improve with practice. You say your car's too big to parallel park in the city? I've seen Hummers parked cleanly alongside the curb. Always choose your spots wisely - too many impossible squeezes can rattle anyone's confidence.
The key is to practice in calm environments first, then gradually move to tighter and tenser situations. You'll discover that this once-fearsome parking technique becomes your favorite.