For both young teen drivers and experienced drivers, parallel parking is often the most difficult and dreaded aspects of driving a car. While you may feel that you will never need to parallel park again once completing your road test, practicing parallel parking gives you a better understanding of how to:

  • Control your throttle and brakes at low speeds
  • Navigate your vehicle while in reverse
  • Gauge space behind and in front of your vehicle
  • Properly use your rear view mirrors

Whether your state requires you to be able to parallel park as a part of the driving test, or you

With a little bit of knowledge and experience, you can master parallel parking with a few rules of thumb. Use this 9 step process when practicing for the parallel parking section of your road test.

1. Make Sure that the space is legal

While this step shouldn’t be necessary during the road test, out in the real world it should be a big consideration.

Look around for obvious signs like fire hydrants and driveways. Also check to see if there are nearby road signs with parking restriction information or if the curb is painted a different color.

2. Determine if the space is big enough

Drive up next to the open space and determine if the space is large enough for your car. The space should be longer than the length of your car and have a few additional feet to allow you to properly position your car into the space.

3. Drive Parallel to the car in front of you

While you may be tempted to drive into the open space, it is much easier to parallel park when backing into the space.

Drive up parallel alongside the car in front of the open space so that the rear bumpers are aligned with each other. You can try to position your car so that your car’s sideview mirror aligns with the car in front of the open space. Keep in mind however that your car may be a different length.

4. Turn on your blinker

While this may not be necessary during a road test, it serves a great purpose in the real world. Other drivers and pedestrians may not know why you are slowing down and coming to a stop in the middle of the road. Flipping your turn signal on before you back into the space helps clear up confusion and helps other drivers know to either pass you or give you enough space.

5. Turn your steering wheel

While your car is stopped, fully turn your wheel to the right, or clockwise, if the parking spot is to your right (turn the wheel to the left, or counterclockwise, if the space is to your left). Put the car in reverse and slowly begin to back up the car.

6. Aim for 45 Degrees

Reverse the car until the car is at a 45-degree angle with the parking space. While your car is still parallel with the car in front of you, it is easier to pick a point either in front or behind you that is at a 45 degree angle. As you back up and the car starts to turn, keep the reference point(s) in sight and continue reversing until they are either directly behind or in front of you. Once your car is at a 45 degree angle, stop the car and straighten out the steering wheel. This will typically involve turning the wheel one and a half times.

7. Clear the Front Car

With the wheel straightened, slowly back the car into the space until you are approximately one third past the rear corner of the vehicle in front of you. Once this occurs, fully turn the steering wheel to the left or counterclockwise (turn the steering wheel to the right, or clockwise, if you are parallel parking on the left side of the street).

Continue to back up until your vehicle is straight with the car in front of you, or aligned with the curb.

8. Pull Forward

Come to a complete stop, then shift the car into drive. Slowly move forward until you can just see the top of the bumper on the car in front of you. Bring the car to a complete stop and put it into park. Apply the parking break, especially if you are parked on an incline, and turn off the car.

9. Assess Your Spot

As you get out of your vehicle, be sure to check to make sure that you are mostly centered between the cars in front and behind you. Also make sure that both cars have enough room to reverse or pull forward when exiting their parking spots.

Common Parallel Parking Mistakes

As you practice, you may find yourself repeating the same mistakes. Here are some of the most common mistakes that occur when parallel parking.

Aligning yourself too close or too far away from the front vehicle

You will want to position your vehicle to within about 3 feet of the front vehicle. Too close and you will have difficulty swinging into the spot while avoiding the front car. Too far away and you will have trouble coming close enough to the curb.

Hitting the curb

If you find that you continue to hit the curb when you back into the parking space, you are likely doing one of three things:

  1. Backing up at an angle greater than 45 degrees
  2. Not fully turning the steering wheel after clearing the rear bumper of the front car
  3. Not turning the steering wheel soon enough after clearing the rear bumper of the front car (backing too far into the space)

Going too fast

There is rarely a situation where you need to quickly parallel park a car. You may feel rushed or nervous while parallel parking – the best thing to do in that situation is to pause, take a breath, and assess your situation. Think about the steps that you learned, and form a plan in your head for executing those steps.

Not practicing enough

Practicing is easy with the help of a tape measurer and some cones. Refer to your state’s requirements for parallel parking – most states have different requirements and testing methods, but will generally require that you fit your car into a space with a length of 22-26 feet and a width of 8 feet.

The length of the space may also be determined by the length of the vehicle that you use during the road test times 1.5. So, if your car is 16 feet in length, you will need to parallel park in a space with a length of 24 feet.

Once you determine the allotted space, you can measure out the determined space in your driveway or in an empty parking lot and set up traffic cones. You can also set up empty trash cans, or other lightweight but tall objects to represent the cars in front or behind you. That way when you are getting to know the spacing in front of and behind your vehicle, inevitably bump into these imaginary cars, you won’t do any permanent damage.

Practicing this way will make it much easier when taking your road test, as you will be familiar with the spacing requirements.

If your road test requires that you parallel park with a car in front of the space, be sure to do some practicing with a car involved. This can also help you practice the steps outlined above.

Keep Your Spirits up!

No one masters parallel parking on the first day. You will most definitely run over cones or bump the imaginary vehicle in front or behind you while practicing. Don’t get discouraged, and only focus on the small improvements that you make along the way. With enough practice, patience and time you will start to parallel park perfectly.

Image Credit:

Parallel Parking Like a Boss by Jason Thien, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0