Learning How To Parallel Park Is About Knowing Your Car’s Footprint
Do you know where your car starts and ends?
Watching people fail at parallel parking is part of the quintessential roadside cafe experience, especially if it’s in a city. They come, they try, they fail, and somebody else comes along and benefits from the open spot. It’s a passive reminder that most people don’t know their cars as well as they think and we hope.
It’s enough of a problem for people — or they just don’t want to learn — that automakers have even automated the practice for many new cars. That people don’t care to know how to parallel park is telling of how people view their cars in general. Despite the fact that driving a car is one of the biggest responsibilities in life, people treat them frivolously and handle them equally poorly.
We can’t change the way people care for their own vehicles, but maybe we can slightly shift how people think about driving and help them understand why it’s better for everybody to become better drivers, which includes knowing how to parallel park.
Below, The Drive’s Guides & Gear editors explain why parallel parking is important beyond the obvious reasons and offer some tips for helping everybody who has to park on the street. Check your mirrors, and let’s begin.
I’ve Gotten This Far Without It, Why Do I Need To Learn Now?
Yes, it’s possible to avoid learning how to parallel park. Yes, you could have your friend do it. No, you likely won’t ever be forced to prove you still know how to do it by the DMV. But hear me out: It’s important.
Many Americans directly associate knowing how to parallel park with passing the driving test as a teenager, but having that skill is crucial to understanding how to handle and control your ride. It doesn’t matter where the car needs to go or how it gets there, you should know how to maneuver your car into a space where it can physically fit. The more you know about your car, the more you understand its physical attributes, the better driver you will be. And the better drivers we are, the safer the roads will be. It’s a win-win.
Parallel parking can be frustrating because we forget the steps or don’t have a good grasp of the limits of our cars — not speed limits or cornering g-forces but the literal physical dimensions. If we don’t know where our cars start and end, we’re essentially trying to park blind. Parking blind sounds terrifying. It’s no wonder the term parallelophobia has been coined.
By mastering simple tasks like parallel parking, drivers have a better awareness of how cars interact with their surroundings. We can navigate parking lots and parking garages easier, sneak through traffic quicker and generally know where our cars will or won’t fit.
Learning how to parallel park connects us to our cars and makes us better drivers. So, let’s dive in.
How To Parallel Park
If a parking spot passes the eye test and you think you’ll fit, follow these steps to safely and quickly slide into the space. For the purposes of these instructions, we’ll be talking about a space to the right of the car. The car ahead will be Car 1, and the car behind will be Car 2.
- Put on your right turn signal and pull up beside Car 1. Stay about 2 or 3 feet away and line up your rear bumper or side mirror with Car 1’s bumper or side mirror.
- Look forward, back, side to side, and all around you before proceeding. Watch out for incoming Mike Moffitts.
- Put your car in reverse and back up straight until your vehicle is about halfway past Car 1.
- When your car is halfway past Car 1, turn the steering wheel to the right and slowly reverse until your vehicle is at a 45-degree angle to Car 1.
- Now, turn the steering wheel to the left and continue to reverse slowly while positioning the car into the space. If your wheels are turned too hard or too early, you might hit Car 1 or end up with your car too far from the curb. If you turn the wheel too softly, you might hit Car 2 and end up with your car out of position.
- Correct the wheel to straighten your vehicle out until you’re close to Car 2 but not touching. You’ll want to be within six inches of the curb.
- Use your mirrors, both rearview and side, to check your spacing and straighten the vehicle out until you’re happy with the positioning.
- Put the vehicle in park, then get out of the vehicle to double-check your positioning.
- If you’re happy, turn the car off, fold your side mirrors in, and you’re done!
How To Make Parallel Parking Easier
There are numerous ways to make parallel parking less of an issue. Some are small and cost nothing, others are extreme and expensive.
Use a Spotter
If you have a friend with you, there’s no shame in using that person to assist. You’ll still have to figure out the angles, but the spotter can tell you how far you are from both the curb and the vehicles you’re trying to avoid hitting. Don't let ego interfere; take the help.
Install a Backup Camera
BMWMany new cars come with partially automated parking.
Buy a Newer Car with Sensors and Cameras or Partial Automation
Certain new cars can parallel park themselves without any input from the driver. Most newer cars are often equipped with sensors and cameras that will alert you when you're getting too close to another object with your vehicle. Parallel parking will always be easier and quicker with sensors and cameras.
Drive Smaller Vehicles That Sit Low
The growing popularity of crossovers, SUVs, and trucks means that parking has become more difficult for everyone. Not only do they take up more space, but they also have much worse visibility and sightlines. In some vehicles, you can’t see a single child if 10 of them sat right in front of it. So, how is somebody sitting inside supposed to know how close a car is front or back? Smaller cars are easier to park, and lower cars make it easier to see your obstacles.
Drive Vehicles With Clear Visibility
Visibility is not entirely dependent on ride height. It also includes factors such as roof design and how the windows are shaped. Cars such as the Mazda 3 hatchback and the old Nissan Altima coupe have abysmal visibility, as does the current Chevrolet Camaro, which can make them dangerous for certain drivers. With a big wide-open window design, it’s easier to judge parking. Keep that in mind when purchasing your next vehicle.
How To Protect Your Vehicle From Careless Parallel Parkers
Bumper damage is almost a certainty if you’re regularly parking your car on a side street, but there are ways to help prevent and avoid damage from rogue parkers.
Park at the Ends of Streets or Near a Hydrant
The easiest way to protect your car from parallel parking is to avoid it completely, but if that’s not possible, you can at least delete one car from the situation. By parking at the end of a street or near a fire hydrant, you reduce the danger caused by other automobiles because you can only be hit on one end of the car.
Use Bumper Protectors
You’ll ruin any attractive features of your automobile by using bumper protectors, and they’re not guaranteed to protect your vehicle from all scratches and dents, but a bumper hitting rubber is still better than a bumper hitting a bumper. You can buy the full mat, rubber strips, or extended license-plate frames.
Put Velvet Ropes Around Your Car Like Marshawn Lynch
Cones work, too. This was a hilarious moment in history, but please, don’t do this. Everybody will hate you, you might get a ticket, or somebody might damage your vehicle.
Repairing Parallel Parking Dings and Scratch Marks
If you frequently park on the street, it’s a great idea to get a bottle of color-matched touch-up paint for quick and easy cover-ups. If you don’t want to pay for that, you could go the cheap hack route and use a Sharpie, as detailed by our sister site, Car Bibles.
Sometimes it’s easier to learn by watching someone else do it rather than reading about it. Check out these video instructions to get a better grasp of parallel parking.
FAQs about Parallel Parking
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Bumpers are called bumpers for a reason. Why can’t I use them to park?
A: You can treat your car how you please, but other cars are not your property, and they should not be touched. Ever. Please, stop touching other people’s cars.
Q: Should I put my hazard lights on when parallel parking?
A: Hazard lights might seem like a good way to alert surrounding drivers that you’re cautiously trying to park, but it could send the wrong signals. Some people might think you’re simply parked and not moving, which means somebody else could try to take the spot. If you use one blinker, it informs everybody of your intentions and lays claim to the spot.
Q: How do you practice parallel parking at home?
A: The best part of practicing is that you don’t have to use other cars. Go to an open parking lot and try using cones, garbage cans, or something soft that won’t damage your vehicle while you’re improving your parking skills.
Q: What should the distance between cars be for parallel parking?
A: When preparing to parallel park, your car should be about 2 to 3 feet from the other car. As far as the distance between your car and the cars in front and back of you, it’s best to leave a couple of feet of space in between your car and others. This space is important because you and the other drivers require space to leave the spots, and you don’t want any scraped bumpers.
Q: What are the five steps to parallel parking?
- Turn the wheel.
- Straighten out.
- Turn the wheel the opposite way and reverse.
- Straighten out and park.
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