Parallel Parking Made Easy

Natalie Josef
March 21, 2011

Where I live, finding a parking spot is always an adventure. Sometimes I will find a spot right in front of my house—those are great days. Sometimes, like the other night when I got home at 11pm during a storm that no one was stupid to drive in except me, I will have a ten-minute walk straight uphill or downhill from the car to my house.

But whether I score a sweet spot or one that feels like it's across town, the one thing I always have to contend with is parallel parking.

I have heard that practice makes perfect. How I wish that were true. No matter how many times I do it, I just never seem to get better at parallel parking. I can never get close enough to the curb. Or, I am so close to the curb that I am actually on top of it. While I never hit the cars on either side of me, I have a hard time judging whether there is enough space for my car in the first place—and I have a small car.

I often find myself passing by spots that are a tight squeeze. Sometimes, I actually try to park in a space, and end up speeding off after only one try. And the weirdest thing? I seem to be better at the more challenging spots. Give me a tight, difficult spot on a busy road, and I can park the heck out of my car. Give me a wide open berth on an empty road and it takes me ten tries to get it right.

Now I am curious. Is there a way to become better at parallel parking? Is there a fool-proof technique or at least some helpful tips? Well, of course there are. We do have the Internet after all. Here's what I found:

1. Find a space that is large enough for your vehicle. You need a space that is five feet longer than your car.

2. Line up your vehicle with the car parked in front of your desired spot. You want to be about two to three feet away from this vehicle with your bumpers aligned. If your cars are different sizes, make sure your front bumpers are aligned.

3. Turn your steering wheel hard right.

4. Slowly begin backing into the turn. If your rear tire hits the curb, you have gone too far. If this happens to me, I usually drive off in a huff, but this is not the end of the world. You just need to pull forward a few feet.

Ideally, you should be 6 to 8 inches away from the curb. In some states, you can't be more than 12 inches from the curb; in other states, you have up to 18 inches.

5. Once the back of your seat is aligned with the rear bumper of the other car, turn the steering wheel to the left and finish backing into the space. Go as far back as you can without hitting the bumper of the vehicle behind you.

6. Turn the steering wheel to the right again and then move the vehicle gently toward the curb while centering it in the space.

In case you are wondering why it's so difficult to pull forward into a parking space, remember that when you drive in head-first, the steerable wheels end up near the curb and the non-steerable rear wheels are hanging out into traffic. Unless the space is equal to two car lengths or more, forget it.

And don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. This morning, I saw a guy try to parallel park five times before he actually got it right and I didn't think any less of him. People know how hard it is. If you get nervous, take a deep breath and stay positive. You can do it!

Hope that helps!

Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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