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Guide to Parking on a Hill

By John Gower, October 15, 2017

In a perfect world, all the roads we drive and park our cars on are smooth, straight, and flat. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in and sometimes you have no other option but to park on an incline. With this common circumstance comes special considerations that you need to make to ensure that you and your vehicle are safe.

Parallel parking on a hill comes down to the same basic steps as parking on a flat surface, but with a few extra steps to keep your car securely in place.

  1. Maneuver your vehicle into the parking space - making sure to leave ample room to accommodate your vehicle rolling downhill more quickly.
  2. Turn your wheels to keep your car from rolling into traffic. Which direction you turn them depends on which side of the hill you're on. Turn away from the curb when parking uphill and toward the curb when parking downhill.
  3. Put your vehicle in park or first gear (for manual transmissions) to keep it from rolling freely.
  4. Set the parking or emergency brake as a backup in case other systems fail.
  5. Leave the space carefully, making sure to maintain as much pressure on the brake as necessary to keep your vehicle from rolling too far downhill and into another vehicle.

Read on for more detail on how to safely park on a hill in various situations.

How to park uphill

Step 1: Maneuvering into the parking space

When you first approach the parking space, pull up directly beside the car or object you will park behind as you normally would. Ensure that there is a full car length of space behind you before proceeding. This is important because being on an incline might cause your vehicle to roll faster than it normally would so you need to make sure there is ample space to compensate.

Once ready, begin to slowly back up and turn the wheels toward the curb as you reverse into the space. As your rear wheel nears the curb, begin to turn the wheels away from the curb in order to straighten up and finish maneuvering into the space. You may need to pull the car forward slightly to center your vehicle in the space. Since you are parking with your car facing uphill, you may need to apply slightly more pressure on the gas than normal to go forward to accommodate for the incline.

Step 2: Securing the car in the parking spot

Once your car is parallel to the curb, put your foot firmly on the brake and turn your wheels one full turn to face away from the curb. By doing this, if your brakes fail and the car were to succumb to the incline it will roll towards the curb and stop instead of into the street and oncoming traffic.

parking uphill wheels turned away

Parking uphill wheels turned away

Note: In some locales where hills are fairly steep such as San Francisco, you can even receive a citation for not leaving your wheels turned properly when parked on a hill!

Once you have properly maneuvered into the parking space and have turned your wheels away from the curb, make sure that the car will not roll once it is in place. If you have an automatic transmission, shift the gear in park and then apply the emergency brake. If you have a manual transmission, shift the car into first gear and apply the emergency brake, then it is safe to release the clutch.

handbrake

Handbrake / Image source

Once you have safely parked your car, use your rear-view mirrors or turn around to survey traffic to make sure it is safe before attempting to exit the vehicle on the street side.

Step 3: Safely maneuvering out of a parking space

Once you're back inside the car, release the emergency brake and turn on the ignition. If you have an automatic transmission, shift your car into either drive or reverse (depending on which direction you have more space to move), while keeping your foot firmly placed on the brake. If you have a manual transmission, you should keep your left foot on the clutch and your right foot firmly on the brake before disengaging the emergency brake.

Next, you will shift the car into either first gear or reverse (depending on which direction you have more space to move). Before you attempt to move the car in either direction, carefully survey your surroundings, including your blind spots to make sure there is no oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or cyclists. When facing uphill, you may need to apply more pressure to the accelerator to move up the incline than if you were on flat ground in order to move forward.

Vehicles with automatic transmission have a certain amount of engine torque that will prevent the wheels from rolling backwards while you are trying to accelerate. If you are driving a vehicle with manual transmission, you need to bring the clutch up gradually as you accelerate until you feel the point when the car has enough power to move forward. Once you are clear, it is ok to take your foot completely off the brake to accelerate forward into traffic.

How to park downhill

Step 1: Maneuvering into a Parking Space

Just as you would if parking uphill, you need to make sure you have ample space to maneuver when trying to park. Begin to slowly back up and turn the wheels toward the curb as you reverse into the space. As your rear wheel nears the curb, begin to turn the wheels away from the curb in order to straighten up and finish maneuvering into the space. You may need to pull the car forward slightly to center your vehicle in the space. Because you are parking with your car facing downhill, when moving forward to center the vehicle in the space, it is best practice to apply pressure slightly on the brake and allow the car to naturally roll forward slowly.

Step 2: Securing the Car Once Parked

Once your car is parallel to the curb, put your foot firmly on the brake and turn your wheels to face toward the curb.

parking downhill wheels turned toward curb

Parking downhill wheels turned toward curb

Once you have properly maneuvered into the parking space and have turned your wheels toward the curb, you want to make sure that the car will not roll once it is in place. If you have an automatic transmission, shift the gear in park and then apply the emergency brake. If you have a manual transmission, shift the car into first gear and apply the emergency brake, then it is safe to release the clutch.

Once you have safely parked your car, use your rear-view mirrors or turn around to survey traffic to make sure it is safe before attempting to exit the vehicle on the street side.

Step 3: Safely Maneuvering Out of a Space

Once you are back inside the car, release the handbrake and turn on the ignition. For automatic transmissions, shift your car into either drive or reverse (depending on which direction you have more space to move), while keeping your foot firmly placed on the brake. For manual transmissions, you should keep your left foot on the clutch and your right foot firmly on the brake before disengaging the handbrake. Then, you will shift the car into either first gear or reverse (depending on which direction you have more space to move).

Next, survey your surroundings and check your blind spot to make sure there is no oncoming traffic or pedestrians. Once you release the brake the car will gradually move forward on its own. In this case, turn the wheels toward the street and then gradually decrease your pressure on the brake until you can clearly maneuver safely around the car or object in front of you. Once you are clear, it is ok to take your foot completely off the brake to accelerate forward into traffic.

Parking at a 90° angle on a hill

90 degree parking on a hill

90 degree parking on a hill / Image source

On some very steep hills, you may be required to park at a 90° angle to the curb, which reduces the risk of a car slipping out of gear and rolling down hill. Look for signage or other vehicles parked similarly to know when you should park at 90°, like you would in a parking lot, instead of parallel parking.

90 degree parking sign

90 degree parking sign

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