How to Parallel Park

Want to fit into that tight space? If you're going to be driving in the city, parallel parking knowledge is a must. Of course, parallel parking is the most dreaded part of any driving test, as well as a tricky task overall... but you're bound to have to do it sometime. Luckily, it's all about strategy, and once you get it down, you'll be good for life.


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    Find a suitable space. Look for a space you can safely get your car into without hitting another car. It's best to find a space that's a few feet (a meter or so) longer than your car. But in a pinch, you can park in a tighter space - or get out of one that "shrank" after you left!
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    Study the space as you drive up.
    • Is it really at least a little longer than your car? If not, go find another.
    • Are there any rules about parking there? A fire hydrant or entrance you're not allowed to block? Time limits? A parking meter to feed?
    • Does either car (or yours) have an unusually high-mounted, rough, or angular bumper? Has someone neglected to remove their unneeded trailer hitch draw bar? If so, take special care not to damage someone's car with a tap from the hazard.
    • Are there obstructions, including a very high curb, next to the road? If so, straighten the rear end of the car out gradually as you back it in so that you don't strike or scrape against them.
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    Claim the space and position yourself to back in. When you see the space, signal toward it and slow down. Check your rear-view mirror for someone very close behind, approaching quickly, or in a truck, in which case you should brake gently at first so they can see the lights and slow down safely. Pull up next to the car in front of the space (or, at the end of the row of cars, where that car would be), close beside it and with the middle of your car (the "B-pillar" between the doors) even with the rear of the next car.
    • If there is a car stopped there with its turn signals or reverse lights on, the space has probably been claimed. Wait behind the space so it can park, or proceed around if safe.
    • If another car comes behind you while you are trying to park, stay where you are and keep signaling. You might even need to roll down your window and hand-signal the other driver to go around you.
    • The tighter the space, the closer you'll need to get to the other car. Two feet (60 cm) is good if the space isn't very tight. Take care not to scrape. Look at the edge of your mirror for guidance, but be aware that a car is usually a few inches fatter at the level of the door handles or slightly below than where the mirrors attach.
    • The reason you need to back in is that almost all vehicles steer with the front wheels only. The back mostly changes direction with a big swing of the front and changes position with a shift of the front. (The rear wheels aren't locked together, so they can turn by different amounts or even in different directions to let this happen.) So you must first direct the back end into the spot and straighten it out with the front end free, then guide or even wiggle the front in.
      • Some vehicles have four wheel steering[1], but even then the rear wheels generally do not turn as much as the front ones. And the rear wheels are generally mounted further in to distribute more of the relatively light rear end's weight to them, which makes them move relatively little for moving their end of the car a lot.
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    Get help (optional). If the space is very tight, and you have a passenger, consider asking him to get out and help you park. Roll down a window to hear. Or even kindly ask a stranger to help.
    • Have your friend show you the distance between your car and the one behind (or in front) with his hands. (I.e., "it's 'this much' space.") That will make it easy to get the correct distance, provided your friend is competent.
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    Turn and prepare to back in. Shift your vehicle into reverse. Check the driver-side mirror to make sure the street behind you is clear of traffic before you begin to back up. Look over your other shoulder at the space to assess the gap. Turn the steering wheel hard right, creating a 45 degree angle. When reversing, think of pushing (the top of) the wheel the way you want the car to go.
    • Drivers in countries that drive on the left will turn hard left.
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    Back most of the way in. Release the brakes and slowly begin turning somewhat sharply and backing in to the space. While backing into the space often check in front of and around your car. Continue until the rear wheel facing the curb is nearly as close as the final distance desired from it (no more than 1 foot (30 cm) ultimately being desirable) and the rear end of the car is still a few feet (about a meter) from the car behind.
    • The forces on your car will normally distribute themselves so the front half goes a little to the left, away from the car in front, and the rear part goes hard to the right. Check as you practice, though, so that you don't scrape a car beside you.
    • Some people like to adjust their passenger side mirror to see the curb. Simply shift the mirror down a decent amount so you can see the curb. A rule of thumb is that if the curb disappears in the mirror when they are pointed down, you are probably too close to the curb.
    • If your rear tire hits the curb, you've gone too far; if this happens just simply shift the gear back into drive, pull forward a few feet, and try again.
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    Straighten out as you finish pulling in. Turn the steering wheel to the left once the rear of your vehicle is mostly in the space, still going backward. (In a loose space, a good time to make the switch is when your front bumper is next to the rear bumper of the car in front.) You'll maneuver completely into the space and straighten out your car at the same time.
    • This moves the front end sharply to the right and back. It moves the rear end mostly back, but a little more to the right as the front pushes on it from its left.
    • If the front of your car still has the car in front next to it, be careful not to scrape it.
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    Pull the front up to the curb and center the car.
    • In a loose space, continue in reverse as far back as you can without hitting the bumper of the vehicle behind you. When you're close, shift the gear back into Drive, turn the steering wheel to the right again, and move forward gently toward the curb while centering your vehicle in the space.
    • In a tight space, wiggle the front end in. Unless you have a helper, an unusually good sense of distance, or a backup camera,[2] this will very gently tap at least the car behind you. It will make getting out more difficult for all involved (you and they may have to repeat this process). It's more acceptable as a necessity in big, crowded cities. Don't do it if you or another car doesn't have a smooth, unobstructed bumper of the usual height, or you are next to a big, unwieldy vehicle: if it's hard for you to park, it may be impossible, or nearly so, for a truck to get out without damaging your car.
      • Turn, back into the space, and begin to straighten out as before, but with particularly careful form. The rear wheels need to be the right distance from the curb before wiggling the front end in, which won't do much more than shift them forward and back.
      • Very slowly back up as you approach the car behind. You'll probably tap it very gently. If your front end hasn't been pulled all the way in at first, then turn toward the curb and drive forward. Turn away and drive back to pull it more toward the curb. Repeat until the car is in the space.
      • Tapping shouldn't do much to a bumper cover in good condition, but rubbing will scuff and scrape it. Don't drag the corner of your car against another car - pull back and forward another time to be sure to drive past it. Stick-on rubber "bumper guards" or "protectors" are available in various colors and can protect your bumpers' corners from scuffs as well as others' with their slick rubber surfaces. If you don't want them anymore, carefully remove the double-sided tape with mild heat or other gentle techniques to reduce the risk to your paint.
      • Center your car in the space. Do not leave it resting on another.
    • In a very tight space, or if you're too far from the curb at first, wiggle the back end in too. Your car is probably rectangular and as such bigger diagonally than front to back. If you back the rear of your car all the way into a very tight space all at once, or try to get just the front of your car out of a very tight spot to drive away, the driver's side rear corner and the passenger-side front corner of your car may have little room to move forward and back. Reverse this to escape from a too-small spot.[3]
      • Back into the space putting the back end close, but not close enough, to the curb: for instance, two feet (60 cm).
      • When all the way at the back of the space, turn the front wheels sharply toward the curb and drive forward enough that the front end angles toward the curb. This changes the direction of the car without moving the back wheels much.
      • Straighten the front wheels and proceed forward. This pulls the rear wheels forward and toward the curb.
      • Turn the front wheels away from the curb and drive in reverse so that the rear of the car angles toward the curb. Again, this changes the direction of the car without moving the back wheels much.
      • Straighten the front wheels and proceed backward toward the car in back. This moves the rear axle back and toward the curb.
      • Repeat as necessary. The front end will work its way into the space in the process and can easily be swung over by turning hard to the curb as you pull forward.
      • If you're simply too far from the curb in a normal-size spot, pulling out and trying again may be easier.
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    At this point, if all went well, you should be tucked in nicely and parallel parked. If you aren't, do not worry. Just signal that you're about to leave the curb, pull out alongside the car in front of you, signal toward the curb again, and start over.
    • Open your door carefully. Glance in the side mirror and look behind to see what's coming, particularly if there is traffic close to the parking lane or there are bicyclists, rollerbladers or other side-of-the-road travelers in the area.
    • If the curb might be unusually high, tell your passengers to open their doors on that side carefully. A door could hit the curb and dent, or scrape its lower edge and become vulnerable to rust. If the door can't be opened fully when they get out, it shouldn't be opened fully before they get in because their weight will pull the car and door lower.


  • Be careful not to cut it too soon or too quickly, as this will result in being too far away from the curb. It is much harder to adjust your position in a space when you are too far away from the curb as opposed to being too close.
  • If you are parking in an area with shops, take advantage of the eventual reflection of your car in shop windows.
  • When backing up and lining up the cars, look in the driver's side mirror, and use the sides of the cars to know exactly how far your car has gone in towards the curb. I.e. how closely you've aligned them. That view of the sides of the cars (your car and the one behind you) offers a good easy view and check to know that you've positioned the car correctly. In particular, the side of your car above the rear wheels offers the best, most accurate view of where exactly your car is.


  • If you have fancy wheels or hubcaps, particularly with narrow "low-profile" tires or not dished within a protective rim, avoid pulling very close to a curb against which you might scrape them.
  • When in doubt, play it safe. Don't risk hitting the car behind you or in front of you. If traffic conditions permit, you might be able to put the car in park, get out and see how much space you have left. Often it's more than it looks from the mirrors.
  • When you are turning the wheel, try to always be moving, even if you are just inching forward/backwards, to prevent stress on your steering components.
    • Holding the wheel at an extreme of the turn range, which may produce noise, for more than a few seconds may be bad for a power steering system.

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Categories: Driving Basics