Few driving tasks are as intimidating as parallel parking. Many new motorists have failed an otherwise perfect driving test on this technicality alone. How many of us avoid parking on busy streets because we’re just not good at parallel parking? Thank goodness for strip-mall parking lots the size of a small state―maybe humiliation-free parking is the real motivation for suburban sprawl.
Seek out a Space
Find a parking spot where you feel comfortable that you can safely get your car into without crunching into another car. Drive around the block until you find a larger gap if you need to; you will need a space that’s several feet longer than your car.
Check your Mirrors
Look in your rearview mirror and driver-side mirror as you approach the space to ensure another car is not riding on your tail. Signal toward the space as you approach it, slow down,and stop. If another motorist rides up on your rear, simply maintain your position and keep signaling. You might even need to roll down your window and wave the other driver around; they might not have realized you’re trying to park.
Line up your Vehicle
Get your car in line with the parked vehicle directly in front of your desired spot. Don’t get too close on the side, or you might scrape the other car when you make your move. But you also don’t want to be too far away―two or three feet will suffice. Position your vehicle parallel to the parked car, aligning your bumpers or staying two or three feet behind.
Put your Vehicle in Reverse
Check the driver-side mirror to make sure the street behind you is clear of traffic before you begin to back up. Then look over your other shoulder at the space to assess the gap. Turn the steering wheel hard right. You are about to execute the first part of the S-turn.
Foot off you Brakes
Release the brakes and slowly begin backing into the turn. Visually check in front of and around your car often. Make sure you remain far enough away from the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you as you slide in. If your rear tire hits the curb, you’ve gone too far; just shift gears and pull forward a few feet if this happens. (Note: Even the most gifted and seasoned parallel parkers do this―often.)
Turn the Steering Wheel
Turn to the left once the rear of your vehicle is predominantly in the space, still going backward. This is the last half of the S-turn, where you snake your way completely into the space and straighten out your car at the same time. Continue in reverse as far back as you can without tapping the bumper of the vehicle behind you.
Shift into drive and turn the steering wheel to the right again, and move forward gently toward the curb while centering your vehicle in the space.
Voila! At this point, if all went well, you should be tucked nicely in the space and parallel parked. If you aren’t, there’s no harm done. Just signal that you’re about to leave the curb, pull out and alongside the car in front of you, signal toward the curb again, and start over. You won’t be the first person―and certainly not the last―who tries parallel parking a few times before getting it right.