There are few milestones in life quite as exciting as getting your driver’s license. But as much as you practice, the day of your test will still bring some serious nerves. Hopefully you had some solid guidance, and logged enough hours behind the wheel to feel fairly comfortable with the driving instructor sitting next to you. But even after you nail the road test, there’s still that nasty piece of business known as parallel parking. Many people go their entire lives without getting very comfortable at this technique. You’re trying to squeeze your car between two others, often with the stress of traffic pushing up on you, and car horns demanding you make it happen faster. Parallel parking also takes a good deal of practice, but there are some tricks of the trade you should pick up if you want to make your life easier. Here are five tips to help you learn how to parallel park.
One of the biggest challenges in parallel parking is simply figuring out if your car will fit in a given space. It’s a tough thing to eyeball, and there’s nothing scarier than when you bump into another vehicle because you misread the size of the space. So instead of just going for it, pull up parallel to the spot you want to take. If you can see you’ve got at least a foot of open space in back and in front of your vehicle before the next parked car, you’re good to go.
If a spot is fairly large it can be tempting to drive straight into the spot, especially if you’re coming off of a busy road. But this will usually cause more problems than it solves. Your vehicle’s rear will be out in traffic, and it’s tough to correct this once you’ve started. On most vehicles the rear wheels have a tighter radius for turning, giving you a much better chance of parallel parking with ease. So always back in to help your efforts.
The hardest thing to get down is also fairly simple if you know the rules, and that’s when to start your turn. Don’t back up without properly lining up your car. Basically, start with your car exactly parallel with the car in front of your parking space. Throw it in reverse, and back up with the wheels straight. Look out the passenger side, and when you first see the tail end of that header car in the window, it’s time to cut the wheel.
The other difficult element is figuring out the proper angle. Most novice parallel parkers will either come in too shallow or too deep, and either way you’ll end up having to throw it in drive and redo the entire thing. So once you’re ready to turn into the spot, turn the wheel once around, and let the car cut in at a forty-five degree angle. Then straighten the wheel and keep backing into the spot. Once you clear the lead car you’ll be able to turn the wheel the other way and straighten out.
Finally, don’t forget to keep an eye on your progress. Whether you’re parallel parking in an airport parking lot or in front of a shop downtown, you’ll often have a building right across the sidewalk. If that building is fronted in glass, use your reflection to gauge your progress. You’ll usually be able to see more here than you would in your own mirrors.