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Parallel Parking


How to Parallel Park, Step by Step

Parallel parking is often regarded as one of the most difficult tasks for any driver, let alone a new driver. While parallel parking is not a requirement on the California DMV road test, it is often a requirement in real life when you find yourself in situations where you do not have access to a driveway or parking lot, and street parking is limited. When parallel parking duty calls, never fear! Drivers Ed Direct and instructor Jay are here to show you how to parallel park safely and with ease, using our simple Right-Straight-Left approach.

Basics for Curbside Parking Like a Pro

How to Parallel Park, Step by Step

  1. ASSESS: Assess the situation and find a legal, safe place to park
  2. PREPARE: Prepare to park by putting on your right turn signal and lining your car up just right
  3. EXECUTE: Execute the Right-Straight-Left method to reverse your car into the space
  4. ADJUST: Make any final adjustments needed
  5. EXIT: When it's time to leave your parking spot, exit safely!

How to Parallel Park - Detailed Breakdown

Parallel parking is easily one of the biggest questions we get from our students. We've studied all of the parallel parking methods out there and we teach a simple Right-Straight-Left method that works wonders for our students. With that said, at Drivers Ed Direct, we know that no two students learn exactly the same – so we've come up with some additional tips and reference points you can try if our standard method doesn't work for you.

Let's get started!

STEP 1 - ASSESS

First things first, we have to the assess the situation. Before we even start the process, we need to make sure it's safe to be attempting to parallel park. Check out the traffic situation around you, paying special attention to traffic behind you – we don't want to stop in the middle of the road if there is fast moving traffic behind us. If we're on a busy street, you need to be extra careful because you may be impeding an entire lane of traffic. If it's not safe to parallel park, move along and find a safer place to park.

Now that we have determined it is safe to park, we need to, of course, make sure we can fit in the parking space – we recommend that you find a space that is as at least 1 and ½ times the length of your own vehicle… bigger the better of course, but "real-world" you'll usually be working with a tighter space. Also, we need to make sure that the space is a legal parking space – that means no fire hydrants, painted red curbs, or "No Parking" signs.

STEP 2 - PREPARE

So we've assessed the situation and found an ideal place to parallel park, great! Now it's time for us to prepare for the maneuver. Again, the entire time we are parallel parking we are actively doing traffic checks, using our mirrors and checking our blind spots to see what's going on around us. Cars, pedestrians, or cyclists may come along while we are in the midst of parking, so we need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.

As we pull up to our desired parking spot, we want to put on our right turn signal so that others know what our intentions are – that we plan to pull to the curb. With our turn signal on, we want to properly align our car perfectly parallel with the "ahead parked car". We want to be about 3 feet away from that parked car, or a "handshaking distance" to it. That is, we are close enough that I could reach out and shake hands with someone in that car.

Where we stop is key – we want to align the back of our rear door with the bumper of the other car. Some cars have a small triangular rear window – you can also use this to line up with the other car's rear bumper. Also, you can think of it this way: you are lining up your rear tires with the other car's bumper. Make sense? Perfect!

Now, with your foot firmly on the brake, shift your car into reverse. Once again, re-check your mirrors and blind spots for traffic and pedestrians approaching from behind. All looks good and we are ready to execute the tried and true Right-Straight-Left method!

STEP 3 - EXECUTE
Execute - Right

With everything lined up from the previous step, our car 3 feet away from the other car and the back of our rear door aligned with their bumper, we want to turn our wheel ALL the way to the RIGHT. With the wheel turned all the way to the right, we let the car reverse backwards very slowly. You usually don't need much gas and we highly recommend covering your brake the entire time so you can stop suddenly if needed. Let the car continue to roll back until your car is at a 45-degree angle with the curb.

For those of you who hate math, this visual reference point may work for you: stop the car when the divider between your front and back windows blocks the other vehicle's left-rear taillight from your view. While this may help, please remember that visual reference points will differ slightly depending on several factors like the size of your car, your own height, and the size of the other vehicles. Ultimately, you want to find the visual reference point that works best for you and your specific situation.

Execute - Straight

Now that you have reached a 45-degree angle to the curb, STRAIGHTEN your steering wheel by turning it back to the center position. This usually is 1½ to 2 turns of the steering wheel. With your wheels now straight, you are going to continue to back up – don't forget to check your mirrors and blind spots again. Reverse very slowly until your right-front bumper clears the back bumper of the other car. If you are having trouble seeing if you cleared the other car's bumper, these alternate visual reference points may help you – choose what works best for you:

  • Stop when the other car's left mirror aligns in a straight, parallel-to-the-curb line with your right mirror OR
  • Stop when the other car's license plate is about centered in your passenger-side front window
Execute - Left

Now that you have cleared the other car's bumper, turn your wheel ALL the way to the LEFT. Slowly reverse your car, watching carefully that you do not clip the car in front of you or back into the car behind you. As soon as your car is parallel with the curb, straighten out the steering wheel and reverse or pull forward, making any small adjustments you need to position your car evenly between the two parked cars.

There you have it! We are now successfully parallel parked between 2 cars. Try this method a few times, starting with bigger spaces to begin, and you'll be parallel parking with confidence in no time at all! If you really want to be a pro and save your mirror from getting knocked off your car, we recommend folding in your driver-side mirror after parallel parking.

STEP 4 - ADJUST

So, you may be saying to yourself, "What if I don't get my car parked perfectly parallel on the first attempt?" Great question! If you can, just pull out of the space and try again. However, sometimes you may have to do some "fine-tuning" to work your way into the parking space – this is especially true in small or tight parking spaces. If this is the case, you'll basically have to make several fine-tuned forward-back-forward adjustments by steering all the way to the right and moving forward slightly or steering all the way to the left and reversing slightly – and then repeat these forward-backward steps until parked properly. Let me show you what I mean (demonstrates). Just make sure you are extra cautious and slow - don't bang into other cars!

STEP 5 - EXIT

Assuming you're not abandoning your car, you're going to have to eventually leave your parking space. Be careful when you exit – you'll usually need to reverse a little bit before pulling out of the parking space to avoid clipping the car in front of you. Also, don't forget to SMOG (Signal, Mirror, Over-the-Shoulder) before exiting the parking space – it's always good to double check for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles.

REVIEW / WRAP UP

There you have it, you now know how to parallel park with the best of them! Just remember to follow these steps and you'll be on your way:

  1. ASSESS: Assess the situation and find a legal, safe place to park
  2. PREPARE: Prepare to park by putting on your right turn signal and lining your car up just right
  3. EXECUTE: Execute the Right-Straight-Left method to reverse your car into the space
  4. ADJUST: Make any final adjustments needed
  5. EXIT: When it's time to leave your parking spot, exit safely!

From everyone at Drivers Ed Direct, stay safe out there and happy parallel parking!