Parallel Parking Fully Explained

Parallel parked cars 1 photo
Photo: wikimedia/edited by autoevolution
We see it almost daily - beginners or women struggling to parallel park their vehicles while everyone else honks, comments and gets mad at them. Eventually, the operation ends after around 2 minutes, when either the driver gives up or the car gets parked but sticks out of the row by a mile.
Most cars can now be equipped with optional parking assist systems to spare beginner drivers of this “hell-spawned ordeal”, but until the gizmo will eventually get standardized on all vehicles, everyone must know how to quickly and correctly parallel park their cars.

We know this job seems next to impossible for those not knowing how a car works, so we split the process into simple steps with full explanations and what not to do while performing the maneuvers.


What you need to do:
  • Put your turn signal on to warn others of your intention and slowly drive close to the parked cars until you find an empty space.
  • Slow down even more and in a glance, check if your car will fit there, keeping in mind that you’ll need about 2 extra feet (60 cm) of clearance in front and rear of your car.
  • Ignore the impatient philistines behind you that are honking or are flashing their lights. You need to park and nothing else matters.
What can go wrong:
Miscalculate the empty space and you’ll end up discovering the car won’t fit there. Remember that if the parking spots are not marked with lines on the ground, people won’t leave equal spaces and if you find an empty space where a mini was parked, your sedan will surely not fit.


This is the second most important part of parallel parking, because it will dictate how you’ll enter the parking space.
What you need to do:
  • Having found your perfect space, don’t turn off your signal and get past it.
  • Stop the car beside the parked vehicle sitting in front of your soon-to-be parking spot and leave about a length-of-an-arm of space between the two vehicles.
  • Your car should be stopped when the rear wheel aligns with the rear end of the parked car. If you can’t appreciate this, look through the rear door window until you can see the end of the other car “touching” the C-pillar of your car.
What can go wrong:
If you don’t leave enough lateral space between the cars, you will scrape against it when entering the spot. If you don’t align your rear wheel with the end of the other car, you can scrape the car or you will back up at a wrong angle in the next step.


The most important step in parallel parking is how you enter the space, so pay extra attention here.
What you need to do:
  • Put the car in reverse and turn the steering wheel to the right completely.
  • Start backing up slowly and when the car forms a 45 degree angle with the curb straighten out your wheels quickly.
  • Continue backing up straight at 45 degrees until your right rearview mirror aligns with the left corner of the car in front and stop. You can also tell when to stop if the rear right wheel is close to the curb, or if you look in the left mirror and see your rear end pointing just at the rear car’s headlight.
What can go wrong:
Not completely turning the steering wheel to the right before entering the parking spot will consume more space to achieve a 45 degree angle, thus reaching the rear car too soon and have no more room to straighten yours.
Entering at an angle lower than 45 degrees, will not allow you to reach the curb and align the car properly, while entering at a higher angle will cut most of your front clearance when you’ll need to straighten your car.
Not continuing to back up straight for long enough will leave your car sticking out of the row when you finish the next step, while going too much will make the car stop right in the curb and you’ll need to go forward a bit and reinitiate the procedure


If you managed so far, this is the easiest part. However, there’s still a bit geometry involved here as well so don’t celebrate yet.
What you need to do:
  • With your car entering at 45 degrees and right mirror aligning with the left corner of the front vehicle, turn the steering wheel to the left completely.
  • Continue backing up slowly until your car is parallel with the curb. You can also tell if its parallel by looking in the rearview mirrors and check if your car’s lines continue with the ones of the car behind (hoping that the one in the back is parked correctly of course).
  • When the car is parallel with the curb, stop and straighten your wheels again. If needed, go forward or backward to leave an equal amount of space between the two cars.
  • Don’t forget to put your car in neutral and apply the parking brake before stopping the engine.
What can go wrong:
Turning the steering wheel to the left too soon will make your car scrape the one in front, so don’t do it until the right mirror aligns properly or you’re sure the front of your car has passed the other car’s rear. Do it too late and you won’t have enough rear space to straighten out the car properly.

In case your parking space is the last one in the row, don’t rush into it with the front of the car. You will need a ton of space to align it close to the curb without backing up. In case you haven’t figured out yet, a car’s turning radius is much smaller when going backwards and the car is a hell lot more maneuverable in tight spaces. So follow the same rules, minus the part where you have to keep track of the rear car. You’ll also get to exercise this way.

If you still decide to parallel park entering with the front of your car, here’s a trick: when veering into the row, head on and slowly climb on the curb with your front right wheel (if the curb is low enough, of course). Continue until the right rear wheel approaches the curb and then completely steer to the left. You’ll get off the curb and your car will be pretty close to it now. Don’t forget to leave some space at the front. However, do take notice that this mount-on-the-curb maneuver takes a lot of space so don’t do it if you’re not sure you’ll manage.

All the steps above are applicable to standard sedans and hatchbacks but in real-life situations they might differ a bit since not all cars have the same dimensions and don’t offer the same visibility, so take extra care.

When parking on a one way, single lane street, it’s very important not to loose your calm. Signal your intention to park and then completely ignore the cars in the rear, even if they honk at you. Rushing these steps is the main reason people can’t park correctly.

Most importantly, keep exercising these steps. One day, everything will come to you naturally and you’ll be able to back up the car in the parking space in one flowing move.

We also put a video tutorial here from Youtube channel “Parking Tutorial” in case you can’t picture the steps in your mind.

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