How do I Parallel Park?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Learning to parallel park is the most difficult part of learning to drive for many people, and even some people who have been driving for years are not comfortable with parallel parking. In fact, demonstrating an ability to parallel park is not always essential to obtain a driver's license, though never learning the skill can be a big handicap to a driver. The following advice may help take the mystery and stress out of learning how to parallel park.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

First, when attempting to parallel park, relax and take your time. Begin practicing on streets that are not busy, and start by parallel parking on a curb with no surrounding cars. When you have mastered that, try parallel parking behind a parked car, then between two cars with a lot of space between them. Move on to more challenging parallel parking situations when you feel comfortable with easier ones.

To parallel park behind another car, put on your turn signal and pull up next to the other car so that your rear bumper is aligned with theirs. If you are parking between two cars, pull up alongside the first one so that you can back into the spot. Next, put your car in reverse while applying the brake. Check to see that the road behind you is clear of any vehicles that you might back into.

As you release the brake slowly, turn your wheel sharply towards the curb so that your car rolls in that direction. You will have to turn the wheel more sharply if you are trying to fit into a smaller space, and you will have to learn exactly how your car handles in order to know how tight a turn is necessary. Your ability to parallel park will improve with practice.

Again, go slowly, and gauge the angle of your car as you are backing into the spot, making sure it is going where you want it to go. It is okay to stop completely to assess your angle. Adjust the wheel as you back up to make sure you are accurately fitting the car into the parking spot.

While parallel parking, keep an eye on the road and your surroundings. Watch your mirrors, make sure your windows are clear, and be aware of other drivers. Remember to stay calm and to take your time. If you feel that you are at a bad angle or do not have enough space to finish parking without bumping other cars, you may need to pull out and start over. Ideally, a parallel parked car is about six inches (15 cm) from the curb, and, of course, parallel to the curb.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


What I've learned about parallel parking is to cut the wheel tighter than you might think necessary. When you find an empty parking spot, drive past it until your car's rear end matches the car parked ahead. Check the traffic behind you, but remember that you're only going to inconvenience other drivers for a few minutes. It pays to be a little aggressive at this point.

When the path is clear, you should start backing up while cutting the wheel very sharply to the right. You should almost feel like you're backing up onto the sidewalk between the two parked cars. When the front of your car has cleared the back bumper of the first car, then it's time to correct the turn and worry about the other car behind you. It may feel like you'll hit that car's front bumper, but you won't if you're careful. That's when you straighten the wheel and pull forward into the space. It's not an easy maneuver for anyone, but it may be the only option you have for parking in a crowded area.


When I was learning to drive, my state decided to replace the parallel parking part of the driving exam with what they called a "maneuverability test". In reality, it was a modified version of parallel parking. We started in the parking space, then pulled out to the left or right side of a cone. We then put the car in reverse and backed it into the original parking spot. It wasn't nearly as difficult as trying to parallel park in a small spot in downtown traffic during rush hour.

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