How to Parallel Park Like a Pro

Parallel parking can be daunting, but if you follow these tips, it doesn’t have to be.

Car parallel parking Shutterstock

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New technology continues to make parking easier. First it was parking sensors and rear-view cameras; then came systems that find a space and guide you in, steering and telling the driver when to shift between drive and reverse. Now they’ve evolved to where the driver can sit back or even exit the car and let the computer do its thing. Parallel parking is becoming a lost art, something to struggle through on a driver’s test and then forget. We’re here to fix that and ease the stress of how to parallel park. You might enjoy it and the pride that comes with a parking job well done.

Start by Visualizing Imaginary Lines

This approach to parallel parking is rooted in basic geometry. Fortunately, you don’t need to understand the math to make it work. You simply need to draw a pair of imaginary lines: the first extends from the rear bumper of the car you want to park behind, perpendicular to the curb. The second line runs parallel to the curb but on the street side of the space. (You might even get lucky and find a space that has one or both of these lines painted on the pavement.) With your tools visualized, you’re ready to begin.

How to Parallel Park in Four Easy Steps

This procedure works regardless of which side of the road you’re parking on. We’ll assume you found a space that’s long enough to fit your vehicle, and the car you’re parking behind is about the same width as yours or wider.

1. Pull your car forward past your chosen spot so that your rear wheels are aligned with the first imaginary line at the front of the space. The closer you are to the car you’re trying to park behind, the closer you’ll be to the curb at the end. Crank the wheel all the way toward the curb and shift into reverse.

2. Begin reversing until your curbside rear wheel hits the second imaginary line, the one parallel to the curb that marks the outer limit of the space. Straighten the steering wheel.

3. Continue reversing until your street-side rear wheel crosses that same imaginary line. Crank the wheel all the way toward the street.

4. Finish reversing and, if necessary, straighten the wheels and adjust your position moving front and backward so you’re centered in the space. It’s okay to use parking sensors or a rear-view camera to fine-tune your work—we won’t tell.

And that’s it! Everyone watching (and you know someone is watching) will think the car parked itself. After you’ve finished looking over your accomplishment, don’t forget to feed the meter.

Practice Makes Perfect

We suggest practicing to get the hang of imagining those lines and turning your steering wheel at the right times. Find a nice quiet parking lot away from judgmental eyes and pull up beside two head-to-head spaces, then get to work reversing into the rear spot. A cone placed at the front outside corner of the space can help keep you honest without causing damage in the event of a misjudged parking attempt.

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David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.