How to Parallel Park: a Step-by-Step Guide

Parallel parking is one of the trickiest driving manoeuvres to pick up, but it's one that you'll probably have to master if you want to pass your test. If you're learning how to parallel park for the first time, or you're trying to refresh your knowledge, checking out this simple step-by-step guide is a great place to start.

Parallel parking

What is parallel parking?

Strictly speaking, parallel parking refers to any time that you park your car at the side of a road, parallel to traffic. But the particular type of parallel parking that most people struggle with is reversing to park between two parked cars, where there’s only a small gap to fit into. When you take your practical test, this is the parallel parking situation that you will be tested on.

Besides this, there are only two other possible parking situations that your instructor has to choose from for your test. This means, there’s a good chance that you will have to parallel park if you want to pass your test and get your licence. The other two parking situations that you could be tested on are the following: reversing in or out of a parking bay, or reversing alongside the kerb for two car lengths on the right-hand side of the road.

1. The approach

Before you begin parallel parking, you should approach the space carefully. Make sure that you always:

  • Slow down. Reduce your speed gradually as you get closer to the gap that you are intending to park in
  • Indicate. Let other drivers know where you’re going
  • Stay aware. Keep an eye out for traffic and any potential hazards around you

Even the best drivers will struggle to park in a gap that’s too small, so you should always assess the space before you try to park in it. Ideally, the parking space should be at least one-and-a-half car lengths. If this isn’t possible, there should still be at least two feet of clearance at either end of your car.

2. How to parallel park

1. Position your car

Before you begin reversing, you should be level with the car in front of the space you’re parking in. Leave a gap of around three feet between your car and this one.

2. Check your mirrors and blindspot

Take a look in your rearview and side mirrors, and also make sure that you check your blindspot. During your driving test, it might be a good idea to turn your head a little more than you would otherwise, to make it clear to your instructor that this is what you’re doing.

3. Start reversing

Put your car into reverse gear and begin to slowly back up towards the gap, while gradually turning your steering wheel to the left.

4. Straighten up the steering wheel

As your car starts to enter the parking space, straighten up the steering wheel. With this, you should enter the space at roughly a 45-degree angle. Continue to check your rear and side mirrors, as well as keeping an eye on the front of the car through the windscreen, to make sure that you’re a safe distance away from both cars.

5. Steer to the right

After the front of your car has completely cleared the back bumper of the car in front of the gap, you can start turning the steering wheel to the right. This will swing the front of the car towards the kerb.

6. Check and adjust your position

As you continue to reverse, keep checking your rearview mirrors to see how much distance there is between you and the car behind. You can steer to the left or right as appropriate, in order to straighten up the vehicle until it’s parallel with the road. Once you’re straight, you may also need to move forwards until both the front and rear gaps between the cars are equal.

3. What happens if I make a mistake?

Reverse parallel parking into a small space is a relatively complex manoeuvre, and there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If you’re asked to do it as part of your driving test, you’re unlikely to fail if it doesn’t go according to plan. As long as the instructor can see that you know how parallel parking should be done and that you’re in control of the car the whole time, they won’t judge you too harshly if need to readjust or you’re not perfectly straight. The problems that could see you fail this part of the test are:

  • Mounting the kerb
  • Showing a major lack of control

As well as being essential to passing your driving test, parallel parking will hugely increase the number of potential parking spots available to you as you’re driving around town. Once you’ve absorbed all the information and instructions in this guide, give it a try on the roads, or just practise with a few cones. Before you know it, you’ll be parallel parking like a pro.

Can’t wait to get out on the open road? Take a look at the best cars for new drivers.

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