How can I improve my parking skills?
June 30, 2006 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I am horrible at parking:-( Thanks to the great advice in this thread, I was able to pass my driver's test. Unfortunately, my parking skills are all over the map. Is this something that will improve with more practice, or are there certain tricks and techniques that I should know?

*Note: All of this relates to parking in regular parking spaces.
  • When going into a space, how do you estimate when and where to begin turning?
  • I can't seem to go in straight. The vehicle (Toyota Camry) always ends up in some sort of angle.
  • I tend to end up closer to the left side than the right.
  • Backing out: First I back out in as close a straight line as possible. Once I start turning, I feel like I'm on the verge of hitting the car parked next to me. Is this normal for a first-time driver, or am I doing something wrong?
  • To make matters worse, I get very anxious when I see cars waiting for me to back out.

If there's anything else you think would be helpful, please feel free to add it! Thanks to everyone in advance:-)
posted by Esther Festers to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's just practice. This is a physical skill which no amount of description and advice will help you master. Just do it over and over and over; go to a parking lot at night and do it between cones if you have to. The anxiety makes it a lot worse; just make yourself do this as much as possible and you'll find the anxiety will disappear, too.

I was no good at parallel parking until I lived in a major city where I was forced to do it twice a day. Within a couple of months I was great at it. Now I get surprised compliments on my ability to park large vehicles in spaces just inches bigger. All just practice.

Backing out: make an attempt to back in such a way that the front of the car points in the direction you're ultimately going to drive in. Don't back straight out.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on June 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Practice, as Miko says. Also, try to get a feel for the dimensions of your car, how it turns, and try to get comfortable being closer than you like to another car. Many's the time I've seen people stop with feet to spare because they think they are too close. Take it slow.
posted by chupwalla at 8:04 PM on June 30, 2006

You realize you WILL have to know how to parallel park too, right? I can Share the Secret (tm) if you'd like, but only if you admit your powerlessness, Grasshoppah.

Seriously, though, my dad taught me and I can parallel park a fucking Mack truck:

1) put on your fucking signal

2) pull up next to the car in front of the spot you want, about 1 foot away (parallel) from their driver's side

3) get as close to exactly aligned with their nose and tail (in other words, be as exactly positioned as they are, but 1 foot away horizontally)

4) start backing up - slowly - until the very tip of your car is now 1/2 way down the body of the car that was side by side with you (about at the crack between the back and front doors)

5) immediately cut the wheel completely curb-ward

6) continue backing slowly now until your butt is about 1/2 way across their back bumper (about 1/2 way between their curb-far side and the curb)

7) cut wheel completely non-curb-ward (while backing INCREMENTALLY)

8) shimmy a bit either way for comfort, and you're in like fucking Flynn.
posted by tristeza at 8:05 PM on June 30, 2006 [4 favorites]

Addendum: all of this is done with pretty much no pressure on the gas, just release of the brake. Mostly. Not a lot of propulsion is needed, in other words, go gently into this night.
posted by tristeza at 8:08 PM on June 30, 2006
posted by freeflytim at 8:18 PM on June 30, 2006

Best answer: first of all, kudos to you for not wanting to be one of those people that leaves 6 nanometers of space for me to get out of my car!

re going in straight: make sure you don't cut the corner of the parking space with the car. try making a wide-sweeing turn into the space rather than just pointing your car towards the spot and then turning the wheels once you're nose-in. the wide turn will give you a chance to line the car up.

oh, this makes no sense in words. here. don't do this:

instead, do this:

swinging wide like that will give you a chance to line the car up with the spot. hope this helps some.

sorry for the tardoshop. i'm tired.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:22 PM on June 30, 2006 [9 favorites]

This is how I was taught to do it, and it has always worked well for me.

1. Signal.

2. Pull up next to the car in front of your intended parking space, parallel, with about a foot between you.

3. Shift into reverse.

4. Back up slowly, until the back driver's-side corner of the car next to you just appears in your kerb-side rear-door window. Stop.

5. Wind the steering wheel to kerb-side lock.

6. Back in slowly, watching in your driver's-side wing mirror until you just see the rear, kerb-side corner of the parking space appear in that mirror (that is, the actual spot on the kerb at the back of the parking space). Stop.

7. Straighten the steering wheel.

8. Back up slowly until the driver's-side rear corner of the car in front of you just appears in the the kerb-side corner of your windscreen. Stop.

9. Wind the steering wheel to driver's-side lock.

10. Back in slowly until you're parallel with the kerb. Stop.

11. Straighten the steering wheel, and go slowly forward into the middle of the parking space.

That method, plus loads of practice, will get you there.

When you're pulling out of a parking space:

1. Signal.

2. Wind the steering wheel to kerb-side lock.

3. Back up slowly, as far as you can without hitting anything (looking at your reflection in a shop window can often help judge this). Stop.

4. Wind the steering wheel to driver's-side lock.

5. Do a final check for passing traffic, and drive forward out of the space.
posted by flabdablet at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

One of your best bets? Learn on a big vehicle. Like a pickup. Learn with cones or something else that you can hit without damage. Do it lots.

And lots. Then do it some more. There will come a time when you stop over-thinking it and just know when to cut and when to turn the other way.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:08 PM on June 30, 2006

My piece of advice - whenever possible, avoid parking where you need to back up to get out of the stall. Usually stalls face one another in pairs, so look for two adjacent stalls that are empty and drive through one of them and park in the one on the opposite side, so that you can simply drive forward to exit the stall.

A lot of your problems are just related to lack of experience, though. The more comfortable you get driving your vehicle, the less parking will be a problem.
posted by gwenzel at 9:37 PM on June 30, 2006

By the way, "kerb" is the same as "curb" in US-ian, in case you were confused by "kerb-side" in flabdablet's instruction. A "lock" is where the steering wheel stops, i.e., "wind the steering wheel to kerb-side lock" means to turn the steering wheel toward the curb until it stops.
posted by kindall at 9:38 PM on June 30, 2006

Go to a large open space (i.e. mall car park). Take a couple of those lightweight metal folding chairs. They're the 'other cars'. Set them up at the distance you'd be from other cars in the real world. Practice, practice, practice.
posted by essexjan at 10:49 PM on June 30, 2006

Best answer: sergeant sandwich's suggestion may help you adjust to parking, but it also increases your chances of hitting an oncoming vehicle.
When going into a space, how do you estimate when and where to begin turning?
You begin turning the wheel when the nose of your car is just past the far side of the parked car closest to you. From your description, it sounds like you're turning your wheel too early. Wait an additional one or two feet. Practice this slowly until you get a good feel of where to turn.

One other thing may help you: don't drive very close to the parked cars on the side you want to pull into. In fact, it's much easier to turn across traffic to park than into a space on the same side as your car. Perhaps you should try pulling across traffic until comfortable and then try the near side. It's not much different when you do it right, but there's more room for correction when you're virtually straight by the time your nose enters the space.

As an aside, if your a two handed driver, get comfortable with a one handed swing of the wheel. This method can accomplish a quicker and smoother turn, which is handy for parking.
I tend to end up closer to the left side than the right.
This is a classic sign of a couple of things. I don't know which applies best, but perhaps one of them will ring true.

1) You're short, perhaps not for a woman, but short enough not to feel comfortable with the passenger side of the car. At 5'11", I have great visibility. At 4'8", a friend of mine could barely see over the wheel and was never comfortable with the passenger side of the car. She overcompensated to the side she could see. At 5', my fiancee sits on a pillow while she drives to have a better view, but still overcompensates to the driver's side.

2) You're looking at the nose of the car. This is truly the beginners mistake. Never look there. Look way ahead. When you're parking, you should not be overly concerned about every inch in front of you, but where you're going. Practice looking farther ahead, but go slowly while doing so at first, especially while parking.

3) You have poor spacial awareness. Some people can park parallel with their eyes closed due to a heightened awareness of their body's motion. Others couldn't do it without the aid of someone outside the car. If you are regularly parking at a diagonal, try cracking your car door while you park and watch the lines. Get a sense of what it feels to be straight. If you're too nervous to do this, crack the door in the last few feet of the space or stop and look down and out the window. You can adjust your car a great deal in these last few feet.
Backing out: First I back out in as close a straight line as possible. Once I start turning, I feel like I'm on the verge of hitting the car parked next to me. Is this normal for a first-time driver, or am I doing something wrong?
This is normal. If it goes away, you may be a little overconfident and in a hurry one day and boom. If you back out on the same arc you turned in at, presuming a good deal of practice, you'll begin turning your wheel slowly when your car is halfway out of the space and more sharply as the car obviously clears the nearby parked cars.
To make matters worse, I get very anxious when I see cars waiting for me to back out.
4. You're spending too much time worrying about other cars and not enough about your own. I don't mean this to be snarky, but fuck the other cars. You're job is to be aware of where the cars are on the road. Unless they are endangering you in any way, don't pay them any more attention than that. If they're waiting for you and a safe distance away, odds are that they are happy to wait for their spot. Don't hit them, as you're going backwards and their vehicle is stopped, making you at least more than 50% at fault in the case of an accident, but that doesn't seem to be your worry. They want your space, they don't want to be hit, and for the most part, they are happy to wait a couple of extra seconds to get both.

Here's my advice. Go to a busy mall with an experienced driver, someone with five to ten years more experience than you. Back into spaces for a couple of hours. So mall security doesn't bust you, do this far away from the entrance where there are some open spaces. Start in spaces where there are no cars on any side. Then try some where there are cars behind you. The with cars behind you on one side.

Each time you should get out of the car, walk around and get a sense of what you did and what you might do to improve. Talk about it with your driver friend. Try making corrections if the parking job is unacceptable. Repark if necessary, but try just pulling out a little, then backing in. Now you're ready to back into the peninsula of empty space that is made by three cars.

When you're feeling confident, get lunch, shop, and relax for an hour. Then try going forward. If you're not feeling confident with backing up, come back a week later and try again. Don't park going forward until you have it nailed backwards. (Alter this plan to meet the learning style you learn best from or to fit the teaching style of your experienced driving friend.)
posted by sequential at 11:03 PM on June 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just to give you a boost, what parts of driving are you good at?

When I was learning, I was great at stopping in the parking lot - I always got the nose of the car closest (among my classmates) to the cone without hitting it. But I wasn't so good at judging when to brake when I was moving and we were coming up to a stop light - the instructor had to hit his brake on me a couple of times.

Think of some part of driving that you are good at, and realize that you'll get better at this with practice, too.

If at all possible, take someone who doesn't make you very nervous out with you. When my dad was in the car, he was always griping about something ("you didn't look soon enough to see if any cars are coming up that ramp!! You don't look in your rearview mirror enough!") and it made me a wreck.

If you're really nervous, before you go out to a busy parking lot, go to an empty one... such as a church on any day they don't have services.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:11 AM on July 1, 2006

Practice makes perfect better, and the advice above is generally sound. Some people, however, will never be rosy parkers, no matter how many times they rehearse. If that's you, consider getting ass whiskers.
posted by rob511 at 1:13 AM on July 1, 2006

The guidelines I gave above apply to parallel parking. If you're actually asking about how to park in a nose-in parking bay, don't use that method :^)

I will generally reverse into 90° parking bays unless there are signs specifically prohibiting that. Once again, this takes practice to get right, but in my opinion it makes coming out afterwards a lot safer and easier.
posted by flabdablet at 1:17 AM on July 1, 2006

Practice make perfect, go into an empty parking lot and layout a parking space (pull-in or parallel, you should practice both). Make it large to start so you can get it everytime, then shrink the size by moving the cones in.
posted by 445supermag at 6:33 AM on July 1, 2006

I honestly think that practice is the best way to improve. Here's how I practiced parking when I had my temps.

I grew up in the country where there was absolutely no need to parallel park. Of course, I had to do it for my driver's test. I taught myself how by simulating a parking situation in my parents' driveway. I set up a long board to be the curb, and two trash cans to simulate the cars in front and behind me. Then I spent hours pulling in and out. When my parents would park in the driveway I'd use their vehicle as the car in front, and still use my board as the curb and a trash can as the vehicle in back. It was helpful.

I learned to angle park by going to schools' parking lots in the summer and just pulling in and out over and over. You get the feel eventually.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:54 AM on July 1, 2006

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

You'll be fine. Don't shy away from trying to parallel park.

Just look around. There are tons of people who do a mediocre job at parking. I bet you can do lots better than them with a little practice!
posted by bim at 6:54 AM on July 1, 2006

There are good rules of thumb above. One great way to practice is on a quiet Sunday morning go to a mall or a city street where there is parking in front of a storefronts with glass windows. Then practice using the rules, but checking your reflection in the windows so you can get immediate feedback on where the car is, and, especially, you will learn how big the car is and where the corners are. Once you can visualize where the corners are from inside the car you will reduce your anxiety hugely.
posted by Rumple at 8:20 AM on July 1, 2006

My son was practicing this night before last. Yes, it's all about practice. Park, get out and look, pull out. Park, get out and look, pull out.

Because my son doesn't, strictly speaking, have his learner's permit, we had an extra incentice to not hit the cars. I stood at the corner of the car on his right (this is angled parking). He thought that helped him get a feel for the positioning, because I am easier to see than the corner of the car. Maybe you could have a friend do this?
posted by Methylviolet at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the great advice:-) I've ordered two bright orange traffic cones from online, and will put them to good use.

sorry for the tardoshop. i'm tired.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:22 PM PST on June 30

The illustration was perfect:-)
posted by Esther Festers at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: Sequential- you hit the nail on the head. I'm 5'3" and never thought that I would have to use a pillow (unlike my mom, who's 4"11.) But I will definitely try it now.
posted by Esther Festers at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2006

I have a rule of thumb I developed for parking in tight garages, and it might help you if you're a little nervous. Sometimes it's just not possible to make it into a spot in one turn. Try this.

1. Turn out like sgt sandwich showed. However, don't aim to end up in the spot. Aim so that you end up pointing diagonally past the spot, but the back end of your car is lined up with the spot that you want to be in.

2. Put the car in reverse. Turn the wheel all the way the other way from where it was before.

3. Back up and you should end up pretty much lined up for a straight shot into the spot.
posted by jefftang at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2006

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