Help me not hurt my paint job any more than I already have.
February 25, 2007 6:55 PM   Subscribe

How do I know where my car ends and the rest of the world begins?

I've been involved in two minor incidents with my car since getting it in September, both of which occurred when I failed to adequately judge where the edges of my car were in relation to the world around me while trying to get out of a parking space. This isn't a problem while I'm driving, in general, since I just leave a lot of space between myself and the car in front of me and can generally figure out whether I'm in my lane. It's easy to be cautious and leave a lot of room.

But in parking lots and garages, I feel like things are very touch and go. By definition, there isn't much space, and the margins for error can be small. I've never tried to parallel park because I just can't believe there's any way I could make it work.

I'm a person with a history of phobic feelings about driving so I'm working with a lot of baggage. In general I'm good on the street and highway but I definitely sweat a little in a crowded parking lot.

How long did it take you to learn to figure out how much space you were working with? Did you develop any good rules of thumb for how things should look when parking or getting out of a parking space? My parents told me I would "just figure out" where the edges of my car are, but I haven't done it yet and I'm worried things will get expensive before I do, so I'm trying to speed this process up in whatever way I can.
posted by crinklebat to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Sit in your car. Drive *slowly* up to a concrete wall of some sort, until the bumper hits the wall. Get out. Look at it. Get in. Look at the view. That's where your car begins.

Turn the car around. Back up *slowly* to the same wall, until the bumper hits the wall. Get out. Look at it. Get in. Look at the view, through the mirrors and through the rear window. That's where your car ends.

Now you know.

One additional helpful thing: when exiting a tight spot of any sort, take a look around before you enter the car. You're parallel-parked, or in a parking garage - look around before you try to leave! I've got three feet here, only two feet here... okay, now I know. Makes things much easier.
posted by jellicle at 7:10 PM on February 25, 2007

We don't often think about 'practicing' driving after we get our licenses, but this *is* something you can practice. For example, take someone else to the mall with you, and have them give you hand signals while you pull in and out of parking spaces. Stop when you get very close to the car next to you, and look around. See how you can see features on their car in relation to yours. Try that in a few different spaces so you can get a sense of different cars and distances.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:12 PM on February 25, 2007

Best answer: Get a few old phone books or something else that won't damage the car if you run them over, and that won't blow away if it's windy (milk jugs half filled with water might be good--traffic cones would be best if you know where you can get them (legally!)). Go to an empty parking lot (maybe a church parking lot on a weekday), and lay them out along the lines of a parking space, maybe a little bit inside. Then, practice parking between the lines (and each time you park, get out to see how close you are to the lines) and then backing out of the space. You'll know if you run one over, but you won't damage anything important, so you can get in lots of practice this way.

That only really helps for the sides, though, unless you can get something tall (like a traffic cone) that you can see easily. (Because, of course, the tires are farther back than the front of the car, so if you go forward until you hit the phone books, you'll have run into the imaginary car. You could set them far enough back that when the tires are touching them, the front of the car is still in the space, though.) If you can, then try setting up a couple that you can parallel park between.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 7:27 PM on February 25, 2007

more suggestions here
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:28 PM on February 25, 2007

Also, I just park/get out of a parking space very slowly and carefully, pausing often to check the cars around me and make sure I'm not going to back into anything.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 7:29 PM on February 25, 2007

I like jellicle's idea. I really do. But please, please tape a shower curtain or something else to your bumpers before purposefully running into walls.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:01 PM on February 25, 2007

I had this problem for a bit! No one told me how to back out, just assumed I knew! I was (logically!) looking backwards and not realizing how much the front end swings around, and I was also backing out incorrectly to begin with.

The correct method is to back out straight until your car is completely (or almost, depending on how much space you've got) past the cars beside you. You can do this fairly quickly keeping most of your attention behind you and just a little bit in front making sure you're not accidentally turning. Then you've only got a short distance where you have to keep a sharp eye on both the front and the rear, while you start turning (remember to keep an especially sharp eye on the front corner which is opposite the side you're turning towards--if this is across from you, make sure you sit up as tall as you possibly can so that you can see over as much of the hood as possible). Once you've got a decent amount of space between you and the car in front you can go back to focusing back and making sure you're turning sharp enough.

Oh, and watching out for blithering idiots who try and stop as close to you as possible in order to get in the soon-to-be-empty space, except it's not going to be empty if they keep blocking you in........
posted by anaelith at 8:12 PM on February 25, 2007

Best answer: For a visual representation of the proper path you should take in (and out) of a parking spot, see seargant sandwich's excellent drawings. They answered the question of how to enter a parking spot, but those lines hold for how to exit (and how not to exit) a tight spot.
Ach! We're in a tight spot!
posted by carsonb at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2007

If you can find a space where you are comfortable practicing, you could also set up you know, stacks of empty boxes or whatever rather than practicing on concrete walls. I was relieved when I read that Saturn thread linked a few back; after never having the problem in my life I put several cosmetic but infuriating dings on the new Saturn pulling in and out of our very small garage. Some cars are definitely worse than others. Of course I didn't set up my obstacle course on purpose, I just stacked a bunch of crap up in my garage, but I found running into it did eventually train me on the true perimeters of my car.
posted by nanojath at 8:49 PM on February 25, 2007

sergeant sandwich, sorry.
posted by carsonb at 8:50 PM on February 25, 2007

There's another key bit of info in the thread carsonb linked to that you should note. I see from your previous question that you're relatively small, which means you should check out #1 in sequential's response, in which he suggests sitting on a pillow. Improving your visibility will make all of this much easier.
posted by Partial Law at 10:12 PM on February 25, 2007

Once you've taught yourself to parallel park, you can often get into tighter spots than you would have thought possible by using reflections in shop windows to show you exactly how much space you have behind you and in front of you. Make sure you can see the other car in the shop window as well as yours. If you find yourself checking out a shop window reflection and going "omg how can I possibly have a foot left I'm so close" then your car-preserving instincts are in good shape.
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 PM on February 25, 2007

It is much easier to judge how close you are on the driver's side of the car than the passenger's side. If you need to you can just open the window and stick your head out. I can easily get within a few inches of something on the left side without worrying about hitting it. The right side of the car is a different story so I am more cautious there. Use this knowledge to your advantage!

For front and back it just takes time to get used to. When I was teaching my grilfriend's son how to drive I used cones with flags on them to teach him how to parallel park. This helped him to get a feel for the size of the car without damaging anything.
posted by JJ86 at 6:05 AM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: I had the same orientation problem when learning to drive, until my dad made me run over things, like paper cups or aluminum cans (something that I could hear crunch). Practicing missing objects was not really helpful - I might get lucky, but couldn't say how. Once I could regularly hit the cans, though, I knew where my wheels were, and I could nail a parking spot.

As for how-far-to-pull-in: he taught me to use the cars next to me as a guide. I pulled in until our front windows/seats were about even, and that works fine most of the time. (If you're driving a limo, hummer, or parked next to a creative or selfish parker, it's best to find another spot.)

Ditto anaelith about backing out straight, turning only toward the end.
posted by ejvalentine at 8:12 AM on February 26, 2007

Drive around a pole( in a circle) in a parking lot forwards in both directions and then backwards in both directions. Then do it in the snow and you'll be set

If you're concerned about your car, use a t-ball stand or pylon(taller things are better though) or something else non-solid before you graduate to a pole.
posted by captaincrouton at 9:47 AM on February 26, 2007

Don't be afraid of parallel parking just because you have trouble with perpendicular parking. I am of the opinion that parallel parking is actually fundamentally easier, it's just that we think it's harder because once we learn to drive, most of us have to park perpendicularly much more than parallel, so we get used to it. When I first started driving, I could not understand how people park all the time without hitting each other. It really doesn't make sense to have to turn a rectangle 90 degrees and then fit it between two other rectangles. But lo and behold, you do get used to it eventually. I just mean to say that it is, in fact, counterintuitive--it's not just you.
posted by lampoil at 10:26 AM on February 26, 2007

Also, I don't know what they're called, but those orange poles you see on work/utility trucks. They're bright, and they stick straight up... unless they're touching something which is causing them to bend.
posted by Eideteker at 7:31 PM on November 19, 2007

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