How to Improve Your Parking Skills
Five easy ways to become a parking pro.
by Alison Lakin
We’ve seen enough scrapes along parking lot pillars to know that parking is a challenge for many drivers. Whether you’re attempting to parallel park or squeeze into a space between two oversized SUVs, there are a few techniques you can implement that will see you comfortably navigating parking spaces around your town. Here’s what we recommend.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember driving school? Don’t worry, we’ve blocked it out too. Despite it being an awkward breeding ground for excitement, sheer terror, and a few too many hormones, driving school teaches you the basics by repetition. There’s no reason why you can’t use the same techniques years after you first held that precious license in your teenaged hand. Find an empty parking lot or open space and set up some cones (or other easily visible, flexible items) the average width of a parking spot. Then park and park some more to get your head and hands used to properly maneuvering your car. Switch between vertical and parallel parking, and you’ll be a pro before you can say “fifth-period gym class.”
Set Your Mirrors Right
Pulling into a tricky parking spot isn’t made easier with limited visibility. Having your mirrors correctly set to minimize blind spots is an invaluable way to more easily navigate into and out of that perfect spot. Expanding your sightlines is all about the angle of your mirrors. You’ll need to move your side mirrors out fifteen degrees on both sides. Do this by sitting in the driver’s seat and leaning your head out so that it’s even with the driver’s side window. Then adjust the mirror so you can just see the side of your car. For the right mirror, do the same while keeping your head in the center of the car. And there you have it!
Not quite getting the full picture from your mirrors during a parking situation? Don’t be afraid to move them around to see whether you’re too close to that minivan next to you. Make your car work for you.
Know the Size of Your Vehicle
It doesn’t matter if you’re at the helm of a seven-seat SUV or a subcompact car, if you don’t know the size of the vehicle you’re driving, you won’t be able to easily park it. It takes time to get comfortable maneuvering all that metal around. Here’s how to speed up the learning process. With the help of a friend guiding you (or a well-placed cone), slowly drive your car just a few inches away from a wall or garage door and then stop. Sit as you normally do and take note of what you see. Then do it a couple more times, and don’t forget to do it in reverse as well. Get used to the hood being that distance from the vertical object in front or behind you and you’ll grow comfortable with driving close (but not too close!) to parked cars and parking lot walls.
If you’ve rented a car or plan to slide behind the wheel of someone else’s ride, don’t just hop in; have a little walkaround first. Take note of structural specifics like whether the front bumper sticks out or the rear wheel wells flare out. These will help you when it comes time to pull the car into a spot. And don’t forget to adjust those mirrors!
Pick the Right Spot
So you’ve been circling the lot just waiting for a spot to open up. And one does! But it’s tiny – barely the width of your car. Trying to wedge your vehicle into an overly tight parking space is like trying to enter your house via the doggie door. Sure, you might make it happen, but it’s likely there will be damage and you’re certainly not going to look pretty in the process. Learning when to let a parking space go is an art form in itself. Wait for a spot of a manageable size.
When All Else Fails, Use Technology
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that driving is a skill and skills can be hard to master. Good thing, then, that car manufacturers pile on more technology features with every generation of vehicle, many of which provide ample parking support. Take parking sensors, for instance. Most of us are familiar with this system; the closer you get to an object, the faster the alerts sound. Easy, no-bump parking. Rearview cameras are also lifesavers when squeezing into tight spots. With them, you can get within inches of the vehicle parked behind you. Many modern cars offer backup cameras or parking guidance built into the dash. If you plan to keep your car for a while (like most of us), but lack that feature, add-on upgrades are available.