Not much provocation is required to launch the Czar into a rant about people’s driving habits. Likely, you share as much loathing for the typical driver as does the Czar. Indeed, some years ago, we suggested that the perfect intelligence test would be to put a candidate behind the wheel of a car; the longer he or she travels without a bonehead error, the higher your intelligence is ranked.
Except we would all fail in minutes. Whether it’s a total stop before making a right-hand turn, blocking a lane at a blind merge, or pulling into the left lane only to slow down, we all do things that irritate other drivers and make the driving gods shriek in horror.
Parallel parking is another story. Look, the Czar learned parallel parking with a horse and wagon in the steppes of Russia and was consistently able to parallel park a 1969 Chevrolet Impala 327 in one try. But even today, he will unabashedly drive 50 more feet to find a spot to drive into instead of a close one in which he could parallel park.
Does this sound like you? Guess what—it’s probably not your fault. If you can park your car in a diagonal slot, you have the necessary skills to parallel park easily.* So why is it so difficult?
Because the rules and tricks you were taught years ago don’t work anymore. The problem isn’t with you, it’s with the cab forward design of modern vehicles that prevent you from knowing where the foxtrot your bumpers are, where the four corners of your vehicle are, and how close or far you are to the people in front of and behind you. You basically sit in a bubble, and as far as you can tell, your hood ends with your dashboard and steering wheel.
“Czar, wouldn’t it be awesome if someone updated the rules of parallel parking using modern cars, and taking into account the differences in vehicle heights, and realizing cars don’t have bumpers, and providing instructions for whether the parking space is on the right or the left side of the road?” Of course it would, and the Czar obliges, for today the Czar is a kindly one.
Okay, so you can follow along, the Czar wants you to imagine a parking space between two parked cars. The front car is the one that will be in front of you when parallel parked; the back car is the one that will be behind you when you have parked. Got it?
Here’s what you do.
- Find a spot long enough for you to fit. How do I know? Pick a spot that’s five feet longer than your car. You can probably eyeball this very accurately, but if you’re in a new or different vehicle, this can be dicey. So do this:
- Pull up alongside the spot (or really slow down) and center your vehicle next to the free spot.
- If you can see the front car’s whole back end through your front windshield, you’re got enough room up front.
- If you can see the back car’s whole front end in your rear windshield by glancing over your shoulder, you’ve got enough room in back.
- That’s for a spot on the right. For a spot on the left, make sure you can see the front car’s whole back end out your side window.
- Look over your left shoulder: if you can see the front end of the back car in your rear windshield, you’re more than good. Just don’t use your side mirror for this.
- Pull up so your car is about two feet apart from the front car. How do I know? The distance between your cars should be the same as if you were parking in a parking lot. As long as your side mirror doesn’t smack his, you’re probably at a good distance.
- Stop when your front bumper is lined up with the front car’s front bumper. Shift into reverse but keep your foot on the brake. How do I know? When your steering wheel is pretty much lined up with his steering wheel, your front bumpers are close enough. Now if you’re in a long pickup truck and the front car is a Honda Fit, you probably need to pull up more.
- Turn your wheels all the way toward the curb but keep your foot on the brake. In other words, if the parking space is on your right, crank your wheel all the way clockwise. How do I know? As long as you turn the wheel toward the curb, you’ve got this mastered.
- Take your foot off the brake so the car begins to back up. When the car reaches a 45° angle, put your foot on the brake. How do I know? Use the side mirror away from the curb. When you see the back car’s front license plate centered in your side view mirror, your car is perfectly at 45°. Also, do not let your steering wheel start to spin back in the opposite direction: keep it cranked all the way toward the curb.
- Keeping your foot on the brake, turn the steering wheel all the way in the other direction. How do I know? This should be obvious by this point. But most drivers who screw up parallel parking seem to want to turn the wheel while letting up on the brake. This pulls your car out of position at the worst moment and winds up putting your car too far from the curb. If you routinely find yourself too far from the curb, it’s probably this step you’re screwing up.
- Let your foot off the brake, and let the car begin to turn into the spot. How do I know? Actually, there’s not much you can worry about. If you obeyed the prevoius three steps, the car is basically parking itself at this point. As before, don’t let your steering wheel start to turn in the other direction.
- When your car has cleared the front car, put your foot on the brake. How do I know? Look at the rear license plate on the front car. If it’s centered in your side window, you have cleared the front car. Of course, this is true if the spot is on the right. If the spot is on the left, you won’t need this trick because you can see from the driver’s seat that you aren’t hitting the front car.
- Keeping your foot on the brake, turn the steering wheel all the way to the other direction. How do I know? This step is just to land the car nicely on the spot with the wheels pointed slightly toward the curb.
- Let off the brake and let the car straighten out a little bit. How do I know? When you can see the back car in both your side mirrors, you are straight.
- Stop. You are parked. Put the vehicle in park and turn off the ignition.
Okay, you followed the above, and you find your car is still too far from the curb. Before you plead that you followed the step above about aligning the mirrors, that’s okay— sometimes the second step is the cause and it can be tough to figure out the distance between the two cars, especially when you’re in a tall SUV and the car is some little Smart speck. In fact, it can also happen if you didn’t initially notice the car in front of you is also far from the curb. After all, the above tricks line you up with the front car. If he’s wrong, you’re wrong.
But if that happens—if you’re way more than six inches out from the curb—take the Czar’s advice: don’t keep driving up and backing up and driving up and backing up, hoping you can “saw” your way closer to the curb. It will be faster and easier to just pull out and start over. Really.
* Conversely, if you have trouble diagonal parking, you’re probably never going to master parallel parking, so yeah—it is your fault.
** No, the Czar found artwork and modified it slightly. He wishes he could thank the original artist, but does not know who it is. No, it isn’t you, either, so don’t write in.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.