How to parallel park in 8 easy steps

November 21, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

GettyImages-905989512.jpgParallel parking causes anxiety for nearly half of U.S. drivers, according to a nationwide poll. It’s not just that parallel parking is a tricky maneuver. The very worst part, say 24% of drivers, is getting flustered knowing they’re holding up other drivers as they squeeze their car into the spot.  

You can avoid parallel parking fear – without giving up and walking blocks to your destination – with eight simple steps that start with lining up reference points on your car with the car in front of you. 

Here’s how to parallel park like a pro (with short, easy-to-understand videos from one of our favorite YouTube driving gurus). 

RELATED: Conduite Facile shows how to parallel park  

How to parallel park step-by-step 

Unless you’re a seasoned parallel parker, avoid spots that are less than one and one-half car lengths of the vehicle you’re driving. Once you’ve found a good candidate: 

  1. Turn on your blinker to show your intention to parallel park. Use your mirrors and check over your shoulder for approaching cars and pedestrians. 

  1. Pull alongside the car you want to park behind, staying about three feet away from its side. 

  1. Assuming you’re parking along a curb to your right, line up your passenger side mirror with that car’s driver-side mirror. You may have to adjust your position if your car is a different size than the one you’re parking behind (moving slightly ahead of its mirror if you have a longer car or staying slightly behind if you have a shorter car). 

  2. Check again behind and beside you to ensure it’s safe to begin parking. Put the car in reverse and cut the wheel one turn to the right. 

  3. Back slowly until the license plate of the car in front of you appears centered in your passenger-side window as you angle into the space. Sit up straight without leaning forward or tilting your head back, since that will change your perspective of how you’re aligning with the other car. 

  1. Cut the wheel completely to the left (until you can turn it no farther) and continue backing slowly to straighten the car as you bring it into the space.  

  1. If needed, put the car in Drive to create even spacing between you and the cars on either end. Cutting your wheel one and a half turns to the right will straighten your tires. 

  1. Set the emergency brake before leaving the vehicle and lock it up. 

Once you’re parked, make sure you’re no more than 12 inches away from the curb (that’s the maximum legal distance in both Washington and Oregon; other states may allow 18 inches).  

What’s the best way to get out of a parallel parking space? 

As with any parking space, backing safely is the key to exiting a parallel space: 

  1. Look in your mirrors and over your shoulder to check for cars and pedestrians. 

  1. If it’s clear, put your car in reverse and back slowly as far as you can to give yourself plenty of space to exit. 

  1. Always look in the direction your car is moving. (Backup cameras are helpful, but some newly licensed drivers report having been marked down for relying on them when parallel parking for their driving test. Ask your driver’s education instructor for advice on using a backup camera when testing in your city.) 

  1. Once you’re finished backing, immediately put the car in Drive. That will prevent you from “phantom backing” into the car behind you. 

RELATED: Are you a phantom backer? | PEMCO 

  1. Signal to enter traffic and check your mirror and over your shoulder, being especially careful to look for approaching bicyclists. 

  1. If you can’t get out in one try, repeat the basic exit maneuver, cranking your wheel toward the curb when backing and, when you shift to Drive, cranking it toward the lane.  

RELATED: Conduite Facile shows how to get out of a parking spot 

Are we good parallel parkers in the Northwest? 

The answer depends on who you ask! In a national poll, Northeast drivers were the most confident in their parallel parking skills (61%) followed by Southeast and Gulf Coast drivers. In the West, 50% felt confident when parallel parking. Midwest drivers were the least confident at 46%.  

Washington and Oregon drivers in a PEMCO Poll had a somewhat different take. When asked about their skills, 64% said they were at least “good” parallel parkers. However, when it came to judging the skills of fellow drivers, only 48% rated their performance as “good” or “excellent.” 

RELATED: Driving skills poll | PEMCO 

Parallel parking skill may boil down to opportunities for practice. In high-density Northeast cities (think New York and Boston), the ability to parallel park is critical for drivers hoping to find a spot. It’s less important in roomier Midwest locales, where parking is more plentiful. 

States seem split on the importance of parallel parking. In Washington, parallel parking is included on the driving test (although failing that portion of the test won’t scuttle your chances of achieving a license, provided it isn’t combined with other driving lapses or dangerous behaviors like lack of signaling or failure to yield). Oregon doesn’t test for parallel parking skills.  

What to do if you hit another vehicle 

If, unfortunately, you hit a car when you’re parallel parking, we can help! 

Stay calm and follow these steps for what to do after an accident. If you can’t locate the car’s owner, leave a note under the wiper documenting the damage you caused and giving your contact information. It should say something like this: 

On (date and time), I hit your (color, make, model) car, license plate (number). My (part of car) contacted your car’s (part). Please call me so that I can provide my insurance information. 

(Your name, phone number) 

Then, take a picture of your note and the damage to both cars. That level of documentation can save you from being blamed for any other damage to the car that you didn’t cause, and once you’ve heard from the car’s owner, it will help us process the claim.  

You can report a claim anytime, day or night. Log in to your account at or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO. 



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