Skills That Can Save You Money Part 1: Parallel Parking

By Paul Michael on 17 March 2010 (Updated 17 March 2011) 18 comments
Photo: AtOMiCNebula

It may at first seem odd that a driving lesson would appear on a blog about saving money. But read on and you’ll see why something as basic (well, to some) as parallel parking can be a ticket to big savings.

I passed my test late in life. I was 26, and I did it here in America. It lasted roughly 15 minutes, and it basically involved driving around the block for a few minutes, getting on and off a highway, and stopping at a few stop signs and traffic lights. There was no test for parallel parking, which is good because I’ve never really had to do it.

I was fortunate enough to work and live in places that always had free parking lots. Only recently did I move to a new job downtown, and when you move to the city, you are presented with a severe lack of free parking lots.

For instance, in downtown Denver the parking lots run from $4 for the day (if you get in by 7am) to $20 a day. And that’s what you’ll have to pay if you’re parking for the duration.

But if you’re only looking to park for an hour, say to grab lunch or run an errand, some of these places charge you $2 for every 20 mins! Contrast that to the parking meters that max out at $1 per hour and it’s a significant saving to park at a meter.

Therein lies the problem for some people though. The sheer horror of trying to parallel park will have them lining up for the expensive lots. From having to reverse into a space, to doing the deed in front of an audience and looking foolish, it puts some people in a cold sweat. And if you have to run errands once or twice a week, you’re blowing a ton of money for the convenience of pulling into a space rather than maneuvering into one.

Parallel Parking 101

For those of you who are expert parallel parkers, this will bore you to tears. From my experience and a few surveys of friends and relatives, at least 50% of people aren’t confident with this at all. So, if that includes you, stick around.

Now, there is actually a science to this, as I found out when I had to start parking like this over the last few months. It’s not just “hit and hope,” you really can do it well every time if you follow a few simple steps. I have included a few how-to videos at the end, but for those of you who like to follow written instructions and diagrams, the following is for you. Of course, if the free parking space is at the beginning or end of the row, you simply pull up or reverse into the space. These instructions are for a spot between two cars.

Step 1: Align Front Bumpers

First, pull alongside the car in front of the space you want to park in. You want about two feet between the side of your car and this one. Now step on the brake and put the car in reverse.

Step 2: Brake Off, Hard Turn

Now you take your foot off the brake, apply a tiny bit of gas if needed, and turn the wheel hard towards the curb. You want to go in at around a 45 degree angle.

Step 3: Back of Seat to Rear Bumper

This is the stumbling block for most people attempting to parallel park — when do you start straightening out? As you can see from the video below, most people do it too late or too early, often with funny results.

It’s simple enough though. Once the back of the driver’s seat is aligned with the rear bumper of the other car, start turning the wheel away from the curb. Just remember, your back, rear bumper.

Step 4: Fine Tuning

If you’ve done everything right, you should be about six inches from the curb and nestled between the two cars. Usually, you’ll have to move forward a little just to increase the gap between you and the car behind you. After that, just get out of your car, pop some change in the meter (if there is a meter), and lock up your vehicle.

The videos below go into more detail on parallel parking. As some people prefer visual aids, this may be a better for you.

Parallel Parking Instructions — Example 1

 

Parallel Parking Instructions — Example 2

 

And if you get REALLY good, you could always try this more advanced technique. Well, maybe not. Look for another money-saving skill soon.

 

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Guest's picture

I love that photo. I always pull up on my in-laws sidewalk if I'm doing a quick drop and yell out, "if you don't like my driving..." Someone always finishes it for me.

I used to work in an office where the third-floor lunchroom office had a great view of the parking meter area on the street below. We would critique the parallel parking technique. My lesbian former-FBI agent boss was hilarious. Crank it now! Crank it now!

Guest's picture
dahlia

heh, i'm always amazed at the age some people can reach without ever learning to parallel park. i brag, but i am an excellent parallel parker. and actually, i DID have to parallel park for my driving test, oh so many years ago, maybe it varied by state.

Guest's picture

Wow, I don't even know where you'd put your car in France if you couldn't parallel park.

Come to think of it though, French cars are typically much smaller and easier to squeeze into small parking spots.

Guest's picture
Beth

Where I used to live, it's cheaper to park in a parking garage than to parallel park on the street in the downtown area. People want to park on the street to be as close to the store or venue as possible. If you're willing to walk a couple of blocks, you can save some $.

Andrea Karim's picture

I failed the parallel parking test when I got my driver's license, and was SO incredibly bad at it for years that I would avoid it like the plague. Only later did I learn that we were taught incorrectly in driver's ed classes (thanks, Wenatchee High!) - we were told to only pull halfway up to the car in front, so that we aligned the middle of OUR car with the back bumper of the other car.

It was only when I was 29 or so that someone pointed out the flaw in my parking method and showed me to pull up much farther and start turning much earlier. I'll admit that I still never learned how to parallel park my Toyota Avalon; it was just too bulky and the turning radius was AWFUL.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

I think I'll be reposting this.

Everywhere.

Guest's picture
mdale2

I lived on a street where parallel parking was the only option. Needless to say, I developed my skills.

Guest's picture
Spencer

Echoing Beth, in Ann Arbor they've set the parking rates so that street parking > lot parking > garage parking. The pricing is deliberate, because people prefer to park on the street over parking in a lot; they prefer parking in a lot over parking in a structure. By making the less desirable alternative cheaper, they hope to even out the demand. All the parking is public, so that might make a difference.

Second comment: your overhead photo with the red & silver cars must have been taken in England (or, I suppose, Australia). It's clearly a right-hand drive parking situation. Or parking on the "wrong side" of a one-way street?

Guest's picture
Q

There are places in America where this is not part of a road test? Where this is not a necessary skill? For crying out loud, is Skill #2 is going to be "Wiping your own arse?"

I've spent my life making fun of tourists trying to park here in the Northeast - it never occurred to me that YOU ACTUALLY NEVER LEARNED HOW.

For the record, I grew up in a town with no sidewalks and had to drive into the city to learn to park. But I learned it.

Guest's picture
Clayton

Getting the basics down is what you need. It's surprising how much money you can save by being observant and being a good driver. Compared to how much you have to spend when you wreck your car.

Guest's picture
Bryan

Speaking of advanced parallel parking skills. If you car is small enough and you have some friends with you, pick-up the back-end and slide it into the spot.

You'll be strangely satisfied when you manage to get your into a spot that's not much bigger then the car itself. Just make sure you're not parking anybody in.

Guest's picture
S. Carvalho

I think it's a skill that would help more people so I'm glad to see instructions. I actually parallel park all the time since I live in house with limited driveway space in a popular beach area with free street parking.

I'd like to point out just one issue with these directions.
"Align front bumpers" only makes sense when your car is the same length as the other car. What you really want to do is align back bumpers. Back bumpers are harder to see, of course but you can learn this.

This is hard to explain without pics but I'll give it a shot. In a normally sized car, you want to look out your rear right window and see the back end of the other car through the back end of that window.

Alternately, do this once. Line up back bumpers with a sample car, get out of your car to check. Then get in your car and look out your rear & rear right windows to see where the back of the other car lines up with your window.

Remember that spot. That is where you need to start each parallel park job.

Guest's picture

The first time I ever parallel parked was when I was 16 and taking my first driver's exam. I had never even practiced it before.

God must have been on my side, because I nailed it the first time.

I think a lot of it is luck, but it can be learned if practiced enough

Guest's picture

Well this post proves my theory that most Americans don't know how to drive. They are simple licensed to "operate" a vehicle. If you can't parallel park then you really don't know how to drive. I suggest you consider taking a driving course in Europe.

Guest's picture
Laura

That was a great article. I am 24 years old, and the first time I was ever in a car with someone that parallel parked was earlier this year when I was visiting a friend in New Jersey and exploring Philly. It was not on my drivers test, so I didn't think it was important until I was driving around Downtown Philadelphia looking for an open space at the end of a block. I truly feel confident than I can do this in the future without fail. Thanks!

Guest's picture
26 yrs in NYC

Okay, It scares me that STEP 1 is well... WRONG!

You align the BACK bumpers of your car not the front.

If you have an SMART car and pull up next to a SUV you'll be parking in the SUV's back seat. If you have an SUV and pull up next to a SMART car you'll completely over shoot the spot.

Guest's picture
guest

I was trying to parallel park and when I wanted to straighten my wheels i hit the car in the front. what did i do wrong. I did not back up enough towards the curb or when i positionned my car in the beginning it was a mistake. I really want to know what went wrong so i can avoid that in the future.

if somebody can write the common mistakes for parallel parking and how to avoid them i will appreciate it and others readers will certainly be glad to do so as well.

Thank you

Guest's picture
Jason Reece

I took my driving test in 1990, the day I turned 16. I was the only one out of all my friends to ace the test with a perfect 100! The closest they got was a 95 because they didn't properly parallel park (a minimum 5 point ding). My perfect score had less to do with my parking prowess than it did the car I used for the test- my sister's 1985 Honda CRX. For those of you who aren't familiar with the CRX, it was a tiny 2-seater based on the Civic and roughly the same length as the current "smart" car. It could almost park nose-to-curb in a parallel spot! =)