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Parallel parking tips

How to parallel park like a pro

Parallel parking can strike fear into the most intrepid learner driver’s heart – it’s even been voted as one of the trickiest ever driving manoeuvres. It all looks so easy when you’re watching your instructor do it. But why does it become a lot more difficult when you’re behind the wheel?

Here’s everything you need to know about parallel parking – and how to master the technique in time for your practical driving test.

Parallel parking

What is parallel parking?

Parallel parking is a way of parking a car in a small space that drivers may not be able to drive straight into. Normally drivers position themselves parallel to the car in front of the space they want to park in, then reverse in.

The parallel parking technique

  1. If it's safe to do so, pull up alongside the gap you’ve spotted to park in and check it’s large enough for your car. You’ll need to leave a minimum 2ft gap (this is approximately the distance between your wrist and shoulder when your arm's outstretched) at each end to give yourself some wiggle room – and enough room to pull out and drive away.
  2. Most instructors would advise choosing a space approximately 1 and a half times the size of the vehicle you're driving. You'll be tested on your ability to park within the space of 2 vehicles.
  3. Checking it's safe to do so, slowly move your vehicle alongside the car that you'll be parking behind. You should aim to leave about 1 metre of clearance from the parked car.
  4. Select reverse gear – your reverse lights should be illuminated, so everyone knows what you want to do – and take a good look at everything around you.Allow any traffic to pass before you start to parallel park, but remember that traffic may choose to wait.
  5. Look through the rear window and reverse slowly. When the back of your car is level with the car next to you, turn the wheel left towards the kerb and check your right blind spot before the front of your car moves behind the parked car.
  6. Turn so you’re at a 45 degree angle as you head into the centre of the space. Don’t rush or go too fast – and keep looking around you.
  7. Continue to keep an eye out for other road users and pedestrians; at this point the car will have swung out into the road, .
  8. Turn the wheel to the right away from the kerb when the front of your car is clear of the one in front.
  9. When you’re parallel to the kerb, straighten your steering wheel, and you should be parked. Use the space you’ve left in front and behind you if you need to make any small adjustments.
  10. Gently stop the car, put the handbrake on and the gear into neutral when you're totally happy.

When you start learning how to parallel park, your instructor should let you practice in a quiet spot with lots of space. As you improve and become more confident, they'll encourage you to manoeuvre into tighter spaces.

Do I have to do parallel parking during my test?

You might not have to – but there’s a 33.3% chance you will. During your test, the examiner will ask you to do one of these reversing exercises:

  • Parallel parking.
  • Parking in a parking bay (either by driving in then reversing out, or reversing in then driving out).
  • Pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for 2 car lengths, then rejoining the traffic.

Is there a time limit for parallel parking during the driving test?

There isn’t a specific time length, but the examiner will be looking for you to make progress. You need to be reasonably prompt.

You can make small pauses to check you’re on track but you’ll be penalised if you start taking too long to do the manoeuvre, if other road users are affected, or you’re causing traffic jams.

Will my examiner provide any help when I’m parallel parking?

No – you’ll be expected to do it on your own.

Technically, you could ask for help and an examiner might provide it – but only if there was a safety issue. And you might get a fault.

What does the examiner need to see when I’m parallel parking?

The examiner needs to see that you can:

  • Reverse into a space of about 2 car lengths.
  • Show that you’re aware of the traffic around you and you’re able to see what’s going on around you while doing the manoeuvre.
  • Park your car safely, smoothly and show that you’re in control.
  • Stop reasonably close and parallel to the kerb.

Will I fail the practical test if I mess up the parallel parking exercise?

If you get a serious fault you will. If you just get a driver fault, you should be OK. 

You’ll pass your driving test if you make:

  • No more than 15 driving (minor) faults.
  • No serious or dangerous (major) faults.

A minor fault could be something like repositioning the car after you’ve finished, or touching the kerb gently while you’re parking.

A major fault could be almost hitting a person stepping out from behind the car, or hitting a vehicle – just remember to keep looking around at all times to check the road is clear.

Where can I practice parallel parking?

If you're practising with a family member or a friend, try a wide residential road which doesn’t have much traffic. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can build your confidence by heading to slightly busier roads with smaller gaps in between parked cars.

You could also try parking on a slight hill, or at night – get out of your comfort zone and you’ll quickly become used to parallel parking.

If you’re thinking about taking to the road, we’ll get you behind the wheel. Book our driving lessons and you'll get an instructor who’ll tailor their teaching to suit you.

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* Survey of AA Driving School pupils who passed their test in 2018.