How to Park a Car in a Parking Space Like a Pro: 5 Parking Lot Tips for Beginners
Parking lots are full of hazards and challenges and can be pretty stressful for beginning drivers. Learning how to park the family car isn't as easy as Mom and Dad made it look all these years.
The following driving tips should help take the edge off a little bit as you improve your parking skills and build your confidence.
1. Don't Try to Get the Closest Parking Space
Everybody wants those spots closest to the store entrances, so they swarm to those areas of the parking lot. They'll circle around for 5-10 minutes to park right in front and will sometimes even get into fights with other drivers over those coveted parking stalls.
And this parking lot road rage intensifies during peak shopping times and holidays, so it's often best to avoid those congested parts of the parking lot anyway.
All that traffic increases the likelihood of an accident occurring, so beginning drivers would do well to avoid those hotspots and simply head straight to the back and outer edges of the parking lot where there are more empty parking spaces available and less drivers competing for them.
The same can be said for the top level of a parking garage. Up on the roof there are typically several empty spaces side-by-side, which means that your chances of scraping the side of a parked car while pulling into your own stall are much lower.
And it's ironic that you'll probably be parked and inside the store much more quickly than all those fools who circle the parking lot for five minutes just to save themselves an extra 60 seconds of walking.
Parking Lot Rage on the Rise
2. Reverse Into a Tight Spot Rather Than Pulling in Forward
Nearly every time I back into a narrow parking stall, my wife asks how I make it look so easy. It can be tricky, and the short answer is that reverse parking simply takes practice.
But I guess the key I’ve found is to really trust my side mirrors. Driving forward is generally safer and easier than driving in reverse, due to increased visibility. But when you're pulling forward into a parking stall with vehicles on both sides, you can actually see better by reversing and looking through your side mirrors.
Don’t keep whipping your head around everywhere. Just check your blind spots as you’re getting started, and then focus on those side mirrors.
I like to keep a very tight gap between my inside mirror and the car next to me as I reverse in. Then once I’m more or less straight in my stall, I can even out the gaps so there’s the same amount of space on each side of the car. If the space is simply too tight to allow much room on both sides, then I keep my passenger side very close to the next car (but not if it’s going to block their driver’s side door).
Also make sure that your mirror itself doesn’t touch the car next to you. As your back bumper is nearing the back edge of the stall, then double check your rearview mirror, too, so you know when to stop.
3. Check Your Reflection in Store Windows When Backing Out
Sometimes you’ll find an empty parking stall directly in front of a large, reflective storefront. Take advantage of that mirror image in front of you to see how well centered you are in your stall, and to check how much room there is between you and the cars beside you.
Think of those store windows in front of you as a giant rear-view mirror.
When leaving that stall, you may find that it’s difficult to see if there are cars coming up from the sides, especially if you have large vehicles like vans alongside your car.
If you check the reflections in the storefront when backing out, you can often spot cars and pedestrians approaching from those blind spots.
4. Check Behind Your Vehicle Before Getting In
After you're done shopping and are heading to your vehicle, take a quick look around to make sure you have a clear path to reverse out of your parking stall.
When I had a job delivering auto parts to stores and mechanic shops, those parking lots, loading zones and back alleys were always a little crazy.
There would be workers walking around everywhere and kneeling beside cars, forklifts zooming in and out, tools and debris on the ground and some very tight squeezes (often just an inch or two on each side of my truck) due to other delivery vehicles being parked and unloaded.
One thing that helped me get out of those places intact was the habit of simply checking the area behind my vehicle for debris and clearance and imagining the path I would take as I reverse out and turn around - before getting in my truck.
5. Back Up Only as Far as Necessary
When reversing out of a parking stall and turning around, many drivers like to back up as far as possible, aligning the front of their vehicle in the direction they intend to go after backing up. That way when they’re done reversing, they’re already aiming the way they want to go, and they can simply put the car in “Drive” and go straight forward.
That’s actually a very bad habit.
Because the more time you spend reversing your vehicle, the more likely you are to reverse right into another car, pole, tree, or pedestrian.
Don’t forget: your visibility is greatly restricted when backing up.
A much safer approach is to simply back up only as far as is necessary, and then turn your steering wheel hard as you pull forward. It may take some getting used to, but again, don’t forget: driving forward is almost always going to be safer than driving in reverse.
When you’re still getting used to being behind the wheel, a crowded parking lot can be a scary place. Just be patient and take your time, though. Stay calm, pay attention to your surroundings, and try putting some of these parking lot tips into practice.
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