How to parallel park: a step-by-step guide for learner drivers

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Driving test manoeuvres
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How to parallel park
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Dun dun dunnnnn! 😱

It’s the most-feared of all the driving test manoeuvres: the parallel park.

Even drivers who passed their tests many years ago often avoid this form of parking. However, learning how to parallel park needn’t be a nightmare, and with practice, you’ll be slipping into the tightest space with confidence. Here’s how it all works 👇

What are the driving test manoeuvres?

During the driving test, your examiner will ask you to perform three manoeuvres, which will be randomly chosen from a list. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should expect.

Mirrors, signal, manoeuvre

Although not an actual manoeuvre in itself, you should remember to do this before, during and after any tasks.

Pulling over and driving away

During your test, the examiner may ask you to pull over and pull away. This manoeuvre could take several forms, including:

  • Stopping at the side of the road
  • Pulling out from behind a parked vehicle
  • A hill start

Emergency stop

Also known as a controlled stop, your examiner will give you plenty of warning if he wishes you to perform an emergency stop.

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Reverse manoeuvres

You may be asked to reverse your vehicle for one or more of the three test manoeuvres. These can be a little trickier than the others.

Bay parking

It’s a Saturday afternoon and you need to do the big shop. When you’re at that packed car park and have the confidence to slot into a space, you’ll have this manoeuvre to thank!

There are two forms of bay parking, and your examiner could ask for either:

  • Reverse bay parking - you’ll reverse into the parking bay and drive out
  • Forward bay parking - you’ll drive into the space and reverse out

Pull up on the right and reverse

If this is one of the examiner’s selected manoeuvres, you’ll be asked to pull up on the right-hand side of the road and reverse for approximately two car lengths. Then you’ll rejoin the flow of traffic.

Parallel park at the side of the road

When parking on roads where space is at a premium, there often isn’t room to drive forwards into a spot. Parallel parking allows you to fit into spaces that are only a fraction longer than your car.

We’ve got a full step-by-step guide on how to parallel park below!

Parallel parking can be tricky but with practice you’ll master it
Parallel parking can be tricky but with practice you’ll master it
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Where are the easiest test centres to pass your test? Read on

How to parallel park

The trick with parallel parking is to steer quickly and reverse slowly, to use your mirrors and watch those blind spots. It sounds complicated, but after some practice you’ll wonder what you were worrying about!

Here’s our step-by-step guide to parallel parking:

  1. When it’s safe to do so and you’ve spotted a space that’s large enough for your car, pull up next to it. It’s important to leave a minimum gap of around 2 feet at both ends of the car, and the easiest guideline is to pick a space around 1.5 times the length of your car.
  2. Slowly drive your car alongside the vehicle you want to park behind, leaving around 3 feet between you and the parked car. The centre of your front passenger window should be roughly parallel with the front of the parked car. If it’s facing the opposite way, your passenger window should be lined up with its bumper.
  3. Check your blind spot before reversing slowly.
  4. When the rear wheels of your vehicle are roughly alongside the back bumper of the parked car, apply your handbrake.
  5. Check all around; when you begin to reverse into the space, the front of your car will swing out slightly, so make sure there are no hazards approaching.
  6. Disengage the handbrake and turn the steering wheel a full turn to the left.
  7. Slowly reverse, checking the curb position in the nearside mirror and that of the parked car behind you.
  8. When you see the curb in the nearside mirror, and you’re clear of the parked car in front, stop the car.
  9. While slowly reversing, quickly turn the steering wheel full lock to the right, so the front of your car moves in towards the curb.
  10. Straighten your car by turning the steering wheel to the left and reverse back until you’re happy with the spacing. Handbrake, neutral gear … and breathe!

Do you fail your driving test if you mess up the parallel park?

During your practical driving test, your test examiner will assess how you control the car, observe and react to other road users, as well as how you obey the various road signs and markings.

It’s essential to prepare thoroughly by having regular lessons, knowing what the driving test involves, and understanding what constitutes a driving test fault.

You’ll pass your test if you have:

  • Fewer than 15 minor faults
  • And no serious or dangerous faults, known as major faults

You may not even have to parallel park in your driving test. The three manoeuvres selected are random, so there’s a decent chance you won’t get asked.

Whilst carrying out the parallel park, your examiner will be looking out for you:

  • Showing awareness of the traffic and pedestrians around you
  • Parking your car safely, and showing that you’re in control
  • Stopping close to, and parallel with the curb

You may earn yourself a minor fault if you fail to observe everything around you or if you bump the curb.

If you hit one of the parked cars, another vehicle, or a pedestrian, this counts as a major fault and, consequently, a test fail.

Learning how to parallel park feels great!
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Practice makes perfect, and if you’re taking lessons from an approved driving instructor, it can really help to get extra hours behind the wheel.

Providing you have learner driver insurance in place, it’s a great idea to ask a family member to supervise your practice - it’ll save you money on lessons, too.

Cuvva’s learner insurance can be used for 6 hours a day - perfect for nailing those manoeuvres.

Whatever you’re after, you can get a quote in minutes.

Updated on 3rd April 2023