If you want to be a good driver, you need to be good at parking.
It’s can’t be rocket science. You pull into your spot, put your vehicle in park, get out, and lock the doors. Simple, right?
Sure, if you want to park like an amateur. If you’re really looking to take your parking game to the next level, we’ve got you covered.
1. Set it and forget it.
Regardless of whether you drive a manual or an automatic, you should always set your parking brake—even when you’re not parking on a significant incline.
Why? Activating the brake will reduce the wear on your parking pawl, a metal pin that prevents your transmission’s output shaft from turning. When the parking pawl breaks, it’s often an expensive fix, so it’s in your best interest to avoid unnecessary wear.
Regularly using the parking brake also keeps rust from forming on that part of your car’s braking system, so when you do park on an incline, the parking brake won’t get stuck.
2. Tennis balls are your garage’s best friend.
If you’ve got a garage, this is an incredible time saver. Park your car, then grab your ladder. Hang a tennis ball from a string on the ceiling so that it barely touches the center of your windshield.
From now on, whenever you pull into the garage, you can simply aim for the hanging tennis ball. You’ll park perfectly every time, and you won’t risk any accidental bumps
While we’re at it, if you’ve got a small garage, you might be worried about hitting your car door into the walls. To avoid that sad fate, grab a pool noodle. Split it in half, then adhere one side to the wall to prevent a costly accident.
3. Winter will be no biggie.
Tired of waking up early to scrape all of the ice off of your windshield? Start parking so that your car is facing east. The sun’s rays should help to warm up the ice, so you’ll do a lot less scraping.
While you’re at it, make sure to keep some kitty litter in your car. By putting some of the litter around your tires, you can gain enough traction to make your way out of snow drifts. As an added hack, put some of the litter into a tube sock and throw it on your dashboard during those cold winter nights.
In the morning, you’ll be able to drive without fogging up your windshield, as the litter will soak up some of the moisture in the air.
Finally, pick up some alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If your door lock freezes shut, the alcohol will help to break up the ice. In the summer, switch out the hand sanitizer for a spray bottle filled with water—if you’ve got a vinyl steering wheel, a quick spray of the water will help to cool it down on a hot day.
4. Use technology to park smarter.
Apps like Best Parking and SpotHero (available for both iPhone and Android) let you find and reserve parking spots in big cities. You can make sure that your spot is legal, decide on a price, and simplify your trip. Waze, a Google app, even helps you find free parking, although you can’t exactly reserve your spot.
You can also use smartphone apps to remember your parking spot. Apps like Google Maps can set the GPS coordinates of your vehicle when you park. With that said, if you’re in a big parking lot, you might be better off snapping a photo of nearby markers; while GPS is helpful, sometimes “Lot C, Row Blue 5” is more useful.
Oh, and while you’re parking in one of those big lots, try to avoid spots at the ends of aisles. That’s where a lot of other drivers will be turning, so the chances of an accident are significantly higher in those spots.
5. Yes, you can parallel park.
Every driver should know how to parallel park, and the good news is that it’s not really that difficult. The trick is to only turn the wheel while your car is stopped. Here’s a quick primer.
First, pull up close to the car in front, bringing your back bumper in line with the other vehicle’s back bumper. If you have trouble seeing the bumper, you can probably just bring your driver’s side window even with the other vehicle’s passenger window.
Now, turn your steering wheel all the way to the right (or left, depending on the spot). Slowly reverse until you can see the back vehicle’s license plate in your middle rearview mirror. Stop the car.
Turn your wheel back to the middle, then continue reversing until you’ve passed the vehicle in front of you. Stop, then turn your wheel the other direction without moving the car. Reverse slowly into the space, then turn your wheel to the center position. Easy, right?
6. You can reverse into a spot, too.
This is an important skill to get down pat, since it can help you avoid long waits in traffic during big events. Oddly enough, this requires required a bit more finesse than parallel parking, but it’s not too bad once you get the hang of it.
In this case, it’s all about starting from the right place. To practice, go to a spot where there aren’t any other vehicles around. Pull parallel to the parking spot so that your rear bumper is barely in line with the space. Stop, turn your wheel all the way to the right (or left, depending on the spot), then start reversing, gradually evening out your wheel.
7. Finally, if you want to be happy, take the first parking spot you see.
According to an article on The Future Buzz, people who circle parking lots looking for the perfect space actually end up spending much more time than people who simply park and walk in. The site quotes psychology professor Andrew Velkey, who studied Wal-Mart parkers in Mississippi.
“Something curious happens in parking lots,” Velkey said. “It seems that the people who actively look for the ‘best’ parking space inevitably spend more total time getting to the store than those people who simply grab the first spot they see. Two distinct strategies were observed: ‘cycling’ and ‘pick a row, closest space.’ The individuals cycling were spending more time driving looking for a parking space, yet on average they were no closer to the door, time-wise or distance-wise, than people using ‘pick a row, closest space.'”
Another study showed that people take longer to vacate their parking spots when they believe that someone is waiting for them to do so. Why? The theory is that people get territorial about their parking spots “even when such behavior is contrary to their goal of leaving.” And if you’ve ever parked in a parking garage on a regular basis, it’s not surprising news. People actually get into the habit of “hunting” for spots, and that’s probably not healthy.
In other words, if you’re really looking to save time, just pull in and park. You’ll get a little more exercise, you won’t get angry at other drivers, and you’ll get where you’re going a little faster. As simple as that might seem, it’s lost on many drivers—don’t be one of them.