Upvoted by David Waddell. IAM advanced driver, since 1999
The other answers here are too complex and intimidating. I'll tell you the secret to parallel parking:
You don't need to practice. You just need to be willing to follow the directions EXACTLY. EXACTLY.
Further, following the directions exactly is in no way difficult! The only reason you can't parallel park is because you aren't following the directions to the letter. You think your car is too close, or too far, or too angled, and you don't turn your wheel all the way, or you keep moving when the directions have told you to stop and turn your wheel. The directions for parallel parking (that you get from the DMV, or in your driver's ed course) are actually very precise and if you follow them exactly. you will park your car perfectly every time. You do not need to practice, you just need to fucking follow the directions. Parallel is not a "skill," it is more like a binary thing.
I discovered this one day when, in the pre-enlightened state of "oh, I can't parallel park very well" I decided one day that maybe I would just try doing exactly (literally) what the directions said, and found to my surprise that I parked absolutely perfectly. And I happened to be driving a rented minivan. After that day, I instantly became able to parallel park, having realized that parallel parking is not a "skill" that you "learn" (you don't get better by "practicing"), all it is is doing exactly what the directions you originally learned said to do. It does not require judgment developed from practice. merely the mental fortitude to really follow the instructions and not deviate at all.
Here are the directions, with extra "do it exactly this way"-style bolding and prompting:
- Drive around until you find a spot that looks big enough.
- Pull up even to the front car. If your cars are different lengths, line up the back of your car with the back of the front car as best you can. You don't have to be exact here.
- While stopped. turn your wheel all the way to the right. ALL THE WAY. Don't move forward or back while doing this! Keep your foot on the brake!
- Turn around and look out the back of
- Begin backing up. Your car should start turning into the spot. Don't turn your wheel away from the all-the-way-right position!
- Stop backing up when the right-front corner of the rear car is in the exact middle of your rear windshield. If you imagine a line extending backwards from your car along its centerline, you stop when the right-front corner of the rear car reaches that line.
- I said STOP.
- While stopped. turn your wheel back to the middle position. Keep your foot on the brake!
- Back up slowly until your car just barely clears the front car, then stop again.
- Turn your wheel all the way to the left. All the way! Stay stopped while you do this. Keep your foot on the brake!
- Now keep backing in. Don't turn your wheel away from the all-the-way-left position!
- Once your car is parallel, STOP and then turn your wheel to face forwards again.
If you do these steps exactly, your car will magically place itself into the correct position.
If you think you're following these directions correctly but you still can't parallel park, I guarantee you that the problem is that you aren't following them correctly. You are most likely still moving backwards at the same time as you are turning the steering wheel instead of stopping first. Or you think you are too close, or have too much of an angle, and you lose your nerve and you stop following the directions and you turn your wheel not enough or too early or while you're still moving backwards. Don't do those things. Parallel parking is a precise mechanical formula that works every time, and all you need in order to be an "expert" is to follow the directions exactly.
There is, in fact, only one element of "judgment" in this whole thing, and it's the ability to determine whether a spot is large enough for your car. That isn't usually a problem because often spots are demarcated and you can sort of visually compare using other cars to see if a spot is large enough. But once you find a space, it's just about being a robot and following the directions.
So the parallel parking "tip" is: You're failing because you're doing it wrong. Stop being stupid, and do it right.