If a nice open parking spot is just sitting there waiting for you, it’s about as easy to park a manual transmission car as an automatic car. However, if you have to work to get into a parking space, it can be a bigger challenge with a manual.
In these situations, you’ll need all your stick shift clutch control skills. You’ll also need the normal skills for parking an automatic transmission vehicle: paying attention to your surroundings and precise steering moving both forward and in reverse.
How To Pull Forward Into a Parking in a Manual Transmission Car
Suppose you’re driving down the street, and you see a nice, fat parking spot that seems to have your name on it. An extra long spot or two spots together. It’s your lucky day! Just slow way down, to 5 MPH or less, and get ready to pull in. If you’re already in neutral gear, or if you're slowing with the clutch pedal pressed, just continue to brake and slide right on in. If you’ve been shifting down through the gears, you can depress the clutch pedal as you slip into the slot. You can also hesitate before you pull in and put the gearshift into first, then just release the clutch pedal slowly and let the engine ease you in as you continue to slow with the brake.
If somehow you find you’re not close enough to the curb, you may have to make adjustments by moving forward in first gear or back in reverse. On a flat surface you can do this with just the brake pedal and the clutch pedal. Hold down both pedals and let the clutch pedal rise to the bite point, where the engine noise changes and the car lifts slightly. Gently relieve pressure on the brake and, if necessary, the clutch to move forward or backward slowly. If you’re backing up, it’s best to use the backup cameras or turn around in the driver’s seat and look behind you rather than just using the rear view and side view mirrors.
How To Pull Backward into a Parking Space in a Manual Transmission Car
Usually, if you have to back into a parking space, you’ll need to parallel park. However, there are occasions where you can pull past a spot then easily back in. For example, where there's no parking zone immediately in front of the spot you’re targeting.
In these cases, pull about a car length ahead of the spot, put on your turn signal and make sure the road is clear behind you. Press the clutch and slide the gear shift into reverse. Keep the clutch pedal to the floor until you start your back-up.
Your rearview and side view mirrors sometimes don’t tell you the whole story. Look around and/or use your backup camera. While looking around may force you to steer with one hand, it’s easier to make your car go where you want if you’re actually looking at the spot.
Start your movement with the brake and the clutch to the floor. Let the clutch pedal rise until you feel the bite point, where the engine sound changes and the rear of the car lifts slightly. Ease off the brake and use the brake and clutch pedal to move slowly into the spot. Your speed should be only a few MPH.
If you don’t like where your car sits after the first attempt, make the minor adjustments described above.
There are similar considerations when you back into a driveway or back up into a shopping center parking spot. Look behind or use your backup camera, watch for traffic and use the brake pedal and clutch pedal to ease in and stop.
What To Do Before You Exit Your Parked Manual Transmission Car
An automatic transmission vehicle has a “park” gear, but your stick shift car doesn’t. With a manual vehicle, always set the parking brake before you leave the car.
After you park, you should normally put the car in first gear if it isn’t already there. However, if the car is pointing downhill, shift into reverse. Some people advocate also using reverse whenever you’ve backed into a spot, but on a level surface either first or reverse is fine.
There’s a rare occasion where you might leave the car in neutral. That's when you’re in an absolutely flat parking space and there are cars ahead of you and behind you. If one of the cars hits you when it goes to pull out, there’s less stress on your transmission if your clutch is disengaged. If you do use neutral gear, be sure your emergency brake is set.
If there’s even a small slope, though, put the stick shift in gear. It’s best to trust neither the transmission nor the parking brake to hold the manual transmission vehicle by itself.
If you park on a hill, turn the front wheels before you shut off the engine. If you’re facing downhill, turn the wheel toward the side of the road. If the car rolls, it will roll off the roadway.
If you’re facing uphill, turn the wheels away from the curb if there’s a curb or toward the side of the road if there isn’t one. If the first case, a rolling car will be stopped by the curb, and in the curbless case the vehicle will roll off the roadway.
How To Parallel Park a Manual Transmission Car
Parallel parking is difficult no matter what kind of transmission you’re driving. You have to watch behind you, control your speed and turn precisely. With a stick shift car, you also have to move the car at a steady speed without stalling or “jumping” forward or backward. This requires delicate clutch control at the same time you’re worrying about the other aspects of parallel parking.
There’s no magic bullet to conquer stick shift parallel parking. It calls for good technique, and it takes some practice.
Parallel parking requires moving forward and backward at low speeds, 5 MPH or less, so your left foot will almost always be on the clutch pedal. You’ve heard, no doubt, that partially and constantly depressing the clutch pedal is called “riding the clutch” and is hard on the clutch and transmission. That’s true, but when you parallel park you’re going to need the control you get from a partially engaged clutch. You spend a few of your overall miles parallel parking, so do what you need to park effectively and safely.
Here are the steps in parallel parking a manual transmission car:
- Signal your intention with your right turn signal.
- Move up parallel to the car in front of the space, 2-3 feet away.
- Check traffic in your mirrors, your backup camera and by looking around.
- Start with the brake pedal and clutch pedal to the floor.
- Straighten the steering wheel.
- Let the clutch pedal rise until you feel the bite point. The engine sound will change and the rear of the car will lift slightly.
- Relieve pressure on the brake pedal until the car begins to move.
- Control the two pedals, brake and clutch, to keep a slow and steady pace.
- When your rear bumper is 2-3 feet behind the rear bumper next to you, turn the steering wheel to the left.
- When your right rear bumper is a few feet from the curb, turn the steering wheel the other way.
- Slow the car with more pressure on both the clutch and brake pedal as you come to a stop.
On a good day, you’ll do everything right the first time and will find yourself parallel to the curb and only a foot or so away. However, that won’t always happen, and you’ll have to make adjustments. Move forward and backward with brake and clutch pedal control until your position is correct. You should be parallel to the curb and at least a foot away from the cars in front and in back.
If your initial back-in doesn’t get you where you want and your car is all kittywampus, sometimes it’s easier to pull back again, parallel to the car in front, and give it another try.
How To Parallel Park a Manual Transmission Car Uphill
If you’re parallel parking on a flat road, you may not have to use the gas pedal. On a hill, however, that changes. If you’re parking uphill, there’s not much additional difficulty to the initial back-up into the space. In fact, it can be easier, since, if you choose, you can keep the clutch pedal depressed and let up on the brake to allow the car to coast into the spot.
The difficulty comes if you have to adjust your position after the first move. You’ll have to move the car forward in first gear. It’s a similar skill to starting out on an uphill from a stoplight, except that you’re moving a very short distance and won’t ever have a chance to get up to speed. You’ll have to continue to keep your car under control at low speed.
Considering how the car needs to travel forward a short distance at such a low speed, it can be helpful to use the emergency brake to assist you. Here’s how.
- Engage the parking brake, put the shifter into 1st gear and push the clutch all the way in. Have your right foot ready for the gas.
- Let the clutch pedal rise to the bite point.
- Put very light pressure on the accelerator pedal and release the parking brake.
- With just the right amount of throttle, the car will inch forward. If the hill is steep and the car’s not moving, give it just a little more gas. It’s important to increase throttle slowly and deliberately.
- If the car stalls, rolls backward or moves forward too fast, press the brake pedal, re-engage the parking brake and try again.
If your car has the "brake hold" feature, which keeps the vehicle braked without your holding the pedal, use it. Like so many modern conveniences, it makes life easier.
As you get the hang of driving a manual car slowly uphill, you can skip the emergency brake step and start with your right foot on the brake pedal. When you lift the clutch pedal and reach the bite point, quickly move your right foot from the brake to the gas. Start with light pressure on the gas pedal and increase it if you have to.
When you adjust your position by moving downhill backward, it’s much easier. Keep the clutch pedal depressed and control the speed of the coasting car with the brake pedal.
How To Parallel Park a Manual Transmission Car Downhill
This is the trickiest of all parallel parking situations. You’ll have to get the car going uphill in reverse gear. As with uphill forward starts, you can use the emergency brake to assist you.
- Start with the clutch pedal in, the shifter in reverse, the emergency brake engaged and your right foot over the gas pedal.
- Raise the clutch pedal to the bite point.
- Give the car just a little throttle.
- Release the parking brake and use the accelerator and clutch pedal to maintain a slow steady speed.
- In the meantime, don’t forget to watch for traffic, to turn the steering wheel left and then right at the proper time. Also to watch the position of your car relative to the curb and the cars ahead of and behind your coveted space.
With practice, you can do this without the emergency brake but by moving your right foot quickly from the brake to the gas pedal, the same as you do starting forward uphill.
Again, this is much easier if you have the “brake hold” feature and use it.
If, as a beginning stick shift driver, you choose to solve this problem by parking somewhere else, no one is going to blame you. However, if you can find a place to practice, this is a skill you’ll be happy and proud to have.
If at first you don’t get the car exactly where you want it, forward and backward adjustment are the opposite of parking on an uphill. Use clutch control and, if necessary, the emergency brake to move backwards, and keep the clutch pushed all the way in to roll forward.
How To Park a Manual Transmission Car in All Situations
All drivers, even those who plan never to operate a stick shift, have to learn how to park on hills and to parallel park. The parking challenge for manual transmission drivers is twofold. First, master all the skills that automatic car drivers also have to master. Second, develop the precise clutch control that enables you to move at very slow, controlled speeds. These are the same skills needed to get rolling in first gear and to stop and start on an uphill. If you become proficient in parallel parking and parking on hills, it will help you with all aspects of driving a stick shift. As you get better at clutch control in all types of driving, you’ll become more confident in your parking skills.