How to do a handbrake parallel park

Ever seen a stunt driver whip a car with a handbrake parallel to parking in a tight space? How to do it

If you’ve been browsing this region of the web recently, you will have met TG’s step-by-step guide to performing the perfect handbrake twist, carefully laid out after an Abarth-led training session at Brands Hatch.

Good news! We’re back with another master class on skills you’re not allowed to use in public, this time taking you through the basics behind less visible handbrake parallel parking.

What exactly is a handbrake parallel park? Instead of gently backing into a gap like you normally would, here you pull on the handbrake at a moderate speed to whip your car into your chosen spot in the most precise (yet out of control) way imaginable.

You may recall that a few years ago, Alastair Moffatt set a Guinness World Record for such a maneuver when he placed a Mini in a spot just 34cm longer than the car itself. In reverse. As if it wasn’t hard enough already.

willing to learn? Keep scrolling for a full explanation…

before you start

It goes without saying that in a real-world situation, you must never try to parallel park using the handbrake. That much should be obvious, but we’re spelling it out so you can’t tell the officer who just arrested you that “Top Gear said it was fine.”

The risk of hitting another car or another person is way too big. So when practicing your handbrake parallel parking, your best bet is to snag an abandoned lot, or even better, private property. If necessary, lay out some skittles so you have a nice, breakable target to aim at.

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You also need to be aware that there are consequences for repeatedly pulling the handbrake and intentionally skidding the rear wheels of your car. Consequences such as the need for spare handbrake cables and spare tires. you have been warned

Right, let the fun/education begin.

Step one: build speed

First, let’s be clear about what you’re trying to do here. Try to imagine driving parallel to the gap you want to land in, about two or three car widths away. If you pull the handbrake, you’ll initiate a 180-degree spin, which will make you face the other way when you stop. Roger that?

Good. Now build up some speed. Beginners may be surprised at how much power you need for a handbrake parallel park, but we’re not aiming for F1 speeds here: in our Abarth we found the sweet spot was around 22-25mph. First course will be fine.

Step two: Initiate weight shifting

This is the key to getting the rear wheels nice and loose. Since the nose of the car is level with the front end of the room, we found it useful to be able to move the steering wheel slightly in the opposite direction that we wanted to turn, just to shift the weight balance more easily.

Step three: Attach steering wheel lock (quickly).

Just as your car’s nose intersects the center of the parking space, you want to apply a lot of steering angle as quickly as possible. To turn right, keep your right hand on the steering wheel at the seven o’clock position while your left hand is primed and ready to apply the handbrake; to turn left, go to five o’clock.

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You don’t want a full lockdown here, as that will eventually cause the kind of damage that will require the help of a tow truck. We’ve found that fifteen minutes is enough for us, but every car is different, so you’ll have to experiment a little.

Step Four: Apply the handbrake

Imagine every 180 degrees of your turn: your goal is to pull the handbrake on about 45 degrees in that arc. Again, the sweet spot varies from car to car, but you want to lock the rear wheels early enough to create a sweeping skid, but not so early that you can’t lunge for the weight shift you’ve so carefully induced.

From this point, keep the handbrake on until you come to a complete stop.

Step Five: Adjust the steering

Unlike a handbrake curve, you can’t use the throttle to fine-tune your slide. So, just before the nose aligns in your chosen gap, step in the clutch and press the brake pedal. This prevents you from staggering forward at the end of the maneuver and – god forbid you hit a real obstacle – prevents you from driving into it. You were thinking of doing this in an empty room, right?!

It may not seem natural at first, but the success or failure of your handbrake parallel parking will depend on what you do in the first phase of the maneuver. If you need to adjust your car’s trajectory, you can let out or apply more steering accordingly, but it takes a lot of practice to get a feel for how sweet things go mid-corner.

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Step Six: Bask in your own excellence (hopefully).

If everything is in order, you have expertly turned and stopped exactly parallel inside the room, with equal space on either side. Take the aisle, disembark, and begin your preferred celebration. TG can recommend a Shawshank Redemption-Style kneeling and raising arms if that helps.

TG’s top tips

Practice, practice, rest

You should practice your parallel turn with the handbrake as often as possible, but while it’s a gentler trick than the full handbrake twist, it’s still a good idea to take regular breaks to allow your car’s components to cool down. You will find that your handbrake becomes less effective over time: this is because the repeated use stretches the cable and you will eventually have to get a replacement.

Optimize your timing

Pay attention to the small details during your turn. Were you fast enough at the beginning? Did you pull the handbrake at the right time? Have you used enough steering wheel lock? Could the brake pedal be used sooner? Eventually you’ll become aware of exactly where all your inputs need to be, and muscle memory will build to the point where you’ll land a passable try every time.

Book a workshop visit

A little TLC goes a long way. After a few hours of – and let’s be frank – unskilled and relentless abuse, all three Abarths used that day needed fresh tires and handbrake cables. And you needed a new driveshaft. Oops.

The point is that repeating the above over and over will inevitably lead to the deterioration of the claimed parts. So make sure these parts are replaced. Tread depth is particularly important: using badly worn tires in public can get you into a lot of trouble.

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