So that I don't keep dinging or putting scratches my front bumper, what is the best way to gauge tight parking spaces ? Say, if a parking spot is walled in three directions and you are pulling in your car, other than counting on experience how does one gauge if the front bumper will rub against (or not) the wall ? Are there any reference points ?
One thing I found with myself, after learning to drive on farms at a very young age, is that I seem to naturally "know" or "feel" where the outer limits of my car is. It's strange and I can't fully explain it, but I've personally never had this issue.
Many people do, you're definitely not alone, and there are a few solutions!
One, if it's your house/carport, I have seen people hang a tennis ball from a string, attached to the ceiling. It'll be put in just the right place, so that when your car is close enough to the wall ahead, the tennis ball is just touching your windshield. That's really helpful if you have a big 4x4 and a little parking space in your house.
Another option, is an ultrasonic beeper. Some cars will have these already installed from the factory, but you can get kits off ebay that have sensors and indicators, and are fairly cheap.
The other option I can think of quickly, is a tried-and-tested method seen on many Japanese cars... Little parking wands. They're just a stick that attaches to the front bumper, and you can easily see where the extremity of the car's nose is. I guess ebay would have them, but I've only ever pulled them off imported cars, never put them on!
Hope that helps!
I'm a bit of a parking elitist, so let me tell you what you should do if you want to be cool, like me :P
When pulling or backing into a spot, I've made a habit of pulling in the minimum distance, just enough that my car is in line (also centered and parallel, because parking snob) with the parking spot paint, which is enough to guarantee you aren't hanging out into the flow of traffic.You can use your mirrors to see when the lines for the packing spot are about equal with the back of your car, or equal to the car next to you, then you don't have to worry about hitting your front bumper unless it's an EXTREMELY tight spot, which is pretty rare, in my experience.
I began parking like this when I drove a little Civic hatchback. I always hated looking for a parking spot in a busy lot, seeing one, pulling up, only to find the spot was occupied by a little car or motorcycle, amd I didn't want to be that guy. It also prevents people from impeding the flow of a busy lot, as they will glace right over my car instead speeding up, slowing down, starting to turn, fist fighting other motorists for the spot etc.
For gauging parallel parking, go practice one day, get yourself parked an acceptable distance from the curb (<6"), then get in the drivers seat and sit in a natural position that you know you can repeat. Find a reference point on your car that lines up well with where the curb meets the ground. I find one of the many ridges/holes in the windshield wipers works the best. You can even put a small notch or mark the spot with a pen. This way, next time you pull up, you can sit in your natural position, look at where your reference point lines up with the ground, and gauge how far you are from the curb.
Practice in a store carpark with some cones.
Personally, if I'm in a tight spot, I find it easier to reverse in; I can then see all the way down each side of the car using the mirrors (and new cars now generally come with reversing cameras).
You say "other than counting experience" - you can't. You need the experience, so you need to practice where you won't damage your car.