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How to get your driving license on the cheap

The cost of learning to drive is extraordinarily high, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your spending on driving lessons, and tests. Ben Griffin explains.

Looking to secure your four-wheeled freedom, but want to keep the cost down? Who can blame you. The cost of learning to drive is more than £1,000, according to government figures. It takes an average of 47 driving lessons and a further 22 hours of practice with an older driver to pass a test. It is, therefore, more essential than ever to make those pounds work as hard as they can. With that in mind, we have prepared some tips that will help you pass your test as cheaply and efficiently as possible. 

Start learning with a family member

Don’t just jump straight in with a professional instructor, learn some basic roadcraft with your parents first. Practice gear changes, steering and where the indicators are beforehand you start hemorrhaging cash witha professional agency. That way your first few lessons with a pro needn’t be taken up with being told off for hugging the kerb and stalling the car. 

Bear in mind a parrot is not an appropriate supervisor. They need to have a minimum of three years driving experience, be over 21 years old and qualified to drive the vehicle you are in.

Get reduced cost introductory lessons

Not all driving schools and instructors will offer a free or cheaper introductory lesson, but there’s absolutely no harm in asking. Not only will this get you out and about with a trained professional for the first time at no cost, it will help ensure you get to know your driver before committing, thus helping you choose the right person and the right car for the job. Speaking of which… 

Choose the right person for the job

A good instructor could potentially help you learn that little bit quicker, reducing the total cost in the end. But how can you tell who’s up to scratch? Well, there’s always word of mouth so consider asking a more experienced friend or colleague for a recommendation. Alternatively ask the driving school to put you in touch with a past pupil. Or consult Google — search for driving schools and instructors in your area, perusing their reviews to find out whether they’re up to scratch.

Alternatively you can ask for an instructor’s grade, which used to be measured on a scale between 4 and 6. Grade 6 meant the instructor was at the top of their game and would give you the best instruction possible. Grade 5 was only slightly less capable, while Grade 4 meant competent instruction is given. 

The number grade system was, however, replaced by the Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) standards check in April 2014 in an effort to make things clearer for potential learners. Now instructors get an A, B or Fail grade — A being the top and an overall excellent level of instruction, while B represents a sufficient level. Fail means unsatisfactory.

Book multiple lessons at once

You should see if your instructor offers a discount for booking job lots of driving lessons before you commit. You may only save £2 or so on each lesson (typically between £19 and £25), but over the course of 38 lessons that £76.

Lessons should be a minimum of an hour, preferably two, partly because you will learn more but mainly because a large portion of the lesson includes travelling to and from where you are being taught. Because of this, a 120-minute lesson should cost less than double the hour session rate.

Can I get the UK theory test cheaper?

Sadly, no. This is a standardised cost we all have to bear. But you can save money by, you know, passing the theory test first time. While the hazard perception side of the test is trickier to practice for, there are DVDs available that can help you become familiar. Ultimately, though, you want to know the Highway Code like the back of your hand. Invest in a book, borrow one from a friend – just make sure you are fully prepared. Oh, and avoid cheating.

What about a cheaper practical test?

Again, no. The cost is £62 a pop on weekdays and £75 at the weekend. With that in mind, a weekday test will save you some money. Just don’t turn up drunk.

As with the theory test, you want to ensure you are feeling confident. If that means an extra hour or two of lessons, do it. That will cost less than another retest because you weren’t quite ready. Bear in mind if you do fail you have to wait a minimum of 10 days before you can book a retest, delaying the time for you to pass and increasing the number of lessons you need to keep yourself refreshed.

How much is a provisional licence?

A bit of good news. The government will be reducing the fee for obtaining a provisional licence online. It will cost £34 instead of £50 as of October 31st 2014.

Is it okay to start learning and have a break?

You could, but like anything it’s best to have everything you have been taught fresh in the mind on the day of the test. Back-to-back lessons are more likely to pay off, meaning you are less likely to front up the money for multiple tests.

What if I am a parent wanting to save up for my kids?

Like just about any future financial outlay, there’s no harm in starting a fund early. Putting away £5 a week when your child is 12 means you have £1,300 for driving lessons when they reach 17. That’s enough to cover the lessons, practical and theory test. Whack away £10 and you can probably start covering a chunk of their first year of car insurance, too. 

What if I don’t have any money?

Driving is fun, a rite of passage for many and essential in rural areas where public transport is iffy at best, but it’s by no means cheap. The driving lessons, car, car insurance, vehicle tax, servicing, MOT, petrol and diesel costs – the list of outgoings makes for depressing reading. 

If your parents failed to get a driving lesson fund sorted out, you will have to pay for it yourself. So maybe consider working for a few hours in your local pub, do a paper round, pick up golf balls at a local course and sell them back – just earn some cheddar. The job is unlikely to rock your world, but think of the freedom. 

Should I get a loan?

Ideally, no. But if learning to drive means you secure income you might not otherwise, it’s a financial risk you may have to consider. Getting into debt is best avoided where possible, so try to work something else out. If you really, really have to, younger people usually have access to an interest-free overdraft of around £2,000. This is a better option than a credit card because its cheaper. Just watch out for reaching your overdraft limit and the associated charges. 

Is there such a thing as too few driving lessons? 

If you are wanting to pass as cheaply as possible, nope. But more driving experience now may be the difference between your car surviving the first year and ending up a wreck. We all want to drive as soon as possible but, as a wise old mother might say, it’s better to be late on Earth than early in heaven. Aim to be a confident driver first and foremost, kids. 

Anything else?

Try to relax and realise the real learning begins once you are legally free to drive on UK roads. Maybe consider Pass Plus for potentially reducing your car insurance premium and, of course, drive safely. A crash early on will really dent your chance of making life cheaper in the long run. Then check out our ten tips for young, new or inexperienced drivers for a little extra knowledge.

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