The Crazy Cost Of Learning To Drive
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Many see it as a rite of passage, but it might be the most expensive education of your life. We expose the expense of getting safely behind the wheel -- and our top tips for cost-cutting.
Learner drivers are always plagued by the memories of friends and relatives who passed their tests years ago. "I only had six lessons.""In my day, there was none of this theory test rubbish." "Learning to drive only cost me £100." Enough! I painstakingly learnt to drive a couple of years ago, and while I could stomach smug stories about how quickly others got their licences, talk of how cheaply they'd done it never failed to enrage me. Fast forward to 2008 and I find that, not only is it much more difficult to pass a driving test, it's also now more expensive than ever. The Economics Of Education To get an idea of the typical cost of learning to drive, I thought about the costs many learners encounter: Item Cost Provisional driving licence £50 Copy of The Highway Code £2.50 (RRP) Theory and Hazard Perception Test practice materials (book plus DVD/CD-ROM) £15 (approx.) Driving Theory/Hazard Perception Test £30 45 professional driving lessons Lessons typically cost around £24 per hour, depending on where you live. £24 x 45 = £1,080 Insurance for 22 hours of driving practice Adding a learner to an insurance policy or buying stand-alone learner's insurance can cost £200+, depending on the car and the learner Practical Driving Test (weekday) £56.50 Use of instructor's car on day of test (two hours) £48 Pass Plus course Pass Plus courses typically cost from around £160, depending on where you live TOTAL POTENTIAL COST: £1,642 So that's a total potential cost of £1,642! Of course, certain expenses mentioned above won't be relevant for all learners. But while some of you may pay less, it's possible some of you may pay even more. This is partly because it is extremely difficult to determine how many driving lessons a learner needs. According to Directgov, people who pass their driving tests have had, on average, 45 hours of professional training and 22 hours of private practice. But that's just an average. For example, here at The Motley Fool HQ, one writer took more than seven years and approximately 250 lessons before she passed her test -- on her ninth attempt! (She no longer drives.) That's why, no matter how confident you are, I think it's wise to budget for more lessons than you think you'll need. It's also worth remembering that, if you live in an expensive area, they're likely to cost more than £24 an hour. Also, remember I've optimistically factored in just one theory and one practical test for the `typical' learner. You may need two or three (or nine) attempts to get your licence -- so costs could soar further. Top Tips For Learners While it's impossible to reduce every cost, here are some ways learners can save money... 1. Bag A Bargain If you have a Tesco Clubcard, you could trade vouchers for tuition. For £48.36 worth, a learner can get a package of four driving lessons worth £193.45 from BSM. Some driving instructors also offer reduced rates for students, and many give discounts to pupils who block book lessons in advance. 2. Get Your Money's Worth It's normal to spend five or 10 minutes talking at both the start and end of each lesson -- but if you regularly sit by the side of the road for longer, you're losing valuable driving time. Likewise, be wary of instructors who ask you to pick up or drop off other students, or wait while the car is filled up with petrol. These things don't benefit you, but the lesson time they waste costs you money! Also, keep thinking about how effectively your instructor is helping you progress. If you feel frustrated, perhaps try someone new. 3. Do Your Homework Practising for the theory and hazard perception tests is the best way to ensure you pass -- thus avoiding the expense of taking the exam twice. Buying a kit to help you doesn't have to be expensive. While they often retail for around £15, both eBay and Amazon offer second hand options at a fraction of the price. Free resources are also available at websites like helpingldrivers.com, learnerstuff.co.uk and theorytestadvice.co.uk. 4. Time Things Right If you have your theory or practical test booked and don't feel ready, never be afraid to cancel. As long as you do so within the stated time limit, it won't cost you anything -- but it could save you the expense of having to take your test twice. Equally, don't book your theory test too far ahead of your practical -- even if you pass, you must take the practical exam within two years or you will have to sit the theory test again. Also, according to some sources, the amount of lessons people need tends to be around twice their age. This might mean that the longer you leave it to start learning, the more expensive it will be. After You've Passed As a inexperienced driver, you'll be expensive to insure. To reduce your costs, some insurers will encourage you to take a Pass Plus course, designed to help new drivers hone their new skills. It involves facing different and challenging circumstances new drivers won't have experienced before, such as driving on motorways. For reasons of safety, this makes sense -- and if I was a parent, I would want my kids to do it. But taking Pass Plus for the sake of reducing insurance premiums could be a false economy. While some insurers say they will shave up to 35% off premiums for those with Pass Plus, similar savings can be made simply by shopping around for the cheapest car insurance quote. The cost of the course may not therefore be offset by a reduction in the cost of the insurance. Steps such as parking in a garage and choosing a less powerful vehicle are also effective ways to reduce the cost of insurance for new drivers. But young people should still expect the price of their insurance to be very high. According to recent research by The Sunday Times, a year's insurance for an 18 year old male driver living in central Birmingham could cost more than £6,500. While young women fare better, premiums can still top £3,500. Catch-17 For a young person, the cost of learning to drive, then buying and insuring a car, could exceed £10,000. A more mature new driver would find insuring their vehicle far cheaper, but it could still cost more than £1,000. Learning might also take them longer, and cost more. It's expensive now -- and with inflation and fuel prices increasing, I imagine that learning to drive next year will cost even more. In addition, proposals to extend the teaching and testing process could see the cost of learning to drive rocket further over the next few years. For these reasons, learning to drive as early as possible could make financial sense. However, it's important to work out how you'll finance learning before you begin. If you can, save up first -- or if you know your son or daughter will want to learn during the next few years, perhaps put some money aside to help them. If you have to borrow, choose the best value loan or credit card available -- otherwise, becoming competent in the car will simply drive you into bad debt. Learning to drive is tough -- both emotionally and financially -- but I'm glad that I did it. I hope the hints and ideas in this article help those who are considering it to move forward Foolishly. I'm sure Fool readers have tons more tips to help prospective drivers stay out of financial (and motoring!) peril -- so please feel free to share them in the comments boxes below. More: Drive Down Your Car Costs | Drive A Brand New Car For Less