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Learning to drive and buying your first car on a budget

Learning to drive and buying your first car are two pretty big, pretty costly life decisions to make. We've got some great tips on how to keep costs down on this mega life investment!
Buying your first car Learning to drive and getting your own first set of wheels is something that most people (im)patiently look forward to as they approach the seventeen-candles-on-the-cake stage of life.

And who can blame them – learning to drive is the first leap towards total independence, and if you live in the countryside/ the 'burbs, having a car to get around as and when you need can be a total game-changer.

And whilst having a car at university can be considered a luxury, for some it's a necessity – and in some cases can save you fair whack on commuter costs!

If you have dreams of ditching student accommodation for a pimped up van like this guy, you'll need to wait 'til you're 21 before you can drive one.

Why learn to drive?

questionsIf you're reading this article, chances are you're already aware of the benefits of learning to drive! But in case you need any more convincing, here's some things to think about…

  • It'll give you shed loads of independence – no relying on the 'rents for lifts everywhere!
  • Will earn you major kudos with mates – although you will have to become designated sober driver which can get annoying!
  • Can be great for your CV and career – many graduate jobs will ask for a full clean driving licence as a prerequisite.
  • Will save you money on commuting costs – particularly if you car share to cover petrol costs.

Getting started

learn to drive earlyCredit: David Kessler – flickr

Here's what you need to do to get the ball (wheels) rolling:

  1. Get a provisional licence

    So before you can put your foot on the pedal for the first time, you'll need to get yourself a provisional licence from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency).

    Although you can't technically drive anywhere until your 17th birthday, you can apply for your provisional up to three months before your 16th birthday.

    So if you're really keen, you can put things in place so your provisional licence is in your hand and you're able to get behind the wheel on your 17th birthday. A provisional licence will set you back £34 if you can apply for one online or £43 if you apply by picking up a form from your local Post Office.

    And if you're upset about the extra expense, just remember you'll be able to use it as ID… a year later once you're actually of legal age to get into pubs!

  2. Choose a driving instructor

    In reality, anyone can actually teach you how to drive – so long as they have a licence, of course!

    But whilst practicing with a good driver you know and trust (and happy to take the risk of having a learner behind the wheel of their car!) is perfectly fine, when it comes to lessons, an experienced and excellent driving teacher is key to passing your test – and quickly!

    How to find the best instructor

    The most practical way to look for a driving instructor would be to do some research into the accredited driving schools in your area, and checking any available reviews online.

    However, it can be even more effective to just ask around for recommendations from friends and family, or put a shout out on social media. This can make your decision of which instructor to go for much easier, and reduce your chances of ending up with someone you don't like.

    The important thing to remember is that if you don't like your teacher, switch! Don't waste your money on lessons with an instructor who isn't helping you progress.

  3. Start practicing!

    Once you have your provisional licence, you can start practicing on any roads except for motorways. You'll need to be supervised by a driver, but it can be anyone you trust (and who trusts you to drive their car!) as long as they're over 21 and have had their licence for at least 3 years.

    You'll also need to be covered by learner's driving insurance whilst you practice. This can be costly, but the double edged sword is that forking out on insurance so that you can practice in between lessons might result in you passing your test quicker (and therefore needing to shell out for fewer lessons overall).

    You can either pay to be added to someone else's insurance, but it can work the same price (and involve less risk of increasing someone else's premiums) if you get a policy that just covers you personally. Insurers such as Marmalade, Admiral and Covered all offer learner's policies that cater to young drivers.

    And always make sure you have an 'L' learner's plate displayed on the front and back of the car you're practicing in – it's the law!

You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 6 points on your licence (before you've even got it!) if you drive without the right supervision on a learner's licence. Don't take risks!

Taking your driving test

learning to driveSo once you've spent an ample amount of time taking lessons and practicing, it's time to enter test mode! Before you can apply to take your practical driving test, you need to pass the theory test first.

Theory driving test

There are two parts to the theory test: a set of road scenarios with multiple-choice questions, and a hazard perception test. You have to pass both parts, and score no less than 43 out of 50 in each. If you fail one part, you have to re-sit, and whilst this isn't the end of the world, each try will cost you £23. You can study theory specifics to your heart's content on this gov.uk site.

If you need additional learning materials – like books and software – when preparing for your theory test, the DSA (Driving Standards Agency) offer a 25% student discount. Alternatively, you can pick books up for cheap on Amazon, and you should even be able to find some materials are available for free loan from your local library.

Practical driving test

Don't feel pressured into taking your test before you feel you're ready – this means you could feel like it's time after just 10 lessons, or you might still not be there after 20. The point is, everyone's different and there's no typical time that you should start thinking about taking your test.

It's also worth noting that failing your practical test can be pretty frustrating (and costs you £62 a pop/ £75 on evenings, weekends and bank holidays), so sometimes if you're feeling a bit unsure, it's worth holding out that little bit longer before taking the plunge.

Buying your first car (on a budget)

buying your first carBuying your first car can be a pretty scary and expensive commitment, but if you have a fairly big commute, it could definitely save you cash in the long run. Therefore, think of it as an investment!

Here are some tips on how to save on buying your first set of wheels:

  1. Choose a 'safe' car – Insurance can be the most expensive thing about owning a car (particularly as a new young driver), so choosing a car that insurers approve of will definitely keep your costs down substantially. Here's a list of cars that the IIHS (Insurance institute for highway safety) deem the safest on the road. Everything else you need to know about saving on car insurance you can find in our guide to keeping car insurance costs down.
  2. Shop around – There are so many places you can be looking for your first car that it's easy to feel a bit overwhelmed at first. Have a gander at some different car dealerships (online or in your local area) to get an up-to-date idea about prices, but don't feel limited to buying from a dealer. Other potential sources include, newspaper/online sales ads, word of mouth (eg: a friend of a friend of a friend is selling a car – putting a shout out on social media can be useful) and repossessions (normally available at auction). This last one could bag you a really good deal!
  3. Haggle – Once you've found a car you like, make sure you at least try to haggle the price down, or ask them to throw in a free perk to ! If the idea of haggling makes you shiver, don't worry! We've got a guide on how to haggle and get results.
  4. Consider leasing instead of buying – Weird as this might sound, monthly payments for a car lease can actually work out cheaper than paying for a car of your own  – particularly if you're going for a new car rather than second hand one. The major perk of personal leasing is that servicing is included, so if you ever have any problems with the car, it'll be repaired free of charge. Research your options!
  5. Remember additional costs – Don't forget to include the additional costs of driving when doing your calculations to see what you can afford. You'll have tax to fork out for, as well as yearly MOTs, petrol, parking, car insurance and breakdown cover to think about …but don't worry, we've got a whole guide on how to keep these driving costs down!

Have you got any nuggets of wisdom for learners and first-time car buyers? Share in the comments below.

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