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Learn how to drive on a budget

Learning to drive is a pretty big, pretty costly life decision to make. We've got some great tips on how to keep costs down on this massive life investment!

learn to drive buy first car on a budget

Credit (left): DavideGorla - Flickr, Credit (right): cristiano barni - Shutterstock

Learning to drive is probably something you've been looking forward to for years (just a guess, as you're reading this article).

And who can blame you? It's the first leap towards total independence, and if you live in the countryside or the suburbs, being able to go places on your own watch can be a total game-changer – and for some, a necessity.

The thing is, it doesn't come cheap – you could be spending well over a grand before you're even thinking about buying your first car. So read on to find out how to pass your driving test on a budget!

If you have dreams of ditching student accommodation to live in a van like this guy, you'll need to wait until you're 21 before you can drive one.

Why should you learn how to drive?

why learn to drive

Credit: Nickelodeon

Chances are you're already aware of the benefits of learning to drive! But in case you need any more convincing, here are five reasons to get a driving licence:

  1. Driving will give you loads of independence. That means no more relying on your parents or mates for lifts everywhere!
  2. If none (or only some) of your mates can drive, you'll quickly become their favourite person in the world
  3. Having a driving licence can be great for your CV and career. Plenty of graduate jobs will ask for a full clean driving licence as a prerequisite, so not having one could rule you out of the running for some jobs before you've even applied!
  4. Driving can (but not always!) save you money on commuting costs – particularly if you're able to split petrol costs, or if the alternative is shelling out on pricey train tickets
  5. If nothing else, having a driving licence (even just a provisional one) means you don't have to take your passport on nights out to act as ID. A driving licence is much easier to fit in your purse or wallet, so the chances of you losing it in a drunken mess are far lower!

How much does it cost to learn how to drive?

Expense30 hours of lessons40 hours of lessons50 hours of lessons
Total
£519 – £741
£919 – £1,341
£1,119 – £1,641
Provisional licence£34 (£43 if you apply by post)
Theory test£23
Lessons£400 – £600£800 – £1,200£1,000 – £1,500
Practical test£62 (£75 at evenings, weekends and bank holidays)

Bear in mind that these figures are just estimates based upon the fact that driving lessons tend to cost £20 – £30 a pop, and that you'll pass both your theory and practical test first time around.

Of course, the point of this guide is help you drive down (pardon the pun) the cost of learning to drive, so before you're put off by the hefty price tag, read on!

What do you need to learn how to drive?

learning to drive

Credit: 20th Television

The only thing you absolutely need before you learn to drive is a provisional licence.

It's illegal for you to do any form of driving on public roads without at least a provisional licence, and even if you plan to learn on private land, you'll need to show your provisional licence to your assessor at your driving test. In other words, you need to get one.

It costs £34 to apply for a provisional licence online, or £43 to do so by post. You can find out more about what you need to apply for a provisional driving licence and submit your application on the official government site.

Other than a provisional licence, there's nothing else that you need to learn how to drive. You can buy and learn in your own car if you'd like (although you'll need insurance), but most instructors will have their own car (with their own set of pedals on the passenger side) which you'll use.

That said, before you take your practical test you will need to have one other thing in your arsenal...

How to pass your theory test

pass theory driving test

The theory test is often forgotten about when it comes to the cost of learning to drive. But the fact of the matter is that you need to have passed your theory test before you can take your practical test, so you should factor in the cost of it, too.

Assuming that you're just taking a theory test for a car (as opposed to a lorry, for example), it'll cost you £23. Although it has a reputation for being easy, the theory test is definitely not something to be taken lightly.

The test involves two components (a set of multiple-choice questions and a hazard perception exercise), and you'll need to prepare for both if you want to pass first time (and save having to pay to take it more than once!).

Revising for your theory test

There are a few books out there to help you revise for the multiple-choice element, but we'd recommend downloading the Driving Test Success app (iOS and Android).

The app has all the same info as the books for half the price (£4.99 instead of a tenner), but on top of that it has dozens of hazard perception clips for you to try too.

Trust us when we say that you really do need to prepare for your theory test. You can't blag your way through stopping distance and road sign questions, and you'll definitely need to learn how the hazard perception test works, otherwise you'll score zero across the board!

How to get cheap driving lessons

  1. Approach a driving instructor directly

    approach driving instructor directly cheap lessons

    Credit: Nickelodeon

    Driving lessons tend to cost between £20 – £30, but the easiest way to make a saving is to approach an instructor directly rather than going through a large company.

    Say, for example, your mate recommends their driving instructor who works for the AA. Rather than contacting the AA Driving School to book lessons with the instructor, you should contact the instructor directly.

    Companies will usually charge instructors a percentage of their earnings if a booking is made through them, but if you go direct, the instructor may offer you a discount as they won't have to give any money to their employers.

    If nobody you know is able to recommend a teacher, try Googling "best driving instructors near me". You'll usually get a Yell.com result with a ton of highly-rated instructors, who once again you should contact directly for the best price!

Booking directly may mean you don't get access to some of the company's extra learning materials (like an online portal), and the company probably won't help you out with any disputes or issues you have with your instructor or payments.
  1. Buy driving lessons in bulk

    bulk buy driving lessons cheaper

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Like most things in life, driving lessons are cheaper per session if you buy in bulk.

    But rather than paying for 40 lessons at once, you're better off paying for five or 10 first. Unless you're 100% confident that you'll love working with your instructor, start by booking a small handful of lessons in case you decide you want to switch later on.

    Once you know for sure that you're happy with your teacher, then you can buy lessons in bulk and (hopefully) make a decent saving.

    But how many lessons should you pay for? Well, according to the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) it usually takes people 45 hours of lessons (plus 22 hours of private practising) to reach test standard.

    Of course, you'll always have that one mate who claims they passed after one lesson, and the instructor may try to sell you more than you need, so it's worth bearing in mind the actual stats before bulk-buying lessons.

  2. Go for two-hour lessons

    two hour driving lessons cheaper

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Driving lessons tend to either be one or two hours long. Two-hour lessons are often a little less than double the price of a one-hour lesson, so you're getting the same service for less money.

    But the benefits don't end there. An hour may sound like a long time, but by the time you've got in the car, adjusted the seat/mirrors, driven somewhere suitable for doing some manoeuvres and practised a bit, it'll be time to go home.

    Two-hour lessons give you much more time to get into the groove, and there's a good chance that you'll find you improve a lot more in a two-hour lesson than you would in two one-hour lessons.

    The quicker you learn, the quicker you pass – meaning the fewer lessons you have to spend money on!

  3. Get a friend or family member to teach you

    friend or family member teach driving cheap

    Credit: Warner Bros

    The cheapest way to learn to drive is undoubtedly getting a friend or family member to teach you. In many cases you'll be able to learn for free, but ironically this can come at a cost.

    Professional instructors know a lot more about what it takes to pass your driving test. Passing isn't just about being able to drive – you need to be the most perfect driver on the roads, always checking your blind spots and mirrors and just generally being too conscientious, if anything.

    Chances are that your friends and family will have picked up their own bad habits down the years. Unlike a professional instructor, they probably won't even realise that they're doing them, and that passing them onto you could stop you from passing.

    So although the lessons may end up being much cheaper (or free!), the fact that the education isn't as good may mean that you may end up paying through the ear for multiple driving tests!

If you're considering being taught by a friend or family member, bear in mind that they need to be aged 21 or over and have held their full licence for at least three years!

Ready to buy your first car? Insuring your car will probably cost as much as the car itself, but luckily we've got a guide to cheap student car insurance.

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