Are Cheap Driving Lessons a False Economy?

If you’re thinking of learning to drive, chances are that you’re wondering how to get the best value driving lessons. And if you’ve gone to Google during your quest, you’ll have come across hundreds of thousands of search entries: driving schools and instructors all claiming to offer the cheapest lessons near to you. Quite frankly, it’s a minefield, and we don’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide. It covers what you should consider when you’re looking for cheap driving lessons, how cheap is really cheap, and what the hidden costs are of learning to drive. Plus, we’ll show you how you can get the most cost effective deal in the long run.

How ‘cheap’ are cheap driving lessons?

Let’s be realistic: it’s simply not possible to get your licence for next to nothing. A driving licence is incredibly valuable, and, naturally, it comes with a price tag. So, while everyone’s idea of cheap driving lessons will be different, even the cheapest won’t be affordable for everyone.

For most driving lessons, you’re looking at paying between £20 and £30 an hour. The UK average is about £26 per hour, but it’ll very much depend on where in the country you are. At the extremes, you could end up paying just £15 a lesson, or you could be charged as much as £42!

Given that most learners require about 47 hours worth of lessons before passing their test, that’ll put you back between somewhere between £705 and £1974. And that’s without taking into account the cost of your provisional licence, your theory or your practical test(s).

Why are driving lessons so expensive?

A man in sunglasses burning money in front of a car
Image source: Thomas Rüdesheim via Pixabay

Firstly, there’s the fact that driving instructors are providing you with a skill for life. Think of it a bit like you’d think about buying clothing. ‘Price per wear’ is a better measurement of your investment than the amount you actually pay for the item. Learning to drive is a big outgoing in the short term, but every time you get behind the wheel, you’ll be using the skills your instructor taught you.

Driving instructors have to have passed certain tests to be able to teach you. In fact, if they haven’t, they aren’t just a bad instructor, but a rogue one. To remain an ADI, and therefore legally allowed to accept money in return for lessons, instructors also have to prove their teaching skills are up to standard with regular checks.

When you book your lessons, you’re mostly paying for the tuition and expertise, but there are other things your money covers, too. The instructor has to account for fuel costs, insurance and the upkeep of their car. It’s an expensive piece of kit, and the time you spend driving their vehicle contributes to its wear and tear. Then there are MOTs, regular services and tax, as well as any unexpected problems that arise.

Looking at it this way, the high cost of lessons suddenly doesn’t seem so unfair.

Do cheap driving lessons compromise on quality?

With driving lessons, it’s not always a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. Just like in any profession, you can find good and bad instructors at every price point.

That said, you should be careful of going with an instructor simply based on the fact that they don’t charge very much. Far more important than price is that they are totally above board and legal, how other pupils rate their service (and that of the driving school, if they’re associated with one), and whether they are a good fit for you.

Thankfully, if you do your research, chances are you’ll find a great instructor who balances cost with quality. Here are some things you can look out for when comparing lesson prices.

Price per hour vs overall cost

Mathematics formulas on a chalkboard
Image source: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Although most learners won’t be able to get the very lowest rates of driving lessons, simply because it depends on where in the UK you’re based, you can still be savvy with your spending.

If you simply plump for the driving lessons promising the cheapest hourly rate, you might actually be doing yourself out of cash. Why? Because per lesson price doesn’t tell the whole story. There are theory and practical test costs to consider, and if you want to use the instructor’s car for the test, you’ll have to pay for that hour too. There’s loads of advantages to this: it’s insured for you, you’ll be used to driving it, and your instructor will be with you before your test for any last minute questions. They’ll probably help calm your nerves, too. But what we’re saying is that these are things to include in your calculations.

Basically, look at what’s actually included in the price. If you’re adding all those extras onto traditional hourly lessons, things can soon add up.

Cheapest driving lessons: Things to look out for

As we’ve already seen, the cheapest per hour driving lessons can sometimes prove to be a false economy, but there are a few other would-be incentives that you should be wary of, too.

Guaranteed passes

Guaranteed passes are one example. Some driving schools entice learners with the promise that they will not have to pay for a second driving test, or sometimes multiple subsequent tests. On the surface, this sounds great: after all, test pass rates show that less than 48% of people pass on their first attempt.

But even if your idea of a guaranteed pass is the same as theirs—which, you guessed it, isn’t guaranteed, these driving schools are going to have to cover the costs elsewhere. Someone, somewhere, is going to be paying for that perk; chances are, it’ll be you. That might be through a high per hour rate, sneaky extra admin fees, or terms and conditions you’re unlikely to meet.

Deals and offers

Spotted an offer on driving lessons, one that promises to help keep your costs down? Great! But whether it’s an introductory offer, or a whole-course discount, deals always come with specific terms.

Perhaps you get a percentage off your first couple of lessons. But you only qualify for the offer if you book at least 50 lessons. Or maybe 5 hours are said to be free. But it turns out these aren’t your first 5 lessons; they’re spread out over a course. The deal isn’t exactly lying to you, but it’s not quite telling you the whole truth.

We’re not saying offers are always bad, but just make sure you’re prepared to meet the conditions. Only then can you decide if it really is the most cost effective way to do things. In short, always do your research.

Sneaky language (and sneaky instructors)

At first glance, some schools and instructors appear to offer cheap driving lessons. But if they’re charging ‘per lesson’, rather than per hour, ask how long that lesson really is.

Likewise when you’re in the car with your instructor. If you’ve been promised an hour (or two, or three—whatever) at a time, don’t let yourself be short changed. Of course, you may need a break during very long lessons. If your instructor is dropping you off a few minutes early each time, though, that can soon mount up.

Challenge any instructor who denies you some of your lesson time. If you don’t feel like you can do this to their face, and you’ve booked through a driving school, raise the issue with them instead. A good school will always take your feedback on board and do everything they can to protect you from this sort of behaviour happening again.

How to get the most value for money

A jar spilling assorted coins
Image source: Josh Appel via Unsplash

It can feel like a minefield out there, trying to work out which instructor or school offers the best value. That said, there are several easy ways of making the process more cost effective.

① Block booking lessons

Although you will usually have to be prepared to pay more up-front, opting for a course of lessons can make things cheaper in the long run. Semi-intensive courses are a good way to optimise your learning. They combine the benefits from both traditional lessons and crash courses. On the one hand, you will consolidate your skills over time, and therefore experience different road conditions. On the other, you can learn at a much quicker rate, on a schedule that suits you.

For any kind of block-booking, you’ll probably have to pay a deposit straight away. There may well be financing options available to you, though, so it’s worth asking whether you can pay in instalments.

Remember to always check whether you’ll be charged interest before committing to a payment plan. It pays to be realistic about what you can afford.

Even if you have to settle the balance before you start your driving course, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your lessons are all paid for in advance. Some learners take lessons on an ‘as-and-when-I-can-afford-it’ basis. This can lead to long breaks between driving while they save up for the next hour or 2. In the end, that’s poor long term cost management: gaps between lessons mean you are likely to forget things. You’ll spend subsequent lessons re-learning, rather than consolidating and progressing your skills. If bad habits form, you might be less able to break them quickly, and so you’ll probably end up taking more lessons overall.

Theory and practical test fees

Driving courses may include your theory and practical fees automatically. As well as being hassle-free, you can gain something of real value this way. Look to see if the school is scouring test cancellations day in, day out (like we do at PassMeFast). If so, they can get you a test much earlier than if you book it yourself.

② Swot up on your theory first

This is one of our key tips in speeding up your progression from learner to solo driver while keeping costs down.

By the time you’re ready to take your practical, you don’t want to be wasting time waiting for your theory test. What happens, for example, if you don’t pass it on your first go? Plus, while all the theory drama’s going on, you’ll want to keep your practical skills sharp—which is more driving lessons, and more money out of your pocket.

And, as if that weren’t enough of an incentive, it’ll probably take you less time to learn to drive if you already have a good grasp of the rules of the road. You’ll already know how to follow road markings, and understand the reasoning behind different junctions. It turns out there’s actually a point to your theory test—who’d have thought?!

③ More lessons might save you money

A boy pulling a confused face
Image source: Marcos Paulo Prado via Unsplash

It sounds counter-intuitive, right? But actually, doing everything you can to pass first time, even if takes you a few more lessons, is sensible for your finances. You’ll usually spend less doing this than having to book another test, refresher lessons to make sure you’re still on form, and another hour with your instructor for the test.

Just like there’s no point trying to take your theory test without swotting up first, you should resist the temptation to go for your practical before you’re test-ready. So-and-so might say it only took them 3 (okay, 20) hours of lessons to pass—and if it’s true, good for them. But frankly, in the long run, who cares? It’s way more impressive to make sure you know what you’re doing than it is to rush your way through driving lessons for the sake of ego.

Just as you can change your test to an earlier one, it can also be postponed. Your instructor will help you make that call. And if they do think you’re up to it, take confidence in that. They’re the professional, after all.

④ Plan, plan, plan

With all that in mind, it doesn’t pay to be naive. You can be well-prepared and still make a mistake on the day. Nerves can obviously play a role, and however many lessons you take, you’re still going to be a relatively inexperienced driver.  

And if you fail, it’s obviously not ideal, but it’s okay. You’re in good company. What will really help, though, is to have enough money saved to cover a couple more lessons and your next test. 

Worst case, you’ll be able to re-take your practical soon. Best case? We’re sure you can find something else to spend your savings on. 

⑤ Speak up

If there’s something you just can’t seem to get, ask your driving instructor if they can help explain it in some other way. It might be a case of practice makes perfect, but sometimes you may need a bit more help understanding something. Asking questions as you go along will help you to grasp the skills quicker, and make the best use of your lesson time—and money.

So, are cheap driving lessons a false economy? No, not necessarily. A good driving instructor should be able to teach you to be a safe driver and pass your test, however much you are paying. But you should always check that you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. That’s the only way to compare lessons effectively.

Of course, once you’ve passed, there are yet more costs to think about. Don’t panic yet, though: we’ve got you covered with tips on everything from looking for insurance, to knowing what sort of car you should go for.

By Katie Scott

Katie grew up in the middle of nowhere, so knows the true value of getting behind the wheel. From the rules of the road to handy hints and tips, she'll give you the lowdown on all things driving. Always on the move, when she's not in the car, you'll probably find Katie darting around the squash courts or out running in the rainy British countryside.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *