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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Insider Tips to Save Money When Learning to Drive

I make a living out of teaching people to drive, so I shouldn't really be telling you this, but there are a number of ways you can save money when learning to drive.

1. Don't just think you are only learning when sat at the side of your instructor. If you study the Highway Code and other books frequently in the periods between lessons and get to know and understand the rules, you can spend less time talking and more of your lesson time experiencing the wide range of situations you'll need to deal with on your test. Result - fewer lessons

2. Practice with friends or family. As long as you're insured and the person supervising you is at least 21 years old and have had their full driving licence for 3 years or more then this is perfectly legal. Make sure you speak with your instructor first to ensure you are ready for private practice without the help of dual controls. Result - fewer lessons

3. Ask your instructor if you and a friend can learn together. You get to sit in the back watching and listening to your friend's lesson and therefore learning from any explanations the instructor gives or any mistakes your friend makes and vice versa. And you get twice as long for your money. Result - fewer lessons

4. If you can help it don't take 1 hour per week at the early learning stages. If you can afford it, try to fit at least a couple of 90 minute lessons in each week. This helps you retain more information over a shorter period of time. You can always reduce this when practising with friends or family. Result - fewer lessons

5. Watch YouTube videos. There are loads of good ones showing you what to do and there are even official videos showing you what to expect on the test. This visual way of learning helps you retain more information. Result - fewer lessons

6. Make sure you're ready for your test. There's the test fee to consider and the cost of a double lesson on the day. Don't go if you're not ready as this results in you paying for another test and more lesson time. Ask your instructor to conduct a number of mock tests and to keep you regularly informed on your progress. Result - fewer test attempts

7. During your lesson, listen carefully to what your instructor is telling you. Ask questions if you don't understand and make notes whenever possible. Reviewing these notes after your lesson will help you retain information longer. Result - fewer lessons

8. Avoid being suckered into cheap deals. As the saying goes, you only get what you pay for and you could end up spending more in the long term. Result - fewer tears before bedtime and fewer lessons

9. Tell your instructor if you don't feel you are progressing well enough and come up with a plan to help progress more. If this doesn't work you should consider changing your instructor. Styles clash sometimes and you may find a different style suits you better. Result happier lessons and fewer of them.

10. Make it important that you do well and learn to drive safely and responsibly. Being a good student and having the right attitude to learning means that you will achieve your goal sooner. Result - fewer lessons and fewer tests.

There you have it straight from the horses mouth. If you study well and find the right instructor for you, there's no reason for you to scrimp on quality, even if you are on a tight budget.

How to Save Money by Hiring a Professional

When you are working to a limited budget hiring a professional often appears to be a luxury. This is probably why DIY is so popular - it can't be that hard can it?

My garage is full of tools I've bought for a particular job and never used again, I've completed the job to a fair degree of satisfaction and saved some money but it never really looks like a professional has done it. My garage also has it's fair share of part completed 'projects' where what seemed to be a straightforward easy job turned out to be slightly more complicated than I'd imagined.

To a large extent this is the case with learning to drive. Loads of people can drive and therefore think it must be easy to teach someone to do it and part of me agrees - driving is not rocket science and even an amateur is allowed to teach you and there's a chance of passing the driving test, even when using techniques that are less than car or wallet friendly.
"If you think hiring an expert is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur"
So why pay a professional?

The difference lies in both the effectiveness and efficiency of learning from a professional.

The cost of learning is quantifiable and therefore it's really easy to see exactly what it costs and think "wow that's expensive." However, it takes a long-term view to see how the techniques taught by a good instructor could save you £1000's. The techniques an excellent instructor teaches you could save you even more.

Take for example the average driver's mileage of around 10,000 miles per year and the cost of fuel at 20p per mile, that's £2,000 per year. But what if you applied the fuel-saving techniques taught by your instructor and reduced this to 15p per mile, it would save you £500 per year.

I recently helped a pupil, initially being taught by her parents, get an extra 18 miles per gallon. Over a lifetime she could save enough money to buy a new car!

Added to these savings is the potential reduction in maintenance costs such as, amongst other things, replacing worn out clutches, brakes, tyres and steering and of course a reduction in insurance premiums by avoiding crashes.

You may not fail a driving test for using certain habits or techniques that are unlikely to be corrected when learning with an amateur, but over a period of time these are serial clutch killers. Habits such as 'riding the clutch' or occasionally unnecessarily 'slipping the clutch', or sitting at traffic lights in first gear with the clutch at the 'biting point' for long periods. These faults may not be deemed worthy of marking on a test but can take thousands of miles off the lifetime of the clutch. Considering that a replacement clutch is going to set you back a good £400-£600 these are expensive habits to have. This cost is comparable to around half of the current fee for learning to drive with a professional. The difference being, you only pay to learn to drive once. When treated well a clutch can last the lifetime of the car, yet if treated poorly may need to replaced regularly.

Another common habit we see that leads to additional wear and tear is changing down through each gear instead of using the more effective, and cheaper to replace, brake components . You really don't want to know what it costs to replace a gearbox.

I often recall a conversation I had with a friend many years ago. He was buzzing because he'd just taken his 4 year old car for a service and he still had 50% of his brake pads left.
"Not bad for 40,000 miles" he beamed.
I replied "that's interesting Rob, haven't you recently had your clutch replaced?"
"Yes" he said.
"How much did that cost you?"
"About £400"
"Oh, and how much would it have cost you to replace your brake pads instead? About £40?"

He didn't reply, but you could see the sudden dawning of realisation on his face.

You may have noticed that I've used the words 'could' and potential' a lot so far. This is because these savings rely on YOU doing what you've been taught, not just in the first few weeks of driving but for a lifetime (a lifetime that can be greatly reduced if you don't). And don't listen to that nonsense about learning to drive properly once you've passed your test, this just makes others more comfortable with their bad habits. You're as much an expert as they are.

Saving a few quid here and there may seem like a good idea in the short-term and I'm all for parents or friends helping out by giving learners the chance to gain experience in addition to driving lessons and actively encourage this, but a wise person should look at the money they are paying for an Approved Driving Instructor as a long-term investment in theirs or their child's future.

Something that has stayed with me is a phase my old House-master at school often said "the saddest two words in the English language when put together are...if only"

He's right you know.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Long Dark Nights - Time to check your lights

The little known headlamp setting that could make a big difference.

The long dark nights are upon us. This is the time of year when you see folk driving around with either no lights on or defective lights. I have a theory that older drivers who've gotten used to the dash lights only coming on when they switched on their headlights unwittingly drive without headlights in modern vehicles. This is especially the case when they leave a well lit garage forecourt. It goes without saying that it is especially important to regularly check your lights are working and set properly. I've often been dazzled by poorly set lights.

You would hope that most drivers are able to tell you which headlight setting they should use and when, but if you've ever noticed this little known icon somewhere on your car's dash, you may have been wondering what it is for. It usually has a number of settings anywhere from "0" through to "4" 

Internationalised ECE Regulation 48, in force in most of the world outside North America, currently specifies a limited range within which the vertical aim of the headlamps must be maintained under various vehicle load conditions. 
The majority of vehicles don't have self-levelling headlamps (under these regulations vehicles with Xenon lights must) and it is the responsibility of the driver to set them correctly. With one or two people sitting in the front seats without any luggage, the leveller should be set at "normal" or "0". This prevents glare from your headlights dazzling oncoming drivers - and vice versa.
You might be forgiven for wondering so what? What difference does it make?
Well here are two pictures to compare with the headlights on dipped beam. Picture 1 has the headlamp set correctly at "0" and picture 2 is set incorrectly at "4"

"In terms of safety this could mean the difference between hitting a pedestrian or missing them or even seeing a bend in the road too late."
The white posts in the pictures are about 3 metres apart and the difference is evident. With the headlamp level set correctly you can see 9 posts ahead and the centre line, but incorrectly set you can see barely 4 posts and no centre line.
Check your owner's manual to find more information about the correct settings for your vehicle - it's not always the big things that count, it's sometimes the small things that make all the difference.
Spot the control....

Friday, 1 May 2015

How to Pass the Hazard Perception Test

Before we go into any more detail about the test let's first be clear on what a hazard is and how your perception affects your reaction to them.

A hazard is anything that will cause you danger. When driving this means something that will cause you to take action such as; change speed or direction or both.

Perception is your interpretation of the information you are picking up. The correct interpretation is essential to you being able to respond with the correct action.

The hazard perception test is designed simply to check that you can recognise a developing hazard and can respond accordingly. 

It's likely that you've used hazard perception many times in your life, so it's nothing new to you. The only new bit is applying it to driving. 

Here's an example using a situation you may have experienced before. You're walking home when you see a group of kids making snowballs and think to yourself “yep, I bet one of those is coming my way, so I'll keep an eye on them.” You've just identified a potential danger and carrying on walking but with more caution.

What you're doing is gathering information and using past experience to interpret it. This forms your perception which then influences your decisions and actions.

As you carry on walking you see the situation developing as a couple of the kids point towards you and then begin throwing the snowballs at you. This potential danger has just developed into a real danger and you have to duck to avoid being hit.

When driving, instead of the snowball being the developing hazard it will be either a person, a vehicle or even an animal which makes you change speed or direction.

In the hazard perception test, it's the developing hazards that have a score attached, but there's no problem when clicking for potential hazards, so think of it like this.
In real-life when driving, the potential hazard makes you check your mirrors and the developing hazard makes you press a pedal or move the steering wheel. 
During the computer based test you register your response by clicking a mouse button.

As soon as you spot a potential hazard – click the mouse to record your response.

As soon as the hazard begins developing – click the mouse to record your response
This is important because the sooner you spot the developing hazard and click, the higher your score. 

You're driving along and see there's a side road on the left - no click needed, but keep an eye on it just in case.

Potential hazard (I might). You see a car approach the end of the side road on your left and it comes to a stop, it might pull out – click (mirror check in real-life)

Developing Hazard (I will). As you get closer you see the car start to move forward – click (brake or steer in real-life)

A third click helps ensure that you haven't clicked a fraction too soon.

Developed Hazard (I am). In real-life further action might be needed.

My pupils know this 3 click method as “The Mighty Will.i.am Method"

If you know the song "boom boom pow" by the Black-eyed Peas try clicking to the same beat as the bit in the song that goes "boom, boom boom, gotta get that" We have a laugh about it (and I can imagine the look on your face as you read this) but it produces outstanding results.

This method also reinforces the real-life actions you take because when you see a potential danger you think "I might" have to react, when it is developing "I will" have to react and after it has developed "I am" reacting.

Go on try it!

The developing hazard has a scoring "window" that begins counting down 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 0 the moment the developing hazard appears.  If you don't react soon enough you may miss the scoring opportunity completely.

There are 14 video clips, but there are 15 scoring hazards. This means at least one of the clips has two scoring hazards. You won't know which clip this is or which hazards have a score, so make sure you stay alert throughout and respond to every developing hazard you see. Some hazards require you to react quickly. These especially occur when driving around bends in the road or over the brow of a hill.

The key to being alert and spotting the dangers is to scan & plan and anticipate. Keep scanning from side-to-side and along the road, starting with the far distance, the middle distance and the near distance and anticipate danger by saying to yourself – What if?

What if there's a pedestrian crossing the road just over the next hill?
What if there's an obstruction just around the next bend?

Try to avoid clicking continuously or in a rhythm as this might be interpreted as cheating and the computer will give you a zero score for that clip. You shouldn't have to worry about this at all if you follow the previous advice of scanning, planning and anticipating and then clicking for potential and developing hazards as you see them (Boom Boom Boom).

Practising – You can of course practise by using the hazard perception CD-Roms and DVDs that are available. Recommended are Driving Test Success and Theory Test Pro. You can do these online too. However, a word of caution. You cannot improve your perception by going over the same clips over and over as once you've seen the clip you are testing your memory not your reaction.

The best way to develop your perception and reaction is to practise while out and about. You can do this as a pedestrian, passenger, cyclist etc. (People might look at you as a bit strange if you're walking around saying 'click' so it's best to do this silently in your head).

Check out the DVSA video in our Student Zone for more information. http://www.udidit.co.uk/#!student-zone/cx9 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Why Should I Pay for a Lesson I Haven't Had?

The vast majority of the UK’s Approved Driving Instructors are self-employed and only earn a wage when a client pays them – just like those awful zero hour contracts they're wanting to ban.
Imagine getting ready in the morning and turning up at work on time only to be told by your employer "sorry, we don't need you today". It has cost you time, and probably money, to be there and you might well have turned down other work and missed an opportunity to have been paid by someone else. How would you feel in those circumstances?
In a similar way it is you, the client, who employs the Instructor and therefore if you fail to turn up for your lesson or you give short notice of cancellation, your Instructor doesn't get paid.
The double-whammy is that the Instructor may well have turned down someone else for the time you have reserved and now can’t sell the lost time at such short notice. Not only does the Instructor miss out, other clients may miss out too.
When choosing a Driving Instructor, along with excellent teaching skills and a friendly manner, no doubt you will be expecting someone with a professional attitude and someone who provides excellent customer service. Within this you would certainly expect reliability and punctuality.
Looking at it from the Instructor’s perspective, they also hope that their clients are reliable and punctual, have a good attitude and are willing to accept responsibility for their own learning and responsibility for the bookings they've made.
If you had an instructor who consistently let you down, what would you do? I know what I'd do; I'd look for a replacement and many instructors do the same with customers.  I personally try to be as flexible as possible and I understand that life often gets in the way of learning. Maybe the kids are ill, unexpected bills need to be paid, work calls you in etc or you simply haven't budgeted well and have run out of cash until payday. This all becomes obvious to an experienced Instructor, especially as the last week in the month sees more cancellations than any other. You may even be in the middle of a confidence crisis and can't face the lesson. Whatever the reason, to avoid having to pay, talk openly to your instructor and look for a solution before it's too late. 
Whenever possible and subject to availability, I personally allow some flexibility by offering another lesson time within 3 working days and waive the late cancellation charge if it is attended. However, as patient and understanding as I am there’s a tipping point and in these cases I have to take everything into consideration and reluctantly part ways with clients who consistently cancel at short notice or fail to turn up.
In my experience many Instructors have a standard 48 hour or so short notice cancellation policy whereby should a client cancel within this time then the lesson fee is payable either in full or in part. There are variations in these terms and if you're not sure, I recommend that you ask your Instructor what their business terms are.

“Why should I pay for something I've not had” cried the client who failed to turn up...
You may not have attended the lesson, but you have reserved that time for yourself and yourself alone. This is not dissimilar to booking a flight; a holiday; a hotel room or even a dental appointment - in fact any appointment you make and fail to pay for or attend,  costs someone something. One report estimates the cost to the taxpayer for NHS no shows as £162m per year, with more than 12 million appointments missed.
Unlike buying goods, if you reserve a service at a particular time and you don’t turn up, you have to pay because it can't be resold.
Sadly as consumers we all end up paying a little more to cover losses caused by other people’s actions, whether it’s for goods or services. Apparently we motorists pay around £30 extra per year on our motor insurance premiums simply to cover uninsured drivers. As a consumer I don't like the idea of paying extra to cover other people’s poor actions, but inevitably we all do and driving lessons are no exception.
“What can be done to reward the clients who are in the majority and are reliable?”

I often extend the lesson time for clients who turn up for every lesson and who give me plenty of notice if they ever need to change an appointment. It’s a nice way of rewarding them. I sometimes give away a free lesson as a way of saying thank you.
What I do know from my experience is that those clients who are reliable and hard-working are the ones most likely to succeed and ultimately spend less in getting their licence. 

The key to avoid paying for lessons you didn't attend, is to talk openly to your instructor, keep them up to date and together you will be able find a solution and maybe even get a nice little reward.

I'll leave you with a final thought - If businesses gave customer reviews, how would you rate?