It Cost a Fortune to Learn How to Drive at 30, But it Cost Even More After I Started Driving
Don’t put off learning how to drive.
Most people I know learned to drive a car when they were 17 or 18 — but not me.
If I could walk until my feet fell off, I would, but when my wife fell pregnant, I had no choice but to pull my socks up and learn to drive (apparently, a Flintstones-style vehicle wouldn’t cut it).
Learning to drive a car at the age of 30 when you have your first child on the way, winter is looming, and you’re working all kinds of crazy hours is an absolute nightmare. A piece of advice, learn when you’re a teenager, and you have no responsibilities — even if you don’t care about driving — you will regret it if you don’t.
Anyhow, after seven or so months, two testing attempts, and over a thousand pounds spent I managed to pass my test and get a proper grown-up license. I was so relieved that I cried a little.
The day I passed my test became a triumphant celebration for myself, my wife and my son: we were finally going to get wheels, be real adults, have freedom from the shackles of the bus or tube, and all that other stuff. I was even getting my sister’s old car for free. Brilliant.
But little did I know that the sizable stack of money I spent actually learning to drive was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Oh boy, was I in for a shock.
Like the US, the UK requires drivers to have car insurance. You can opt for third party, fire, and theft, but the difference between that and full cover is minimal so I started shopping around for a fully comprehensive package.
I knew I would be paying a pretty vertical premium as I was a brand new driver, but I thought the fact that I was 30 years old and a sensible member of society (on paper) might work in my favor. I was wrong.
My car, a 13 year old manual Oyster Silver Ford Fusion 2 is probably worth around £800 ($1,045) in today’s world. I eagerly punched in my details on a price comparison site and, to my shock and horror, for 12 months’ cover my cheapest quote was £1,500 ($1,960). My friends of the same age who have been driving for a decade or so pay around £300 ($390) — £400 ($490) per year. A massive difference.
I spent days checking every price comparison site and every insurance providers’ website to bring the price down — some wanted £8,000 ($10,456) per year and others wouldn’t even touch me with a 100-foot barge pole.
In the end I found a reputable provider who would give me 10 months cover for £1,020 ($1,333) — but on the proviso that I paid it in full, upfront. That was my best offer.
As my savings were tied up elsewhere, I ended up having to apply for a new interest-free credit card so I could use it to pay for my insurance. I swallowed the cost, moved on and began to look forward to taking my new wheels for a spin.
Before I even got in the car, I realized that I had made a mistake and added my date of birth incorrectly — I amended it as requested and it drove my insurance up to £1,100.
The Car Ride From Hell
Once I had arranged an MOT, or annual test of vehicle safety (£30/$39); got breakdown cover, or roadside assistance coverage (£50); and paid my car tax for the year (£192/$250), my wheels were finally ready.
I took it easy at first and built myself up to busy dual carriageways and motorways over time. Apart from the price of fuel, everything was going swimmingly — until I had to endure what can only be described as the car ride from hell.
We were in the middle in of a long distance house move from London to Staffordshire (around three hours northbound, which is a moderately long distance in England, believe it or not) and, as I was working my notice in London between homes, I stayed at my mum’s for a month or so. My wife spent a week with my son at her folks up in Staffordshire but they planned to spend the rest of the time at my mum’s with me, which meant that I had to go and get them.
So, on a bright and mild Saturday morning I loaded up the Fusion at 6 a.m. and set off on my voyage with a smile on my face and The Stooges blaring on the stereo. That’s when the fun started.
I got around fifteen minutes up the road when all of a sudden the acute smell of burning began to rise from beneath my feet — at first I thought I might spontaneously combust, but when the car began to jerk and roar like a LSD-laced lion, I realized that my clutch had burned out. There was a large van behind me, so I punched the on the hazards with haste and swerved into a verge to avoid my car getting smashed to pieces. I called up the RAC (my breakdown recovery service) who told me to wait until an engineer turned up and not to sit in the car for safety reasons. Then it started to rain.
After around 15 minutes the bloke from the RAC turned up and after a five second inspection, confirmed that “the clutch is knackered and ‘you need to get a new one, son.”
Off we went back to the Slough Trading Estate, rather conveniently to a place called Mr. Clutch. (I’ve since realized that the RAC and Mr. Clutch have some sort of under the table I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine arrangement going on.)
The two hyena-faced men at Mr. Clutch gave me a best case scenario (£300/$390)and a worse case scenario (£450/$588) price, to which I reluctantly agreed as I really had to drive up to Staffordshire that day.
I made myself scarce for a few hours and returned to a super worse case scenario which ended up costing me an eye-watering £580 ($760) because they had to change an additional part.
Fuming inside, I went to pay with my shiny new interest-free credit card, but in all the merriment I had forgotten my pin code — so I had to use my trusty 30 percent interest piece of plastic instead.
I tried to shrug off the cost and inconvenience by focusing on the fact that I had a brand new, fully functional clutch. It was so efficient, in fact, that the biting point was completely different to my other one, causing me to kangaroo up a busy road and nearly hit an oncoming car.
Panicked and flustered, I drove to my mum’s for a breather. After a plate of food and a pep talk from Mum, I got back in the driver’s seat, whacked Fun House by The Stooges back into my CD player, punched in the postcode on the sat nav and decided to have another stab at the journey. By then it was 3 in the afternoon.
I set off with a newfound sense of optimism in my heart and the promise of a cold pint at the other end — the motorway was mildly scenic and things were going swimmingly; I’m not proud of it, but I even ended up singing along to Ronan Keating as I approached Birmingham. By the time the third chorus rolled around, my voice dropped three octaves as the car began to grunt, shake and pull violently to the left. I just about managed to keep it under control as I punched the hazards on (for the second time that day) and steer the Fusion onto a piece of hard shoulder the width of a pubic hair.
Luckily, I pulled up next to an SOS phone and I was advised to wait outside the car until an RAC engineer came to my rescue (for the second time that day).
A stray hub cap nearly hit while I waited and people heckled and beeped me as I stood in the spitting industrial rain. About 20 minutes later, an RAC man turned up and swiftly whipped on my temporary tire: he was genuinely pissed off at me because he was going to miss the start of the England match.
With a temp tire, you can only go a maximum of 50 mph (the limit on motorways in the UK is 70 mph), so I set off at a snail’s pace as a flurry of cars overtook me in an angry fashion. It was painful, but I was making steady progress and calming down a little more with every mile. Then a horrendous hail storm hit.
The visibility was around six feet in front and behind, which, for an already traumatized new driver, was a terrifying experience — I couldn’t see a thing. What made it worse was the fact that my windscreen wiper blades were broken and weren’t working properly — I became Mr. Magoo for 20 or so miles which, of course, made me miss my junction and almost end up in Manchester.
The hail cleared a little and after an additional 55-minute detour I finally pulled up on my mum and dad in laws’ drive — and immediately demanded a beer and a cuddle, in that order. The time was 8:30 p.m. It was almost enough to put me off driving for life.
I had two brand new tires put on the car the following morning (£150/$196) as one of the other tires was worn down too, and I didn’t want to risk a third meeting with the RAC. I had a coffee and drove my wife and son back down south. The journey was smooth, and like going to Disneyland in comparison to the first one.
I tried to put the whole thing behind me and it was working until I backed into a lamp post the following the day and dented the car, in addition to cracking the bumper. Luckily my dad-in-law is a dab hand at car body repairs, but it still cost me a total of £35 ($45) for the color match paint and bumper filler. Lovely stuff.
If you’re thinking about learning to drive, don’t even bother.
Only joking, of course. Driving is a stressful, costly experience, but you just have to accept it and get on with your life. Since this choice selection of incidents, I have successfully driven to many different places and seen parts of the country far beyond my home. Driving allows me the freedom to visit my friends and family whenever I want with ease, which when you think about it, is priceless.
Aside from the fuel, driving has so far cost me a grand total of £2,137 ($2,793) and I’ve only been driving for six months. But, all in all, the pros outweigh the cons — well, almost.
It’s impossible not to spend money as a car owner but my advice would be to shop around for your car slowly and methodically, and always have someone with knowledge to consult you on any choice you make. Always make sure you have breakdown cover — and I mean the best cover you can get, not the basic package — look after your car and learn some basic car maintenance skills yourself.
Finally, this may not apply anywhere else apart from the UK, but try not to go to Mr. Clutch if you can help it.
Dan Hughes is a North London based writer with a penchant for oddball fiction, the bass guitar, beer, Bukowski and traveling to strange places. You can find out more about him by getting lost in his Catchy Space.