Driver Knowledge Tests

Are cheap driving lessons worth it?

We all like a deal, right? Cheap driving lessons sound appealing but are they the best value?

A qualified driving instructor undergoes training so that they not only know the road rules, how to drive defensively and how to anticipate other road users’ movements, but also so that they can share this knowledge effectively with a student. A driving instructor’s role is to build confidence and skills in the learner driver so that they understand consequences, can make judgements and know the law.

Different types of driving instructor

There are three types of driving instructor: independent, franchised and employed.

  • An independent instructor will have one or two cars, bikes or trucks, possibly work as a husband and wife team, or as a partnership. They might employ other driving instructors, or licence the rights to use their branding
  • A franchised driving instructor purchases the right to have a certain company’s signage on their vehicle, but isn’t employed by that company.
  • An employee works for a driving school or other educational organisation on a salary or a regular contract.

The type of instructor is not a good indication of whether a driving instructor is good or not. Instructors are supposed to be good at instructing and they don’t necessarily want to be too involved in business, branding, marketing and other non-driving tasks. In this case they might simply prefer to have the regular income of an employed or contracted driver.

Other driving instructors are happy to do prospecting (looking for clients) but don’t want the hassle of building a name for their company, therefore they buy a franchise where systems and marketing are already in place.

And finally, independent instructors are happy to run a small business either by themselves as a solo operator, a partnership, or employing/contracting other instructors. Less time is spent behind the wheel, and more time is spent managing the company operations.

Factors affecting the price of driving lessons

Cost of living

An instructor living in Sydney is going to have higher housing costs and more time wasted sitting in traffic between lessons. This is a hard cost to the instructor. They also have a larger pool of potential clients to draw from and (more than likely) a large number of competitors. Conversely, a driving instructor in a rural town might have cheap housing and zero traffic but perhaps doesn’t have a steady stream of clients because the population isn’t as big.

Vehicle costs

Some vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain than others and this will affect the overall profitability of the driving instructor’s business. A vehicle that is 20% better on fuel could give an advantage of a couple of dollars or more an hour. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s $2000-4000 per year extra for the instructor.

Supply and demand

If there’s a lot of local supply (i.e. a lot of driving instructors competing in the same area) then there is usually a downwards pressure on prices.

Ability of the local population to pay

In more impoverished areas where people can’t afford driving lessons, it may be necessary for the instructor to offer either a cheaper hourly rate, or the ability to bulk buy lessons to save.

Reputation and ability

If a driving instructor gets a bad reputation then they may need to lower their prices to make it attractive for learners to use them.

Type of business

A franchised business may rely on its name to attract customers, and it also has certain efficiencies in its operation (being a larger company), but franchise fees reduce the profit of the instructors.

Driving instructors who are in semi-retirement and operating a lifestyle business might not be so worried about making such a large profit when they’ve perhaps paid off their mortgage, have no dependent children and are looking for ‘pocket money’.

How do you choose?

It’s absolutely essential that you choose a qualified driving instructor. The process for obtaining a driving instructor licence are here. Driving instructors must be at least 21 years old and must complete background checks, medical checks, an extended theory exam, and an instructor training course with an extended practical test.

However, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily good. As in any career there are people who excel and people who are in it for the ride. Driving instructors that excel will often learn multiple types of vehicles, take further advanced training, learn useful skills around their profession such as psychology and teaching, and will take an active role in the promotion and maintenance of their business.

It also isn’t necessarily true that a driving instructor with 10 years’ experience is better than an instructor with six months’ experience: the 10-year veteran might just have been terrible for ten years!

So, back to the question of cheap driving lessons: the best solution is to look for recommendations from other people that you know. You can’t always trust online recommendations because:

  • It’s easy to fake good and bad reviews
  • People are more likely to leave a bad review than a good review

You have to gel with your driving instructor because you will end up spending a lot of hours in the car or truck under their supervision. You can try an hour lesson with several instructors and see how you feel about them.

Once you’ve found an instructor you like, negotiate a rate. Most instructors will give a discount for bulk purchasing of lessons.

Ultimately, though, it’s not the hourly rate that’s important: it’s how effectively you will learn. A good instructor will mean that you will need less lessons, and that makes a much bigger difference than a few dollars an hour because it reduces your chances of an accident, reduces the number of lessons you need, and reduces the amount of time you need to spend taking lessons.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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