Driving lessons, the test itself, buying and insuring a car all add to the expense, but there are ways to limit the damage
Passing your driving test has long been seen as a rite of passage, but the rising cost of running a car is driving more and more young people off the roads. The Department for Transport’s recent National Travel Survey shows a sharp drop over the past 18 years in the number of young people holding a full driving licence. While in 1995, some 43% of 17- to 20-year-olds held a full driving licence, that has plunged to just 31%. The fall is sharpest among young men, where it has dropped from 51% to 30%, while the percentage of young women with a full driving licence has slipped from 36% to 31%. Over the same period the proportion of 21- to 29-year-olds with full driving licences has also fallen.
The main reason fewer young people are driving is cost, says Stephen Glaister, director at the RAC Foundation. “Younger people were hit disproportionately hard by the downturn. Even though employment is now rising, incomes are stagnant, and many are only in part-time work, and find running a car too expensive.”
Spiralling student debt and rising housing costs leave little money for driving lessons, at around £25 an hour, and the test itself. With the practical test costing up to £75, and the theory test adding another £31, the cost of buying a car is the least of the problems facing young drivers. In 1995 a five-year-old Ford Fiesta, a typical first car, cost £3,250, against £5,510 today, according to figures from motoring guide Glass’s. That is a rise of nearly 70%, almost exactly in line with the increase in average earnings over the period, says Andrew Jackson, head of analytics at Glass’s. “In real terms, the Fiesta isn’t any more expensive than it was in 1995, even though the materials, technology and manufacturing quality are incomparably better.”
Other motoring costs have accelerated sharply, according to the RAC Foundation’s UK Cost of Motoring Index. While the cost of living has risen 76% since 1995, as measured by the retail price index, the cost of maintaining a car has risen 140%, while petrol and oil costs have increased 145%. Meanwhile the cost of tax and insurance has soared by 170% since 1995, well over twice the rate of inflation. The average 17-year-old now pays a hefty £1,997 a year for motor insurance, according to figures from Towers Watson and comparison site Confused.com.
Here are some ways to make getting behind the wheel more affordable.
As a general rule, the less powerful your car is the less it is likely to cost to insure, says Lee Griffin, car insurance expert at GoCompare.com. “Young or inexperienced drivers should therefore look at cars with smaller engines as opposed to performance vehicles. But this isn’t the only factor they take into account. They will also look at its value, engine size, power-to-weight ratio, and availability of parts. These factors determine which insurance group the car will be in, and how much it will cost to insure.”
One in three car insurers wouldn’t cover a 17-year-old driver at all, while 10% wouldn’t cover anybody under 25, according to GoCompare.com. “All insurers rate drivers differently, and while some target older, more experienced drivers, others will price competitively for younger drivers, so shop around to make sure you’re getting the right cover at the best possible price.”
An online search for an 18-year-old motorist covering an eight-year-old Ford Fiesta Freedom with a 1.3 litre engine, with 10,000 annual mileage and a £250 excess, showed the cheapest premium at £2,917 a year from Carrot Car Insurance, a telematics-based insurer that targets younger drivers. Next was Hastings Essential, which quoted £4,129 a year. Insure Pink, 1st Central and Go Girl offered quotes ranging from £4,634 to £5,000 a year. Some insurers charged up to £9,000, while many didn’t quote at all.
You may be able to get a slightly lower premium if you have taken advanced driving courses such as Pass Plus or the advanced driving test from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). If that 18-year-old had Pass Plus, for example, Hastings Direct would cover them for £2,240, but the next best quote was from Insure Pink at £4,147.
Fitting your car with an approved alarm, immobiliser and tracking device can make life harder for thieves, reducing the chance that you will make a claim for theft. “It helps if you can park off-road overnight, preferably in a locked garage or at least on a driveway, as your insurer may reduce your premiums accordingly,” says Kevin Pratt, car insurance expert at MoneySupermarket.com.
Adding an older, “safer” driver, such as a parent or relative, will cut the cost of your insurance policy, Pratt says. “You must list the person who drives the car most as the main driver, otherwise you may be accused of ‘fronting’. This is treated as insurance fraud and will lead to a minimum £300 fine plus six points on your licence. It will almost certainly cost more to get insurance in the future, if you can get it at all.”
Telematics technology can also help young motorists drive down their premiums. This involves fitting a gadget in your car that measures your speed, cornering, acceleration and braking, as well as your location and the time of day you drive. If the black box judges you to be a safe driver, your insurer should reward you with a lower premium. If you’re taking risks, however, your premium could increase.
A 17-year-old student living in Cardiff driving a two-year-old Ford Fiesta, with no claims or convictions, annual 7,000 mileage and a £250 excess, would typically pay £2,124 a year for standard insurance, but this would fall to £1,783 with Telematics, according to figures from Confused.com. That’s a saving of £341, or 16%. A 20-year-old with three-years’ no-claims bonus would typically see their premium fall from £780 to £601.
If you’re a young driver with points on your licence or a recent insurance claim to your name, you’re in double trouble, says Pratt. “Driving with care is the name of the game. Points on a licence can easily add 10% to your insurance costs, so avoid speeding and other convictions.” Young drivers should avoid making insurance claims, so they can steadily build up a no-claims discount – this can knock up to 75% off the cost of cover after five years.