Top tips for new drivers

Passing your driving test is your ticket to freedom, but the learning doesn’t stop just because you no longer need your L plates. Here are our top tips to help keep you safe on the road and, hopefully, reduce some of the strain on your bank balance.

Passing your driving test is your ticket to freedom, but the learning doesn’t stop just because you no longer need your L plates. Here are our top tips to help keep you safe on the road and, hopefully, reduce some of the strain on your bank balance.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
6
minute read
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Last Updated 28 APRIL 2022

1. Research running costs before buying a car

Buying a car is a big purchase. It’s not just buying the car itself, it’s getting car tax, fuel and your car insurance … it all adds up to a serious amount of cash.

To make this less financially painful, it makes sense to find a car that’s fuel-efficient and cheap to insure, maintain and run.

Just make sure whatever you buy is safe. To find car safety ratings, see Euro NCAP.

2. Get to know your car  

All cars are slightly different to drive, so unless you took lessons in your own car, you’ll probably need to get used to a new, unfamiliar vehicle.

Spend some time getting to know how everything works in your car. Make sure you’re clear on how to turn on the wipers, heater and lights, including the full beam and fog lights. And familiarise yourself with the position of the pedals and gears.

It’s worth going for a practice run at a quiet time of day to get used to the controls. The more comfortable you feel behind the wheel, the more relaxed you’ll be on busier journeys.

3. Display P plates 

Although optional, green P (probationary) plates could be useful when you’re an inexperienced driver. After passing your test, you can replace your L plates with P plates to let other motorists know you’re a new driver. Hopefully, this will make them more patient with you if you’re a bit hesitant.

Once you get used to driving without supervision and feel more confident in your own ability, you can ditch them for good.

4. Learn basic car maintenance 

Regular maintenance is key to ensuring your safety on the roads. And a little bit of time spent learning what’s under the bonnet could save you from having to fork out hundreds for a mechanic.

You should learn:

  • How to check and top up the oil, coolant, screen wash and transmission fluid
  • How to check for wear on your windscreen wipers
  • How to check your tyres, what depth the tread should be, the correct pressure and how to pump them up.

To keep your car in tip-top condition, you should also get it serviced regularly, typically once a year. You can usually do this at the same time as your MOT (if you need one) to save multiple trips to the garage.

5. Know the warning signs 

Take notice if your car starts doing anything unusual. For example, funny noises, warning lights on the dashboard, stalling, drips on the ground where you’ve parked.

If you suspect something is wrong, getting your car checked out early is usually better than waiting until it conks out and could save you a lot of money.

Read our guide to dashboard warning lights to find out what they all mean.

6. Be equipped for driving in summer 

In the summer, check on your coolant regularly as engines can overheat, which could be both dangerous and expensive.

In the heat, any weaker parts of rubber on your tyres can become fragile. This could be made worse if the pressure is low, so check them regularly. Also, keep a pair of sunglasses in the car – the summer glare can be dazzling. To save on fuel, turn off your air con when the car’s interior gets to a comfortable temperature.

7. …and driving in winter 

Winter driving also comes with its dangers. When the weather is bad, don’t forget to turn your lights on and allow for a longer stopping distance (10 times the norm).

If you don’t feel safe, pull over when you can and wait for the weather to ease. Make sure to avoid any waterlogged roads and watch out for oncoming traffic creating a wave of water that could enter your engine.

Always keep your lights, windscreen and registration plate clean. The AA recommends that your tyres have a minimum of 3mm tread depth in the winter to allow for bad road conditions.

If you have to drive in wintry weather, make sure you’ve cleared the car of ice or snow, and drive slowly and carefully. Also remember to turn your fog lights off when visibility has improved, otherwise you’ll dazzle other traffic.

8. Put together a car essentials kit 

Think about how you’d cope if you got stuck in traffic for hours or if you ran out of petrol. It’s good to be prepared for every eventuality. From an empty fuel can and jump leads to a warm blanket and supply of food and drink, having the right kit on board could make a bad situation more tolerable if the unexpected happens.

Check out the essential list of items to keep in your car.

9. Get used to motorway driving 

While you may have already had a go at motorway driving with an instructor, it could still be a daunting prospect going it alone. Driving on motorways might not require as many technical skills as town driving because you’re not dealing with oncoming traffic, but the sheer speed can make it seem scary.

Motorway driving is all about confidence, so it’s best to tackle your fears head-on sooner rather than later – otherwise you may never overcome them.

You might benefit from taking an advanced driving course. Pass Plus is a government-recognised practical driving course designed to improve your skills and help you to drive more safely if you’ve recently passed your test.

Alternatively, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) offers assessments on all levels of driving, from helping you gain confidence to giving you advanced-level experience.

10. Avoid distractions 

To begin with, try to keep passengers to a minimum, even if your friends are clamouring for a ride. Driving with more than one passenger might really affect your concentration levels because your view may be obstructed and there could be off-putting chatter.

It’s also not a good idea to blast out music until you’re more confident behind the wheel because this could slow your reaction times. And never be tempted to look at your phone while you’re driving. New laws introduced in March 2022 make it illegal to use a handheld mobile device while driving for any use, including taking photos or scrolling through music playlists.

11. Plan ahead for long journeys 

Whenever you’re off on a journey, it’s always a good idea to prepare for your road trip in advance. Familiarise yourself with the route and plan places to stop for a snack or a break.

Put the route into your sat nav or mobile phone, but always take a paper map in case you lose your signal. Oh, and don’t forget your charger.

Check the weather on your route too... it might be sunny at home but raining cats and dogs further on in your journey. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get there. Being late is a big distraction when driving and could make you take silly risks.

12. Get the right car insurance 

Car insurance for new drivers is expensive. That’s because there’s a greater risk of inexperienced drivers being involved in a collision than motorists who’ve been driving for years. Black box insurance, which monitors your driving habits, could be a way for you to lower your premium if you’re a first-time driver.

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