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Top tips for new drivers

Check out our list of the best advice, tips and life hacks for new drivers

While there’s plenty of excitement to be had, there’s still a lot to learn that’ll help keep you safe and motoring happily for many years to come.

That’s why we've come up with a list of our favourite tips for new drivers. Some will help keep your car’s oily bits spinning as they should, while others will tell you what dangers to keep an eye out for.

Our advice for new drivers

Read on to see our choices and learn more.

Don’t forget your observations

It can be exhilarating to jump into the driver’s seat without an instructor or qualified driver keeping an eye on you. However, over time, one of the first ‘learner’ skills that new drivers tend to think less about is the importance of keeping up good observations on the road.

This doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exaggerated looks towards your mirrors and over your shoulders like you did to satisfy your test examiner. Good observations include things like getting into the habit of looking both ways at junctions – including a little extra time to spot any motorcycles or pedestrians that you might’ve missed in a quick glance – or ensuring you look over your shoulder and not just in your mirror when merging onto a motorway.

The key skill here is turning on-road observations into a habit that you do automatically to keep you and other road users as safe as possible. When good observations become muscle memory, you’re much more likely to spot and respond to dangerous situations before they happen.

Slow down

This might sound almost silly but it’s true. Slowing down is often the best answer when trying to tackle tricky or unfamiliar driving scenarios.

Many new drivers fall into the trap of feeling rushed by traffic around them. This can lead new drivers to make rash decisions, such as pulling out from a junction without properly checking if the route was clear.

Remember, the speed limit is a maximum figure, not a minimum target, and you’re always able to ease off the throttle to give yourself more thinking time to plot a safe route through any driving situation. If you feel like traffic around you is pushing you to make snap decisions or drive dangerously, simply commit to driving at your own pace, easing your speed down to a point you’re comfortable with.

Secret to tight parallel parking

This tip relates to our above pointer to slow down, because the same strategy can be very helpful when attempting to slot into tight parking spaces.

While your instructor will have taught you parallel parking, they probably didn’t ask you to tackle any tight spaces. When driving for real, however, sometimes the only space available is a small one, so it’s worth trying to hone your parallel parking skills.

Regardless of the exact parallel parking method your instructor taught you, our top tip is to move as slowly as possible. If you’re struggling to get your angles right, we’d suggest moving about 75% the speed you normally would go during the parking manoeuvre, even if it feels like you could comfortably go faster. This gives you more thinking time while you park and, crucially, more time to make any adjustments needed, making it more likely you’ll get it right first time.

Driving in bad weather

There’s no need to avoid driving when the weather turns bad, but you should remember to adjust your driving style accordingly to make sure you stay safe.

Stopping distances can be dramatically increased in wet or cold conditions, so make sure you travel at a safe speed, which may be far below the posted limit. You must also leave enough gap between yourself and the car in front to be able to stop safely in the event of an emergency.

You should also consider whether you should turn on your sidelights or headlights if visibility is poor or if it’s raining. Familiarise yourself with your foglights, too, which should be used in foggy conditions to help others see your car – the general guideline here is when visibility is less than 100 metres, or roughly the length of one football pitch.

Distractions come in many forms

When learning to drive, you’re usually totally focused on the task in hand. However, after you pass, it can be tempting to let your attention wander as you get more comfortable with driving. Distractions on the road can easily lead to accidents if they draw your eyes or mind away from the task in hand for just a few seconds.

Perhaps the most common distraction these days is the temptation to use your smartphone. Another common risk point is carrying people – especially your mates – as passengers. Loud music can also be a distraction, potentially making it hard to hear sirens of incoming emergency service vehicles, or reducing your concentration during tricky manoeuvres.

You’re never too old to practise

You might have passed your test, but you can still significantly improve your driving skills even after getting your pink licence.

As always, the best way to get better at something is simply to practise it. So whether that’s getting used to parking in smaller spots, improving your confidence on the motorway, or tackling congested city centres, just get out there and keep at it – you’ll quickly develop the skills and confidence you need to conquer these challenges.

Top up your fluids

Most cars, with the exception of electric vehicles, run on fuel. You probably already knew that – but all cars also need a handful of other fluids to keep running smoothly.

The most important one you should keep an eye on is your screenwash fluid. Running out of washer fluid can lead to your windscreen quickly becoming dangerously obstructed by road grime. If you’re far away from civilisation with no other options, you can use water to clear your screen, but it’s ineffective against some types of muck and can freeze in low temperatures. Most large supermarkets and car parts stores sell formulated screenwash, which is a much better choice as it contains proper cleaning and anti-freezing agents.

It’s also useful to learn how to check your engine oil. You should refer to the car’s manual for oil-checking instructions specific to your make and model, but most will ask you to check it with the engine cold and the car parked on level ground – ideally, once every couple of weeks and before long journeys. Many newer vehicles have the option to simply check the oil through the car’s infotainment system, which is quite a bit easier. If you don’t feel confident carrying this check out yourself, you can always take your car to any local garage, which will be able to help for a small fee.

Finally, you should get familiar with your coolant and brake fluid levels. These can usually be checked visually by looking at the guide marks on the tanks under the bonnet. Top them up if either fall below the guides, or take your car to a garage if you’re not sure.

Keep up with maintenance

This might sound like another obvious tip but it really can save you hundreds or maybe thousands of pounds in the long run. Almost all modern cars have service intervals of around a year and keeping up with these appointments will help your car run smoothly for many years to come.

It’s always going to be cheaper to pay to replace fluids, filters and other consumables on schedule, than to pay for a replacement engine or gearbox down the line. You could also find yourself in a situation where you cannot afford the major repairs your car needs, meaning you’ll likely need to sell it for spares at a price dramatically below what it’d be worth if it was working.

Keep your maintenance receipts, too!

A top tip that can save you money in the long run is to keep all the receipts and documentation when you get your vehicle serviced. If it has a paper service record or booklet, make sure the garage enters the maintenance details here, too.

This will help boost the value of your car when you come to sell it, because buyers will often pay more for a car that has all or at least some service history.

Shop around for insurance quotes

As a new driver, one of the biggest early costs of driving is insurance. While this figure will go down over time as you rack up more claim-free miles, it’s worth hunting around for the best deal, which could save you hundreds of pounds per year.

Our top tip here is to start your search through your preferred insurance comparison sites around a month before you’ll actually need the policy to kick in. Insurers will often hike up prices for customers that need their policy to start straight away, so it’s worth getting ahead of this date to save some cash. If you’re coming to the end of another insurance policy, be sure to compare your comparison site prices with your renewal quote – you can call your existing insurer with the comparison prices to see if they’ll try to beat it to retain you as a customer.