First car problems: all the stuff you don't learn in a driving lesson

5 minutes

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Success: the driving test is in the rear-view mirror and there's a newly qualified driver in the family! It's a very significant moment in any driver's life – and for their parents.

But what about the stuff that isn't taught in driving lessons? Motoring journalist Sue Baker runs through the key questions those going solo may have.

  • We hear from an experienced instructor and a young driver ambassador
  • Be ready to help on tricky roads and motorways
  • The importance of setting ground rules for passengers

Ready to hit the road? Here's what they don't teach you in a lesson.

The test is history – now's the time to help your child start learning how to be a savvy driver, as they begin building up experience on the road. We've enlisted the expertise of two people who know a great deal about what new drivers need to learn once they've earned themselves a full licence.

Jackie Violet is a professional driver trainer, an approved driving instructor (ADI) with the Driving Standards Agency, and a member of the Driving Instructors' Association (@the_DIA). Eloise Peabody-Rolf (@EloisePR98) is IAMRoadSmart's (@IAMRoadSmart) young driver ambassador. Aged 18, she passed her driving test in September 2015, two months after her 17th birthday, and her advanced test in November the same year.

1) How do you find a good parking spot?

There are a few great parking apps available on your mobile. Try AppyParking, which came out top with five stars in a survey by AutoExpress  – also very good are Parkopedia and RingGo, both rated at four stars.

2) How do you know which side the fuel cap is when in the car?

'If the car is a recent enough model to have a little arrow alongside the fuel gauge, it points to which side the fuel filler is located. If the car is older, why not check the filler location and how to open it, and then add a little sticker to the corner of the dash as a reminder?' says Jackie.

3) Where is the locking wheel nut key?

Locking wheel nuts prevent anyone removing the wheels from a car without the key. Not all cars have them, but those that do are provided with an efficient anti-theft device. However, it's not always obvious where the locking wheel nut key is kept, nor is it always in the car's handbook.

If the wheel needs to be removed, check the car thoroughly, from the glove box to the boot and everywhere in between. Normally, locking wheel nut keys are small pieces of metal, with a key end and a hexagonal end to fit a spanner around.

4) What should you know about taking a new driver on a motorway for the first time?

First, help your new driver to brush up on their motorway driving laws. For example, although it's not illegal to undertake, it can be dangerous. 

Eloise suggests that newbies behind the wheel take an experienced driver with them as a passenger on their first motorway trip.

'A parent or a good friend could go with them, to help build confidence in what is a new environment. That can be a great help,' she says.

If you're the passenger, recommend they stay in the inside lane for a while when the car first joins the motorway.

'Stay in lane one to acclimatise and see what's going on. They should give themselves time to get used to a higher speed than they have been used to,' Jackie says.

Take the same approach to tricky junctions or challenging roads. Offer to be a passenger if you're more familiar with blind approaches and driving on steep inclines to help new drivers get to grips with tougher conditions.

5) What do drivers need to do about sharing insurance details in an accident?

If they have a bump, don't panic.

'It's important that everyone keeps nice and calm, stays neutral, and doesn't admit any liability,' Jackie says. 'They should ask for the other driver's insurance details, and provide theirs, which should be in the car. If anyone is injured, they need to call the police, as well as an ambulance if one is needed.'

Eloise suggests making a checklist in advance of what a driver needs to do, and says, 'a phone can be a saviour in this situation. The car insurance information can be stored on it, and it can even take photos of the damage and location.' 

6) How do you know what the car's tyre pressure should be?

'Look in the car handbook,' says Jackie. 'There should be a section on the correct tyre pressures. If there isn't, check online, and enter the make and model to find out.'

7) What do drivers need to know about changing a tyre?

'It's definitely something people should know how to do, and I think it's very helpful to learn how to do it and practise with someone advising, when it's not an emergency – that builds confidence,' says Eloise.

'Would I do it if I had a puncture on the road? That depends where I am,' she continues. 'If it was somewhere safe I would try, but I wouldn't do it on a motorway or dual carriageway – I'd call a recovery service.'

8) Should you let new drivers take their friends out?

Having passed the driving test, new drivers are going to want to take their friends out with them, says Eloise.

'It's exciting and a new freedom, but set some ground rules,' she says. 'Maybe the first few times, recommend that they take just one person – a family member or a very good friend – while they build up their confidence.'

9) What should you know about sticking to speed limits?

'Remember to stay in third gear at 30. In all cars with a fuel injection system, the gears match your speed, and at 30 mph, if a car is in third gear, the driver can hear the engine and is less likely to stray over the limit,' she says. 'That's important because if a new driver gets six points on their licence within two years of passing the test, they have to take it again.'

10) Where are the car's dimension details for height-restricted car parks?

This information should be in the car handbook – but if not, check out

11) When should car headlights be switched on?

Headlights should be switched on when visibility drops to below the 100-metre mark. Fog lights can also be switched on, but they must be turned off once visibility on the road improves. 

12) Can a driver answer their mobile if it rings when the car is stationary?

'Drivers should put their mobile away somewhere, such as in the glovebox, so they're not tempted to use it, ' says Eloise. 'Even if they're stuck at red traffic lights, or in stationary traffic somewhere, it's illegal to use the phone.'

13) How do car owners keep their engine in good condition?

It's always worth brushing up on basic maintenance skills after passing the driving test, such as keeping an engine's fluids at good levels, even if it was covered in the 'show me, tell me' section of the test.

The car's handbook will help new drivers familiarise themselves with the engine layout so that, if they need to top anything up, they know where to pour it and how much. The weather may affect fluid levels – for example, more screen wash might need to be added in the winter to prevent it freezing. The screen wash bottle should display the recommended concentration of wash to water.

14) What should a driver do if they know they've made a mistake?

We all make mistakes, and as a new driver it's easy to get something wrong. Here's Eloise's advise for new drivers, which you could pass on.

'If you do, don't panic,' she urges. 'If you mistakenly block a junction, or do something else that inconveniences someone, acknowledge that you've made a mistake, show you're sorry, and they'll probably forgive you. Everyone else has been in your shoes at some point – including your parents.'

Passing the driving test is just the first step in becoming a confident driver – so always be ready to offer help and knowledge.

Follow Sue Baker on Twitter @carscribe for more informative articles for drivers.

*All information correct as of April 2018. 

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All content is approved by our in-house advisory board of experts.