Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

A 1976 garage fuel price listFinding an absolutely definitive answer to this isn’t easy. In fact, I’ve found it impossible. However, by piecing various things together, it is possible to come up with a plausible explanation.

It seems that it began in the 1930s, in America. At that time, fuel cost as little as 10 cents per gallon, and considering that cars were quite hungry back then, garages realised that offering fuel at even a tenth of a cent less than a competitor was likely to draw in more business. That tenth of a cent represented a price difference of about 20% per gallon of fuel back then, so the consumer also benefitted significantly.

You have to realise that garages buy in fuel in huge quantities, and it isn’t priced or taxed in round figures. Also, the profit each garage makes from every gallon (or litre) of fuel it sells these days is very small. In the UK, if fuel was advertised at £1 per litre on a forecourt, the garage in question would only make about 2p profit. The remaining 98p pays for duty, VAT, production and transport, and the overheads of the garage.

So, in 1930s America, garages started showing forecourt prices in fractions of a cent to attract business. I’m fairly certain that even back then, if a price was shown as 10⁹/₁₀ cents (they used fractions and not decimals), there would have been people who religiously worked out how much fuel to put in their cars to avoid the inevitable rounding needed when it came to paying. After all, you can’t actually pay 10⁹/₁₀ cents and realise the 20% price benefit compared to a competitor, but buy 10 gallons and you have a nice round $1.09 and the full discount.

As time passed, the cost of fuel rose. The benefit to the consumer of pricing in fractions became less, but to the people involved in the supply it was still relevant because the tax on fuel ran to three decimal places, and average prices in any given state to four or more when trying to compare individual garage prices. The car owner might be filling up with a measly 10 gallons, but garages and refiners were dealing with thousands and millions of gallons, and the extra decimal places. But this is where marketing took over.

It is well known that the average buyer will see a £4.99 price tag on something in a different light to one which says £5. In a very fuzzy way, one of them is a whole pound cheaper unless the casual buyer stops to think about it. Well, this works with fuel prices, too. A forecourt price of £118.9p is seen as £118p.

In 50s America and later, as prices rose, the marketing benefit of retaining fractional prices took over, and it has been that way ever since (except perhaps for the adoption of decimals instead of straight fractions).

The UK has always charged in fractions, though the £-s-d monetary system did have ½d and ¼d denominations, which meant actually paying the fractional prices was possible. However, even immediately after decimalisation in 1971, non-denominational fractional prices were used. The picture above is the price list on a London forecourt in 1976 (the days of leaded and unleaded petrol), and it clearly shows fractions of 0.1p, 0.5p, and 0.8p being used – only the 0.5p could have actually been tendered, since there was a ½p coin at the time. It’s also interesting to note that garage prices didn’t start being overtly advertised until about the 70s. Up until then, the price was set on the pump dials, and the picture above shows how crude the system was even in 1976 – a time when the price of oil rose from $3 a barrel in 1973 to $12 in 1974 (a result of the 1973 Oil Crisis). Marketing thus became very significant from the 70s onwards, and now every garage has illuminated signs showing the price.

People often argue that the practice of showing prices to a tenth of a penny is some sort of scam. In reality, at its worst it is simply a marketing ploy, and no different to advertising things at £4.99 instead of £5. I mean, when you buy something at either £4.99 or £5, are you actually getting five pounds-worth of value? The answer is only “yes” if you are buying at cost price, because as soon as someone adds value (by processing it) or their profit margin it becomes a question of “how long is a piece of string?” Fuel has value and profit margins added at multiple stages, and I doubt that anyone in the UK knows what the true day-to-day cost price of a litre of fuel should be based on the unrefined crude oil price. In other words, 0.9p (or 0.7p or 0.5p) tacked on the end of something with a price that fluctuates sometimes daily by 1p or 2p (sometimes more) has no objective financial meaning to either the consumer or anyone else involved in the supply chain.

If fuel is advertised at 118.9p per litre, it doesn’t matter if you see it as 118p or 119p, you’ll still be charged at 118.9p equivalent. If another garage is advertising it at 117.9p, then it is 1p cheaper – whether you’re suckered in by the marketing people or not. Only the price difference between garages (or the price change at a single garage) really matters to the consumer.

Another way of looking at it is what that 0.9p actually means. In my car, if I fill up from empty a difference of 0.9p on each litre would equate to about 40p at current prices. However, as I have mentioned before, pumps have to be accurate to between -0.5% and +1%, and that means that I can quite legally be supplied with up to 30p worth less fuel or 55p worth more.

And the bottom line is that even if the tinfoil hat brigade got its way, 118.9p would become 119p – not 118p – and that would mean paying 5p more on a full tank.


A red panda sitting on a branch?I’ve noticed a serious downward trend in spelling and grammar these days on usually reputable websites. Even the BBC isn’t averse to mistakes.

This screenshot from an MSN newsfeed aggregate made me smile, though. It’s apparently a picture of a red panda sitting on a branch in New York.

I have visions of someone submitting this for their school homework.


The wrong sort of cream teaBefore Christmas I wrote about the most annoying ad in the world (at the moment) – the TUI ad, which is still on Sky One every ten bloody minutes.

It’s so annoying that I would never book a holiday with TUI, just on principle, and I switch the sound off or change channels as soon as it comes on. Of course, in the future – around 2030 or so – I might feel differently about booking a holiday through them, though right now they have no chance. But after all is said and done, it is just… annoying. Really, really annoying. But still just annoying.

However, some people are nutcases. Especially if they are Cornish, it would seem.

The BBC has this story about a Mother’s Day advert produced by the National Trust for “cream teas”. For anyone who doesn’t know, a cream tea is a peculiarly British thing, defined as:

…a meal taken in the afternoon consisting of tea to drink with scones, jam, and cream

This definition doesn’t do it justice, though. It is a ritual, and is only a proper cream tea if the tea is served in annoyingly small china teacups and – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn – stirred using spoons with a strict length and chemical composition. The reason I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that is that it seems the order in which the jam and cream (clotted cream, actually) are placed on the scone is also rigidly defined. At least in the minds of the aforementioned nutcases.

The picture at the top of this post is what has called all the fuss. Although I have never stooped so low as to have a cream tea because of the “ritualness” of it, it does look rather appetising. The picture below – a proper cream tea, allegedly – doesn’t.

The correct sort of cream teaAnd yet National Trust members (the secret wing of the Brexit campaign, I suspect, if you go on age) are threatening to cancel their memberships as a result of the ad. Some reckon it “makes them feel sick”. All it is is a bloody cake with jam and cream, and the order doesn’t make it taste any different anymore than a ham salad sandwich tastes different if you put the lettuce and tomatoes on in reverse order.

The Trust’s Visitor Experience manager is playing with fire when he makes light of the situation – some of those morons are serious.

Another ad (well, series of ads) which is shining a light on the average IQ of the typical Briton is the Nationwide one, featuring Flo and Joan.

Flo and Joan – played by Nicola and Rosie Dempsey – sing typical advert songs in front of a home keyboard. I suppose I should be annoyed by this one, too, but for some reason I can’t put my finger on I’m not. I’ve not listened to the words, and I’m neither driven towards or away from opening an account with Nationwide. But there’s just something about Flo and Joan that is… OK.

That’s not true for the nutcases, though. People have issued death threats to Nicola and Rosie, and these are deemed serious enough to have involved the police. Looking at some of the samples, it’s hard to believe they are deadly serious, but they overstep the mark enough to make you wonder.

Disliking something – even being intensely annoyed about it – is one thing. But to go so far as to cancel membership of an organisation which does good work or to issue threats of violence over something so trivial just doesn’t make sense.


'L' plate on learner carPeriodically, I will get a pupil who is desperate to pass their driving test as soon as possible.

When this happens, I explain to the pupil that since the typical new learner in the UK takes an average of around 46 hours to learn to drive, learning quickly is pretty much going to involve getting those 46 hours in in a short period of time. I strongly emphasise that this is an average, and although some people might be able to do it in fewer hours, equally there will be some who require more. I also emphasise that it isn’t a target – if they can do it quicker, great; if they can’t, they’ve got to accept it.

My quickest ever learner – starting from no experience at all – passed his test first time after only 14½ hours of lessons. I’ve had others pass first time after between 17 and 25 hours lessons. Some of these have access to private practice, and some don’t. My own pupils’ overall average number of lessons taken before passing is between 30-40 hours.

At the other end of the scale, my slowest ever learner took 160 hours, and passed on his third attempt. I know of one lady who took over 200 hours and passed on her 7th attempt (100 of those hours were with me before I finally persuaded her to switch to automatic lessons). And I’ve had a few others who have ended up taking 60 or 70 hours before finally passing.

I currently don’t do full-on (as in more than 2 hours of driving a day) intensive courses. The one time I tried, it turned out that the pupil was well into the slow side of the curve, and two intensive courses of 20 hours spaced over a week each time resulted in two comprehensive test fails. My own version of an “intensive” course is a 30-hour paid-upfront package and no more than 2 hours of driving per day. I don’t advertise it, and I only mention it after a positive initial assessment lesson (there’s no way I’m going to offer it to someone who might struggle). As I said above, people have to accept that they might not learn as quickly as they’d hoped.

Recently, I have noticed a renewed interest in intensive lessons. Some people need a licence in order to improve their employment prospects or job security, some want to pass before they go off to university, while others are in the process of converting a full licence from overseas to a UK one. People with previous driving experience are likely to need fewer lessons, and a more intensive style can often suit them.

Of course, I only cover Nottinghamshire, and I am only one of hundreds of driving instructors in this area. So even if I don’t provide full-on intensive lessons, there are plenty of instructors who do. If you Google the topic, a company called PassMeFast crops up a lot. They cover Cheshire, North/South/East/West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and Merseyside, and they might be able to help you if you are desperate to get a licence. They seem to offer a wide range of packages.

PassMeFast offers crash courses of up to 48 hours of lessons and, looking at their website, they’re pretty sensible about timescales. The description of that 48 hour course implies that the learner could do as few as four hours of driving per week over a 12-week period. I tell my own beginners to think in terms of 3 months to reach test standard if they are taking regular lessons.

PassMeFast offers both manual and automatic tuition, and they can also help with your theory test. They can arrange for fast-track tests, which take place at the end of your course, and they schedule commencement of your lessons around the test date. Training is done local to you, and the test is at a local centre, so you won’t have to travel. And they offer an assessment lesson so you can decide which course is best for you.

It is also encouraging that in their terms and conditions they make it clear that they won’t allow people to go to test if their driving standards are deemed unsatisfactory by their instructor. PassMeFast does not employ instructors – they simply act as agents between enlisted instructors and pupils seeking lessons. However, they do arbitrate where necessary. And they quite rightly state that they cannot guarantee that you will pass your tests.

Looking at some of the customer reviews on their website, they obviously have a lot of satisfied customers – and they are real ones, as they all have Facebook profiles.

So, if you’re looking to pass your test quickly, and you think that an intensive course might be the way to go, if you’re in an area covered by PassMeFast it can’t hurt to give them a call.


Nissan Micra - NU53 SZZOn the Chilwell Test Centre routes, there is one particular road which causes problems for pupils.

It’s a very narrow road called Baskin Lane, and is only a couple of minutes away from the test centre. What makes it tricky for pupils is that to negotiate it you have to do a right turn on to Chetwynd Road from High Road/Attenborough Lane (a blind bend), then Baskin Lane is an immediate right turn after that. There is usually at least one parked car on Chetwynd Road, parked directly opposite Baskin, and several parked on the right as you enter Baskin itself. There’s a 50:50 chance that someone will be coming out of Baskin past these parked cars. At the top of Baskin, pupils turn right or left on to Redland Drive, and this is on a moderately steep slope where rollback can occur if they get it wrong.

It’s important that pupils are familiar with this road, and to that end I took one down there for the first time this afternoon. I talked her through the initial right turn, then got her to slow right down to look into Baskin Lane to see if anyone was coming down it towards us. They were, so we stopped. However, as we waited, a twat in a blue Nissan Micra (reg. no. NU53 SZZ) decided to try and overtake us. As a result, he nearly collided head on with the car that we were waiting for, had to reverse back out to make way for it, then overtook us again before we could move.

What he did was stupid, dangerous, and illegal. And if the Police are interested – which they really ought to be – he apparently lives on Forester Close, part-way up Baskin Lane, since that’s where he turned into. The image above is frame from my dashcam footage, so his idiotic actions are preserved for posterity, and mean that the twat has no argument if he should take exception to me reporting it.

Remember: Blue Nissan Micra, registration number NU53 SZZ, driven by a halfwit who appears to live on Forester Close, just off Baskin Lane.

I’ve mentioned before that the blog is an outlet for my frustrations as a result of this job. This is a perfect example! I feel much better now.


Yesterday, during the worst of the snow, the media were falling over themselves to show inane video footage sent in by the public of cats in the snow, dogs in the snow, birds in the snow, snow drifts, cars covered in snow, snow on runways, snow being shovelled off runways, fields covered in snow, people playing in the snow, gritters gritting the snow, traffic and gritters stuck in the snow, and so on.

One video recorded on someone’s dashcam showed a bus veering to avoid a car. It was funny at the time just because of the audio of the van driver of the recording vehicle.

Today, though, the BBC is falling over itself since it has discovered that the bus driver was… a woman! There’s no mention, yet, of who (or what) the driver of the car which veered into the path of the bus was.


Channeling Positivity school closureThe local BBC newsfeed has done away with news other than to report page after page of school closures due to the snow. But this one made me laugh.

I think we can be fairly certain that the Irony Academy is still open.


Burntstump Seely emailThe local BBC newsfeed has a comment where a local school – Burntstump Seely – has set some “homework” for children, while the school is closed due to snow. It shows a photograph of the poster the school has put up (or possibly emailed) for the children (above).

Personally, I’d have set some spelling homework. The person who produced this can’t even spell the name of the school correctly (see bottom left).

Incidentally, the spelling is wrong on Google Maps, too, and anything related to that. The rest of Google shows it as “Burntstump”, and the road it is on is called “Burntstump Hill”. The letterhead in the image above shows it as “Burntstump”. There’s a nearby restaurant called “Burnt Stump”, and the school is right on the edge of the “Burntstump Country Park”



Cartoon cars, head-on crashA couple of days ago, I updated my article on Driving Tests and Lesson in Snow after someone found the blog due to their instructor claiming he wasn’t covered to drive in icy conditions.

Cancelling lessons because it is dangerous is fine, but I am not aware of any insurance policy which would preclude driving. I didn’t think much of it after I’d updated the article – but then I came across this story. It seems that some moron on Twitter started the rumour, and other morons have picked it up and run with it.

Police and insurers have assured people that insurance is valid even in the worst weather conditions. Obviously, the same rules apply in bad weather as they do in good weather. Namely, if you drive like a twat and have an accident, your insurance may be affected.

It is possible that the original reader’s instructor had also seen this story and been suckered by it.


MotorwayIt’s about 50 years overdue, but after the recent yes-it-is-no-it-isn’t nonsense, we now know once and for all that from 4 June 2018 learner drivers will be allowed on motorways.

They will only be allowed on with a qualified ADI, and the car they are in must be fitted with dual controls.

It’s worth emphasising that: you cannot go on the motorway with mum, dad, Kyle (who passed before you), or anyone else who hasn’t got a green ADI badge stuck in the window. This means PDIs – trainee driving instructors with pink badges – also cannot take learners on motorways.

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