A Driving Instructor's Blog

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I’ve been getting a few hits from people asking what happens to AA driving instructor cars once they go back.

From what I have been told by AA instructors, the cars are supplied by a company in Kent called Ambrosetti . Until a couple of years ago it was via a company in Leicestershire. The AA pays for the cars, but no one seems to know how much or if they actually buy them or just lease them.

Instructors keep the cars for 6 months, and then they are collected by Ambrosetti when the new one is delivered. The old cars are auctioned off, but I don’t know who to or the mechanics involved. Since Focuses hold their value quite well (and are expensive to begin with) I would imagine that there is little financial loss as far as the interested parties are concerned. After all, the AA charges its franchisees around £200 a week and is unlikely to be paying anywhere near full retail prices for them, and Ambrosetti would be able to sell the cars on for probably more than was paid for the 6 month lease on each car.

If anyone is genuinely interested in getting hold of one, the best thing to do would be to contact Ambrosetti to start with on 01304 611023 (the webpage seems to be down as I write this).

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I’ve noticed a new and worrying trend amongst certain drivers as I’m travelling around each day, involving sat nav devices.

The manual for TomTom sat navs is quite clear on how and where to mount the unit, and why.

Tom Tom Sat Nav ManualI am seeing more and more people with these things mounted right in the middle of the windscreen – presumably so they don’t have to move their heads to look at it. Only last night I was behind a woman in a black Mini Cooper and the sat nav was mounted right in the vertical centre of the windscreen and considerably to the right side of the rearview mirror.

The problem is that it always seems to be a certain kind of person – a development, if you like, of the chavs and boyracers. I guess the boys like to think they’re riding around the universe in Fireball XL-5 or something. Not sure what the girls do it for (I won’t say anything about navigational ability here).

Joking aside, it’s only a matter of time before someone has an accident and it is lack of visibility that has contributed. The girl I saw last night – and she is one of several this week – flew through a 20mph zone at well above the limit, and zoomed around a corner at traffic lights in typical try-to-rip-the-steering-wheel-off-and-do-it-on-two-wheels chav-like style.

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NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD STORY FROM 2009 AND 2010 – IT HAS NO RELEVANC E IN 2013 AND ONWARDS…

I haven’t found an official announcement yet (I have now – see the edit at the bottom of this article), but on this forum a BSM instructor is saying that their cars are changing to FIAT 500s.

So, all the doom-and-gloom halfwits were wrong (as usual). BSM is still going to survive, and it will be with FIAT 500s instead of Corsas and Astras. Good luck to all BSM instructors.

The only people still mouthing off are the usual morons who think they know it all. Seeing as a lot of instructors teach in Yaris and other cars which you’d expect to see parked outside an Old Folks’ Home, they can’t really shoot their mouths off too much about FIATs, can they?

If I find anything else about this I’ll add it to this post.

EDIT 23/07/2009 #1 – I didn’t know FIAT were in the frame for the BSM contract, but whilst doing a bit of scouting I found this from May. FIAT is offering free dual controls on cars to instructors in a bid to increase their use as school cars. It isn’t directly connected with the BSM deal (which I haven’t seen officially announced yet), but it does tie in if it is true about the deal.

I must admit that the 500 does look a bit small, even though it is a nice car otherwise. But you have to face facts: a Corsa wasn’t exactly big, and no one complained about those. I’m sure there will be plenty of complainers.

I’m not sure if the car FIAT will be supplying is a 3- or 5-door, but either way it raises some interesting questions about the proposed requirement for all ADIs to sit in on candidate tests. It is likely to be a tight squeeze in most cars for many ADIs, but a small car like the 500 just doesn’t seem to be designed for an ADI (and possibly the examiner’s superior doing an assessment) sitting in back during a test. Maybe the DSA will see sense and change its plans for this to be a requirement of all tests…

EDIT 23/07/2009 #2 – The BSM Instructor Academy site refers to the 500 and Grande Punto, and that they will be discussing the launch this evening (23/07). Maybe it isn’t just the 500 ADIs will get. More information as it becomes available.

EDIT: 24/07/2009 – I notice that the BSM site has taken off the announcement of the launch it was doing yesterday (which makes sense as it is no longer going to happen, as it has happened), and still there is no official news that I can find.

EDIT: 27/07/2009 – I found some more references on the  FIAT Forum here. From what people are saying the car that will be issued has no air-conditioning, and will be the basic 1.2L model. Longer-serving instructors will get the ‘sport’ edition (I’m guessing this will have aircon).

As usual on a web forum, there are the usual crop of ‘experts’ telling you how bad the cars are. I noticed elsewhere someone questioning the ‘reliability’ of these because he’d heard a single story of a clutch going after 12,000 miles. I guess he conveniently forgot (or didn’t see) the raft of stories over the years about Corsas and other cars’ clutches sometimes going after 9,000 miles. It happens and is not an indictment of the car. No one will sell a car which has a clutch that fails after 12,000 miles on every one sold!

It’s a car, for Heaven’s sake. The only issues I can see are no aircon and its size. But lets not forget the huge number of ADIs who don’t use the aircon anyway (because it costs money, though there’s usually some other reason given), and the fact that only the largest of ADIs won’t fit in the 500.

EDIT 28/07/2009 #1 – At last we have something official. This is from The Times.

Apparently, FIAT will supply 14,000 cars over 4 years – although it doesn’t say if BSM will be paying for them or not (the Vauxhall ones were free, and it appears that Vauxhall trying to charge was a main cause of the breakdown of the original arrangement). BSM franchisees can expect to start seeing their new cars within 3 weeks – again, it isn’t clear if the roll out is as the existing car lease expires or an en masse replacement to get rid of the Vauxhall stock as soon as possible.

On the basis of new drivers tending to buy the model of car they learnt in, FIAT is offering a discount on new cars of £500 to those who trained with BSM.

It’s interesting that some of the comments on the forums were that it was ‘a girlie car’.  According to the Times story 60% of BSM’s pupils are female.

The story also suggests that the new deal will result in a significant loss of market share for Vauxhall, which is already experiencing difficulties.

I think there are still some details which BSM franchisees will be interested in missing from that story, but at least it gets things out into the open.

EDIT 28/07/2009 #2 – And there are now further news sources picking up on the story…

BusinessCar, AMOnline, Sky… in fact, take a look at Congoo for dozens of news stories. But remember that you read it here first. Several days before, in fact.

EDIT 13/10/2010: And BSM scraps the FIAT deal to return to Vauxhall after one year!

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I’m getting a lot of hits on the search term ‘franchise free adi ‘ or similar. I’m not completely certain what people have in mind, but I suspect they’re after information on becoming an independent ADI.

  • First of all, 99% of ADIs are self-employed, whether they work with a franchise or not. It is important to bear this in mind, as it means that an instructor driving around in a BSM car isn’t ‘working for’ or ’employed by’ BSM. The same goes for The AA and many other schools.
  • Working with a franchise doesn’t automatically mean you cannot advertise using your own business name. I know that The AA, for example, expects its franchisees to freely advertise and build up their business themselves. The only thing a franchisee cannot do is use The AA’s logo or livery in that advertising (it can mention it by name, though). Many people use this to build up a business, then leave and become independent.
  • Some smaller franchises expressly forbid you to advertise in your own name. For all practical purposes you’ll be working for someone else (i.e. trying to expand their new driving school enterprise), even though you’re self-employed and have none of the associated security that comes with working for someone.
  • Being with a franchise means they do the advertising and you get the pupils. How many pupils you get depends heavily on how many ADIs are competing for the available ones in your area and how good/big the franchise is.
  • If a big franchise can’t supply many pupils – especially in this present economy – don’t automatically assume that you could do any better. Don’t even assume that you could do better than a small franchise in this respect. You almost certainly couldn’t.
  • In essence, if you choose the correct one all a franchise does is provide you with a car, some pupils, and certain security if you have problems. That security isn’t available to you without extra cost if you are independent.
  • If you are independent (or on a very cheap franchise) you still need to get hold of a car. Assuming you’re not going to drive an old banger which you own outright, you’ll either buy one or lease one. It’ll typically cost you about £100 a week to keep a car which is less than 3 years old on the road (sometimes more, sometimes less – but not much less). Insurance is likely to be another £10-20 a week. Note that large franchises typically replace cars automatically every 6, 12, or 18 months, whereas if you buy one outright you’ll probably be keeping it for several years.
  • The older a car is, the more can go wrong with it – and a learner car gets a lot asked of it! At the very least it’ll do more miles than average, but the tyres and clutch (and other parts) will get more wear and tear than average! Larger franchises get preferential booking when the car needs servicing or repairing (otherwise it is replaced for you). If you own it or it is leased, chances are you’ll have to fight for a place in the queue at the garage…
  • The less you pay for a car, the more money you’re likely to end up paying to keep it running. If it breaks down you may find yourself without one to teach in whilst the garage tries to sort it out. Large franchises usually just replace it – typically within 24 hours – if it is unusable.
  • If you don’t have a franchise behind you then every single pupil is going to have to come from your own efforts. That means advertising .
  • Advertising is a continuous operation. Todays full diary is tomorrow’s empty one, so you have to keep the ball rolling.
  • Advertising is not cheap. If you think it is, or that a few postcards in shop windows will keep you in full employment until you retire, you’re not going to get very far.
  • A small ad in Yellow Pages will cost about £800 for the year. There is every likelihood that it will generate ZERO enquiries.
  • An small ad in a local free pamphlet is likely to cost around £150 for three entries over a quarter. There is every likelihood that it will generate ZERO enquiries.
  • A larger ad in a newspaper or glossy magazine is likely to costs many hundreds or even thousands of pounds for each entry.
  • You need a website. But don’t think that doing it yourself is automatically enough – if it looks like it was scraped off a boot after a walk through a field full of cows, it’ll attract little interest. Admit your own limitations – you’re a driving instructor, not a web or graphic designer (probably: some might be), so most will have to pay for someone to build a site for them if they want a decent one – another £200 or so. And still there are no guarantees.
  • To get sufficient work most people will be spending at least £1,500-2,000 a year on advertising, and it will take at least 1-2 years for most people to get enough work from that source alone. That’s assuming it gets you any work at all – I stress again: there are absolutely no guarantees.
  • Even if your ad is successful, you’ll have to pull it to prevent having to turn people away,  but put it back in again when the diary starts emptying in a few months. A continuous battle, like I said.
  • People get too greedy! They imagine that they’ll be charging £25 an hour and tot this up for a 40 hour week over 50 weeks a year (£50,000 turnover). All that money will be in their pockets if they can avoid that pesky franchise…
  • Reality strikes home! As independents with no reputation or established pupil base they can only charge £19-20 an hour (maximum £40,000 turnover). They may be forced to charge even less if undercutting is rife in the area. And work is harder to get than they thought, so the average week is only 30 hours (£30,000 turnover). Or possibly less than 20 hours (absolute maximum £20,000 turnover).  Or even less! And still they haven’t accounted for their car, fuel, and other essential business spending (total around £10,000 for car and fuel, plus that £2,000 from advertising). Before you know it, all the household bills have got to be paid with £10,000 or less!!!
  • There are independent instructors out there who have literally no work at all, even thought they are trying hard to fill their diaries. Don’t assume that you’ll be the one who discovers the Holy Grail: that hitherto untapped source of guaranteed work. Every ADI who ever existed has looked for it. Many foolish new ADIs have insisted they have found it. Most probably aren’t ADIs anymore – but this doesn’t stop other newcomers from jumping off the same high cliff!
  • Ignore claims from those who say they have discovered that magical source of pupils. They may well be in an area where there is a lot of work and they’ve manipulated their business well enough to exploit it, and I’ve mentioned elsewhere that instructors aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer (they nearly always think that what they do or experience should be done or experienced by everyone else). What matters is whether or not you have the same scope in your area and good enough marketing skills to achieve a similar result. It won’t happen in places saturated with instructors, no matter how much you think it will.

This job is very simple from a business perspective…

Balance Sheet For ADIs

Balance Sheet For ADIs

…you add up how much money you take in from your pupils (your turnover), and you subtract from it anything which is absolutely essential for keeping the business running (e.g. the car, fuel, insurance, advertising, etc.). What’s left is your gross profit – on which you are taxed.

So the main things anyone thinking of going independent needs to consider is how they are going to maximise and maintain ‘money in’, and how much they are going to spend under ‘money out’ in order to achieve it. Oh, and there is the unknown ‘risk factor’: will my advertising work?

If you have pupil enquiries coming out of your ears then being independent is undoubtedly the best way to go. Otherwise, be very careful… and don’t listen to idiots who think that because they have a full diary in London then you will too up in The Orkneys. It isn’t that simple.

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I’m writing this just as a response to various things I’ve heard from other driving instructors.

I posted a few weeks ago about how Vauxhall is feeling the pinch and has decided to stop supplying tuition cars to BSM for free. I must admit that I didn’t know BSM got these cars for free. I do know that BSM instructors can pay a lot of money for their franchise and I simply questioned if this might cause that franchise fee to rise still further.

The news seems to have sent nearly all other instructors totally crazy, though! And I don’t mean BSM instructors.

The common desire seems to be that BSM should collapse and all its instructors ‘be made redundant’ (demonstrating the typical instructor’s total lack of understanding over salaried- and self-employment). One thing I learn from this is that membership of the Human Race isn’t clear cut and fringe membership is possible – how anyone could wish redundancy on their fellow man in these times is beyond me.

Another one is that this should cause BSM to put its lesson prices up. The belief amongst some instructors here seems to be that if BSM puts lesson prices up, other big schools like The AA , Red Driving , and so on will follow. Then, all the hapless instructors who are currently charging silly prices to try and steal work away from everyone else will be able to put their prices up as well (no doubt to a level which still undercuts the big schools so they can continue to try and steal work away).

Also heard more than once is an attitude to learning that BSM got the cars for free that is so strong your ears nearly catch fire. "How dare BSM get its fleet for free!" is what it amounts to – and this from people who aren’t franchised to BSM and have no business poking their noses in like that. How BSM gets its cars is BSM ‘s business. They don’t come and tell these people how to run their businesses, so what gives them the right to try and tell BSM how to run theirs?

The overriding attitude is one of glee. The world is getting more and more full with very sad and very malicious people, I’m afraid.

Being serious and objective for a moment… it will be interesting to see how BSM resolves this. If you think about it, it would be surprising if any large national school actually paid for its fleet – an agreement with a manufacturer is more likely because they get the major advertising and the school gets the cars. Yes, it’s a pain that the individual man in the street can’t get the same deal, but at corporate level strange things can and do happen. Vauxhall is quite likely to end up closing plants and making redundancies, so giving away a couple of thousand cars that can only be sold on for perhaps half their value is an expense it has to address first. Hopefully, BSM will resolve the issue from its own side and source its cars from elsewhere without having to charge its franchisees any more money – I was told by an instructor it is in talks with FIAT, but I cannot confirm this. I have no affiliation with BSM , by the way, but I do not want to see it fall.

Just to add that this post is starting to get a few hits and I suspect (judging by the search terms used) it is from BSM franchisees worried about what is happening. This is just my opinion, but it is also a realistic summary of the situation as it stands based on available information…

BSM is in talks with Vauxhall to come to an agreement over the deal. It may end up having to pay for the cars it previously got for nothing. It may be that Vauxhall and BSM part company. I heard a rumour that BSM was talking to FIAT, but I have seen nothing written about this anywhere. The only official information at this time is that Times story.

If you’re a BSM instructor, don’t worry. Something will happen and there’s no way Aviva is going to just close down the driving school. The BSM franchise is already easily the most expensive out there and no one in their right minds is going to ask you to pay more. BSM’s driving school is too successful to let fail.

Ignore the stupid and malicious rumours you keep seeing and hearing. Just wait and see what happens.

*** Click Here! BSM and FIAT sign deal (23/07/2009)***

EDIT 13/10/2010: And note the latest change here, as BSM decides to switch back to Vauxhall and Corsas.

EDIT 28/6/2012: And don’t forget that BSM is now run by The AA.

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In the Midlands we didn’t have a huge fall of snow, but on Monday evening it was as bad as it got. An additional problem has been the freezing temperatures overnight causing slush to freeze solid.

I’ve had a test booked every morning this week – and I have another tomorrow. The three so far have all been cancelled and the test centre has already told me tomorrow’s will be as well because of the low temperatures (that’s good of them because they say if I cancel now they’ll put me on the ‘bad weather’ list so the pupil doesn’t have to pay and I don’t have to waste my time turning up when it isn’t going ahead).

On the one hand it is costing me a bloody fortune. Four tests (2 hour bookings) and 4 hours of beginner lessons means nearly £300 lost income!

But on the other hand those pupils nearing test standard have benefited greatly from being able to drive on snow and see how easy it is to skid if you drive or brake even a little too quickly.

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Another story in yesterday’s press (and covered further today) dealt with the female driving instructor, Denise Dawson , who had been mugged by a gang of violent thugs on an estate in Bristol. She’d positively identified the one who robbed her – and with whom she had struggled – at an identity parade.

The thug in question was Liam Perks (20). As it turns out, he is obviously some species of pond life:

The court heard that Perks, of Henbury, Bristol, had admitted a separate charge of conspiracy to burgle, for his involvement in a gang which stole motorcycles and prestige cars. He is awaiting sentence for that offence

You’d think this little weasel would be on a hiding to nothing, wouldn’t you? Not so. The Judge – possibly a victim of a blow to the head at some stage in an earlier part of his life – decided:

…Mrs Dawson’s good character and compelling evidence could sway the jury, even though she had had only a fleeting glimpse of her attacker.

He said: ‘Denise Dawson was a particularly impressive witness because she showed courage, clarity of thought and was undoubtedly honest. The jury may lend more weight to her evidence than the facts allow. You cannot be sure she got it right.’

The judge said that her evidence was not enough for a conviction.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? A positive ID of a known thug ‘isn’t enough for a conviction ‘.

This so-called ‘judge’ (Jamie Tabor ) also freed a woman who tried to poison her husband with rat poison because he (her husband) was cheating on her. Mr Tabor seems to have an unfortunate habit of imagining up complicated backgrounds to relatively simple cases. You can’t help wondering at what point he would actually side with the victim and against the accused…

I mean, if someone is happy to try and poison a family member, surely they have committed a crime which puts other people at risk no matter how out-of-character it was, how sorry they were, or how disturbed they may have been? Same as someone who kills, mugs, rapes, and so on.

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This in an interesting story from today’s press – well, those which have space after they’ve covered that bloody UFO fiasco.

I didn’t realise BSM got all its cars free of charge from Vauxhall . That’s one heck of a deal they have going there. Or it was. Looks like General Motors has decided it can’t afford this anymore and it wants BSM to pay.

Vauxhall is now in talks with the driving school to get it to pay for the fleet. The change in policy is expected to cost BSM several million pounds.

The credit crunch is hitting even the biggest players, it seems.

I know that people on school franchises pay a lot of money, so I wonder if this will affect how much BSM drivers pay? That’s one of the advantages of being completely independent: you don’t pay anywhere near as much for your car… and things like this don’t affect you either. At least that’s one good thing for me with everything that’s going on at the moment.

EDIT 18 Feb 2009: I noticed someone searched for ‘has BSM recently been sold’ and only came to this page! For goodness sake, look for more recent posts – for example, the one which gives itself away really: BSM Sold To German Buyer !

*** Click Here! BSM and FIAT sign deal (23/07/2009)***

EDIT 13/10/2010: But BSM is switching back to Corsas after only one year.

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I was out with a particular pupil a few days ago and something struck a chord with me as I kept saying the same thing. It then occurred to me that there are several phrases (including variations) which you end up saying a lot – so much so, that I think I may end up having one or two of them carved on my tombstone when I’m gone!

1. “Mind the kerb!”

Especially when they’re just starting out, many pupils have this blindspot which is always occupied by the kerb. You can be driving down a straight road and the smallest thing – sometimes it’s so small it doesn’t even exist – will make the pupil head towards the kerb.

I had one who subconsciously steered away from those pedestrian refuges (with the tall white lamp on them) every time she passed one. Steering away from other vehicles is very common. It doesn’t matter if there is a 15 metre ditch, a lamp post, a tree… steering away from the other car is the only priority!

2. “That’s too fast!”

Just about every thing they do wrong can be attributed to excess speed one way or another. You can’t use the MSM routine properly when you’re approaching within two car lengths of a junction at 30mph, anymore than you can check to see if it’s safe to go.

3. “Watch where you are going!”

Some pupils can easily ‘switch off’, especially if they are tired at the end of a lesson. You’ll be driving on a long, straight road and you start to get uneasy as the car starts to drift. You don’t say anything immediately because you don’t want to over-instruct… but then it drifts further. If you allow it to continue, before you know it you’re on the other side of the road.

4. “Now plan ahead for this”

You’re doing something simple, like turning left at traffic lights or a junction. As you come round the other side, before you know it you’re across the other side of the road or heading on to the left pavement as the pupil either under- or oversteers.

5. “Stay in lane!”

Perhaps tied in with ‘switching off’, some pupils have really serious problems seeing white lines on the roads. Add to that the fact that they see roundabouts as something similar to a Rubik Cube and you’ve got a deadly combination.

The one that particularly bugs me is when they are doing the roundabout perfectly then – all of a sudden – they decide they’re not and jerk the wheel so hard, almost full lock, that the car just about tips on to two wheels as they try to change lanes. And it’s usually more than one lane they’re trying to jump – nothing is simple for them.

I’ll always remember one pupil – Chris – who had had problems on roundabouts, but we’d just about got them sorted out. I once asked him what he thought the problem was, and he said:

I honestly think I’m going to kill us both when I’m on one.

Anyway, he drove on to this large roundabout perfectly… and then decided he shouldn’t have, and that the best solution was to stop dead. In the middle of entering a busy roundabout with cars coming in from all sides!!!

I pulled him over and said:

Chris, you know how you said you were worried that you might kill us on a roundabout? Well, stopping in the middle of one is a good way to do it!

6. “Did you see that skip around the corner?”

When we’re doing the Reverse Around A Corner exercise, if I notice that a pupil hasn’t looked into the road they’re going to reverse into I’ll often wait until they stop and then ask if they saw the skip (or car, or pedestrian, etc.) that is stopping them from doing it. One pupil cracked me up.

Me: Did you see that skip just around the corner? [there wasn’t one, but she hadn’t looked]

Philippa: [quick as a flash] “Yes. It was yellow”

I was really impressed.

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Heard on the radio that the M1 has been closed today (12th November, 2008) with major diversions since around 8.30 this morning in Leicestershire due to an accident. In addition, there has been another serious accident in the queue of traffic caught up in the jams resulting from the first. Police are having to carry out ‘accident investigation work’, which means the road will be affected for a while to come.

And to top that off, there’s now another accident on the southbound M1 in Nottinghamshire.

Up until now I was wondering about accidents (and breakdowns). You can set your watch by them: you get one accident and one breakdown every day on an important road into and out of the city. In the morning, it will always be on the busiest carriageway. In the evening it’ll be the other one, which is now busiest. If there are roadworks, the breakdown or accident is bound to be right in the middle where there’s no hard shoulder.

I could understand it if there were lots of accidents or breakdowns all day. Or if they occurred everywhere. And the frequency of daily accidents suggests that there should be a lot throughout the day. But there are aren’t. Accidents (and breakdowns) are carefully designed to cause maximum disruption at the most incovenient times, and in the most inconvenient places.

I blame it on a Government Conspiracy!

Edit: After a post made on 12 December 2008 I checked back and, believe it or not, today (the day this original post was published) was as near-as-dammit a full moon! I’m getting more convinced that lower primates are affected by the phases of the moon and – when they also carry a driving licence – mayhem can ensue.

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