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I have some major life changes going on at the moment, one of which is finally getting around to learning to drive. At 31 I knew I needed to just hurry up and do it or I never would, but I was incredibly nervous, having never even sat in the drivers seat of the car before.
After passing my theory test in April I headed to the Internet to look for driving schools in my area that would do an intensive course. I start university again in September so was hoping to have it all done and dusted by then. I called the first company but they had no spaces but suggested Nippers. I looked on the Internet and saw a professional website and prices that looked competitive. Then I made my first mistake. I didn't bother to check online reviews, which is ridiculous as I have been on dooyoo for over half a decade. What an idiot. Now a cursory online check reveals mixed reviews and several seriously unhappy customers (one of which is me, since I added my own experience recently).
Anyway, I emphasised on the phone that a) I was a complete novice and b) really quite nervous. The man assigned me 'Steve' and my course started on the 27th May, with my test booked 8 days later. Steve rang and arranged to pick up the cheque (£771) and then I made my second mistake. He didn't come across as very professional and I had immediate misgivings, but with the test booked very soon I ploughed on and started the course.
My first day was long, within twenty minutes we were driving forty minutes away to Clacton. Steve said I was competent to drive the car but we had done no cockpit drill, I had no idea if my mirrors were set right, had received no paperwork (and indeed never did, not even a booking card) and he hadn't even bothered to check my eyesight. I was given a break half way through my five and a half hours but it was begrudged, Steve complained he had nothing to do for an hour. There was very little feedback or input, we just drove around and around the main Colchester roundabouts. Over the forty hours he did not prompt me on the MSM routine, or explain any of the tricky bits or dangerous bits of the area. There is a particular part which you approach down a narrow winding hill, at the bottom there is a blind bend and a very narrow bridge. If you go even slightly over the line and a car is coming from the opposite direction you are highly likely to have a head on collision, especially as oncoming traffic tend to cut the tight corner. The first time I came to this area was on a test.
Only about forty percent of Colchester was covered, mainly the main roundabouts and only from certain directions, so I was wholly unprepared for the test. Colchester has a one way system, a complicated gyratory systems, five roundabouts in a ring, several double roundabouts and with heavily potholed roads and poor road markings its a nightmare for learners, but I was even less prepared than most.
Just a couple of hours in total were spent in manoevres, despite my pleas. Once I had completed a manoevre successfully once, that was it, no more practice needed. I had no reference points, no special mirrors, limited explanations and plenty of irritation from Steve. I entered my test having only parallel parked successfully once, likewise bay parking. I failed a test on moving out but somehow he always 'forgot' to practice it in our lessons, just making me drive around and around Colchester in this massive loop, never getting above 40. I spent every evening desperately trying to fill in gaps in my knowledge with YouTube and driving instructors websites, whilst Steve was telling me everyday how amazing I was, which just didn't ring true. I felt like I was being swept along and the repeat tests just ramped up the pressure. Steve kept telling me I would never pass with another instructor so close to the test, that I was definitely going to pass the next time etc etc. I have some gastric issues that began to flare under the stress so I was unable to eat much or sleep well which really began to affect my judgement.
On the Saturday after I started my course, twenty hours in, Steve decided to suggest going to London. I start university there in Sept, so he offered to take me there. He said I was the right level to go, first pupil he had taken in 6 years there, blah blah. So we went which was extremely nervewracking for several reasons a) I was terrified, b) my mirrors were still badly set so I struggled to change lanes on the A12 and c) Steve scheduled no breaks so I drove for 6 hours around London with no food/drink breaks. I also drove on two further occasions for 4.5 hours and 5.5 hours with no breaks, as Steve kept putting it off, getting me to wait and wait until it was too late in the lesson to stop. I am not a very confident person and I put my trust in his experience but unfortunately it looks like this has caused some serious damage to my leg and knee on particular.
All lessons were shortened by at least five minutes, usually more. Steve took regular ten minute toilet breaks in our two hour lessons, where I was encouraged to stay in the car. I reckon I lost over two hours of tuition in total.
Steve is a big man and he was verbally abusive to other drivers, furiously gesticulating out of the window as well. He happily used language like 'poofs' and I found him quite unsettling. Whilst I was wasn't getting any feedback I was getting lots of gossip about his other pupils and their lives, lots of information about his life. He admitted he hated it when pupils didn't talk to him 'nothing worse than having a quiet car' so even whilst I was trying to concentrate he never stopped talking. There was constant pressure to change my test to Clacton (Steve's home town) and though I did at first for one of my subsequent tests, I found of a 120minute lesson, 80 minutes were taken up just driving there and back, so to Steve's disappointment I switched back to Colchester.
I failed my first test on mirrors and changing lanes (surprise, surprise), but I was encouraged to book another test two weeks later. I failed that one on meeting other cars (another gap in my instruction, my examiner called me 'dangerous' as Steve had told me to just keep going and push through no matter what) and on moving off. A third test was booked two weeks after that despite me being obviously shattered and a nervous wreck. I failed that one on changes of speed (unfamiliar country road) and a tricky roundabout that we hadn't covered.
Steve kept telling me I was a brilliant driver, fantastic etc but never helped me rectify my mistakes and never suggested postponing tests for more practice, we went right back to going in loops around Colchester. At this point I had had enough (three tests in 6 weeks) as I really didn't feel I was up to standard ( and my husband started taking me out in our car and was shocked at how little I knew). I had had 56 hours of tuition. I found a older female instructor who was so reassuring on the phone I almost cried. She was happy to take me in my own car, happy to have my children in the back. She turned up with a big book of laminated roundabouts, she took notes of everything, she explained and critiqued everything I was doing and taught me to parallel park in my unfamiliar car ( to her) in twenty minutes flat. I can now do it every time, no panic, no worries, no constant gossip, just patient explanation and kindness. I got none if these things from Steve.
I complained to Nippers but they said there was nothing they could do etc etc, no refunds, just that they would keep an eye on him. So I wasted two months and over £1000, despite assurances I would get up to test standard by the end of the forty hour course. There was no way I was even close and even after 8 hours with a competent instructor there were still many many gaps in my knowledge. There was a small chance I could have passed my fourth test but all the accumulated nerves and repeat failures got to me and I failed again. I have not scheduled another test and am taking it easy, practicing and taking instruction but being relaxed about it and trying not to put pressure on myself. I am however incandescent at the poor service I received from Nippers and their piss poor instructor.
I booked a 40 hour intensive course with Nippers because I wanted to pass my test before my daughters birthday in November, so I could drive her the 300 miles to see my parents on her birthday. My test was originally booked for 28th September (of which I never got confirmation). The instructor was nice and we had a laugh but the car was a nightmare. I constantly stalled it and having had lessons previously, I knew it wasn't just my driving. I was told I'd get used to the car but even half way through my 40 hour course, I was still stalling it. The instructor was always changing my lessons and cancelling at the last minute to the point where I could not make any plans at all because I never knew when I had a lesson or not. She even went on holiday for a week which I was not told about until after I started having lessons with her. Why take on an intensive learner if youre going on holiday??? So my test date got changed to 15th October. Then one day she just didn't turn up, no phone call or explanation and I couldnt get hold of her. So I phoned Nippers and explained to the man in charge who said he would have a word with her. I told him I would like a different instructor as I wasn't happy about her failing to turn up. He said he would personally take me out himself for the rest of the lessons I was owed.
My test date got changed again to 31st October. I had about a week with no lessons so needed to do a couple of 5 hour days to catch up. I was in a different car with a different instructor who complained about having to take me out on a Sunday to catch me up with my lessons, like it was my fault! He was very patronising and made me feel very stupid and worthless. After coming home in tears one day I decided to quit my lessons with Nippers and go elsewhere because there is no way I would have passed my test under their instruction.
I also noticed that neither instructor ever asked to see my provisional licence and the second instructor (the man in charge) never displayed a card or I.D. to show he was qualified. Im not saying he isnt, Im saying it wasnt on display.
I did get a refund for the hours I was owed and the test fee I paid, and the first instructor was fired. But it doesnt get back all the time I have lost and it still means my daughter wont see her grandparents on her birthday. I am still out of pocket as I have had to pay another driving school. I did notice that my current instructor of the new driving school asked to see my provisional licence straight away and I received confirmation of my test date only 2 days after booking it, which leads me to believe my tests were never booked with the DSA through Nippers in the first place.
I undertook a short intentive course with Nippers after having not driven for 6 months and failing a test with another driving school.
The level of service I received was expectional. The instructor was understanding and focused on things that I wanted to aswell as the areas she thought could be improved for my test.
Even though I was learning and taking my test in a different town than I had done previously I still managed to pass. An A+ driving school.