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Mikael Castaldo

Over the last decade, driving schools in Ontario have become notorious for unethical business practices, illegal behaviour, and charging a plethora of hidden fees. As a result, if you’re considering enrolling in a driving school in Ontario, it’s important to calculate the all-in price of your lessons before booking with a specific driving school.

Typically, driving schools that engage in the practice of charging students hidden fees will begin by charging a lower than average price (typically in the $550-600 range for Beginner Driver’s Education packages, compared to the provincial average of $600-800). Once a student is enrolled, the driving school often layers on a series of additional fees (e.g. certification fees, booking fees, e-learning fees, etc.) that can increase the cost by $50-100 above the advertised price. Typically at this point, it’s too late for students to pull out, due to strict no refund policies.

To help you navigate the murky waters of driving school pricing, we’ve pulled together the 5 most common hidden fees that driving schools charge – and how you can best avoid them.

The top 5 hidden fees that driving schools charge

1. Misusing the MTO Certification fee

One of the most common ways that driving schools overcharge students in Ontario is through unethical use of the MTO Certification fee. As of 2007, every driving school in Ontario has been required to pay $15 to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) for each student that completes a Beginner Driver Education (BDE) program. Typically, this fee is payable by the driving school to the MTO at the time a student completes their BDE course, and is used by the Ministry of Transportation to improve the standard of driver’s education in the province. Many driving schools, however, take advantage of the existence of this fee to overcharge students.

The first way that driving schools abuse the MTO Certification fee is by charging students more than the required $15 fee, and pocketing the difference. Many driving schools claim that the MTO certification fee is $30-40 – far and above beyond the $15 that they’re actually paying to the province. 

The second way that driving schools abuse the MTO Certification fee is by excluding it from the advertised package price. This has the effect of making that particular driving school’s package appear cheaper – even if it isn’t. For example – a driving school may claim that their BDE course costs $585, but will exclude the MTO certification fee from their advertised price. The true price of the package may be $600 – closer to the provincial average – but by excluding the MTO Certification fee, the driving school manages to seem artificially inexpensive.

Before booking with a driving school, make sure to ask them whether the MTO Certification fee is included in the advertised price – and if it isn’t, be crystal clear that they’re only charging you the required $15.

2. Charging separate “E-learning fees” 

When students enroll in a Beginner Driver Education (BDE) program with a driving school, they are required to complete 20 hours of in-class / online instruction, and 10 hours of quizzes / homework, in addition to the 10 in-car lessons. Traditionally, the in-class component has been conducted in a physical classroom. After the onset of COVID-19, however, many driving schools were forced to begin offering the in-class portion of their driver’s ed program online, rather than in a physical classroom. The challenge is that most driving schools don’t have the resources to develop an online course from scratch – so they license their online courses from third parties instead. Typically, driving schools must pay these third party providers $15-35 per student that uses their online course. 

In order to appear cheaper than the provincial average, some driving schools will separate the e-learning fee from their advertised BDE course price. Then, students will be required to pay $15-35 on top of the advertised program price to cover the driving school’s online learning costs. While using a third part for online learning is perfectly legal, make sure that the driving school you select is transparent about whether the e-learning fee is included in the package price.

3. Instituting inflexible refund policies

One of the most common hidden fees that driving schools charge is through inflexible cancellation or refund policies. Driver’s education is an expensive investment, with course fees ranging from $600-800 for a typical BDE package. If you don’t connect well with your driving school or instructor, you’ll want the peace of mind that you can get your money back. Unfortunately, this is typically not the case. Many driving schools have either a no-refund policy, or charge students a $50-100 processing fee to issue a refund – even if a student hasn’t completed any in-car lessons. Before selecting a driving school, you’ll want to be crystal clear as to the school’s  cancellation and refund policy.

4. Cutting lesson times short, or double-booking students

When you enroll in a BDE program with a driving school in Ontario, you are required to complete 10 hours of in-car instruction. Due to inefficient lesson scheduling / route planning, though, many driving schools end up delivering 40 minute lessons, rather than the 1 hour that students expect to be receiving. As a result, students end up receiving 33% less driving time per hour than they expected. 

In addition to cutting lesson times short, some driving schools require students to spend part of their lesson time driving the previous student home. Safety concerns aside (novice drivers should not be responsible for driving other students home), double-booking lessons like this cuts into the actual instructional time being delivered. The Ministry of Transportation has strict guidelines for what needs to be covered in a given lesson; if your instructor is asking you to drive another student home as part of the lesson, you may not be able to cover all of the material required in the number of lessons you originally purchased – requiring additional lessons, and pushing up the cost of your driving lessons.

Before enrolling with a driving school in Ontario, make sure to ask them about their lesson length, and the number of students in the vehicle at any given time.

5. Including additional “Processing fees / “administrative fees”

The most brazen form of hidden fees charged by driving schools in Ontario is a form of “processing fees” or “administrative fees”. Decidedly ambiguous, it’s not exactly clear what these fees represent. Typically, a driving school will use ambiguous processing or administrative fees as a way of making their original core offering seem less expensive. If you do see a driving school you’re interested in booking lessons with charging a processing or administrative fee, be sure to ask them what exactly you’re paying for. 

So, how much does driving school actually cost in Ontario?

Driving school, with all costs included, typically costs $600-800. As a result, if you find a driving school that falls below this range, make sure to ask them about each of the hidden fees above and calculate the true all-in price. 

If you’re looking to book driving lessons in Ontario, click here.

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