A guide to road tax

All drivers of motor vehicles that use public roads – with some exemptions – must pay road tax. This guide examines who pays road tax, how to pay it and what documents you'll need, and how much it costs for certain vehicles.

All drivers of motor vehicles that use public roads – with some exemptions – must pay road tax. This guide examines who pays road tax, how to pay it and what documents you'll need, and how much it costs for certain vehicles.

Although we often call it car tax or, to give it its full name, vehicle excise duty (VED), road tax is levied on cars, goods vehicles, motorbikes and other transport for using public highways. 

The rate of road tax you pay depends on factors such as the engine size of your vehicle and the emissions it produces.

What is road tax?

Road taxation has existed since the 17th century to pay for building and maintenance of Britain's highways, and in 1909 the Road Fund was established to collect road tax for the financing and administration of road building and maintenance.

A tax specifically for motor vehicles was first introduced in 1920, but after 1937 the Road Fund and any ring-fencing of the vehicle excise duty for the specific financing of roads was ended. 

Since then all UK road tax is paid into the government's Consolidated Fund and road maintenance is financed out of general taxation.

Who has to pay road tax?

If your car has a number plate, it must be registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and you must pay tax to drive it on the road. Road tax is administered by the DVLA in England, Scotland and Wales, and by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland.

Even if you don't drive your car, but it is parked on a public road it must be taxed.

You don't need to tax your car if it is only driven on private land, but if it has a registration plate – number plate – you must notify the DVLA every year that it is being kept off road, and acquire a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).

Some vehicles – particularly electric and other zero-emissions cars – pay nothing for their annual road tax. Drivers of such vehicles must, however, return a vehicle excise duty form with their car's details to the DVLA showing the tax rate is set at zero. Indeed, the government warns on its website: "You must tax your vehicle even if you do not have to pay anything."

How much do I pay for road tax?

The annual flat rate of road tax has gone up to £155 from £150 in the 2020/2021 financial year). 

There’s a £10 annual discount for alternatively fuelled vehicles, so owners pay £145 a year (up from £140 in the last financial year).

But what else you pay towards your road tax depends on several factors – what kind of vehicle you drive: car, motorbike, commercial vehicle etc, how old your car is, how polluting it is and whether it runs on diesel, petrol, electric or any other alternative power.

Much of what you pay will depend on when your car was first registered. This is based upon three categories:

  • Cars and light goods vehicles registered before March 1, 2001

  • Cars registered between March 1, 2001 and March 31, 2017

  • Cars registered on or after April 1, 2017

How the rules work if your car was first registered on these dates:

  • Before 1 March 2001 - The tax you pay will depend on the engine size. This has increased slightly in the latest budget.

  • Between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2020 - the rate is based on 2 different payments. The first payment or “showroom tax” which is based on the official CO2 figures when the car was built. You then pay annual renewal based on the fuel type and there's a premium for vehicles with a list price of over £40,000 (excluding zero emission vehicles).

  • Between 1 March 2001 and 31 March 2017 - You'll pay based on the car's official CO2 emissions and fuel type.

  • On or after 1 April 2020 - the rate of car tax you pay is  based on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions

  • For cars over 40 years old, there's no tax to pay. As of 1 April 2020, all cars built after 31 March 1980 are tax exempt, but still need to be registered with the DVLA.

  • Motorcycle, tricycle and motorhome rates are separate and we’ve list on the bottom of this article

Let’s examine each of the above in turn.

Road tax for cars and light goods vehicles registered before 1 March 2001

Road tax for vehicles first registered after March 2001 is based on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of each specific car model. 

But for vehicles registered before this, the road tax rate is based purely on engine size. 

Here’s what you’ll pay:

Private or light goods (DVLA designation TC11) 

Engine size (cc)Single 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
Not over 1549£170£170£173.25£90.75£86.63
Over 1549£280£280£283.50£148.50£141.75

Source: www.gov.uk

What is the tax rate on cars registered between March 1, 2001 and March 31, 2017?

Based on fuel type and CO2 emissions, cars registered between these dates are divided into car tax bands. The higher the tax band of your car, the more you’ll pay in annual road tax.

What is a car tax band?

Car tax bands are devised to differentiate between the levels of harmful gases various makes and models of cars emit into the climate. The higher the CO2 emissions from your exhaust (measured in grammes emitted over a distance of 1 kilometre – g/km), the higher your tax band.

What tax band is my car?

Car tax bands are graded A to M, where A is zero emissions – typically for electric cars – and M is the highest.

It is simple to check which tax band your car comes under – the CO2 emissions data is on your V5C registration document. Alternatively you can check on the DVLA’s online service at www.gov.uk.

Below are the charges for the various tax bands for petrol (TC48) and diesel (TC49) cars:

Cars registered between 1 March 2000 and 31 March 2017 (2021/22 rates)

BandCO2 emission (g/km)Single 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
AUp to 100£0£0n/an/an/a
B101-110£20£20£21n/an/a
C111-120£30£30£31.50n/an/a
D121-130£130£130£131.25£68.75£65.63
E131-140£155£155£157.50£82.50£78.75
F141-150£170£170£173.25£90.75£86.63
G151-165£210£210£215.25£112.75£107.63
H166-175£250£250£252£132£126
I176-185£275£275£278.25£145.75£139.13
J186-200£305£305£320.25£167.75£160.13
K*201-225£340£340£346.50£181.50£173.25
L226-255£585£585£593.25£310.75£296.63
MOver 255£600£600£609£319£304.50

*Includes cars with a CO2 figure over 225g/km but were registered before 23 March 2006.

The rates of road tax for vehicles that use alternative fuels to petrol and diesel – such as electricity, biofuels, hydrogen etc – are similarly banded, but slightly cheaper:

What car tax do I pay on an alternative fuel car in the tax year 2021 to 2022?

(TC49)

BandCO2 emission (g/km)Single 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
AUp to 100£0n/an/an/an/a
B101-110£10£10£10.50n/an/a
C111-120£20£20£21n/an/a
D121-130£115£115£120.75£63.25£60.38
E131-140£140£140£147£77£73.50
F141-150£155£155£162.75£85.25£81.38
G151-165£195£195£204.75£107.25£102.38
H166-175£230£230£241.50£126.50£120.75
I176-185£295£295£309.75£162.25£154.88
J186-200£305£305£320.25£167.75£160.13
K*201-225£320£320£336£176£168
L226-255£555£555£582.75£305.25£291.38
MOver 255£570£570£598.50£313.50£299.25

*Includes cars with a CO2 figure over 225g/km but were registered before 23 March 2006.

Source: www.gov.uk

Cars registered on or after April 1, 2017

Cars registered after this date are taxed during their first year based on emissions, and each year thereafter based on which fuel they use. While specific lettered bands have been abandoned, a similar grading is used. However, the charges for the biggest polluters are much more punitive.

Here’s what you’ll pay during the first year of your new car registration:

CO2 emissions (g/km)Diesel cars (TC49) that meet the RDE2 standard and petrol cars (TC48)All other diesel cars (TC49)Alternative fuel cars (TC59)
0£0 £0£0
1 - 50£10£25£0
51 - 75£25£110£15
76 - 90£115£140 £100
91 - 100£140£160£125
101 - 110£160£180£145
111 - 130£180£220£165
131 - 150£220£555£205
151 - 170£555£895£530
171 - 190£895 £1,335£860
191 - 225 £1,345 £1,895 £1,295
226 - 255£1,910 £2,245 £1,295
Over 255 £2,245 £2,245 £2,165

From the second year onwards, you’ll pay a flat fee based on which fuel your car uses:

Fuel typeSingle 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
Petrol or diesel£155£155£157.50£82.50 £78.75
Electric£0n/an/a£0n/a
Alternative £140 £140 £147£77£73.50

Extra taxation for expensive cars

If your new car costs more than £40,000 list price – regardless of whether you paid less than list price for it – you’ll be stung by an additional charge of £325, which you must pay for five years from the second year of your taxing the vehicle.

You will not have to pay this additional charge if you own a zero-emissions vehicle.

Adding this extra charge to your second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth years of taxing your vehicle, will cost you the following amounts per year:

Fuel typeSingle 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
Petrol or diesel£475£475£498.75 £261.25£249.38
Alternative£465 £465 £488.25 £255.75 £244.13

Source: www.gov.uk

What are the cheapest cars to tax?

Cars that run on electric motors only are exempt from charge – although drivers of such vehicles still have to tax them with the DVLA at a zero rate.

  • Hybrid motors – which run on traditional combustive fuels but have an electric motor also – have lower emissions than pure petrol and diesel engines and are, therefore cheaper to tax

  • Alternative fuels such as biofuels are also cheaper, depending on the CO2 emissions

  • There are other types of vehicle that are cheap or even free to tax – again, the rate is set at zero but you still have to go register them with the DVLA

How much road tax do I pay on a historic vehicle?

Classic cars and motorbikes, manufactured more than 40 years ago – as of January 1 – are exempt from charges.

How much road tax is charged on a vehicle used by the disabled?

You can claim disability exemption when you apply for road tax. Check online to see if you are eligible. Passenger vehicles used by organisations to provide transport for disabled people are also exempt from vehicle excise duty.

How much road tax do I pay on an electric vehicle?

Road tax for vehicles powered by electricity alone – usually battery-stored power cars – is also set at a zero rate. This is because they are zero emissions vehicles. Hybrid motors, which are not zero emission, are not exempt.

Road tax on mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs

These vehicles are still referred to as “invalid carriages” and providing they are capped to a speed of 8mph on the road and 4mph on footpaths, they are exempt from taxation.

Steam powered vehicles

Steam rollers, steam traction engines and cars and any other vehicle powered by steam do not pay road tax.

Vehicles used for agriculture, horticulture and forestry

These exemptions include farm vehicles such as tractors and combine harvesters, and other light vehicles such as sit-on mowing machines.

Road tax for other types of private use vehicles

Types of vehicle other than cars have different rates of taxation. Indeed, there are separate rates for:

Let’s take a look at how powered two-wheelers are taxed, to contrast with the price of taxing a car for a year:

Motorcycle (with or without sidecar) (TC17)

Engine size (cc)Single 12 month paymentSingle 12 month payment by Direct DebitTotal of 12 monthly instalments by Direct DebitSingle 6 month paymentSingle 6 month payment by Direct Debit
Not over 150£20£20£21n/an/a
151-400£44£44 £46.20n/an/a
401-600£67£67£70.35£36.85£35.18
Over 600£93£67£97.65£51.15£48.83

How do I pay my road tax?

Your road tax will begin from the start of the month you registered your vehicle. If you sell the vehicle part way through the period of taxation, you will be due a refund on the amount left to pay over the period. 

If you sell a taxed car and buy a new one, the tax paid on your previous vehicle is not transferable for the remainder of its taxation period. You must notify the DVLA about the vehicle that has been sold, collect any refund due, and immediately tax the new vehicle.

You can pay your road tax in a number of ways. 

  • A one-off payment for the year

  • A one-off payment for six months

  • 12 monthly instalments for a year 

Paying the one-off annual payment is the cheapest, although some may prefer to pay more to stagger the payments over the year.

If, at any time, you have doubts when your road tax is due, you can check on the DVLA website that it has valid tax and MOT by entering your registration number on the page.

How do I tax my vehicle?

The DVLA is usually very efficient in notifying vehicle owners well in advance of the due date for their next taxation period. You’ll be sent a V11 reminder form with instructions on how to pay. 

A direct debit using the online form is the easiest way to pay road tax. You’ll need a reference number that can be found on any of the following documents:

  • DVLA reminder form V11

  • The vehicle’s V5C registration document – often called the “log book”

  • For new vehicles, the green “new keeper” slip from the log book

The options for paying your road tax are as follows:

  • Online payment – direct debit using the DVLA website form

  • Post Office – card or cash payments can be made, but only the larger branches now deal with such payments, and you’ll need one of the above documents

  • By phone – you can pay a one-off payment by phone, but you can’t set up a direct debit. The DVLA vehicle tax service telephone number is: 0300 123 4321

Can I pay road tax without any documentation?

No. If you haven’t received a V11 reminder and you’ve lost your V5C registration document, you’ll need to apply for a new one from the DVLA at a cost of £25.

Do I need road tax if I don’t drive my car?

If you are unable to drive for a period of time and you want to keep your registered vehicle on a public road, you must still tax it. 

If, however, you have a place to keep your registered vehicle off the public highways you can notify the DVLA and acquire a Statutory Off Road Notification(SORN).

How do I get a SORN for my car?

You will need to provide different items of information depending on when you want your SORN to start:

  • If you want your SORN to start immediately: use the 11-digit number on your vehicle registration document (V5C) to get the vehicle off the road straight away

  • If you want your SORN to start on the first day of the following month: use the 16-digit number on your vehicle tax reminder letter (V11) to take the vehicle off the road from the first day of next month. You can only use this number once

Applying for a SORN is also easiest completed using the DVLA website. These are the three best ways to accomplish the task:

  • Online

  • Phone: DVLA service on 0300 123 4321

  • Post: send application form V890 to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AR

DVLA contact details

DVLA address: DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AR

DVLA telephone for lost V5C document: 0300 790 6802

Car insurance is just one of the costs of keeping your car on the road along with tax, petrol and servicing, so cut your insurance costs by comparing the best deals for you.