Can you drive without road tax?

In the UK, having up to date road tax (formally known vehicle tax, car tax or vehicle excise duty) is a legal obligation you have as a driver, like having Home Insurance is a requirement for most mortgages. This also includes having a roadworthy car, a current MOT, Car Insurance which covers your use of the car, and registration with the DVLA.

Modern car tax is based around a few things, including:

  • How old your vehicle is
  • The carbon dioxide emissions
  • How much your car cost

With modern car taxes, the government is at least partially looking to encourage take up of lower emissions and electric cars to help meet carbon emission reduction targets. So if that’s something you were considering anyway with your next car, you’ll likely get a lower vehicle tax rate. And if you pick up an estate car in a lower insurance group, all the better.

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When can you drive without road tax?

If you’ve registered your car with a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), you can drive without road tax on private property within specific situations. A SORN vehicle also usually can’t drive on public roads, only private. In any other situation, you could get fined.

What vehicles have exemptions from road tax?

Technically, all vehicles need to be registered and taxed, but for some vehicles, it’s free. Vehicles that are free to tax include:

  • Vehicles used by a disabled person
  • Disabled passenger vehicles
  • Mobility scooters & powered wheelchairs
  • Historic cars (made before 1 Jan 1982)
  • Electric vehicles that meet certain conditions
  • Vehicles used for agriculture, horticulture and forestry

If you register your car or other vehicle with a SORN and meet the criteria, you shouldn’t have to pay car tax either. Of course, that means you can’t drive it on public roads.

What’s the penalty for driving without road tax?

Driving without road tax is an escalating penalty. The long and short of it is this: if you get a warning letter, pay it then, and within the reduction period of 33 days if you can. Once you get past that point, it can get much, much more expensive to deal with, and honestly, when is that worth it?

If you’re the registered owner of an untaxed vehicle, you’ll get an auto-generated (physical) letter with a fine set at £80, reduced to £40 if you pay it within 33 days.

If you’re driving an untaxed car on a public road, you get an out of court settlement, which is set at £30 plus 1.5x the outstanding car tax. If this doesn’t get paid, you can be brought to court and pay a penalty of either £1,000 or five times the amount of road tax chargeable, whichever is greater. Your car may also be clamped, at which point more fees apply. Keeping (and not driving) an untaxed vehicle has the same penalty as driving one on a public road.

If you’re driving an untaxed car on a public road with a SORN, you get an out of court settlement set at £30 plus 2x the outstanding car tax. If this doesn’t get paid, you can be brought to court and pay £2,500 or five times the amount of road tax chargeable, whichever is greater. Your car may also be clamped, at which point more fees apply.

Fines for driving without road tax are not small. It might be worth a setting reminder for when you’re due to renew, because we all know memories can be short.

When’s road tax due?

Road taxes are due at different times and using different calculations depending on when your car was registered, which you can check online. The government has clear tables that break the car tax rates out for you in detail. Broadly, if the car was registered:

  • Since 2017: a “showroom tax” is due based on carbon dioxide emissions when first registered/bought, and then afterward road tax is due at your chosen instalment period (12, 6 or 1 month) after the first year (which the “showroom tax” covers). If the list price was more than £40,000 there’s an additional fee.
  • Between 2001-2017: Road tax is due at your chosen instalment period (12, 6 or 1 month), based on fuel type and CO2 emissions.
  • Before 1 Mar 2001: Road tax is due at your chosen instalment period (12, 6 or 1 month), based on engine size.

Do you get 14 days grace for road tax?

There’s no grace period for unpaid road tax at the time of writing, because the process has moved, at least in part, online. Plus, from late 2014, the government stopped issuing window discs, so the need to have a grace period for the post to arrive isn’t needed anymore.

You can renew your car tax up to 2 months before it expires through the post. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a tedious process. You’ll need to include:

  • Your V5C registration certificate (in your logbook)
  • An explanation of why you’re renewing in advance
  • A completed V10 form
  • A valid MOT certificate
  • A cheque for your vehicle tax amount payable to ‘DVLA Swansea’

If that rigamarole is a bit too much, as, let’s be honest, it probably is, you can pay your car tax online. You should only need your logbook number and vehicle registration. But - this is important - only in the month your road tax is due, from the 5th of that month to the day before your expiry. So if your car tax runs out on 31 May, from 5 May to 30 May you can renew online. Probably the most straightforward way for most people these days.

Can I drive a car without tax if I just bought it?

No, even if you’ve just bought a car, you can’t drive it without paying car tax. Regardless of when you bought a car, if you’re driving it without paying tax you could be fined for it.

Because you literally can’t drive it off the lot, most dealers will include the car tax payment in the price of the car when you buy new from them. If you’re buying through a private deal or buying used, you may need to manage it yourself online.

What happens with car tax when I buy a used car?

When you buy a used car, you’ll still have to pay car tax to drive it away.The person selling the car to you should cancel their road tax through the DVLA first so they can sell it to you and you can start paying road tax.

Regardless of whether your car is new, used or otherwise, in nearly all situations you’re required to have up-to-date vehicle tax at all times when driving your car. So the answer to how long you can drive without road tax is, basically, you can’t. With so much of the DVLA moving online, though, the process to pay your road tax should be fairly straightforward and relatively painless.  

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.