All cars have to be taxed every year. It's known as vehicle excise duty (VED), and if you want to use your vehicle on a public road in the UK then that tax must be paid. It's very easy to check if a vehicle is taxed, but failing to have a fully taxed vehicle can lead to some harsh penalties.
How much you will pay for your car tax will depend on a wide range of factors. Simple differences like the age of the vehicle, when it was registered in the UK, and how environmentally friendly it is will play a role in determining your road tax bill. That's why it's important that you know how to check when road tax is due, how much you're expected to pay, and whether you even need to pay for your road tax at all!
How to check if your car is taxed
There are now two quick and simple ways to check if your vehicle is taxed. The UK government and the DVLA both have a system to check your road tax online, and using either will give you the information that you need.
The government's UK car tax check page
You can do a UK car tax check very quickly and easily. All you need is your vehicle's registration number. Then, simply head to the government website's vehicle tax checker. Type in your registration number and hit the continue button, and you'll get up to date facts about your vehicle's tax status. The same website is also where you go if you're not sure how to check if a vehicle has an MOT. That's because typing in your registration number on the gov.uk website will give you all of your tax information as well as your current MOT data.
The DVLA vehicle checker
The DVLA is a branch of the government, but it used to have its own dedicated DVLA vehicle checker. Now, that has been tied into the gov.uk site, but it remains significantly more comprehensive than the basic tax checker provided by the government page. The DVLA Vehicle Checker page will give you a vast amount of detail about your car, including:
- The current rate of your vehicle's tax and its expiry date
- Its MOT expiry date
- The registration date of your car
- The date of the last logbook (V5C) issued
- SORN status
- The year your car was manufactured
- Weight and engine size
- Fuel type and emissions
So if you want to know more about your car than just how to check the tax on it, the DVLA Vehicle Checker page is the site to use. It's where you should also go to check if a vehicle is taxed and insured. If you're only looking for tax information and status, the gov.uk site will be more than enough.
What if I fail to check my car tax status?
There have been many changes over the years when it comes to road tax, and it's very easy to get confused by those changes. However, the most important thing that you need to remember is that it remains an offence to use your car on a public road if you haven't paid the tax for it.
It used to be that paying for your road tax could only be done via post or by the post office directly. You can still pay in both of these ways, but now it is also possible to pay for your road tax either by phone or online. Remember that if you do decide to pay your tax by phone, you will need to have your V5C or V5C/2 close to hand. What many people aren't aware of is that there have even been changes made recently to the way that vehicle tax is calculated. So even if you've carried out a recent check for road tax, the amount you need to pay may have gone up or down. While Vehicle Excise Duty is still calculated using fuel type and CO2 emissions, the way that those CO2 emissions are measured has changed. Now, the readings for those emissions are much more realistic and precise, but the result is that for many UK motorists that will mean an increase in the amount of car tax they have to pay. That's why checking if a vehicle is taxed is so important before the tax is due.
Transferring road tax
Buying and selling second-hand cars in the UK is a thriving industry, but it's made a little more complicated by the fact that you can't transfer tax on a car to a new owner.
Buying a car
When you're buying a car from someone, the tax that has already been paid for that vehicle will not carry on when you take ownership of it. If there are months remaining on the tax, the person selling you the car can't give you the unused tax, even if they want to. So even if you're buying a car, you do a car reg check, check the tax status, and the owner confirms that the car is taxed for the next three months, you still have to buy tax for that car, and you must do so before you drive it away. Fortunately, this is made a lot easier now that you can pay for your car tax online. It's also worth knowing that many motor traders will be able to tax the vehicle for you.
Selling a car with additional tax
When you sell a car, you always need to let the DVLA know. You do this by sending off the relevant page in your logbook. Failing to do this means you can get hit by a £1,000 fine. However, the good news is that if you have paid for your annual tax in advance, any amount that's outstanding when you sell the car will be refunded.
Some types of cars are exempt from tax in the UK, but that doesn't mean you can ignore tax. Even cars that are technically exempt from paying for road tax will still have to have their vehicles taxed. Confused? You won’t be alone in feeling that.
You have to have your car registered as being taxed, and failing to do so means that you will eventually get a hefty fine. However, not every car has to pay money to tax their car because they are exempt. So, you don't have to pay any money to have your vehicle taxed if it is any of the following:
- Used by a disabled driver: Disabled drivers can claim for disability exemption when they make their application for car tax.
- Carries disabled passengers: This is primarily for organisations and carers who travel regularly with disabled passengers.
- Mobility scooter: This type of vehicle isn't technically a car, which means they can only go 8mph on roads and be restricted to 4mph on pathways. This category includes powered wheelchairs.
- Historic vehicles: Any vehicle that was made before January 1st 1980 is exempt from paying road tax, so it's worth doing a check for road tax exemption if your car is old.
- Electric Vehicles: Growing more popular every year, electric vehicles that are powered by electricity from an external source or storage battery (and don't have to be permanently connected to a power source to be able to drive) are all exempt from paying for road tax. The same is true for steam-powered vehicles, but that's not quite as common as electric! Hybrid cars will have to pay for their road tax, although this will generally be a lot less than a petrol or diesel car that was made after the 1st January 1980.
Other kinds of vehicles, such as those used in agriculture and forestry, are also exempt from having to pay for their road tax. However, it's vital that you remember that being exempt from road tax doesn't mean that you don't have to register for that tax. You may not have to pay, but your car will still have to be registered as taxed. So whether you or your type of vehicle is exempt from paying for tax, you still have to register it as taxed if you're using it on a public road.
What happens if you haven't paid your road tax?
The reason that you need to always check for road tax when you buy or sell a car is because of the harsh penalties that you might face.
Since the scrapping of the tax disc in 2014, the number of people trying to get away with not paying their vehicle tax has trebled. It is an offence to drive on a public road if you don't have road tax, but there is an exemption for this. The only time that you can drive an untaxed car is if you're driving it to a pre-booked MOT test. That doesn't mean that you can leave the house, drive your car to an MOT testing centre, and make multiple stops on the way. If you get caught doing that, then the police will consider that you are driving that untaxed car for additional purposes other than getting your MOT, and you will get fined.
Cars that aren't being used
If your vehicle is sitting parked in your garage or on your driveway and you have no intention of using it, then you can avoid taxing a car that is SORN. You will have to officially apply for SORN status, but once done, you not only don't have to pay tax and insurance on that car, you can also get a rebate on any road tax you have already paid for in advance. When you use the DVLA vehicle checker, it will let you know if a car has been declared as SORN, and it's important to use that checker if you're buying a car. That's because being caught driving a SORNed vehicle means much higher penalties than driving without tax. We get a lot of questions about buying and selling a SORN car, so check out our extensive guides here.
Buying a car and tax
When you buy a car now, you have to tax it before you drive away with it. The person selling it will have to give you the V5C/2, which you can then use to tax your car at the post office or by getting online and using the reference number included in the V5C/2.
How likely is it that I'll get caught without having valid tax?
In the days of paper tax discs, the police would have to look at those discs to see if they were out of date. These days, it is almost impossible to get away with not paying for your vehicle tax.
Every month, the DVLA does a complete scan of all of the registered cars in the country, and it will flag up any vehicles that aren't currently taxed or declared as SORN. When those cars are flagged, the registered keeper will get an automatic letter and a fine of £80. If you don't pay that fine, you will then have to go to court, and the fine could be increased to £1,000. You might even have your car clamped until all outstanding debts are paid.
The DVLA recently released a list of the top eleven locations in the UK that have the highest rate of road tax avoidance attempts. It's not a surprise to find that London is at the top of the list, with Northern Ireland, Birmingham, and Manchester, following closely behind. In 2018, the DVLA released figures that showed that in a single year, 27,605 cars were clamped in London alone, and 94,550 fines and penalties were handed out. That's just the figures for London!
One of the reasons why people are most likely to avoid paying their tax isn't because they want to try and scam the system, though. In the vast majority of cases, drivers caught without valid road tax haven't paid their tax because they believe that it is a long and complicated process. The fact is that it's never been easier to check when car tax is due, and it only takes a few minutes to check if a vehicle is taxed. Paying any tax that's due is also easier and faster than ever, and you can even spread your payments out over twelve months if you can't afford to pay the full year in one go. The DVLA have made it as easy as possible to check road tax status online and to make any payments that need to be made.
Be wary of road tax scams
When you are checking if a vehicle is taxed, it's important that you only use the official DVLA vehicle checker or the gov.uk site. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of road tax scams in recent years, and they could end up costing you a lot more than the price of your road tax.
Criminals are using emails, text messages, and social media to trick people into handing over their details and data. The majority of these scams are based on messages that inform you that you have an outstanding road tax rebate waiting to be collected, but there are also other scams like services that offer to have the points removed from your licence.
All tax refunds from the DVLA are generated by them automatically, so when you sell a car to a new driver or to a scrap yard, you will get any money owed to you automatically. The DVLA will not ask to speak to you before you get your refund. Stick to using the official DVLA vehicle checker and official government pages for all of your car information and needs.
Contradictions with road tax
Another reason why it's so important to check if a vehicle is taxed is that there are inherent contradictions in the car tax system. That's largely due to the big changes over the last two decades in both the system itself and the vehicles that we as a country are buying.
The biggest contradiction is to do with age. The RAC has claimed that it takes about 50 newly made cars to have the same amount of harmful emissions as one car that was made in the 1970s. Of course, a car built in the 1970s is exempt from having to pay for road tax. So even if you drive a hybrid car that emits much lower levels of emissions, you'll still end up paying more in road tax than someone driving a 1970s Ford Escort or Austin Allegro, despite the fuel inefficiency of those cars. It's an odd contradiction, but it is becoming less of a factor as more of those old, pre-1980s cars reach their end of life and are sold for scrap. Don't forget that even if you carry out a UK car tax check and find that your vehicle is exempt from paying for road tax, you still have to have your road tax in place. It just won't cost you any money to get that tax status.
If you want to drive a car on the public roads in the UK, then your vehicle needs to be taxed. Whether you have to pay to have it taxed or it's free to tax will depend on you and the age, make, and status of your car. However, when it's so simple to check for road tax details, there is simply no excuse to risk getting caught without that essential tax.