Car Culture: Man, What a Gas

Your weekly guide to car culture as it affects us, plus some good bits


VED is about to tax you away from the combustion engine

Buying a second-hand car for a friend, sorry, scratch that; a pre-owned car, I was on the point of handing over the money when the dealer asked if I wanted to pay half the year’s ‘road tax’ or a full year. The question caught me by surprise. I’d forgotten the outstanding amount left on a vehicle does not shift to the new owner – another neat trick from the profiteering DVLA. The new owner pays for a full year. I paid up and drove off.

Though we talk of Road Tax it’s called Vehicle Excise Duty – VED, Road Tax abolished decades ago, leaving some to argue it neatly sidesteps complaints that the tax is never used to improve roads. The UK Government spends it on other things, making it as close to theft from a car owner as the DVLA can get away without anybody calling it a scam.

The famous disc on the windscreen was junked soon as everything could be done by computer. How much you’ll pay in the new scheme depends on what kind of car you have, how old it is, and how you want to pay. This article might help make sense of it all.

VED tax

Vehicle Excise Duty, known as VED, is a tax levied by the government on every vehicle on UK public roads, a major source of revenue for the government, totalling billions of pounds each year, which goes into the central coffers of the exchequer. The cost of maintaining the UK’s roads is currently covered by general taxation, not specifically VED.

The VED system based on vehicle emissions was introduced in 2001 as part of a push to reduce pollutants released into the atmosphere. Vehicles emitting pollutants cost more to tax. The incentive is to push us to buy cleaner vehicles. The planet now in dire jeopardy, you’d hardly think we need a reason, but old habits die hard. That’s why governments are necessary – to  protect us and the environment.

After an extended campaign by car owners, in his 2015 budget, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that a new road fund would be set up whereby all funds raised through VED will go into the building and upkeep of the UK’s road system. For some mysterious reason the fund never quite reached Scotland. This new system was implemented by Rishi Sunak in his recent 2020 budget, but scheduled road works are likely to be pushed back as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Changes to system this month, April, mean significant differences for new car buyers.

How VED has changed

The government has up-rated VED in line with the retail prices index (RPI) for cars, vans, motorcycles and motorcycle trade licences, but the biggest change, and the one that will be felt most by motorists and traders, is the switch from using NEDC emissions testing as the basis for the various tax band tiers to the new WLTP system.

The WLTP procedure (world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure) is a global, harmonized standard for determining the levels of pollutants, CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of traditional and hybrid cars, as well as the range of fully electric vehicles. This new method is meant to deliver realistic readings for a vehicle’s fuel consumption, emissions output and driving range, and will result in vehicles moving up a band and becoming, on average, £5 more expensive to tax annually. There’s that word again – ‘tax’.

I am still trying to discover what I will pay on my Smart Car and 25 year old RAV4; it’s all rather confusing. I can see the £320 ‘expensive car tax’ for electric cars costing more than £40,000 is to be removed, which means anyone buying a new electric car will save £320 per year for years two to six of ownership – a total saving of £1600.

Diesel cars – once upon a time heavily promoted by transport ministers as the gateway to heaven – that don’t meet the latest emissions standards will be taxed at higher rates than their petrol equivalents, but a new flat rate of £150 for purely combustion-engine cars registered from now on will come into effect. A flat rate of £140 will be applied to hybrids registered after today.

The old system will still apply to vehicles registered before 1 April 2017.


If your vehicle was registered before 1 March 2001, then the engine size in cubic centimetres (cc) is what’s important. Cars with engines equal to, or smaller in capacity than 1549cc (roughly equivalent to 1.5 litres) will pay £145 a year, assuming you pay up front for 12 months. Cars with engines larger than 1549cc will  pay £235 a year. The exact amount due can vary slightly, depending on whether you pay for six months or 12 months, and whether you pay all at once or in instalments. I’m still smarting at the hike I cough up for paying only six months VED at a time – a full £30.


If your car is newer, and was registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017, then it’s the emissions that you need to think about. (I know, it’s all very confusing.) Petrol and diesel-powered cars are the most commonly taxed vehicles and they’re categorised by bands that are determined by their CO2 emissions. Prices vary slightly depending on how you pay – in one go, or in instalments.

At this point I am going to give up trying to make sense of the new values, other than to say, your VED will increase. If like me you keep a strict document history of your car you will see what the difference is, in the same way you check your insurance premiums. Instead I’ll leave you with the link to discover the increase that applies to your car.

You can see a full breakdown of the charges by going to the DVLA website here.


My Corona

Automobile hacks must be shivering into the mugs of tea. Coronavirus has them without cars to test. A cursory survey of British car magazines sees articles on everything from best buys, to Honda bringing back rotary controls for the heating system in their electric cars. I’m waiting to read an article on ‘your favourite car colour’. By the way, press hacks keep telling us this and that is due to coronavirus. No. It is because of the crisis, or owing to, if you prefer. Perhaps only annoying to me, but if you want to read tortured grammar the best place to find it is in automobile periodicals. One of the best writers in the late Eighties was a rather mannered character called LJK Setright who turned clunky car criticism into fine prose. Then again, he spotted a gap in the market and filled it easily. As for Honda and things for the driver to twiddle, the company thinks heater controls on a computer screen are counter-intuitive, and take your eye off the road, which is true in both cases. Bravo.

MOT Delayed Six Months

Anticipating lock-down for at least three months, and outbreaks here and there for months afterwards, the DVLA has delayed  MOT’s. From the 1st of April – no joke! – drivers who have an MOT due will be granted a six-month extension because of the coronavirus pandemic. An MOT is a test of a vehicle’s safety and road worthiness. You must have if you don’t want your insurance cancelled, or get a police fine. We are given a six-month extension – so, for example, if your vehicle’s MOT was due to expire on Friday 3 April, it will now run out on 3 October 2020. When you do renew it, it will run a full year from that date. However, keep your car in a roadworthy condition. Garages will remain open for those needing repairs.

Personal Bubble

Media pundits are forever telling us we indulge our prejudices communicating in ‘social bubbles’ (their bubble is never a negative space), but, as I said last week in Car Culture, a car is a safe social bubble. My wee Smart car is the safest of all, safe from the Grim Reaper’s scout. The only journeys that encounter others at close quarter is the one trip a week to the supermarket, every two weeks to the nearest petrol station. After using the petrol pump and hitting the bank card keys to pay, I wash my hands King Herod-like in antiseptic gel which I carry in a small squishy bottle on the dash. There is talk of  some petrol stations closing down since so few cars are using them. I hope not. That will cause a run on the pumps still in use, and queues to fill up with the liquid gold.

Happy motoring – if you can get it!

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