Owning a car in the UK

I wonder what the various hassles are of owning a car in different countries.

Here in the UK, you have to:

  • tax your car every year. Most cars’ tax is about £150 per year. Some can be as much as £400. Some can be free. It depends on their CO2 number (g/km). (Although cars born before … I don’t know, 1999 or so … don’t have a CO2 rating, and have a different tax structure. Typicall between £100 and £200 a year)
  • insure your car. Varies wildly. Mine is £277 this year. (It’s a 2004 1.4L Petrol Fiat Stilo, about the size of an Astra/Golf/Focus). Wife’s is about £400 this year (2002 1.9 Turbo Diesel Seat Alhambra 105bhp).
  • MOT your car. From a car’s fourth birthday, you have to get it tested every year.
  • Fix things that break. Nuff said.

You don’t have to carry identification when driving in the UK. (I’ve always considered this a fundamental human right, not having to carry ID. Indeed, not even having to have ID, but that’s another story.)

But you may be required to produce documentation at a police station of your choosing within seven days. I’ve never actually experienced this, only heard about it.

Your cost of insurance varies with: your age; your car’s “insurance group”, a rough proxy for its top speed, acceleration and desirability to thieves; and whether you’ve had an accident or made a claim in the past few years.

Typically, insurance in the UK insures you to drive a particular, named car. You’re usually insured to drive other cars that don’t belong to you, but only “third party”. (If you crash your friend’s car, you have to pay to fix the car, but your insurance company will pay for the wall you knocked down.)

My insurance cert lists me and my wife as named drivers for my car, for example. I’m insured to drive other folks’ cars, but not other cars that belong to me!

When you tax your car, you have to prove that it’s insured (produce a “certificate of insurance”, typically with the car’s reg number on it) and that it has a current, valid MOT cert.

I’ve heard that in some states in the US, when you buy a car, you have to pay sales tax – either to the vendor, or when you tell the car tax people that it’s yours, not his.  Sounds like a lot of friction on a private sale. There is no such equivalent here in the UK; there is not VAT on cars, and anyway, private sellers don’t have to charge VAT. There is enough friction on cars changing hands without something like that.

I think that as the “registered keeper” of a car, you have to know who is driving it, or who drove it at any point in the past. For when speeding/parking tickets arrive. Speeding tickets put “points” on your licence (and carry a fine). Typically four speeding tickets within two years mean you lose your licence for a year: a harsh penalty.

Oh, most insurance companies will be reluctant to insure you & your car if you don’t actually *own* the car, and/or if you aren’t the “registered keeper”.


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