Best road-tax-free cars
Only new electric and hydrogen-powered cars are free from annual road tax today, but a range of used cars are also available without any road tax.
Car ownership isn’t cheap. Once you’ve paid for the car, you need to factor in insurance prices, VED (road tax), fuel bills and annual maintenance costs such as servicing and MoTs.
Thanks to cleaner engines and hybrid technology, motorists can get more miles for their money these days. Another area in which drivers can save money is by buying a new or used car that’s VED exempt.
Before April 2017, you could buy selected new petrol and diesel cars and not have to pay VED. Previously, the amount you paid was based on your car’s carbon dioxide emissions, so the cars producing the most CO2 incurred the highest tax bills for their owners.
Under the new road-tax system, only fully electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars, like the Volkswagen ID.3 and Toyota Mirai, are exempt from VED. For more information on those, check out our guides to the best electric cars and cheapest electric cars.
First-year rates vary for both petrol and diesel cars and are usually rolled into the on-the-road price of the car but, from the second year onwards, most cars are liable for a flat fee of £155.
Owners of hybrids (including plug-in hybrid and mild-hybrid cars) no longer escape paying road tax, instead paying a standard rate of £145 after the first year. If your car has a list price of over £40,000 (including any options and before any discounts), you’ll pay a £355 surcharge for the first five years for all petrol, diesel and hybrid models. Only zero-emission electric cars are exempt from this surcharge.
It’s important to remember that these figures only apply to cars registered in or after April 2017. If you buy a used car that was registered before then, the old VED rates will apply. On a positive note, however, that means there are still plenty of road-tax free options if you go for a used car registered before 1 April 2017. Indeed, choose a car registered between March 2001 and 31 March 2017, which has CO2 emissions of 100g/km or less, and you won't pay a penny in road tax. It’s also worth remembering that the MPG figures listed for these models were measured under the old NEDC cycle, so you might struggle to achieve such high fuel economy in real world driving.
There are plenty of examples out there but below we list the 10 best tax-free cars available on the used market.
When the authors of the old road tax system drew up the rules, they couldn't have predicted some SUVs would one day qualify for tax-exempt status. The Renault Kadjar’s 108bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine emits just 99g/km of CO2, making it tax-exempt if registered before April 2017. This is despite the Kadjar being a relatively high-riding SUV with decent passenger space and a large boot - not a car you would expect to be tax exempt.
Although it’s mechanically similar to the Nissan Qashqai, we rate the Kadjar slightly higher because it’s a bit more spacious and fractionally cheaper. A Kadjar with this engine won’t be the fastest SUV on the road, but it should prove impressively economical. Note also that a Kadjar in Dynamique Nav trim with a manual gearbox emits slightly more CO2 thanks to its bigger alloy wheels and so doesn’t escape road tax.
See the latest prices for used Renault Kadjar models on our sister site Buyacar.
If an SUV or estate isn’t for you, then the Vauxhall Astra is one of the family hatchbacks worth considering. Vauxhall pulled out all the stops for the latest model, making it better to drive and more interesting to look at than ever. An impressive 200kg weight reduction meant high economy and low CO2 emissions were significantly easier to achieve. Unlike some of the cars on this list, you can even have a road-tax-exempt pre-April 2017 petrol Astra, thanks to Vauxhall’s peppy turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine. This emits just 99g/km of CO2, returns a claimed 65.7mpg and gets the Astra from 0-62mph in a reasonable 10.5 seconds.
If you regularly embark upon long commutes and you’re after diesel power, the Astra’s 1.6-litre 108bhp engine should fit the bill: this emits less than 100g/km of CO2, regardless of trim. Choose the ecoFLEX model and CO2 emissions are just 88g/km. If you want a touch more power, the 134bhp 1.6-litre diesel is also available as a sub-100g/km model, although note that (as with the 1.0-litre petrol engine) you have to be careful which trim you choose, as some come with larger, emission-increasing alloy wheels.
See the latest prices for used Vauxhall Astra models on our sister site Buyacar.
The Skoda Octavia Estate and its hatchback sibling frequently feature in our top 10 lists because they’re such competent, good-value cars. The Octavia Estate gets the nod here, partly thanks to the fact that its vast 610-litre boot doesn’t affect emissions or economy at all compared to the hatchback. The Octavia Estate also has an incredibly spacious interior and isn’t half bad to drive, either.
Those seeking to escape road tax should look at either the 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine or the 108bhp GreenLine model – also a diesel, as these emit 99 and 90g/km of CO2 respectively, making them tax-free if registered by the end of March 2017. The GreenLine is more expensive than the basic S model with a 1.6-litre diesel engine; but Skoda throws in an infotainment touchscreen, a rear spoiler, larger alloy wheels and an extra 4bhp compared to the Octavia S. Economy also improves by about 6mpg on paper if you choose the GreenLine, up to a claimed 80.7mpg.
See the latest prices for used Skoda Octavia models on our sister site Buyacar.
The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso (now known as the Grand C4 SpaceTourer) has redefined expectations of how big and capable a sub-100g/km car can be. With seven seats as standard, a pleasingly futuristic-looking interior (although the touchscreen-based heating controls are a pain) and decent standard equipment, families in need of a spacious, light and stylish MPV are well served by the Grand C4 Picasso.
The only pre-April 2017 tax-free engine is the 99bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi 100 diesel and, while this feels a little sluggish, the Grand C4 Picasso’s soft suspension and family-friendly nature hardly encourage spirited driving anyway. This engine is only available with the entry-level Touch Edition trim, but Citroen throws in alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio with this, so it’s hardly spartan.
Although the Prius is still top dog amongst hybrids, the Hyundai Ioniq ran it very close on the first attempt. Almost matching the Toyota Prius for efficiency and range, the Ioniq has been popular because it undercuts the price of the Prius. Despite the Prius being sold in larger numbers, the Ioniq is still cheaper on the used market.
If you like its styling but want an even more efficient model, ithe Ioniq is also available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, or as a pure-electric model, which is capable of around 170 miles of range.
See the latest prices for used Hyundai Ioniq models on our sister site Buyacar.
If it’s luxury you’re after, then look no further than the new Mercedes E-Class, which has it in spades. In order to side-step road tax, you’ll need to go for a hybrid model registered before April 2017, though: while the least-polluting E-Class diesel engines are impressively economical, they didn’t qualify for free road tax under the old rules. With CO2 emissions of just 49g/km (or 57g/km if you choose AMG Line trim), the petrol-electric E350e hybrid easily qualifies and also avoids the London Congestion Charge.
The 350e is far from the cheapest E-Class on the used market, but the running-costs savings it offers more than makes up for this. Performance is impressive on paper, with 0-62mph taking just 6.2 seconds – although trying to achieve this will make the E350e’s claimed 134.5mpg fuel economy a distant dream, and the 2.0-litre petrol engine sounds strained when you’re pushing on. Still, for wafting about in executive-style (tax-free) comfort and luxury, few cars match the E-Class’ sense of occasion; you can even charge it up at home and cover up to 20 miles on battery power alone.
The BMW 3 Series has a touch more driver involvement and a little less luxury than the Mercedes E-Class, but costs less to buy. The petrol-electric BMW 330e is also fractionally faster than the hybrid Mercedes above (0-62mph takes just 6.1 seconds with the BMW) while its claimed 148.7mpg is similarly impressive. Again, there’s no road tax for cars registered on or before 31 March 2017 and no London Congestion Charge, making a used 330e a sound financial proposition.
Despite its petrol-electric hybrid setup and impressive claimed economy, the 330e remains every inch a BMW 3 Series, so is a hoot to drive. Note the addition of a hybrid battery pack means the 330e’s boot is about 20% smaller than the standard saloon.
See the latest prices for used BMW 3 Series models on our sister site Buyacar.
The petrol Skoda Citigo is – like the mechanically identical SEAT Mii and Volkswagen up! – an inexpensive, small city car that feels more grown-up and spacious than its size (and price) would suggest. Keep an eye out for models with the GreenTech package, as this enables the Citigo to escape road tax whether you choose the 59 or 74bhp version of the 1.0-litre petrol engine, as long as they were first registered under the old system.
The more powerful engine is a wise choice if you plan on venturing out of town with reasonable regularity but these models are a little more expensive to buy. The five-door model also commands premium, but is worth it if you're regularly carrying more than one passenger.
Avoid the sparsely equipped S model and spend the extra on an SE, as this comes with air-conditioning, electric front windows and remote central locking – small extras, but ones you’re likely to appreciate. The Skoda Citigo is now electric-only, with a range of over 160 miles, a £3,000 grant to knock the price down and all the Citigo’s other plus points. As a result, it’s gone full circle; Skoda’s smallest car is once again free to tax when you buy one brand new.
See the latest prices for used Skoda Citigo models on our sister site Buyacar.
To find a Fiesta that’s exempt from road tax, you’ll have to choose the previous generation model as our Car of the Year 2019 came into dealerships after the VED rates changed. However, you’ll still be getting a brilliant car - they’re great to drive, most versions are well-equipped and it’s backed up by Ford’s vast servicing network and affordable parts. Choose the 1.5 TDCi diesel engine (which is still used in the new Fiesta) and you’ll scrape under the 100g/km threshold.
See the latest prices for used Ford Fiesta models on our sister site Buyacar.
The Peugeot 308 range was launched with a 1.6-litre BlueHDi engine that ducked under the tax threshold by emitting 98g/km of CO2. This model remains free to tax if it was registered before April 2017 and makes the 308 a shrewd choice as an ownership proposition; not only is it tax-exempt, but it’s also capable of around 83mpg, according to Peuegot, meaning you’ll spend relatively little on fuel.
Almost all 308s were fitted with plenty of standard equipment, so it’s very likely that if you’re looking at a nearly new or used version of the current generation, it’ll feature the essentials.
See the latest prices for used Peugeot 308 models on our sister site Buyacar.
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