Car insurance and road tax: what the rules are

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Why you need insurance
Temporary insurance and tax
How to tax your car
Checking your tax

You need to have insurance to tax your car. But you don't need to have your car insurance documents with you to sort out the tax. You can tax your car online, over the phone or at the post office.

The only time you don't have to tax your car is if you've declared it "off-road".

And, like most things in insurance (and tax), there's a bunch of tricky exceptions and complicated details to figure out.

Here's how it works.

You need insurance to tax your car

You can't tax your car without insurance. And that's because of a law called Continuous Insurance Enforcement, or CIE (one of the most exciting car insurance laws, if you ask us).

CIE means that your car has to be insured all the time (with at least third-party cover), even when you're not driving it. Even if it's just sitting on your drive collecting dust.

The only time you don't need to have your car insured is if you've "declared it SORN", which basically means telling the government you're not driving it. (But you can't drive your car until you un-SORN it.)

Declaring your car SORN also means you don't have to tax it, or get an MOT.

If your car's not SORN, it needs to be taxed and insured. And you need insurance to pay the tax.

(Remember that you don't necessarily need tax to get insurance. And not having tax doesn't (usually) make your insurance invalid.)

You don't need your insurance documents to hand to tax your car

Luckily, you don't need to unbox all those old insurance documents to get your car taxed. It'll be checked automatically when you pay your road tax.

(There's an exception to this, though. If you live in Northern Ireland and want to pay your road tax at the post office, you'll need to bring proof of insurance.)

The DVLA will use the Motor Insurance Database to check that your car's insured. You can check it too. It's all publicly available.

Temporary car insurance and road tax

You can use temporary car insurance to tax a car. (But bear in mind that it might not appear in the Motor Insurance Database straightaway.)

That's one of the reasons temporary car insurance is pretty handy for driving a new car home. You can't move the old owner's tax over to you, so you need:

It's quick and easy to tax your car
It's quick and easy to tax your car
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What you'll need to tax your car

You don't need your insurance documents to tax your car. But you do need a few other bits of paperwork.

As well as your MOT certificate, you'll need a reference number. There are a few places you can find the reference number:

  • Your reminder letter (that's your V11) or 'last chance' warning letter from the DVLA
  • Your vehicle log book (your V5C) - this must be in the name of the registered keeper
  • Or, if you've just bought the car, the 'new keeper' slip from a log book

If you're claiming disability exemption, you'll need an Exemption Certificate.

It can take up to 5 days for your road tax to show up on your car.

How much is road tax?

The amount of road tax you pay depends on:

  • The type of vehicle you're driving, and how much it cost. More expensive cars tend to come with higher road tax.
  • How much CO2 your car lets off. For most cars, there's a flat standard rate of £145. But if your car gives off zero CO2 emissions, the standard rate is a very affordable £0.
  • When your car was registered. Some older cars don't need to be taxed.
  • Any disabilities you might have. Sometimes, people with disabilities don't have to pay road tax.

GOV.UK has a handy calculator to help you figure out how much you'll need to pay.

You can pay road tax to the DVLA monthly, six-monthly or annually. Paying annually is always cheapest.

And even if your road tax is £0, you still need to redo it every year, or you can get a fine.

Don't forget to tax your car
Don't forget to tax your car

How do you tax your car?

You can pay or renew your road tax three ways:

  • Using the government's online form
  • Over the phone by calling the DVLA's 24-hour tax service on 0300 1234 321 (calls can cost 10p from landline or between 3-40p on mobile)
  • In person at the Post Office

You'll be asked if you want to set up payments via credit/debit card, and if you want the direct debit to be paid out every year.

Road tax refunds

If you're taking your vehicle off the road for a while, you need to register it as SORN with the DVLA either online or by post.

SORN cars don't need to be taxed or insured (although you will still need to cancel your insurance), so you should be able to get a refund for the remaining road tax left on the vehicle.

You then can't use the car on the road until you have insured and taxed it again.

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Checking your road tax status

Don't worry if you have no idea when your road tax expires. It's easy enough to find out.

You just need the car's number plate to check if your car is taxed.

The registered keeper will always get a reminder from the DVLA before the car's tax runs out, too. So, if you're the registered keeper, keep an eye out for that letter.

Car insurance, road tax and MOTs

As well as car insurance, you'll also need to have a valid MOT when you sort out your tax. (If your car needs an MOT, that is.)

And, unlike car insurance, you'll need to have your MOT documents ready when you sort out your tax.

You don't need a valid MOT to insure your car. But you do need insurance to get your MOT.

You can check if your car's got an MOT - and see when it's due - for free using our tool.

It'll also show you other details about a car including its:

So it's all very simple, and in no way confusing. Sort of.

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Updated on 30th March 2023