What you need to know about car insurance, tax and MOT

27th April 2018

Car insurance law

If you are caught driving a vehicle without insurance on a road or in a public area, the police can issue you with a fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points on your driving licence. However, if they decide to take you to court, the consequences could be considerably more severe; for example, you could be disqualified from driving and fined up to £5,000. Depending on the circumstances, you could even have your vehicle seized and crushed.

It isn’t enough to just insure the vehicle – the driver must also be insured. This means that you cannot let anyone else drive your car unless they are insured to drive it. If the car is registered in your name, you could be on the receiving end of the penalty charge.

It isn’t enough to just insure the vehicle – the driver must also be insured.

In addition, unless you have officially declared that the car is off the road, you can be charged for having an uninsured car even if you aren’t driving it anywhere. This can result in a fixed penalty of £100, or if you are taken to court, a fine of £1,000.

Types of car insurance

Third party car insurance is the bare minimum required by law. This kind of insurance will cover you if an accident on the road which was deemed to be your fault causes injury to others or damage to their property. However, this type of insurance will not cover the cost of any damage to your vehicle.

More comprehensive insurance can offer you far more cover, such as protection against theft, fire, and any damage done to your car. This cover is more expensive, but it could save you money in the long run if your car needs extensive repairs following an accident.

Car sharing

Many insurance policies do not cover you for journeys that could be construed as commercial. In order to protect car sharers the law provides certain provisions that stops insurers from regarding such a journey as commercial and ensures that you are covered. These provisions are:

  • The vehicle does not carry 8 or more passengers.
  • The fare paid by the passenger, or the aggregate fares paid by passengers, does not exceed the running cost of the journey. An allowance for depreciation and wear is applicable.
  • The fares, if different for different passengers, were agreed before the journey was undertaken.
Driving abroad

All UK insurance policies cover at least the minimum requirements for driving in an EU country. It is recommended that you check your individual insurance policy before you drive abroad in order to see what cover it gives you, as it may only be the minimum and for a set period of time.

If you are hit by an uninsured driver

After an accident, you would usually share your insurance details with the other driver(s) involved. However, if one of the drivers involved in the accident is uninsured, you should report them to the police. You can find out whether or not another car is insured by using the askMID service. You may also be able to claim compensation from the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.

Vehicle excise duty (car tax)

It is a widely held misconception that the tax paid on your vehicle is known as ‘Road Tax’, and is paid towards the upkeep of the roads. In actuality, Vehicle Excise Duty (also known as vehicle or car tax) has nothing to do with fixing roads, and is charged based on the CO2 emissions that the vehicle produces (or, if the vehicle was registered before March 2001, the size of its engine).

Vehicle tax is required for most mechanically propelled vehicles – this includes motorbikes and motor tricycles. Certain vehicles, such as electric cars, mobility scooters and vehicles made before 1974 are exempt from paying vehicle tax. If your vehicle is exempt, you may still need to register.

If a vehicle is used by someone who is disabled, they may qualify for a disability exemption from vehicle tax. A vehicle used by an organisation to provide transport for disabled people would also be exempt, unless it is an ambulance.

Failing to pay vehicle tax can result in a fine of up to £1,000, as well as being ordered to back-pay all of the tax that you missed.

Registering a new vehicle for tax

To ascertain how much tax you will need to pay on a vehicle, you can use the government’s vehicle tax rate calculator. You will need to know the make and model of the vehicle, as well as when it was registered.

You will also need to complete and send a V55/4 form to the DVLA to register a new vehicle, or a V55/5 form if you are registering a used car that has not been registered in the UK before. These can be obtained from the government’s website.

When registering a new vehicle you will need to include documents to prove your name, such as a passport, birth certificate or current paper passport, and your address, such as a council tax bill for the current year or a utility bill from the last three months.

You will also need to send the cost of the vehicle tax and the new registration fee, which is £55. If the vehicle is new, you will need to include a certificate of newness, or declaration of newness if it has been imported. If it is over three years old, you will need to provide an up-to-date MOT certificate.

Depending on the vehicle, you may need to include other documents. Contact the DVLA for more information.

Renewing your vehicle tax

You are expected to keep your tax up-to-date at all times, so you should not wait until your tax expires before renewing it. As with insurance, you cannot leave your vehicle untaxed unless you have declared it off the road with a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN), even if you do not drive it and have no plans to do so in the near future.

If your car is not exempt from vehicle tax, an exception may be made if you are caught driving without tax on the way to a pre-booked MOT. This is not guaranteed however, and will depend on the situation – if you are driving to an MOT test centre which is particularly far away, the police are unlikely to be sympathetic.

Exceptions to car or vehicle tax

You will not need to pay vehicle tax if your vehicle falls into one of the following categories:

  • Vehicles made before 1973 ("historic vehicles");
  • Vehicles powered by electricity or steam;
  • Mowing vehicles or machines;
  • Agricultural, horticultural or forestry vehicles;
  • Mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs.

You are also exempt from paying vehicle tax if you are disabled, or if the vehicle in question is used by an organisation to carry disabled passengers.

Note that there are certain exceptions to these rules – for example, a mobility scooter is only exempt if it cannot exceed 8mph on the road.

Tax discs

Tax discs were abolished in October 2014, meaning that you no longer need to display a disc. However, you will still need to tax your vehicle if it is on the road.

How to apply for a refund of your vehicle tax

You no longer need to apply to the DVLA if you are due a refund on your Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax). If you are due a refund, the DVLA will notify you automatically when you notify them.

The DVLA will give you a refund if you notify them of any of the following:

  • The vehicle has been sold or otherwise transferred to another owner;
  • The vehicle has been scrapped or exported;
  • Someone has stolen the vehicle;
  • You are now exempt from paying vehicle tax;
  • You have taken the vehicle off the road, as demonstrated by your acquisition of a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).
Taxing a car from abroad

You can bring a car from abroad to drive on the road in the UK, provided that:

  • It is registered in your home country;
  • You do not use it in the UK for more than six months within a 12-month period;
  • You do not move to the UK.

If you move to the UK or you use it here more frequently than is allowed, it will need to be registered and taxed here.

Statutory off road notification (SORN)

If a vehicle is off the road and not in use, you do not have to keep it taxed and insured – however, you must make a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), or the vehicle will still be considered to be on the road. You can do this using form V890, or by using GOV.UK’s online application tool.

You will need your V5C document reference number, as well as your V11 reminder reference number. If you do not have the latter, you can use the vehicle’s registration number and log book instead.

A SORN lasts until the vehicle is scrapped, taxed or sold – you no longer need to renew it every year.

You cannot use the car while the SORN is valid, unless you are driving on private land. If you wish to use the car again, you can tax it, at which point the SORN will expire. Bear in mind that the vehicle will also need to be insured and MOT’d again.

A SORN will not remain valid if the vehicle transfers to someone else – this means that if you purchase a car with a SORN, you will need to make another SORN if you wish to keep it off the road.


An MOT is a regular check that must be carried out on a vehicle to ensure that it is in a roadworthy condition. Generally, a vehicle must first be tested once it is three years old, and must subsequently be tested every year. Certain passenger-carrying vehicles, such as taxis and private passenger vehicles with nine or more seats, must be tested once they are a year old.

Driving without an MOT is a criminal offence, unless you are driving to a pre-booked MOT test at an approved centre, or you are driving to an appointment at a garage to have any necessary work carried out after the vehicle has failed an MOT test. Failing to have a valid MOT certificate can result in a fine of up to £1,000.

The MOT test

Only an approved MOT test centre can give you a valid MOT. Make sure that the centre you use is displaying the official MOT logo, a blue sign with three connecting white triangles in the centre.

If your vehicle passes its MOT, you will receive an MOT certificate. Your vehicle will also be recorded on the central MOT database as having passed. If the vehicle fails, this will also be recorded, and you will need to have repairs made to the vehicle to bring it up to MOT standards.

If the test was carried out before the previous MOT expired, a failure would not invalidate the previous MOT, and the vehicle could still be driven on the road. However, bear in mind that driving an unroadworthy car is a criminal offence, regardless of whether there is a valid MOT. It would therefore be wise to have any necessary repairs made.

Dealing with an MOT failure

If you have the vehicle repaired and retested, you should be able to get a partial retest if you have it retested less than ten working days after the initial test. This will be cheaper than the full test – in fact, if the vehicle is left at the centre for repairs and then retested, the retest should cost you nothing.

If you do decide to take the car away for repairs, you should return it to the same centre for the retest.

If you disagree with the test result

If you are unhappy with the result of the test, you can file an appeal by filling in form VT17. You can obtain this from the test centre or download it from GOV.UK. You can also call the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on 0300 123 9000 to request a form.

Your appeal must be received within 14 days of the test. The DVSA will then offer you an appointment to have the car retested. You will have to pay the test fee again, but this will be refunded in part or in full if the appeal is successful.

You can also contact the DVSA over the test result if you believe that the vehicle was passed incorrectly. If the DVSA accepts your complaint, they will retest your vehicle for free if no more than 28 days have elapsed since the test (or three months if there is a corrosion-related issue with the vehicle, such as rust).

Replacing an MOT certificate

If your MOT certificate has been lost or damaged, you can get it replaced at an MOT testing centre. This does not have to be at the centre that carried out the most recent MOT; it can be done at any centre.

You will need to pay £10 for the replacement certificate or half the price of the MOT test fee for the vehicle, if this is lower. You will need the vehicle registration number, as well as the original MOT test number or the V5C document reference number.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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