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Classic road tax explained: Tax bands, 40 year exemption, SORN rules

Published 09 August 2017

Despite the fact that the humble tax disc was abolished – amid much controversy – in October 2014, Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is here to stay. You no longer need a circular piece of paper in the corner of your windscreen, but taxing your classic car is still a reality… and an expensive one for some modern-classic owners.

Most of us already know this. But are we all aware of the latest regulations regarding Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), the Historic Vehicle taxation class and other crucial areas of VED?

VED: It’s compulsory

If you’re using your vehicle on the road, there’s no getting away from taxing it. Even if your vehicle falls into a taxation class that involves no expenditure (such as the Historic Vehicle class), you still need to tax it. Despite the fact that no money is changing hands, you must still go through the VED process.

Taxation classes and costs

If your vehicle was first registered before 1 March, 2001, its VED rating is determined by its engine size. At the current rates, if your car has an engine of 1549cc or below, you’ll pay £145 per year (or £79.75 every six months); if your engine is larger than 1549cc, you’ll pay £230 per year (or £126.50 every six months).

If your car was first registered on or after 1 March, 2001, its tax rate depends on its CO2 emissions. These range from Band A (up to 100g/km of CO2) to Band M (over 255g/km), attracting costs ranging from zero to £505 per year. However, if your car was first registered before 23 March, 2006, twelve months’ VED will cost you no more than £290 even for the highest-polluting cars. If you’re thinking of buying a big-engined modern classic, it’s essential that you check its date of first registration as this can drastically affect the cost of VED.

Applying to tax your car can be done online, by phone, or at a VED-issuing Post Office. If you are renewing the tax for a car you already own, you also now have the option to pay monthly by direct debit (rather than ‘up front’ for six or twelve months’ tax); this helps to spread the cost but you’ll incur a 5% extra charge. 

You can find out more about the cost of VED for any vehicle via this link: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-vehicle-tax-rates

Buying or selling your car

Car tax is no longer transferrable when you buy or sell a vehicle. There are no exceptions to this, which means that to legally drive home the car you’ve just bought, you need to tax it. You can do this by phone or online at the place of purchase; it’s a simple process, assuming that the V5C – or V5C/2 New Keeper section – is with the car. To tax online, go to: https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-tax

If you’re selling a car that still has at least one complete month of unexpired VED in place, sending off the filled-in V5C (to transfer ownership to your buyer) will trigger an automatic refund to you from the DVLA. This usually arrives (by cheque) within a few days of the DVLA being informed of the change of ownership.

Historic Vehicle taxation class

The Historic Vehicle taxation class is now a ‘rolling’ system once again, meaning that a vehicle that’s 40 or more years old can be reclassified as ‘historic’ and eligible for free car tax (VED). In this instance, it applies to the vehicle’s production date rather than the date of first registration – an important point to bear in mind if you can prove that your particular car sat unregistered for a year or two before hitting the road for the first time.

The rolling system updates occur each April. For example, April 2016 saw all vehicles built prior to 1 January, 1976, become eligible for Historic Vehicle car tax. This means all 1975-produced could be reclassified. April 2017 saw this change to all pre-1977 vehicles, April 2018 will see it update to pre-1978 vehicles and so on. 

If your classic is eligible to be reclassified as a Historic Vehicle, go to Section 7 of your V5C and complete the Tax Class section, altering it to ‘historic’. Then sign and date the bottom of that page and take your V5C along to a VED-issuing Post Office, complete with a completed V10 car tax application form and your MoT certificate. The Post Office will issue your car tax free of charge (as a Historic Vehicle) and will send your V5C to the DVLA. You’ll then receive a replacement V5C in the post, plus a cheque for any unexpired (previously paid for) VED. 

To SORN or not to SORN?

The introduction of Continuous Insurance Enforcement (CIE) regulations in 2011 had an important effect on Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN). The law now states it is illegal to keep a vehicle taxed if it has no insurance; if your insurance runs out, you cancel it or you switch it to another vehicle, you are now legally obliged to declare your car SORN’d. Just as importantly, even if your car is MoT’d and insured, once its VED expires you must declare it SORN’d if you don’t intend re-taxing it immediately.

To ignore this is to break the law. Fortunately though, arranging SORN for any vehicle is an easy task – and can even be done over the phone, simply by calling 0300 123 4321.

If you prefer to arrange your SORN declaration by post, you can do so by downloading form V890 via this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/v890-statutory-off-road-notification-sorn

If you want to arrange SORN online, you can fill in the relevant details here: https://www.gov.uk/make-a-sorn. You’ll need either the 16-digit reference number from your vehicle tax renewal letter (V11) or the 11-digit reference number from your V5C.

If you fail to declare SORN when necessary, you may be liable to an automatic £80 fine and have to pay any VED that would normally have been due. An important (and welcome) change was introduced in 2013, however, which now means that a SORN declaration lasts indefinitely, with no need for an annual renewal; once you’re ready to tax your vehicle again, you simply do so in the usual way.


k-b    on 7 May 2016

A useful summary.

I still think mileage should come into it. I do 2000 miles a year in a 2003 mx5 it costs £295 ro the road tax. My neighbour has a 2013 large mercedes and does 20000miles a year. His road tax is a 3rd of mine and i am sure his car pollution is more than created by my mx5.

Surley reducing mileage reduces pollution and therefore the tax should be on fuel . Having said that no doubt the government if it adopted this view would do both!

Colin Whitmore    on 11 January 2017

That's why it would the fairer all round to do away with road tax and put it on fuel. That way the more miles you do, the more polluting you do, the more you pay for it. Simples.
Colin, Suffolk

peter moss    on 13 January 2017

Wait untill you see the new 2017 tax rates its madness

anderw hill    on 7 April 2017

the new tax law is a joke i taxed a car for my daughter for when she passed her test car sat in my driveway not on the road i was told because it wasnt insured that the court fined me 150 pounds why was i allowed to tax it without insurance easy money hit the motorist not even a warning or recorded delivery letter rotten sods

Keith Moat    on 18 September 2017

I changed ownership from my wife to me on our old Moggy 1000, it wasn't sorned and didn't need to be due to it being off the road since 1995, I also changed the tax class to historic at the same time. Unbeknown to me the DVLA kindly taxed it at the same time without me asking them to and without it having either an MOT or insurance on it as it was still being restored. I received a letter a couple of months later saying the car was uninsured and either needed to be sorned or insured, rather than try to explain the rules about it not needing to be sorned or asking them how/why it got taxed with no mot (or insurance) I just sorned it. It's a bit poor when the DVLA don't even know their own rules.

   on 31 July 2017

Car tax is exactly that, TAX. Ain't no point trying to figure out why some cars are cheaper than others, or even free. The government will find some way of just bending you over and sticking it to you, to get from A-B. Deal with it, or get a bicycle...

   on 12 August 2017

Years ago, you had to take your old tax disk off your car and take it with you into the post office, to renew your road tax. The coppers use to wait outside the post office and 'nick' you for not displaying a current tax disk whilst you were in the post office. You were then fined by the court for not displaying a current dax disk. You learned to park streets away from the post office!

Keith Moat    on 18 September 2017

That must have been a lot of years ago, I can't recall having to do that in 44 years of driving.

Keith Moat    on 18 September 2017

I seem to remember reading somewhere that the rolling date is now based on when the vehicle was first used on the road (registered) rather than when it was built.

anglebox    on 19 September 2017

The date is (and always has been) based on the date the vehicle was built.

Landivelo    on 7 December 2017

Got a 1958 Landi - well - rust, but got its V5C then completed V890 and it got returned with a nice letter saying as it had not been taxed since 31st January 1998 I do not need a SORN. That was from Input Services Group, Longview Road in Swansea.
Today got a note from the Vehicle Services Manager with a form V212 to say had to have a SORN or it was a tow away and £1000 fine. Ever tried towing rust!!
What should I do - be fined for doing it or be fined for not doing it?

   on 2 January 2018

Be- aware if you live in a council property you cannot have a vehicle parked in your garden on a sorn as vehicle has to be on private property. found out to my cost when a dvla man clamped my car on my drive and a truck turned up to remove it 24 hours later. found out from my local council they have the power to remove any vehicle not taxed or insured on any of there property without giving me notice. live and learn as my solicitor told me.

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