The cost of running a car

Before you buy a car it's wise to get an idea of what it'll cost to keep on the road. Running costs are not cheap so you don't want to find out after you've bought a car that you can't afford to run it.


An MOT helps to ensure your car is roadworthy and isn't pumping out harmful levels of pollution. Cars over 3 years old1 need to pass an MOT each year at an authorised test centre. The cost of the test varies depending on the test centre and the type of car. The maximum cost is £54.852 but you can often get it cheaper with a free or half price retest included.

Car tax

Most UK drivers need to pay car tax. The rate you pay depends on the car you own. Some newer cars are exempt due to their fuel efficiency and low carbon dioxide (C02) emissions. If you're a disabled driver you may also be exempt.

You can find out how much it'll cost you and about exemptions on the website.

Car insurance

Car insurance can be expensive so it's best to shop around to see where you can get the best deal. The amount you pay depends on the type of cover you want, the excess you pay when you make a claim, the insurer you choose and whether the insurer thinks you're high risk.

The types of cover available are:

  • third party - cover for damage and injury to others and their property but not yourself, your passengers and your car
  • third party, fire and theft - third party cover along with cover for fire and theft of your car
  • fully comprehensive - third party cover along with cover for yourself, your passengers and your car

Your policy will also include voluntary and compulsory excess. This is the amount you agree to pay upfront if you make a claim. So if you make a claim for £600 and your excess is £100 voluntary and £250 compulsory, you would pay £350 towards the claim and your insurer would pay £250. One way you could cut the cost of your insurance would be to opt to pay more voluntary excess but the downside to this is you pay more if you make a claim.

Breakdown cover

Breakdown cover ensures that you won't be left stranded if you car breaks down. You may already have cover with your car insurance or packaged bank account and don't realise it so it's best to check. You can either get:

  • standard cover where you're allowed a number of call-outs per year; or
  • pay and claim cover where the insurer sends a local recovery service you pay upfront, then claim back the cost from the local insurer

Annual membership for pay and claim cover tends to be cheaper.

Roadside assistance comes as standard with breakdown cover but you can also add:

  • home assistance cover for breakdown at home or near your home
  • vehicle recovery cover for recovery of your car and passengers to your home or a garage
  • onward travel cover for help getting to your destination, e.g. car hire, alternative transport or accommodation while your car is fixed
  • European cover for breakdown cover on the continent

Fuel is not cheap so it's worth considering buying a car with low fuel consumption. Generally, the larger the engine the more fuel a car will use. Ways to help reduce your fuel consumption include driving slower, taking any unnecessary items out of your boot to reduce weight, driving smoothly and getting your car serviced regularly.

Servicing & repairs

Getting your car serviced regularly can save you money in the long run. It helps to ensure your car operates efficiently and increases its lifespan. A service can identify problems before they become serious and require a costly repair. The level of service your car needs, e.g. interim, full or major, will depend on your car's mileage, age, condition and history. Your car's service manual will give you advice on how often you should service your car and which level of service you should get.

If you need to get your car repaired it's best to get quotes from several garages to ensure the price is competitive. Ask friends or family to give your recommendations and look for garages who are members of a trade association. You can also approach dealerships for servicing and repairs. They tend to be more expensive than independent garages, but are likely to be more aware of common faults with your car.

  1. Cars over 4 years old in Northern Ireland need to pass an MOT test

  2. Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) as of 30/05/2018

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