The car is one of the most useful and freedom rewarding mechanical advancements that has ever been invented.
London though is one of the most difficult cities to drive around, even for seasoned drivers.
Having spent a number of hours driving around London, caught in traffic, heading into wrong lanes and pedestrians running out in front of you – it does make you wonder whether it is all worthwhile.
So, do you need a car in London?
A car isn’t needed if residing in Central London. Owning a car in London is expensive and driving anywhere around London is slow. It can be helpful and practical to own a car if residing in the Outer Boroughs of London, but if living in Inner London, the benefits do not usually outweigh the cost.
How to decide whether you need a car in London
Deciding whether you need a car in London is really going to be based on what you are likely to need a car for.
If it is to have a car because, perhaps, you’re new to London and you’re always used to having a car or maybe you have friends and relatives outside of London you plan to visit regularly or every so often.
It’s important to put together a cost comparison.
What would be the cost of owning a car versus the cost, and inconvenience, of travelling either within or outside of London when you need to.
As well as the cost of the car itself, there will be many additional costs such as MOT, servicing, insurance, parking charges and permits, congestion charges and from October 2021 the ULEZ charge as well.
According to Nimble Fins, the average monthly cost of a car in the UK is now £254 per month.
If we take our (from October 2021) annual running cost of £6,000 and divide it in to monthly fees, it means an additional £500 per month.
This means the total costs of owning a car in London would work out at £754 a month!
Let’s break this number down.
Costs of owning a car in London
It will cost an average of £1,748 a year to own a car in London but by Autumn 2021 this is expected to rise to nearly £6,000 a year! This excludes the purchase or ongoing loan repayments of the car itself.
Year after year the Mayor of London, and the UK Government, has attempted to reduce the number of cars and other vehicles from London roads. This has been through taxation, such as the congestion charge and the relatively new ULEZ charge.
Although London residents enjoy a 90% discount from the London Congestion Charge, reducing daily fees from £15.00 per day to £1.50 per day, residents are not getting off so lightly in ULEZ charge zones.
According to the Transport for London Car ULEZ page, London residents are exempt from the ULEZ charge until 24th October 2021, after which time the full £12.50 per day charge will apply to both residents and non-residents if your car does not comply.
If a car was driven by a London resident every day in London from 24th October 2021, the annual fee would work out at a staggering £5,110 per year!
You may have a residents parking bay, but if you plan to own a car to commute into London for shopping or visiting attractions then you will expect to pay an average of £40 per day to park.
At £9,048 a year, or £754 a month, the cost of owning a car in London can be far more expensive than public transport costs and monthly train journeys to see friends and family.
What is the ULEZ Charge for Car Drivers in London?
ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone. It is a designated area in London where your car needs to emit below a minimum C02 emission, which is 75kg/km and have a minimum 20 mile zero emission capability.
If your car is electric or below these thresholds then the ULEZ charge will not apply, if though your car is petrol or diesel and outputs more than 75kg/km of CO2 (in which the majority of cars on the road do) you will be liable to pay the £12.50 daily ULEZ charge.
The current ULEZ zone covers a small area of central London but will be extending in October 2021 to cover anything within the north or south circulars.
This is not only bad news for motorists who drive into London, but also for London residents who could see annual car costs increase by up to 300% a year!
The ULEZ zone was introduced by the UK Government in partnership with Transport for London in a bid to reach the ever increasing CO2 emissions in the capital. Something many major cities in the world are doing in a bid to reduce overall emissions and damage to the environment.
The reason is of course justified, but it will hit car owners and drivers in London particularly hard, and one major reason why the benefits of having a car in London are diminished.
Public Transport vs Owning a Car in London
London may have its faults, but the public transport isn’t one of them.
London buses carry passengers across London 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The London underground system works tirelessly helping commuters reach either just one stop or one side of London to another. Recently the London Underground moved to 24 hours across the weekend, and it runs from 5am up until 1am every other night of the week.
If you travel around London daily an annual travelcard may be much more cost efficient than a car.
A combined Zone 1 and Zone 2 Annual London Travelcard costs £1,480 (as at time of writing in 2021).
Compare this to the £9,000 average expected costs of owning a car in London and you can see why public transport is a much more cost efficient option.
Ubers are also available in London for those times public transport is more difficult or the weather extreme.
Uber prices although fluctuate depending on demand, are a relatively cheap way to take ad-hoc trips when needed.
What type of car should you own in London?
If you really must own a car in London, the best type are electric cars or small cars that fall under the ULEZ emission limit of 75kg/km of CO2.
The ULEZ charge will be a considerable cost for London car owners from October 2021, and a large proportion of the £9,000 annual cost we’ve already seen.
Electric cars produce no emissions of cars, so all electric cars are exempt from the charge.
Also, if your car was manufactured over 40 years ago, you would be exempt from the ULEZ charge. Not that anyone would be advised to go out a buy a car manufactured in the 1970s!
In Conclusion – Do You Need a Car in London
Unless you feel it is absolutely critical and necessary you should seriously consider all costs before deciding whether to buy a car if you live in London, or to keep a car if you have just moved to London.
If you plan to reside outside the north and south circulars and your commute around London will be outside both the ULEZ and Congestion Charge zones, then a car will probably add more benefits.
This far out public transport is limited compared to central London.
If you are going to be living inside the circulars, and plan to use your car daily, it could cost more than £6,500 more a year to own a car than to take public transport.