Car tax – or Vehicle Excise Duty – has gone through several changes over the last few years.
The most significant of these came in 2017 when a flat rate charge for conventionally fuelled vehicles was introduced and the zero-rate was removed.
The change – which also included an emissions-related first year charge – means that all cars registered from April 1, 2017 incur VED and the only way to avoid paying car tax is to go for an electric car.
But the new rules only apply to cars registered after that date. Go for a car registered between March 2001 and March 31, 2017 and with CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km and you’ll pay nothing at all in tax.
And, thanks to the way manufacturers played the system, you’re not restricted to tiny city cars either, so here are some of the best tax-free used cars you can buy.
Just remember, a simple specification change such as bigger wheels can affect a car’s CO2 output so double check that any specific car you’re looking at still falls beneath that threshold.
A small city car from Korea. Once upon a time those words would strike dread into any driver but recent versions of the Picanto have put a stop to that. You can’t get the excellent current generation tax-free but its decent predecessor with either a 65bhp 1.0-litre or an 84bhp 1.25-litre petrol qualifies as long as you chose your trim level carefully.
VW Up/Skoda Citigo/Seat Mii
We’re cheating slightly here but behind the badges these three cars are essentially all the same. For urban dwellers and those who don’t spend much time on faster roads, these compact city cars are a great choice with neat styling and decent quality. The 59bhp version of the 1.0-litre petrol costs nothing to tax, as are certain versions of the 79bhp tune.
The UK’s perennial best-seller and with good reason. You’re looking at the previous generation here but despite a couple of shortcomings it’s still among the best used superminis out there and the 99bhp 1.0 Ecoboost petrol, 1.5 TDCi diesel and older 1.6 TDCi all fall beneath that magical 100g/km limit.
A stylish Spanish supermini that provided a worthy opponent to the Fiesta thanks to its looks, equipment levels and value for money. As a used buy it’s even more attractive and in 1.2 and 1.4 diesel forms as well as the 93bhp 1.0 EcoTSI petrol it falls into the sub-100g/km club.
A stalwart of Vauxhalls’s line-up for 40 years, the last generation of Astra was uninspiring to drive but well equipped and featured a choice of tax-free options. The 1.6-litre diesel falls under 100g/km in up to 136bhp power outputs and, in certain specifications, the three-cylinder 1.0-petrol was clean enough to qualify as well.
There’s a brand-new Golf coming early in 2020 but that’ll be liable for £145 a year in tax. Go for a pre-April 2017 version of the seventh-gen and that needn’t be an issue. The 1.6-litre diesel is tax-free in lower power outputs and offers a claimed 83mpg while for lower-mileage drivers, a 1.0-litre petrol also sneaks under the tax threshold. On top of that you get the good looks and high-quality associated with the Golf name.
BMW 3 Series
Unlikely as it may seem, before the tax changes it was possible to get a version of BMW’s compact saloon that qualified for the lowest tax rate. The 320d EfficientDynamics Plus model featured specific wheels, tyres and body trim to help the 160bhp 2.0-litre diesel somehow edge into the £0 per year bracket.
Another big car that somehow edges into the tax-free bracket thanks to a frugal but not particularly fun engine. The spacious, well-equipped Octavia has always been a great option for buyers looking for value and the Greenline with the same 100bhp-ish 1.6 diesel as the VW Golf helps out even more thanks to sub-100g emissions.
Toyota’s Prius helped kick-start the hybrid revolution. It’s a fairly large five-seat saloon but thanks to the electric motor supplementing the 1.8-litre engine, it’s able to emit less than 90g/km of CO2, making pre-April 2017 cars a tax-free haven.
Yep, believe it or not, even some SUVs managed to sneak into the sub-100g gang before the rules were changed, including Nissan’s best-selling Qashqai. Using a 1.5-litre diesel borrowed from partner Renault, the popular family crossover made itself even more appeal with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Outlander launched with all sorts of outlandish claims about its 100mpg+ economy thanks to its smart hybrid setup. Those economy figures were the product of the old, notoriously inaccurate NEDC testing, but the Outlander PHEV still offers some genuinely impressive results if it’s used properly and thanks to that hybrid arrangement, this full-size SUV can offer £0 per year tax.
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso
Citroen has a reputation for developing very smart engines and the one in the C4 Grand Picasso is particularly impressive. Despite this being a large, seven-seat people carrier, up until April 2017, the 1.6-litre diesel version qualified for the zero-rate tax bracket. With less than 100bhp it wasn’t quick but if you want quick, you don’t buy an MPV in the first place.