For a long time, it was expected that most people would own a car but with cities becoming less car-friendly do you really need a car in London? While some people may feel the need a car, London has great public transport so you can get around London easily without one. Lots of people have even turned in their keys for walking, cycling, train and buses.
Do you need a car in London? The answer is yes and no. This will be entirely dependent on your situation which may require a car to get far out of town. However, if you are staying within the central heart of London, you most likely will not need a car.
This guide will help you understand if you do or do not need a car in London. All of this advice will need to be filtered through to your personal circumstance or intention of using the car. Public transportation can be intimidating at first, but this guide will make you a suave pro in no time!
How to Determine Whether You Need A Car
The first steps will be understanding your commute, what areas you’ll be hanging around, or if you’re moving heavy things which would be miserable on the underground.
I moved over from Western Australia where are a car is necessary to get around and public transport only goes in four directions. I went from driving all the time to not owning a car for 6 years in London. I have always lived in zone 2 to 4 areas of London so that made things easier.
In order to determine whether you need a car in London you should consider a few things:
Your Job – Where you work is based and the type of job will play a big part in the decision of getting a car. Driving in central London (zone 1 -2) has a lot of additional charges, harder to park and many other challenges so the train can be an easier option. Alternatively cycling to work in a popular choice.
Of course, if your job requires you to drive then the company may offer you a car to drive. It’s important that you read about the tax you may be charged using a company car.
Where You Live in London – Generally, people that live on the outskirts of Greater London think it’s worth buying a car and will have cars. The distances can be far greater to the nearest station, shopping centre and general amenities.
As someone that has always lived in transport zones between 2 to 4 and I have never found it worthwhile. The more central you live, the more eye-watering the parking prices will be! Unless you earn enough money or have been lucky enough to have affordable parking nearby.
Personal Choice – If having a car is something truly what you want, then go for it! I have included all the important information below to factor in your decision.
Parking in London
Parking in central London is difficult to find and can be very expensive if you plan on staying there all day. Prices can vary significantly with street parking in London, in Westminster, the average price for parking is around £5.40 so quickly adds up to over £40 a day.
To add to the difficulty in parking in central London, many apartments and houses in central London do not include a parking space. Next, think you of how your parking costs quickly add up to leave your car somewhere.
It’s not all doom and gloom if you live less central, then parking does get easier, more house does come with parking spaces and the prices slowly go down.
The most popular questions asked on the subject, and all the answers you’ll need are:
- Is there free parking in London? Generally, in central London, you will not find free parking but outer London residential street can have no parking restrictions at all. To find free parking look at downloading the app AppyParking which will show you the regulations for every street in London. The app makes it a lot easier to find parking and the restrictions around those spaced.
- Can you park on single yellow lines in London? In London you can only park where there are single yellow lines. Any areas where there are double yellow lines are it’s prohibited to park.
- Where can I park in London Apps/Websites? There’s an app called Justpark that has completely changed my life! This will let you know if homeowners are advertising their spare parking space. This may sound crazy but in a busy city like London, we’ll take the spots we can get! This is also a perk to use the ‘Filters’ option and select ‘Driveways’ and ‘Garages’ near the area of town you plan to be in. Check it out here.
- Do you have to pay to drive in London? For the most part driving in London and the UK is free. As London is extremely congested certain parts of London will require you to pay an £11.50 daily charge for driving in the city. The UK also has 23 tolls roads in the UK which 18 are river crossings.
- Where is the congestion charge zone London? The congestion charge zone is around the city on and zone one areas of London so, for example, Clerkenwell, Marylebone, Westminster, Lambeth, Southwark, City of London, Covent Garden and Mayfair. You can find an interactive map on TfL’s website here.
- How do I pay congestion charge in London? The best way to set-up paying for congestion charge is AutoPay. There’s an annual registration charge of £10 for each car you register but it means you pay the charge in time. Late payments will end up with you being sent a fine for £130!
|Day||Time||Congestion Charge Fee|
|Monday – Friday||07.00 – 18.00||£11.50 – pay in advance or before midnight on the day of travel.|
|Monday – Friday||07.00 – 18.00||£14.00 – If you pay after midnight on the previous days travel.|
|Monday – Friday||0700 – 18.00||£10.50 – registered with AutoPay|
|Monday – Friday||After 18.00 and before 07.00||Free|
|Saturday – Sunday||All day||Free|
|Bank Holidays – including Christmas and New Years Day||All day||Free|
- What cars are congestion charge exempt? There are a few exceptions to paying congestion charges, in most cases disabled drivers, motorbikes, mopeds, and bicycles are exempt. For more information about exemptions read here.
- What are the ‘Ultra-Low Emission Zone Charges’ I’ve heard about in London? In April 2019 the Mayor of London introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which is an additional charge on the congestion fees. This is to help improve the air quality and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year within the same area of central London as the Congestion Charge. You will avoid this fee if you meet the ULEZ emissions standards. For most types of cars, this will cost £12.50 and for heavier cars, this will be £100.
- Are there too many cars in London already? Yes. It’s very busy and this is a top reason many don’t bring their car. There’s not enough room and it would be slower getting through traffic than to just hop on the subway or take an Uber. With big cities, there is always going to be traffic and no escaping this factor, but London has brought in some rules and regulations to help minimize the use of cars and improve air quality.
Contacts and numbers to keep saved on your phone list to make parking easier in London (and your life easier):
- Council-run car parks –The car parks owned and managed by the City of London Corporation are cheaper than private car parks. If you’re towed, start with the city then here.
- Private car parks – NCP, the UK’s biggest car park operator
- To find other private car parks in London, try JustPark. Park in someone’s drive The JustPark website lets homeowners advertise their spare parking spaces.
- Tube station car parks – see what parking spots are offered by your local tube/ underground subway network.
Costs of a Car in London
The cost of owning a car in London is up for debate and quite dependent on how often you use your car, how expensive the parking is where you go, and how far the travelling distance is you’re commuting daily.
The average would be around £1500-£2000 a year on your car (outside of the initial cost to purchase the car). This will include everything from MOT, tax, parking permit, insurance, petrol and consumables (types etc) over 5000-6000 miles, etc. This is just an estimation but if you’re living here, you know London isn’t cheap.
Keeping costs in mind early will prevent you from making an investment you regret. You’ll have many monthly fees and have difficulty parking outside of areas where you haven’t already purchased another permit. To some it can feel like one expense after the other.
This is why people are so keen on simply travelling by subway, bus, or bike. The public transportation in Europe is far more developed than in the US and is very easy to use. It’s cost-effective and saves you a handful of bills and responsibilities.
If you don’t absolutely need a car, you probably won’t need it. But if your job is an hour and a half outside of town and there’s no subway for miles or some situation as eccentric as that, a car may be your only option. In this case, buckle down on expenses by utilizing your public transport when convenient.
According to the RAC we spend on average about 10-27% of our disposable income to buy and maintain our car. It can be a huge saving to avoid this, especially when calculated over many years or a lifetime. This will also reduce fuel pollution and your carbon footprint.
Saving nature while saving your wallet? Sounds like a win-win to me!
What You’ll Need to Own a Car in London
The paperwork you’ll need will be just part of your responsibility in owning a car. This is the same for anywhere but in London specifically you will need:
- Passport and ID
- Documents for your car whether coming overseas with it (bring all of these documents as well if so) or if purchased in-country.
- Valid Drivers license for that country.
- Insurance as you must have motor insurance to drive on UK roads. Third-party insurance is the legal minimum. Bring your Certificate of International Travel Insurance.
If you haven’t swapped your licence over yet, make sure you read Exchanging a Foreign Licence for a UK Drivers Licence.
Alternatives to Owning a Car
The decision to own a car really comes down to your personal situation and how useful it would be for your lifestyle. You can find more details on London specifically through clicking this link – London Area Reports.
Some alternatives to owning a car in London are:
- Zipcar – Consider hiring Zipcar. Zipcar is an American car-sharing company and a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group. Zipcar provides automobile reservations to its members, billable by the minute, hour or day; members may have to pay a monthly or annual membership fee in addition to car reservations charges.
Joining this car club is perfect if you only need a car sometimes and don’t want all the responsibility and expenses attached to a full-time car. It is also ideal if you don’t have parking in your neighbourhood.
There are other car clubs in the area so google online for the right brand for your needs.
- Biking – London is made for bicyclists in a much bigger way than many large cities. The traffic is busy but if you’re a careful rider, you’ll zip right through all of it. Good for heart health and keeping the force off your joints as running would do.
Many Londoners use public transport and their bikes never even dreaming of getting a car. To the home-grown Londoner, the idea of a car can be downright silly. One Englishmen says, “I cycle way more than I ever drove and haven’t had a car in years. Completely agree that for most Londoners (sans family) not having the burden and hassle of car ownership is probably a plus.”
- Good ole’ Public Transportation: It’s everywhere, convenient, affordable, and fast. I personally love public transportation and wish I could use it more when living in the states. It’s not as developed there but in London (and most of Europe) it’s truly the easiest way to get around.
Now, you may simply enjoy the freedom of having a car and being able to get up and go whenever you please. In this case, you should hold onto your ride and keep the ease of control over your commute. Owning a car is just the right fit for some people. The same way not having a car is the right fit for others.
- Airbnb Experiences and Rentals: You can go search for your dates, budget and town to see experiences all over the world on Airbnb, not just homestays. There are guided walking tours for foodies, drink lovers, and adventure enthusiasts. As far as transportation, there are dozens of hosts that rent you their electric bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and segways as unique ways to get around London town. This is a fun experience for the whole group or just for yourself to see London in a new way. Treat yourself a little and enjoy where you’re at.
If You’re on the Fence
If you’re not certain whether you should make the jump for a car or live life without it, here are some tips:
- Try out both. Experiment with what works for you and challenge yourself to a month without a car. You may notice huge savings in your finances or losing 10 lbs from walking so much. See where you’re at then as you may want to keep the lifestyle change.
- Know that it is required for you to drive on the right side of the car in the UK. If you’re moving from the US, this can be very challenging to learn and may eliminate the entire debate about having a car. In this case, yay! Decision made easy for you!
- Read reviews and see what people say who are actually living it. This is the best way to hear from people who either think like you or the exact opposite of you. The answer will be clear.
A car can mean a great sense of freedom and not having to rely on anyone else for your commute. The need for a car is completely dependent on your situation but the general answer is – no, you don’t need a car in London.
The options are truly endless, between the underground tube, trains spreading to all cities you can imagine, Uber / taxis, buses and Zipcar, car clubs, rentals, Airbnb experiences for odd rides like electric skateboards, scooters and segways and more!
London has more versatile and flexible transport options than almost any city I can think of. If nothing else has convinced you in this article of selling your car and opting for the Bohemian lifestyle, I ask you this. Have you seen the traffic?