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Road tax exemption petition once again questions “classic car” age limit

by Antony Ingram
6 May 2021 2 min read
Road tax exemption petition once again questions “classic car” age limit
Photo: Antony Ingram

We’ve been here before: A new petition on the UK government website is calling for the rolling road tax exemption age for classic cars to be reduced from 40 years to 30 years.

The petition asks that the exemption be reconsidered in order to help younger drivers with an interest in classic cars more easily afford older vehicles. Shifting the exemption from 40 years to 30 years would, as it stands, reduce annual costs for the entire 1980s period of older vehicles, with popular models from the 90s becoming exempt in the coming years.

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With just shy of 700 signatures at the time of writing, the petition has a long way to go before reaching the 10,000 signatures required to attract a response from the government or the 100,000 it would need to be raised in parliament, and we’ve seen similar petitions come and go with no response in the past.

It does though once again raise the interesting question of what constitutes a classic or historic vehicle in legal terms, outside of the more subjective definitions used by everyone from the motoring press to classic club stands at car shows.

At 40 years for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) exemption, the UK government’s definition is consistent with its own MOT exemption age (itself unpopular in many quarters for putting the onus for vehicle safety squarely in the owner’s hands), but behind the curve in relation to many legal and subjective boundaries found elsewhere.

How old is a classic?

1991 Audi 80E 2.0
Cars from the 1980s and 1990s are not yet eligible for VED exemption. Photo: Matt Howell

The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, the group behind Drive It Day held each year, recognises a classic as any vehicle over 30 years old, as does its global counterpart FIVA, the Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens.

In the United States, that cutoff point is typically 25 years – vehicles over 25 years are eligible for import to the United States and no longer subject to Federal vehicle safety standards that apply to new vehicles. Individual states such as California also use 25 years as the age at which vehicles of “historic interest” are eligible for Historic Vehicle license plates.

Incidentally, Hagerty also uses 25 years as the cutoff for eligibility into the Concours de l’Ordinaire at the Festival of the Unexceptional, with cars up to 1996 taking pride of place on the lawn for this year’s show. If you’re questioning whether a car from the mid to late 90s can be considered a classic, then remember that in 1996, the Alfasud, Alpine A310 and Mazda RX-3 were all 25-year old cars, and all those were regulars in the pages of classic car magazines just as MGFs and Pumas are today.

Until 1997, the UK had a rolling VED exemption for vehicles over 25 years old. That was then frozen at January 1, 1973 until 2014, when the current 40-year rolling tax exemption was introduced. There’s precedent for a later date then, but even moving to 30 years rather than 25 would help make cars from an increasingly popular period in automotive history just that little more affordable to run.

What’s your view of when old cars should become exempt from VED? Share your opinion in the comments section, below.

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  • Anthony Saunders says:

    Classic status is not just age. It is how well the car was built, style, innovation in design and whether it stood out with contemporary vehicles. That is how the Veteran/vintage/PVT classes have been established. Modern cars last longer than pre war or 50/60s cars so whether an old car is a classic or just a banger takes longer to determine. So, for now, stick with 40 years.

  • Antony Price says:

    I strongly disagree with the comments made about how to determine between a classic vehicle or an old banger. I believe that the vast majority of older vehicles on the road are better maintained than their younger counterparts due to the fact that you can physically see the cause of any fault which might occur, rather than having to plug a more modern vehicle into a machine for a diagnosis! Owners of classic vehicles have more empathy,interest and consideration for their vehicles, which in my humble opinion makes for safer motoring!
    We must try to keep these classic vehicles on the road for the growing amount of younger people who have an interest in our motoring history,be it motor cars or motorcycles.

  • Norman Marrett says:

    The consequences of allowing safety to be the responsibility of the owner could be a big mistake. First the vehicles are more capable of higher speeds and secondly the owners are likely to be of a generation that has never maintained their cars. The result of accidents would reflect very badly on the present Veteran/vintage/PVT class.

  • Gary Doodney says:

    In my opinion 40 years is about right. Many cars of 25 to 30 years are often bought and driven by younger less experienced drivers. That in itself is not a problem but the 40+ cars are far more likely to be driven by true enthusiasts. I drive a Singer Gazelle from 1965 and it is wonderful to drive a car with no electronic gismos for a change. Don’t get me wrong as I would not swap my daily driver 2008 Ford Mondeo Titanium X Estate for anything.

  • John street says:

    When they are gone they gone. It will be shameful if we ignore this fact and let so many fantastic cars from the 80’s and 90’s just fade away. It is not the prestige models that are at threat; it is the everyday models that many of us grew up with. These cars are part of history and culture. Let’s not just sit back and regret…

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