Thinking about buying another car? Puzzling, and complicated. Some years ago, we were encouraged to buy (noisy and smelly) diesels. Now, we are encouraged not to, due to their life-threatening emissions. So, electric-powered vehicles are now the ‘new idea’.
But, there are consequences. Range and infrastructure, to name but two. How many Tesla drivers and those of other makes have been stranded on roads and motorways because they weren’t sufficiently charged? Not easy, that recharging thing, especially for those who live on urban terraces without drives or garages. A cable slung across a pavement is not a popular or safe option for very many in terraced houses. Sure, it’s possible in theory to recharge an electric car at a local supermarket or service station, provided that the charging points are actually working and that some selfish soul has not left a car parked on the space after a recharge. Even if recharging is available to shoppers, how many hours will need to be spent waiting for a full recharge?
Hybrids and electric vehicles were, until this year, excluded from paying road tax. That benefit has gone now, so the tax payable will be the same as for an ‘ordinary’ fossil-fuelled car. A premium is charged for a high-quality car according to the Road Fund Licence banding. Anything with a list price of more than £40,000 will attract the highest rate of duty in its first few years. It’s not hard to choose a vehicle with a high list price, even easier with well-specified electric cars. Even negotiating with a dealer won’t help; it’s the LIST PRICE that affects the duty, not the price actually paid. And, punitive duty rolls on to subsequent owners of second-hand cars.
The environmental impact of producing new vehicles, be they conventionally powered, hybrid or electric, is not diminished. They can still weigh anything between one and two tonnes. If anything, the impact is increased due to battery manufacture and the consequent greater vehicle weight. Steel, aluminium alloy, rubber, plastics and glass are all essential, whatever the vehicle. Not to mention the wilful destruction of rain forests in South America and elsewhere to create open-cast mines to extract lithium and other minerals for the manufacture of batteries. So, those who are smug about their ‘green vehicle’ choices have little to crow about, quite apart from the increased pressure on the fragile National Grid.
Charm and character
So, spare a thought for those who increasingly seek to look out for serviceable older vehicles. A quick scan of classic car auctions reveals a steady growth in value. Anything registered as ‘historic’ with DVLA before 1984 attracts no duty, nor the annual cost of the MOT. Many owners of older cars continue to submit to the rigours of an MOT even though they have an ‘exempt’ vehicle. It’s a useful health-check, and also, should they want to sell, it gives comfort to a prospective new owner to have a valid MOT Certificate. Environmentally, an older car may not be as efficient or clean as a new one, but the climatic impact of its construction is gone decades ago.
Properly serviced, a petrol-powered older car can be relatively clean. The benefits offered by sheer charm and character are hard to find in new vehicles. They’re not as safe, perhaps, lacking crumple zones, head restraints (sometimes), airbags and anti-lock brakes. But even 1960s Rover P6 2000s and their bigger-engine cousins had crumple zones, and Volvo was the first large manufacturer to fit seat belts in its new cars, decades ago. An owner could get more affordable ‘classic car’ insurance, albeit with varying annual mileage limits.
Reliability is another consideration; the choice of an older car is something to be carefully researched. What Car and other motoring publications have created lists of, for example, the top ten most unreliable classic cars. These are highly subjective, as there are so many variables, such as the quality of construction and maintenance. I can only speak to many years of having owned classic cars and having hardly ever suffered a breakdown (mechanical or emotional), even from some of the more exotic machines I’ve driven. No breakdown comparable with the modern experience of being stuck with a dead ‘green’ car because of a lack of battery charge ….
The Wrath of Khan
The cost of motoring, particularly in London but also elsewhere, such as Oxford, Bristol and Greater London, is set to spiral.
We face ‘The Wrath of Khan’ (the apt title of a Star Trek movie). The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is aggressively seeking to extend congestion, ULEZ and LEZ charges to outer London boroughs. This move by Transport for London is being judicially challenged by five regional authorities – Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hillingdon and Surrey – on the grounds of its negative impact on daily life, commuting and small, local businesses. Hearings are expected in the Summer. There have been reports of residents within the LEZ/ULEZ areas incurring a £12 charge for daring to move off their own drives.
BUT, there is a way around this. Any vehicle built and registered more than 40 years ago – a rolling exemption as each year passes (and there are loads of these on the road right now to choose from) – is exempt from TFL’s daily charges if it is registered with the Authority AND is listed as historic with the DVLA – an easy bit of form filling.
What do we really need a car for?
So, once we have worked out what we really need a car for – perhaps commuting, local errands, the school run or all the other things we do innocently with our cars – we can think about what is suitable in terms of size, age, condition, service history, provenance, ease of maintenance, cost of insurance, duty and MOTs. The choice is large, and the pleasure can be great (some with the benefit of very sociable owners’ clubs). Even the imposition of 20 mph speed limits in towns and villages would be easier to adhere to.
And, we can cruise gently and smugly past the extravagantly priced, dead electric cars stuck on the hard shoulder.
So, back to browsing classic car sales to think about exciting ‘deals on wheels’.
Editor’s note: This article omits the purpose of ULEZ, to improve air quality, which is measurably better where these restrictions have been applied. I used to live in WC1 and got around on a bicycle. Russell Square used to heave with traffic, and the streets between there and Euston Rd were congested. I used to come back to Kent for weekends of fresh air! Last week I walked that same neighbourhood. The small streets were almost traffic-free, and it was easy to cross over into the square.
No matter the convenience of their drivers, classic cars emit harmful fumes.