Street savvy: Do you need a car in London? Things you need to consider

“To drive or not to drive, that is the question.” 

Okay, maybe Shakespeare didn’t face the London commute, but this query is arguably among the most important we face today, play or no play. Specifically, do you need a car in London?

Let’s dive into the details so you can better decide for yourself if you need a car or not in this city.


Media credit to drldiamandis

Think of your job first. If it demands travel beyond the reach of the Tube or bus routes, especially with heavy gear in tow, a car transforms from a luxury into a lifeline.  

Location is just as important. Living in the city centre often means walking distance to most necessities, leaving a car feeling more like a hassle than a help (parking, anyone?). 

But in the suburbs, where bus routes are scarce, a car might be the key to everyday errands and activities. 

Depreciation costs

Media credit to etypeexperience

Depreciation is the real budget-buster when it comes to owning a car in London. Auto Express states that the average UK car sheds a whopping 15% of its value each year.

Add that to the £319 monthly cost of ownership (according to Nimble Fins), and suddenly that car starts feeling more like a luxury yacht than a sensible purchase. 

The solution? Make sure to factor in depreciation from the get-go. Can your finances tolerate it? Then you’re probably in a better position for buying a car than most. 

You can also check whether or not you can afford models with a reputation for holding their value. That can factor into the decision too.  

Parking availability

Media credit to hillstartcars

Sure, there are over 70,000 parking spaces in the city, but finding one often feels like searching for a needle in a haystack… a very expensive haystack, with hourly fees that can make your wallet whimper.

Hourly parking fees in London typically range from £4.90 to £7.20 depending on the zone, making parking costs unpredictable and potentially steep.

And those parking fines? They range from £80 to £130, a hefty penalty for a parking misadventure. So, before you commit to car ownership, ask yourself: is your life going to revolve around the daily parking hunt, or would you rather be out enjoying everything London has to offer?

ULEZ charges

Media credit to lifestyle_car_dealer

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is London’s attempt to get cleaner air. Think of it as a daily “pollution tax” levied on cars that cough out more fumes than a vintage steam engine.  

The £12.50 charge is for vehicles that don’t meet strict emission standards. And the ULEZ covers a huge chunk of London, meaning almost any city trip could cost you extra if your car isn’t emissions-compliant (check for standards here).

Here’s the bottom line: before you buy a car in London, do your homework on ULEZ. Choosing a compliant car isn’t just good for the environment – it’s also a serious money saver in the long run. 

Congestion charge

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This daily fee of £15 is like a cheeky tap on the shoulder, asking if you need to bring your car into the bustling centre during peak hours (7 am-6 pm, weekdays and 12 pm-6 pm weekends/bank holidays). The zone covers a chunk of London, from Kings Cross to Vauxhall and Paddington to Whitechapel.

The goal? To ease those legendary traffic jams and improve air quality. But the Congestion Charge isn’t just about the environment. It’s a financial double-decker bus you need to factor into your budget.

Don’t forget, skipping out on this charge can land you with a nasty £160 fine! The good news? Most drivers with disabilities, motorbikes, mopeds, and bicycles are exempt from this daily fee.

Public transportation

Media credit to margosmosgar

This city’s public transport is surprisingly efficient, often beating car travel times. Buses in particular are cashless but incredibly budget-friendly, especially with an Oyster Card or Travelcard.  

A single bus journey costs a mere £1.75. If using an Oyster Card, you won’t spend more than £5.25 on bus journeys in a day thanks to the daily cap on charges.  

Want even more freedom?  You can hop from bus to bus or onto trams without extra charges within an hour of your first journey. That kind of flexibility leaves car ownership (with its insurance, fuel, and parking costs) in the dust, to be honest.

Cycling and walking

Media from santandercycles

You can consider walking and cycling as your ticket to a healthier, more budget-friendly (and let’s face it, less stressful) way to navigate the city. 

Plus, the city’s cycling network is booming – it’s doubled since 2000 and keeps on growing, with ambitious plans for even better coverage by 2030.  Need a bike in a hurry? Santander Cycles (those iconic red ones!) are a brilliant option, costing just £1.65 per 30-minute ride.

But two feet are just as mighty in London! This is a city built for strolling, with hidden gems and bustling energy around every corner. We recommend strolling through the scenic River Thames!

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