Driving in London

There’s no two ways about it – driving in London is an expensive business. Hiring a car in London can be pretty pricey, whilst if you have a private car (i.e. you’ve borrowed someone else’s – and have been added to their insurance!) that you can use then you’ve still got to pay the Congestion Charge to be able to drive through central London. Petrol (gas) also isn’t exactly cheap in the UK these days! Let’s not even get started on the cost and difficulty of finding parking…

However, sometimes driving is a necessity, right? So we’ll look at various options for trying to keep costs down if driving in London.

What’s all this about a congestion charge?

The Congestion Charge is a fee that must be paid by motorists when driving through the area of central London. The zone stretches roughly from Edgware Road/Park Lane (by Hyde Park) in its western end to Tower Hill/Broadgate in the east, between Marylebone/King’s Cross in the north and the Vauxhall/Borough/Bermondsey in the South. The western part of the zone – which was only created in 2007 – was abolished at the end of 2010.

When you’re driving along, you’ll see big signs stating that you’re about to enter the zone, and there’s also painted ‘C’s on the road.

The charge must be paid if driving through the zone on any weekday from 7am to 6pm. There is no charge on weekends or on public holidays, and usually no charge during the period between Christmas and New Year.

You don’t have to pay the charge before you enter the zone – as long as you pay by midnight on the day that you have driven through the zone, you will be fine. The charge costs £10 per day and can be paid online, by text message, by phone or in certain shops. The payment for one day means you can drive through the zone as many times as you like. If you forget, you can still pay for your drive through the zone up to midnight the following day – although it will then cost you an increased price of £12.

Full details at the Congestion Charge website.

I need a car – how do I hire one in London? (And get the best deal?)

As you can expect, all the major car hire companies operate in London and the UK, such as HertzAvisAlamo,Enterprise and Europcar. Try shopping around on all the car hire websites as different companies run their own special deals at different times of year.

Easycar – part of the Easyjet branch of companies – seem to do pretty good car hire deals and, better still, have a very wide range of pick-up locations all over London. They may be suitable to use if you want to hire a car from a company situated close to where you are staying.

Better still, try travel websites such as ExpediaTravelocityOpodoOrbitz and Priceline (including their “name your own price” section!) for car hire. Make sure you also take a look at travel comparison websites such as Kayak and Travel Supermarket to try and get the best deal currently out there.

The Congestion Charge & hiring a car

If you hire a car from within the Congestion Charge zone, most car hire companies will pay for the first day’s charge. After that, you will have to pay the Congestion Charge yourself.

If you hire a car from outside the zone (e.g. from an airport), then you will have to pay the charge yourself for any/all days that you drive within the zone in London.

Short-term car hire might be more suitable for you!

Perhaps you only need a car for a few hours at a time rather than for a full day (or week). If so, we’d recommend hiring a car through companies like City Car Club or Zipcar. You will need to pre-register and open up an account with them (there’s an annual fee for this) – you can’t just book a car in the same way as you can with normal car hire companies. It’s a relatively simple process, however, and you’ll then receive a card that allows you to unlock the cars. Booking can be done online, by phone or even through a smartphone app (depending on the company) and you can easily extend your booking (subject to the car’s availability) if you find that you need it for a few hours longer then originally thought. Each company charges slightly differently – some charge an additional fee for mileage on top of the hourly rental price.

The three best things about this kind of car hire?

1) The different types of car, for different types of journeys: both City Car Club and Zipcar have wide fleets ranging from Volkswagen Polos and Golfs, Fiat 500s and Mini Coopers to Toyota Priuses and BMW 318s, whilst both also have vans.

2) There are numerous locations all over London (the cars are either parked on the street or in a carpark) so your nearest car might be right around the corner

3) Fuel is included in your rental price, as is the congestion charge (if you pick up a car within the zone), so you won’t need to pay for any extras aside from parking.

Parking in London

Now we come to parking…which is certainly an expensive business in London. You can find meter or pay-and-display bays all across the city, and you’ll have to pay to park in these between the hours of about 8.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, although this can vary by the area of London you’re in. You’ll also have to pay to park on Saturday but, again, the hours of operation vary – these can be same as weekdays, or sometimes it might be 8.30am to 11am or 9am to 1pm, or similar. Additionally, some – not many – areas have bays that you have to pay for on Sundays too. Parking in these bays – and therefore on yellow lines near them – outside of these hours is free, such as overnight on a weekday, for example.

London Budget Tip: Do carefully read the parking restrictions on signs near the bay where you’ve parked your car. If not, you’ll receive a parking ticket…and a fine of £65! (Which goes up to £130 if you don’t pay within 14 days.) Don’t think that if you’ve got a hire car you can get away without paying the fine – the company will receive details of it instead, and will most likely automatically pass on the charge to you.

Costs for parking vary and can be as pricey as £4 per hour. There are also time limit restrictions to how long you can park in the bays – 4 hours is the norm, but sometimes it can be just 1 hour.

Park-Up is a great website detailing costs and information for parking bays across London.

There are, of course, plenty of proper car parks across London too – NCP and 123 Car Parking are a couple of companies that run many of these. These car parks are more suitable for longer-term car parking, however, than for a stop of just a couple of hours.