For members


The Spanish motorway routes that will become toll-free in 2021

More than 650km of motorways (mainly in Catalonia) will become toll-free this year, but 2021 may also spell the end of toll-free driving on Spanish dual carriageways.

The Spanish motorway routes that will become toll-free in 2021
Photo: AFP

Spain is the country with the largest network of motorways and dual carriageways in the EU, and third globally only behind the US and China.

With more than 17,000km of high-speed roads available, one might expect that drivers in Spain would have to cough up large sums in tolls to cover the costs of such a huge road network, but this is fact not the case.

Almost 14,000km of high-speed roads in Spain are toll-free, a much better rate than in neighbouring European countries.

From September 1 2021, this number will be even lower, with the existing 1,500km of motorways with tolls being reduced by 664km.

Here are the new toll-free motorway routes in Spain in 2021, with most of the changes benefiting drivers in Catalonia as the regional government takes over the management of privately run highways:

Two new motorway routes on the AP-7 will become toll-free: the 246km section between Tarragona and La Jonquera (Girona province) and the 179km section between the municipalities of Montmeló and El Papiol. This means that the AP-7 motorway, which runs along Spain’s eastern coast from Catalonia down to Murcia (as well as a separate motorway section from Málaga to Cádiz), will only have tolls in 318km of its 948km network.

The AP-2 Zaragoza-Mediterráneo highway, from Zaragoza in northeast Spain to El Vendrell on the Catalan coast (70km from Barcelona), will also become toll-free in September 2021.

Catalonia’s C-32(Barcelona-Lloret de Mar) and C-33 (Barcelona-Montmeló) motorways will also become toll-free and government-run in 2021.

This follows the trend in recent years in Spain whereby other privately run motorways have gone on to be managed by regional or national government departments, leading to tolls being slashed. The aim is reportedly to get rid of “regional differences” in toll costs. 

By contrast, 2021 may also bring the end of free dual carriageways in Spain, called autovías in Spanish.

The government is currently drafting its newest Mobility Law, with Spanish Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos already suggesting on numerous occasions in 2020 that dual carriageways or expressways will soon no longer be free.

However, tolls on dual carriageways are likely to be largely “symbolic”, amounting to about a tenth of the average toll price on Spanish motorways.

“Anyone who doesn’t have a choice in the matter, such as those driving to work, won’t be charged, Ábalos said.

“But for those for whom driving on these roads gives them the competitive edge in their business activity, we will charge, since they benefit from this infrastructure.”


According to the Spanish Road Association (AEC), the country’s vast road network is struggling to keep up with its maintenance requirements, both financially and structurally, which could explain the government’s decision to introduce tolls on dual carriageways.

There are small differences between motorways (autopistas) and dual carriageways (autovías) in Spain relating to variable speed limits, access and exit points and whether they can go through urban areas, among other minor variances.

All dual carriageways are also state-run, whereas motorways can be privately managed.

A survey by Spanish news site El Español found that 44.3 percent of respondents believed all Spaniards should pay for the estimated €1.1 billion in annual maintenance costs of the country’s road network though tolls on dual carriageways.

Just over 37 percent said they should be toll-free whereas 9.5 percent said only “tourists and foreigners” should be charged and 2.8 percent argued tolls should only be for transport companies and truck drivers.  

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Why you should think twice about buying a car in Spain, even if it’s second hand

A combination of supply and demand problems caused by the pandemic and a lack of microchips is making cars much harder to come by in Spain. Here's why you should perhaps consider holding off on buying that vehicle you had in mind for now.

Why you should think twice about buying a car in Spain, even if it's second hand

Getting your hands on a car – new, second hand, or even rental – is becoming much harder and more expensive in Spain.

The car industry has been hit by a perfect storm of conditions that have made new cars harder to come by and, as a result, caused prices to rapidly increase. 

According to Spain’s main consumer organisation, Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (OCU), the microchip crisis affecting the entire globe, combined with an overall increase in the price of materials needed for car manufacturing and increased carbon emissions legislation has created a shortage of new cars in the country.

New cars

With less cars being manufactured, prices of new cars have gone up: a recent OCU report reports that new car prices have increased by 35 percent, higher even than Spain’s record breaking inflation levels in recent months. 

READ ALSO: Rate of inflation in Spain reaches highest level in 37 years

It is a shortage of microchips and semiconductors – a global problem – that has caused car production in Spain to plummet. In the first eight months of 2021, for example, production fell by 25.3 percent compared to 2019.

This is not a uniquely Spanish problem, however. The entire world is experiencing a shortage of semiconductor microchips, something essential to car manufacturing as each car needs between 200 to 400 microchips.

France’s car exports, for example, have fallen by 23.3 percent, Germany’s by 27 percent, and the UK’s by 27.5 percent.

Simply put, with less cars being produced and specialist and raw materials now more expensive, the costs are being passed onto consumers the world over.

Equally, these industry-specific problems were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.The average wait for a car to be delivered in Spain is now around four months, double what it was before the pandemic, and depending on the make and model you buy, it can be as long as a year.

Car dealerships across Spain were forced to sell cars during the pandemic to stay afloat, and now, when consumers want to purchase new cars, they don’t have enough to sell and can’t buy enough to keep up with demand due to the materials shortages that have kneecapped production.

Second-hand cars

With the scarcity and increased prices in the new car market, the effect is also being felt in the second-hand car market too. With many in Spain emerging from the pandemic facing precarious financial situations, then compounded by spiralling inflation in recent months, one would assume many would go for a cheaper, second hand option.

Yet, even second-hand prices are out of control. In Spain, the price of used cars have risen by 17 percent on average so far in 2022.

Cars 15 years old or more are 36 percent more expensive than they were in the first half of last year. The average price of a 15 year old car is now €3,950 but in 2021 was just €2,900 – a whopping increase of 36 percent.

As production has decreased overall, purchases of used models up to three years old have declined by 38.3 percent. Purchases of cars over 15 years old, on the other hand, have surged by 10.4 percent.

If you’re looking to buy a second-hand car in Spain, keep in mind that the reduced production and scarcity of new models is causing second-hand prices to shoot up.

Rental cars

These problems in car manufacturing have even passed down to car rentals and are affecting holidaymakers in Spain.

Visitors to Spain who want to hire a car will have a hard time trying to get hold of one this summer, unless they book well in advance and are willing to fork out a lot of money.

Over the past two years, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a shortage in rental cars in Spain. However, during peak holiday times such as Easter, the issue has been brought to the forefront.

It’s now common in Spain to see car rental companies hanging up signs saying “no hay coches” or no cars, similar to the no vacancy signs seen in bed & breakfasts and hotels.

READ ALSO: Why you now need to book a rental car in advance in Spain

While all of Spain is currently experiencing car rental shortages, the problem is particularly affecting areas of Spain with high numbers of tourists such as the Costa del Sol, the Balearic Islands and the Canaries.

According to the employers’ associations of the Balearic Islands, Aevab and Baleval, there are 50,000 fewer rental cars across the islands than before the pandemic.

In the Canary Islands, there is a similar problem. Occupancy rates close to 90 percent have overwhelmed car rental companies. The Association of Canary Vehicle Rental Companies (Aecav) says that they too have a scarcity 50,000 vehicles, but to meet current demand, they estimate they would need at least 65,000.

According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), fewer than 20 million foreign tourists visited Spain in 2020 and revenues in the sector plummeted by more than 75 percent. While numbers did rise in 2021, the country still only welcomed 31.1 million foreign visitors last year, well below pre-pandemic levels and far short of the government’s target.

Many Spanish car rental companies have admitted that the fleet they offer is down to half after selling off vehicles in the pandemic due to the lack of demand.

End in sight?

With the microchip shortage expected to last until at least 2023, possibly even until 2024, it seems that the best course of action if you’re looking to buy a new or used car in Spain is to wait, let the market resettle, and wait for prices to start going down again.

If you’re hoping to rent a car when holidaying in Spain, be sure to book well in advance.