A new survey by Rep. Charles A. Vanik (D.Ohio) showed yesterday that 17 major American-based corporations owed no federal income taxes in 1977, even though their combined U.S. and foreign income totaled $2 billion.

In addition, Vanik said 38 other large companies out of 142 surveyed incurred a net U.S. income tax liability amounting to less than 10 per cent of their total U.S. and foreign income. That income topped $33.8 billion in 1977.

Vanik's survey was the latest in a series of such reports the congressman compiles each year in an effort to demonstrate how lucrative existing deductions and credits can be to corporations which choose to use them.

The Ohio congressman said that using these comparisons, the average net tax liability of the 142 corporations he surveyed was 17.2 percent of their combined U.S. and foreign income.

Vanik's comparisons, compiled by making estimates from figures in corporate annual reports, not actual tax returns, have been widely criticized by both liberal and conservative tax specialists and economists.

A Treasury Department study published last year charged it was erroneous to compare net U.S. tax liability to worldwide income, as Vanik does, because American firms are not taxed on foreign income if they already pay tax abroad.

When the comparison is made against U.S. income, as Treasury suggests, Vanik's survey shows only 11 major firms with no net federal income-tax liability, and several of these cases involve special circumstances.

For example, one firm listed in that category, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., or A&P groceries, was reported by Vanik to have incurred substantial net operating losses in previous years, which carried over to 1977.

Two others, Esmark, Corp. and American Electric Power Co., were listed as having no net federal income tax liability in 1977 largely because they overestimated tax payments in 1976 and were due a refund.

In publishing the survey, Vanik did not charge that the low net federal income tax liability of some companies was in any way illegal. The light tax burden results from legitimate deductions and credits now in the tax code.

The average effective tax rate of 17.2 percent, comparing federal income tax liability to worldwide income, is well below effective rates cited by last year's Treasury study, which took tax liability as a percentage of U.S. income.

The 17 U.S. corporations Vanik cited as having no net U.S. income tax liability on their worldwide income are :

U.S.Steel Corp., Rockwell International, Esmark, National Steel, Republic Steel, Inland Steel, United Brands, American Motors, American Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Pan American World Airways, Seaboard Coastline Industries, American Electric Power, Commonwealth Edison, Southern California Edison, A&P and First Chicago Corp. CAPTION: Picture, REP. CHARLES A. VANIK . . . comparisons widely criticized