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London's ULEZ: the Ultra Low Emission Zone explained

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone expands again in August 2023 – so what should drivers be aware of ahead of the changes?

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is set to expand across all London boroughs from 29 August 2023.

It's also likely that other cities – such as those with Clean Air Zones (CAZ) like Bath, Birmingham and Portsmouth – will follow suit in the coming years.

What is ULEZ?

The Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced in London back in 2019 with the aim of discouraging high-pollution vehicles from travelling in the centre of London.

It was hoped that the zone would lower pollution in the area and improve the air quality.

The zone has had a positive effect, with studies into the results of ULEZ showing that levels of toxic air have been reduced.

In October 2021, the zone was expanded again across the North and South Circular Roads (but not to include the roads themselves).

The ULEZ is applied at all times, 24 hours a day. The only exception as of now is Christmas day.

ULEZ expansion bids to clean up London’s air

The expansion of London’s ULEZ increases the current zone to all London boroughs.

This means anyone with a non-ULEZ-compliant car will have to pay £12.50 to drive within London, any time and day of the week.

That toll isn’t the same as the existing Congestion Charge cost – a separate £15 fee – that would bring the daily total for driving into central London up to £27.50. Ouch.

The move is designed to take older, higher-polluting cars out of busy, already-congested urban Greater London areas.

This is either by encouraging people to use cars with low emissions, or – at the very least – shift heavy pollution away from the most densely-populated regions.

Transport for London (TfL) makes no bones about its belief that those wanting to drive through London should switch to a greener car that’s certified to at least Euro 4 emissions standard (more on that below) if it’s a petrol car, or Euro 6 standard if it’s diesel.

The reason for the difference in required standards between petrol and diesel relates to nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Diesel cars typically produce more of the emissions so stricter limits are enforced. TfL does, however, believe that four out of five cars in the zone are already ULEZ compliant.

A ULEZ coverage map showing the expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zones in London

TfL states that petrol cars that meet ULEZ standards are usually those registered with the DVLA after 2005. Some models have been compliant since 2001.

Diesel models usually have to be registered after September 2015 to be compliant.

All petrol car models in our stock are compliant with ULEZ standards, and so are a large chunk of our diesels.

If you’re not certain, rest assured each car page states whether a car is ULEZ-compliant with a simple Yes or No. Easy-peasy, faff-free squeezy.

Everything you need to know about London’s ULEZ expansion

What are the Euro emissions standards that London uses?

Since 1992, the European Union has set limits on what each manufacturer’s range produces to reduce the average amount of pollution cars have emitted.

These have been getting progressively stricter as time passes, meaning Euro 4 and Euro 6 have tight limits for how much NOx and CO2 cars can produce.

Due to Euro limits, newer cars don’t smoke or smell anything like their predecessors.

If you’re wondering why the UK – and specifically London and its ULEZ – still use the EU’s emissions limits, it’s because they work.

Is my car ULEZ-compliant?

The rules for the expanded Ultra-Low Emissions Zone are unchanged from the current area’s restrictions, which means petrol cars of Euro 4 status and diesel cars of Euro 6 status are exempt from the charge.

You might have heard that almost all petrol cars produced after 2011 are ULEZ-compliant, or that diesel cars from after 2015 are also fine.

But it’s not quite as simple as that, because some cars were produced to a higher Euro emissions level before the laws were passed.

To save the headache of diving into the paperwork, you can find out if your car is ULEZ-compliant on TfL's checker.

Is a non-compliant car really that bad for the environment?

As is often the case with this stuff, many variables determine a used car’s ‘cleanness’.

A car that was listed as a low NOx emitter when new can easily become an inefficient, ‘dirty’ car with poor maintenance.

London’s ULEZ rules don’t take into account the life of a car or the driving style of a motorist, but of course, for a scheme of this scale, a line must be drawn.

So, even if you have the best-maintained non-compliant car, unfortunately, it’ll still be considered too highly polluting to enter without paying the £12.50 ULEZ charge for each day in the zone.

Will a ULEZ-compliant car remain so forever?

No. Absolutely not. While for now the rules are set, TfL has stated that it’ll review them in the coming years, and it seems at least plausible that in an increasingly electrified automotive world, allowing such large numbers of petrol and diesel cars into urban areas will seem like a bad idea.

Cities in China have already developed plans for electric-only zones to cut health-affecting pollution in dense areas, and it’s not hard to see similarly strict restrictions coming into place here one day, especially after 2035 when much of Britain’s road traffic will be electric.

That said, the UK approach has typically been different because instead of amounting to a full ban on certain vehicles, the rules are designed with more stick than carrot, deterring drivers of older vehicles with fees.

There are few signs of that changing. So in theory you could drive through London even if your car eventually becomes non-compliant with ULEZ limits, but it’ll cost you.

Are classic cars exempt?

Interestingly, cars that are more than 40 years old are exempt from the rules, despite coming from an era when emissions limits were practically non-existent.

The reason is that these cars are considered to be historically significant – or classics – and the number of them on the roads is tiny.

Not only that, most classic car owners do very few miles per year, so their contribution to NOx and CO2 emissions is considered to be negligible.

London wouldn’t be the same without the odd classic Mini of Jaguar E-Type darting through its streets, would it?

Does ULEZ actually work?

TfL certainly reckons so. It states that around 4,000 Londoners died prematurely in 2019 because of long-term exposure to air pollution, and that 99% of Londoners live in areas that exceed the World Health Organization guidelines for the most dangerous toxic particles.

TfL also claims that since ULEZ was introduced in April 2019, nitrogen dioxide (which, along with nitric oxide, makes up London’s NOx emissions) has been reduced by 44%.

This is the stuff that causes respiratory illnesses and, according to some studies, can impact the development of children’s lungs.

Compelling reasons to implement the right changes and get these emissions out of the air we breathe.

With the expansion of the ULEZ zone to the North and South Circular roads, TfL wants to make gains on the air quality improvements it’s created via the inner zone that’s been enforced since 2019.

It states that “the number of state primary and secondary schools in areas exceeding legal limits for NO2 fell from 455 in 2016 to 14 in 2019, a reduction of 97%”. It’s hard to argue with that.

Our solution

With a full stock of ULEZ-compliant petrol cars, and loads of our diesel models also being compliant, you can take the stress out of the zone’s expansion and ensure you’re safely within its limits with a shiny, cinch-checked motor.

Our cars undergo a rigorous inspection by highly trained technicians to ensure they’re mechanically sound – and physically tip-top. That’s how to make preparing ULEZ faff-free.

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