Introduced in April 2019, the ultra-low emission zone in Central London cut emissions by 20% in its first four months. An impressive feat. But consider that phase of the scheme a trial for what’s coming next. On 25 October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to include all areas within the North and South Circular roads (not including the roads themselves), affecting 350,000 non-compliant vehicles and approximately 3.8 million people. That’s a colossal number of people, whose cars will soon become very expensive to run.

The ULEZ hasn’t been brought in just to cause a nuisance to petrol heads and road users the like, it’s for good reason: we simply cannot go on burning a finite resource en masse that pollutes our planet. Whilst we owe a lot of gratitude to the combustion engine for the freedoms it has given us, change is needed. Particularly in London, where air quality is at an all-time low and regularly breaching World Health Organisation limits. 

So, how does the ULEZ work, and what makes a car comply? The idea behind it is to prevent people from driving older, more polluting vehicles into already congested areas – charging £12.50 per day to non-compliant vehicles for the privilege. The charge is based on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), rather than vehicle age. For cars, that means your engine must comply with:

  • Euro 4 emission standards if it runs on petrol (vehicles registered after 2005)
  • Euro 6 standards if it runs on diesel (vehicles registered after 2016)

It's important to check your vehicle on the ULEZ vehicle checker website, as some vehicles were already meeting the standards well before the rules were mandatory.

What these rules mean though, bizarrely, is that running a 4.2 litre Supercharged V8 petrol Range Rover from 2008 could prove more cost effective to run daily in London than a Peugeot 308 1.6 HDi diesel from 2013. In fact, it would save you £4,562.50 per year in daily charges. Weird, right? Well not exactly. Whilst the 4.2 V8 Range Rover produces more CO2 than the Peugeot, it actually produces less NOx – which is the key to the ULEZ, as it’s the NOx that’s damaging people’s health.

The rules for vans, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), motorcycles and mopeds are not too dissimilar to those for cars. That means:

For vans:

  • Petrol vehicles must comply with Euro 4 standards (vehicles registered after January 2006)
  • Diesel vehicles must comply with Euro 6 standards (vehicles registered after September 2016)

For HGVs:

  • All vehicles must comply with Euro 6 standards (vehicles registered after 2014)

For motorcycles and mopeds:

  • All vehicles must comply with Euro 3 standards (vehicles registered after 2007)

Weight also plays an important role, with any vehicle weighing over 3.5 tons (or a bus or coach over 5 tons) having to pay a £100 daily charge.

Considering the majority of commercial vehicles in Britain are diesel, the expansion will heavily impact tradespeople who live and work in the inner suburbs of London. Those with uncompliant vehicles will essentially have 2 options – 1) to buy a new vehicle, or 2) pay the daily charge. Is that entirely fair? Well that’s up to you to decide, but it will certainly help to cut pollution.

So, are there any other ways to avoid paying the charge? Well, converting your vehicle with a BNOx exhaust system could be an option, or even converting your vehicle to a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle). But that could be very expensive. Also once you factor in time, it may just be easier to buy a new vehicle. Another option could be to scrap your vehicle and then buy a new one, as TfL offer a scrappage grant of up to £2,000. That’s only available for those who live an affected borough though, and scrapping a vehicle could be sustainably counter-intuitive. One way of avoiding the charge could be to purchase a historic vehicle, which if 40 years or older, is automatically exempt from the charge. Running a historic vehicle as a daily driver would have its risks and drawbacks though, so the best option would be to buy a modern ULEZ compliant vehicle.

Just like the congestion charge and existing ULEZ in Central London, number plate recognition cameras will scan road users and detect entry into the zones. Failure to pay can result in a hefty penalty of £160, or £80 if paid within the first 14 days. You can pay via the Transport for London website or via an Auto Pay system. So to avoid a hefty fine, it would be advisable to pay the daily charge.

London has never been a place for the combustion engine to call home, and it looks like that won’t be changing anytime soon. Only time will tell whether the enlarged ULEZ will be successful or not, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered: what will happen to those who can’t afford a new car? What will happen to the 350,000 non-compliant vehicles? And more importantly, what’s next? But don’t panic, if you’re worried about the ULEZ and your car isn’t compatible, you still have time to think about your next move. But don’t hang around too long, as October will swing by in no time.

Are you worried about the ULEZ? You can check your vehicle compatibility on the TfL website.