How will London’s new pollution laws affect you?

Used car buyers risk being caught out if Mayor brings ULEZ launch date forward by a year

In one of his first public statements after winning the mayoral election earlier this year, incoming Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that London’s planned new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) could be introduced as early as 2019.

This would be a year earlier than previously anticipated, with the rollout initially focused on inner London, covering the same area as the existing Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ). It would progressively expanding to encompass the North and South Circulars from 2020 onwards.

While the ULEZ’s introduction will not affect new car buyers, it will potentially impact on used car buyers who travel into or through London.

The average car ownership cycle is about three years, so bringing the date forward to less than three years from now means that people looking at buying a used car right now could find themselves with a car that doesn’t comply in just over two years’ time.

It could also affect the value of used cars at resale time. This problem is worse for diesel cars than petrol cars.

What exactly is a ULEZ anyway?

The ULEZ is a proposed area which is restricted to vehicles meeting specified emissions standards. Non-complying vehicles will have to pay a daily charge to travel into this zone.


The new ULEZ will exist in addition to the city’s current Congestion Charge Zone, and will be in operation 24/7 including weekends and public holidays (unlike the CCZ, which only operates during business hours).

Where does the ULEZ cover?

London’s ULEZ will initially operate over the same area that the city’s current Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ) is in force (see image). However, this is likely to expand fairly rapidly, and will probably take the CCZ with it.

It is important to note that the ULEZ will be operating in addition to the London congestion charge, so some vehicles will have to pay twice to go through the same zone.

Map showing London ULEZ and CCZ areasWhat are the emissions standards of the ULEZ?

In order to conform to London’s ULEZ standards without facing a charge, motorists must be driving one of the following vehicles:

  • A diesel engine car, minibus or van which meets Euro-6 standards.
  • A petrol engine car, minibus or van which meets Euro-4 standards.
  • A motorcycle, moped or a similar vehicle which meets Euro-3 standards.
  • A HGV, bus or coach which meets Euro-VI ULEZ standards.

Euro-6 emissions legislation has been in force for both petrol and diesel cars since September 2014, so any new car on sale today will be able to enter the ULEZ without penalty. However, cars older than this may not be Euro-6 compliant.

This is less important for petrol cars, which only have to meet Euro-4 emissions levels (which came into force in January 2005). However, diesel cars built before 2014 are unlikely to meet Euro-6 standards and would face penalty charges.

Any vehicle that has a ‘historic’ vehicle tax class (more than 40 years old and registered with the DVLA under the historic vehicle class) will be exempt and therefore will not need to pay the ULEZ charge.

Residents based inside the ULEZ who drive or make use of a vehicle with either a ‘disabled’ or ‘disabled passenger vehicle’ tax class will be required to meet the ULEZ standards. However, they will enjoy a three-year sunset period without charge to give them enough time to purchase a compliant vehicle.

Why are the standards different for petrol and diesel cars?

On the face of it, it seems unfair that diesel cars are being held to tougher standards than petrol cars. However, this is because emissions outputs for petrol and diesel cars are different, and diesel engines generate higher levels of local air pollution. The relevant standards are actually the same for both types of engine.

The key measure for local air pollution is NOx (nitrogen oxide) levels, which is visible as sooty particles emitting from exhaust pipes on old or poorly-maintained vehicles.

NOx output is naturally higher from diesel engines than petrol engines, and a Euro-4 petrol engine has the same NOx requirement as a Euro-6 diesel. A new Euro-6 petrol engine produces even less NOx, although petrol engines still produce more CO2 than diesel engines.

Motorcycles and heavy goods vehicles have their own standards, which are again roughly comparable to those for petrol and diesel cars.

What if my car doesn’t meet the new ULEZ standards?

If a vehicle fails to meet the ULEZ standards set out above, motorists will need to pay a £12.50 daily charge in order to drive the vehicle through the zone, regardless of whether you are driving a petrol or diesel car (or van or minibus, motorcycle, etc.). The charge for heavy vehicles – lorries, buses and so on – will be £100.

There will be no toll booths or barriers for regulating payments for the ULEZ scheme. Instead, the existing congestion charge cameras will be used to read vehicle number plates. These will be checked against a database made up of information from the DVSA, vehicle manufacturers and both drivers and operators registered with TfL.

If a motorist is found to be driving a vehicle in the zone which does not meet the ULEZ standards and have failed to pay their daily charge, the registered owner or operator will be issued with a Penalty Charge Notice for £130 for a car, van, motorcycle and so on, which will be reduced to £65 if payment is made within 14 days of issue.

The penalty for an HGV, bus or coach will be £1,000, reduced to £500 if paid within 14 days.

I don’t live in London; should I care?

If you don’t ever travel into London, then the ULEZ requirements are unlikely to affect you at the present time. However, it is likely that other large cities like Birmingham and Manchester will look at setting up similar schemes if London’s proves successful (either environmentally or financially…).

London is not the only city implementing tough anti-pollution laws. Over the next decade, you can expect to see similar legislation popping up in many large cities around the world.

There will be an inevitable push to move urban drivers into electric vehicles, which generate no local pollution and less overall pollution. The era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end.

London traffic jam

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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