Petrol and diesel spewing automobiles have been subjected to ever more stringent emission controls for some time now, since 1992 in fact.

These controls have effectively been the death of some car ranges too. While I worked at Nissan certain engines became obsolete due to the Euro emission changes; an engine, like a computer, can only take so many upgrades/alterations before it becomes uneconomical to continue to do so – the upshot to this is that either the car model gets an entirely new engine, or it is put to rest.

Add to this the complication of emission controls being imposed in government legislation across the major cities of the world and we have a bit of a consumer headache. As far back as 2014 I reported that Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, was pushing for a tax on diesel cars (so often mis-sold to customers who’s driving profiles were entirely unsuitable for an engine that required a long run to keep it running at its optimum best – reps, yes; occasional shopper, no). This tax was to be called the ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

ULEZ map

Move on to the present day, and the ULEZ is to become a reality – it will be in place in central London from 8 April 2019. This goes further than just penalising diesel vehicles, and now has a beady eye on all vehicles that might not meet the new exhaust emission standards. The result of failing this requirement will be a daily charge to travel within the zone. In October 2021 the zone will be extended to inner London with a boundary of the South and North Circular Roads.


To understand what this all means, we need to look at the requirements that the ULEZ will impose. The new minimum requirements will be as follows:

Euro 3 – mopeds, motorcycles, tricycles/trikes and quadricycles (category L)

Euro 4 (NOx) – petrol cars, minibuses, vans and specialist vehicles

Euro 6 (NOx and PM) – diesel cars, minibuses, vans and specialist vehicles

Euro VI (NOx and PM) – lorries, buses, coaches as well as other specialist heavy vehicles

The Euro standards are imposed on new production vehicles, but the exclusion zones impose their restrictions on all vehicles – new and old. And this is where the contention can arise. Drivers of older vehicles may feel that they are being treated unfairly as they face being penalised for simply owning a vehicle that was a perfectly viable purchase only a few years ago.

On the other hand, the respected vehicle valuation organisation, cap hpi, released figures in 2016 showing that the time that an average motorist will retain their car has dropped from around 5 years to around 2 years, with 24-month and even 18-month replacement plans becoming more popular. This is largely due to the increase in popularity of schemes like PCP (Personal Contract Plan) rather than buying outright. With this in mind, then surely there will not be too many vehicles affected by the ULEZ to make it a major concern?

Well, while 4 out of 5 new car sales are indeed now financed, this doesn’t change the fact that overall, the average age of a car in the UK is around 7.8 years according to the SMMT. A car will have an average of 4 owners in its lifetime. So the picture isn’t quite as clear-cut as it might first appear.

If we add into the mix that Euro 3 standard has been in force now since 2007 and Euro 4 (possibly the big one we all remember) appeared in 2005, with Euro 6 following in 2014, then those in favour of the ULEZ will argue that, with the increased user car change time period, the long-term benefits will outweigh the inconveniences.

It’s important to note that the ULEZ will be enforced purely on the vehicle’s emissions and not the age of the vehicle. So if you are one of those that approve of the electrification of classic Aston Martins or the electric Jaguar E-Type Zero conversion, then then you can rest easy (if an E-Type is your daily driver of course).


The ULEZ charges are £12.50 per day for a car, with a £120 penalty charge reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. The same applies to vans, and both vans and cars will be required to meet Euro 4 (cars) and Euro 6 (diesel).

Lorries, coaches and larger vehicles will face a daily charge of £100 if they don’t meet Euro V1.

The overall positive plan is of course, to improve the air quality in London. But will this be at the expense of small businesses that are already struggling to make ends meet? After all, the Congestion Charge might already be pulling £11.50 per day out of the bank accounts of many small businesses during working hours.

Discounts and Exemptions

Residents will get a 100% discount during a given period of grace; but they will be expected to make efforts to upgrade their vehicle to meet ULEZ standards by autumn 2021. Those who are registered disabled will have a period of grace running until 2025, while registered London cabs with vehicles not older than 15 years (around the introduction of Euro 4) will be exempt.

Potentially, classic cars will also be exempt thanks to the historic vehicle tax class (you can apply if you vehicle is pre-1979), though as I understand it, this is still to be confirmed.  All pre-1973 vehicles will be exempt too, though how many this will affect can possibly be counted on one hand.

Ambulance Resized

Military and agricultural vehicles are also exempt, but ambulances are included in the ULEZ charge and regarded as ‘vans’ if they are between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes. Yet many ambulances do now weigh in at more than 5 tonnes, thanks to modern technology adding to the overall heft of the vehicle. While South East Coast Ambulance Service identified a potential issue with 18 of its 301 strong ambulance fleet in 2017 due to increased carry-load, Great Western Ambulance Service had already suffered the blow of being banned from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 2009 because their vehicles exceeded the 4-tonne weight limit.

Food for Thought

While some small businesses will potentially be hit hard, ambulance services and the Fire Service might be the biggest concerns on paper; this does depend on how old the vehicles in question are of course. East of England has a 323 strong fleet of ambulances all less than 7-years old, with many currently being no more than 3-years old for example.

If you are a small business, then it will surely make sense to change your older vehicle for one built after 2005/2014 – if you can afford it. In conjunction with this, the Mayor of London recently announced a £23million funded scrappage scheme for overly polluting vans. Most major manufacturers have their own version of a scrappage scheme too it should be noted. 26 manufacturers offered such a scheme in 2017, though many of these have ended or are ending soon, although extensions may again be triggered.

Transport for London estimates that overall, around 276,000 vans and 565,000 cars will potentially be affected. This only takes into account those vehicles registered in the capital city though and doesn’t include HGVs.

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