ULEZ: A Comprehensive Guide to Ultra Low Emission Zones

June 26, 2023 by Zoe Hicks – 6 mins read

Whether you’ve heard of ULEZ or not, our comprehensive guide to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone arms you with everything you need to know, including the area it covers, where it’s expanding, current charges and how to check if your vehicle complies. Additionally, we explore its purpose, how it’s making a difference, and what you should look for when choosing a compliant car!

If you’ve never needed to enter London, then Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) may be an unfamiliar term. Of course, similar schemes known as clean air zones have morphed from this original concept to other cities in the UK. Still, whatever the name, they all work similarly and are not always welcome, bringing road charges to those living or working in the zones. So, Motorscan has been delving into the key aspects of the ULEZ, including its purpose, coverage, fees and exemptions, and the impact it has on the environment and public health, to arm you with all you need to know. So, whether you’re a resident, a driver, or a visitor to London’s ULEZ, our comprehensive guide will provide you with the essential information to navigate and understand the ULEZ system effectively.

What is ULEZ?

ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone and is a specific area within a city or urban region where vehicles must meet strict emission standards to be allowed entry or face a charge. Implementing a ULEZ improves air quality and reduces pollution by discouraging the use of high-emission vehicles, usually targeting those that emit high levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Currently, the UK has one ULEZ in London, with other cities implementing similar schemes known as clean air zones. They are particularly favourable in major cities because cities typically have high levels of air pollution due to heavy traffic congestion and a vast number of vehicles on the road. Cities also usually have high populations meaning more people are potentially exposed to the harmful effects of poor air quality. Cities also have the infrastructure and public transportation networks to encourage the public to use when switching from their high-emission private vehicles.

Understanding the need for Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ)

Implementing an Ultra Low Emission Zone or ULEZ can bring several benefits to a city or urban area, including:

Improved Air Quality is perhaps one of the primary benefits boasted by councils implementing ULEZs. By restricting or charging higher fees for high-emission vehicles, such as older diesel and petrol cars, a ULEZ encourages the use of cleaner vehicles, such as electric cars or alternative modes of transportation. Reducing the number of polluting vehicles on the roads leads to lower levels of harmful pollutants that contribute to respiratory problems and other health issues, which can only be good for public health.

Climate Change Mitigation: ULEZs are deemed crucial in tackling climate change by promoting low-emission or zero-emission vehicles that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), and contributing to meeting emission reduction targets.

Encourages Sustainable Transportation: Implementing a ULEZ incentivises the use of alternative modes of transportation by making it more costly to drive high-emission vehicles, with people encouraged to switch to greener options such as public transport, cycling and walking.

Economic Benefits: Improving air quality and public health mean ULEZs contribute to a healthier workforce, reducing healthcare costs and increasing productivity.

ULEZ Compliance and Requirements

Emission Standards for ULEZ Compliance

In the UK, the emissions standards for ULEZ compliance are based on the Euro emission standards and depend on the vehicle and fuel type. Generally, the requirements for an exemption to ULEZ charges are:

  • Petrol Cars and Vans: ULEZ compliant: Euro 4 (or later) for both particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions.
  • Diesel Cars and Vans: ULEZ compliant: Euro 6 (or later) for both PM and NOx emissions.
  • Motorcycles, Mopeds, and Motorised Tricycles: ULEZ compliant: Euro 3 (or later) for both PM and NOx emissions.
  • Large Vans, 4×4 Light Utility Vehicles, and Motorised Horseboxes: ULEZ compliant: Euro 6 (or later) for both PM and NOx emissions.
  • Buses, Coaches, and Trucks (including Heavy Goods Vehicles): ULEZ compliant: Euro VI (or later) for both PM and NOx emissions.

Impact on Different Vehicle Types

The impact of ULEZ on different vehicle types varies based on the emission levels and compliance with the ULEZ standards. The following is a general overview:

Petrol cars typically have a relatively smaller impact, especially those that meet the Euro 4 or later emission standards, as they are designed to emit lower levels of pollutants and are likely to comply.

Diesel vans and cars are more likely to be impacted significantly, especially older vehicles, which generally emit higher levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Diesel cars or small vans that do not meet the Euro 6 emission standard are likely to face charges or restrictions when entering ULEZs.

Buses and coaches are heavily impacted by ULEZs due to their typically higher emission levels. Buses and coaches that do not meet the Euro VI emission standard, which is the most stringent standard for new vehicles, are likely to face charges or restrictions.

Trucks and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) will also be heavily impacted by a ULEZ, particularly those with older engines that emit higher levels of pollutants that will face substantial charges or restrictions when entering ULEZs.

Penalty Charges for Non-Compliance

Vehicles that don’t comply with London’s ULEZ will be subject to charges as follows:

  • Non-compliant cars, motorcycles, and smaller vehicles: £12.50 per day.
  • Non-compliant heavy vehicles, such as buses, coaches, and trucks: £100 per day.

These charges are in addition to the existing Congestion Charge or Low Emission Zone (LEZ) charges, where applicable.

What areas of London are affected by ULEZ?

As of June 2023, the ULEZ covers central London and the area up to, but not including, the North and South Circular Roads (A406 and A205), operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, the zone is expanding as of 29 August 2023 across all London boroughs, meaning places such as Bromley, Croydon, Orpington, Harrow, Edgeware, Dagenham, and Romford will now all come under the ULEZ umbrella.

Are there any ULEZ exemptions and discounts?

Certain exemptions and discounts are applicable to vehicles such as London taxis, vehicles used for disabled people or wheel-chair access, minibuses for community transport, historic vehicles and some other specialist vehicles. A time-period resident exemption also allows the public to switch cars. However, to determine eligibility, for any exemption, please visit Transport for London’s specific ULEZ exemption and discount page for further details. Otherwise, those vehicles that meet emission standards will be exempt from charges, including fully electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) and those that meet Euro 3, Euro 4 and Euro 6 emission standards.

So, how can you plan for your next vehicle choices?

If you’re looking ahead at your next vehicle and want to choose a ULEZ-compliant car, there is a wide choice, depending on your budget. The quickest way to find out if a car you’re interested in does comply is to perform a free car check; otherwise, generally, the following applies:

  • All electric cars comply as they don’t emit emissions.
  • Petrol vehicles typically manufactured after January 2006 meet Euro 4 emission standards and will comply with the ULEZ.
  • Diesel vehicles registered after September 2015 generally meet the Euro 6 emission standards, and some earlier models will also.
  • Depending on the fuel type, hybrid vehicles must comply with Euro 4 or Euro 6 emission standards.

The ULEZ’s impact on air quality and sustainability

Ultimately, the primary goal of the ULEZ and other similar schemes is to reduce air pollution, particularly from vehicles that emit high levels of pollutants, and how this is affected is by charging cars that don’t meet specific emission standards. The process aims to incentivise people to adopt more environmentally friendly alternatives or to switch to public transport. Through air quality monitoring, emission data analysis and vehicle compliance rates, the report on the effectiveness of the ULEZ is undoubtedly promising, showing the ULEZ has significantly reduced air pollution levels, particularly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM), in current ULEZ designated area. And the knock-on effect of the scheme is improved public health and more sustainable, low or zero-emission transport on our streets.

How to check ULEZ compliance

If you want to check whether your vehicle complies with ULEZs, simply enter your car’s registration at Motorscan’s free ULEZ checker.


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