What is London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone? What type of vehicles can you drive in it free of charge? And why are ULEZ-compliant cars so important?
Here, we explain all.
What is the ULEZ?
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was launched in April 2019 to help improve the poor air quality in central London, caused mainly by high-polluting vehicles. The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year (except for Christmas Day on the 25th of December).
The ULEZ was expanded on 29 August 2023 to cover all London boroughs.
Drivers of vehicles that don’t meet specific emission standards need to pay a daily charge to drive in the zone (more on that below).
‘ULEZ compliant’ meaning
A ULEZ-compliant car is one that meets the requirements (emission standards) to drive in the ULEZ without being charged a fee. This applies to all types of vehicles, including cars, vans, lorries, coaches, and motorbikes.
If your vehicle isn’t ULEZ compliant, you’ll need to pay a daily fee to drive in the zone.
- For cars, motorcycles and vans, this fee is £12.50 a day
- For larger vehicles, such as coaches and trucks, it costs £100 a day to enter the ULEZ
What cars are ULEZ compliant?
The idea behind the ULEZ is to discourage motorists from driving older, high-polluting vehicles in the city. The aim is to promote alternative, environmentally friendly transport, whether that’s public transport or ULEZ-compliant cars.
If you want to drive in the ULEZ, your vehicle must meet the established Euro standards for emission levels. These standards set limits for the amount of air-polluting nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) released from engines. They are as follows:
- Petrol cars, vans, and minibuses must meet Euro 4 emissions standards (which were introduced on every car built from 2005 onwards)
- Diesel cars, vans, and minibuses must meet Euro 6 emission standards (which covers all diesel cars built after 2015 and diesel vans after 2016)
- Motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles must meet Euro 3 emission standards (which became mandatory for all new motorcycles in 2007)
Note: Hybrid cars must still meet the emission standards outlined above to drive in the ULEZ. However, electric cars are exempt from ULEZ charges as they produce zero emissions.
Read more: A guide to electric car tax
What vehicles do not meet the ULEZ emissions standard?
If you drive a diesel car registered before September 2015 (or a diesel van registered before September 2016), chances are you’ll be subject to the ULEZ charge.
Likewise, most petrol cars registered before 2001 will be liable, and many petrol vehicles registered between 2001 and 2005 will also have to pay.
If you want to know if your current vehicle meets the ULEZ emission standards, the process is relatively straightforward.
Is my vehicle compatible with ULEZ?: How to check
The fastest and easiest way to check if your car meets ULEZ requirements is to use Transport for London’s vehicle checker.
- Simply enter your number plate
- Select the country of registration (UK or non-UK)
- Click “Find vehicle”
- You’ll then be taken to a second page to confirm your vehicle details are correct
- If they are, click “Confirm vehicle”
If your vehicle can be driven in the ULEZ free of charge, you’ll see the following message:
|This vehicle meets the ULEZ emissions standardsYou do not need to pay a daily ULEZ charge to drive in the zone, and are helping to improve air quality across London.
Driving in the ULEZ in a non-complying vehicle: Your options
If your car isn’t currently ULEZ compliant (and you don’t want to fork out the fee every time you drive in the zone), you have a few different options:
- You could sell your car privately or trade it in with a dealer and buy a new, ULEZ-compliant one. We’ve listed some of the best compliant cars on the market below.
- You could use the government’s ULEZ expansion scrappage scheme to claim a grant towards the cost of replacing your current vehicle with a ULEZ-compliant model.
- You could retrofit your current car with a new exhaust system or engine to comply with the required emission standards.
Note: If you opt for the last option, you’ll need to have your vehicle re-certified with the DVSA to make sure it’s safe and compliant. However, in most cases, trying to make an existing car ULEZ-compliant is more expensive than selling it (or scrapping it) and buying a new one.
Our ULEZ-compliant cars list for 2023/24
Here are five of the best ULEZ-compliant vehicles on the market today.
1. Volkswagen Golf
An iconic hatchback ideal for city living, the Volkswagen Golf boasts a wide range of engines, models, and features. A comfortable, smooth, and quiet drive, you can choose from a petrol or diesel engine to comply with the ULEZ (though if you do opt for the diesel version, make sure it’s a later model and double-check using the TfL checker to make sure you’re in the clear).
2. Nissan Leaf
If you want to leave petrol and diesel motors behind, look no further than the Nissan Leaf. With zero tailpipe emissions, premium tech, and a healthy driving range, this 100% electric family car is 100% ULEZ-compliant.
3. Skoda Octavia
With the later model Skoda Octavia, you can choose between petrol, diesel, and plug-in hybrid — all ULEZ-compliant. It’s not the most stylish or sophisticated, but it’s a practical, comfortable family car that offers terrific value.
4. Audi A3
A sleek, compact motor, the Audi A3 delivers performance and comfort in spades. The ULEZ-compliant Sportback model is ideal for zipping around the city centre, while the 1.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel will also keep those ULEZ charges at bay.
5. Kia Ceed
The ULEZ-compliant Kia Ceed uses a mild hybrid system to recharge while you drive. That means you don’t need to plug it in to charge, and emissions are kept to a minimum as a result.
Benefits of owning ULEZ-compliant cars
The main benefits of owning a ULEZ-compliant vehicle are financial and environmental. Let’s take a look at these in a little more detail.
Financial benefits of a compliant car
The most obvious financial benefit of driving a ULEZ-compliant car is that you won’t have to pay the daily ULEZ charge whenever you want to drive inside the zone. Bear in mind that, depending on when and where you’re driving in London, you may also have to pay the daily Congestion Charge, which is £15 a day.
Driving a non-compliant car in the ULEZ will add an extra £12.50 to your commute, potentially pushing your daily driving costs to £27.50 before you factor in fuel and parking.
There’s also the fact that most non-compliant petrol vehicles are 15 to 20 years old. Older cars typically require more maintenance, which can be costly in the long run. Switching to a modern, ULEZ-compliant car could save you from an expensive garage visit down the line.
Environmental impact and benefits of ULEZ-compliant vehicles
By driving a ULEZ-compliant car, you’ll be doing your bit to combat air pollution in central London. And it’s working! According to figures from London.gov.uk, since the ULEZ was first introduced, it has led to the following:
- A 50% reduction in toxic nitrogen dioxide pollution in central London
- A five times faster reduction of pollution in London than in the rest of the UK (between 2016 and 2020)
To recap: ULEZ-compliant cars
If you want to drive in London’s expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone, your car must comply with the required emissions standards. The good news is that it’s quick and easy to find out your car’s status. Simply use Transport for London’s vehicle checker.
If your car doesn’t comply, you’ll need to pay the £12.50 daily charge to drive within the ULEZ. Alternatively, you could take advantage of the Mayor of London’s scrappage scheme, which provides financial assistance to help eligible London residents scrap vehicles that don’t meet the ULEZ emissions standards. Check your eligibility here.