London is one of the busiest and liveliest capital cities in the world. But even with its world-famous underground train system and its cheap “hop-on, hop-off” bus network, the roads are often filled with traffic, especially during the peak rush hour times.
Transport for London (TFL) estimates that London residents make around 3.7 million car journeys within the city on an average day. Add that to the estimated 1 million car trips made within London by non-residents every day and we reach close to 5 million car journeys made every day in London.
In 2016, 455 schools in the capital were located in areas with illegal pollution levels. Since then, however, pollution levels have dropped and as of 2019, there were 14 schools in such areas. A significant factor in the cause for this drop is the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London, which charges certain vehicles that do not comply with its standards to drive in the capital.
We will take a look at how you can check if your car is ULEZ compliant, what the vehicle standards of the ULEZ are, and the rules and conditions of driving in the ULEZ.
Free Car Check
Just enter your Car Registration below
Tell us when you’re buying the car so we can show you the most relevant info
How can I check if my car is ULEZ compliant?
You can check to see if your vehicle is ULEZ compliant by using Car Guide’s number plate checker. You simply enter your vehicle registration into the checker and the system will tell you whether or not your vehicle adheres to the ULEZ standards.
You can still drive through the ULEZ zone if your car does not comply with the standards. However, you will have to pay a charge that varies depending on your vehicle.
What is the ULEZ?
The Ultra-Low Emission Zone is an area in London where a fee is charged for drivers driving certain vehicles deemed to be the most polluting. There are strict rules on which cars and vehicles do and do not meet the standards (see below) and these are determined by Euro emissions standards, which have been around in various incarnations since the 1990s.
Even a very short drive through the ULEZ in a non-compliant vehicle will lead to a charge. The ULEZ does not have toll booths or barriers to enforce the charge. Instead, cameras are positioned around the ULEZ that read your vehicle’s number plate and send the details to a system that checks your car type to see if a fee is due.
You must pay the charge online if you have passed through the ULEZ.
What are the emissions standards for vehicles?
To meet the emissions standard and avoid a charge, your vehicle must meet the Euro emissions standard for its type.
The Euro emissions standards refer to the maximum amount of certain harmful gases a car is allowed to emit. For a diesel car to meet the standard it must not emit more than 80 milligrams per kilometre. A petrol car must not emit more than 60 milligrams per kilometre.
Most diesel cars produced since September 2015 have been built to meet the Euro – and, therefore, the ULEZ – emissions standard. Most petrol cars built after 2005 will meet the standard, as will most motorcycles built after 2006. However, whilst we suggest that most of these vehicles will meet the standard, some do not. So it is always best to check whether your car does.
Most hybrid and all electric vehicles are exempt from paying the ULEZ charge.
All lorries weighing over 3.5 tonnes and buses or coaches weighing over 5 tonnes must pay a separate charge called the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which is £100.
The ULEZ standards are:
- Euro 3: motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles.
- Euro 4: for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles.
- Euro 6: for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles.
You can find out what Euro emission standard your vehicle is by using Car Guide’s checker. In some cars, you can also find the standard listed in the registration documents, or on the inside of one of the front door frames.
How much does the ULEZ charge?
The daily charge for most non-compliant vehicles, including cars, motorbikes, and vans is £12.50.
As we already saw, buses and coaches weighing over 5 tonnes and lorries weighing over 3.5 tonnes, the daily charge is £100.
All charges must be paid by midnight on the third day following the journey. Failure to pay the charge can lead to a penalty charge notice. The penalty starts at £80 and will rise to £160 if not paid within 14 days. Continued failure to pay the charge could ultimately lead to prosecution.
If you regularly drive through the ULEZ in a non-compliant vehicle, you can set up an auto-pay account that will pay off any outstanding charge at the end of every month.
Where is the ULEZ?
When the ULEZ was first introduced in 2019, it only covered Central London. But since October 2021, the ULEZ stretches to the North Circular (A406) and the South Circular (A205). Both roads serve as ring roads that orbit London. However, the roads themselves are exempt from ULEZ, it is only the roads within those boundaries that must pay the charge.
This means that the ULEZ is now 18 times bigger than when it was first introduced and now affects most of London.
No other city in England has a ULEZ. However, cities such as Birmingham and Bath have clean air zones. Many other cities such as Oxford, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bradford, and Portsmouth are making plans to introduce similar measures to restrict heavy pollutant emitting vehicles from their centres.
Why has it been introduced?
The negative impact of air pollution on health in London is greater than in any other city in Europe. The pollution levels in London have even resulted in fatalities due to its damaging effects on asthma sufferers, especially children.
Diesel vehicles are one of the main contributors, but petrol cars also play a significant role in the damage.
Initial plans in London came under consideration in 2014, and in April 2019 the ULEZ came into effect in the same area as the London congestion charge. It was then expanded beyond Central London in October 2021.
Since the introduction, the number of the worst polluting vehicles passing through London every day has dropped from 35,600 to 23,000. There has also been a 20% reduction in emissions in Central London in the four months following its introduction.