Driving in the UK: is your vehicle “ULEZ compliant”?

Published by on 01.07.2021 - 4 min

Cities around the world are adopting Low Emissions Zones (LEZs), and London in particular is taking strict measures with the activation and area extension of its Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Find out what the term involves, and whether your vehicle is ULEZ compliant.

What is ULEZ compliant?

What does “ULEZ compliant” really mean for drivers in the UK?
The Ultra-low Emissions Zone is a predefined area in London within which vehicles must not exceed specific polluting emissions levels, or they must pay a daily charge. “ULEZ compliant” therefore means that the car or vehicle complies with the latest European emissions standards and is allowed in the zone. Similar schemes, called Clean Air Zones (CAZ), are planned to be rolled out from early 2021, like for example in Birmingham.

When did the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone start?

London’s ULEZ check system – a vast network of cameras that scan registration plates 24/7 – was first introduced in Spring 2019. Drivers of cars, vans and other vehicles that are not ULEZ compliant have to pay a daily fee if they want to enter the ULEZ area, or risk an additional fine.

Ulez zone sign in england

ULEZ compliant vehicles: Euro standards

Whether or not your car or vehicle is ULEZ compliant depends on if it complies with the “Euro standards”, first introduced in 1992. The current ULEZ compliant Euro standards are, according to Transport for London:
Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorized tricycles and quadricycles (L category).
Euro 4 for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles.
Euro 6 for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles.

Is my car affected by the ULEZ charge?

If you’re considering changing your vehicle based on its compliance to the Euro standards above, visit the online vehicle checker, run by Transport for London (TfL).

Electric and hybrid cars

All fully electric cars are, by their very nature, ULEZ compliant. Investing in an electric car is therefore a way to ensure you won’t have to worry about charges and fines as ULEZ and CAZ increase around the country and abroad.

Hybrid cars must adhere to the same Euro standards as their pure ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) counterparts. However, most hybrids do comply with these regulations, and are therefore exempt from the ULEZ charge.

Petrol (gasoline) and diesel cars

As seen above, gasoline-powered cars must comply with Euro 4 standards, while diesel-powered cars have to follow the stricter Euro 6 regulations. However, there is help available for drivers of combustion-powered cars looking to update their vehicle for an electrified one. Certain car manufacturers, including Renault, offer schemes in which owners can benefit from significant reductions on the purchase of a new car in exchange for the old vehicle.

Streets of London

What area does ULEZ cover?

The ULEZ currently covers Central London but is set to expand in October 2021 to encompass all of Inner London within the North and South Circular roads. It comprises the same area as the Congestion Charge. But it is important to note that ULEZ does not replace the Congestion Charge: driving in the city center may mean you have to pay both if your vehicle is non-compliant.

Who is exempt from ULEZ?

The emissions rating of your car is found on its V5 registration document, or on the new green DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) stickers found on new and second-hand ULEZ compliant cars for sale. Central London residents who are already registered for the Congestion Zone discount will not have to pay ULEZ charges until the last quarter of 2021. Similarly, if your car is tax-exempt because of your or a passenger’s disability, ULEZ charges are lifted for 3 years.

How much does ULEZ cost in charges and fines?

ULEZ charges vary depending on the vehicle in question. Cars that are not compliant with the relevant Euro standards are charged £15/day. The fine for cars that do not pay the charge is £160, although this is halved if paid within 14 days. To avoid this penalty, the Auto Pay application (which requires one-off registration) automatically debits your account when you enter an ULEZ zone. For penalties, cameras scan the license plate and send the fine to the attributed address.

Big Ben

Why do we need Low Emission Zones?

The ULEV in London, and soon its CAZ equivalents in other UK cities, is part of the government’s 2019 Clean Air strategy. It is undeniable that reducing the emissions of pollutants contributes to healthier and longer lives, not to mention the importance for the planet.

Other LEZs around the world

The UK is far from the only country to take pollution reduction seriously through the implementation of Low Emissions Zones. Germany, known as a pioneer of the LEZ, has strict driving regulations (or “Umweltzone”). Italy, Spain and Portugal have also imposed vehicle restrictions in certain urban areas. In France the “Crit’air” air quality certificate is a sticker that shows vehicles’ compliancy with European standards, and is used to enforce emissions-related traffic restrictions.

Looking further afield, authorities around the world are implementing LEZs, or equivalent clean air zones, that place restrictions on polluting vehicles. These include Beijing, Hong Kong and Tokyo. With most of the world’s population estimated to live in cities by 2030, it’s clear that the global goal of reducing air pollution will inevitably involve electric mobility.

Rewarding drivers for going electric or hybrid

As well as imposing restrictions on polluting vehicles, there are also grants available worldwide to reward drivers for driving an electric or hybrid vehicle. The UK has two main electric car grants: the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) and the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. Other countries offer similar incentives. France, for example, also offers a “bonus écologique”, which applies to electric, rechargeable hybrid and hydrogen-powered vehicles.


Copyrights: Alena Kravchenko, LioTou, xavierarnau, claudiodivizia