Low Emission Zones – the ultimate guide

    Ultra Low Emission Zones 2021

    Low Emission Zones, also known as LEZs, are just one way urban hubs are moving to improve air quality. They aim to cut down on drivers of old vehicles which cause serious air pollution. While that’s definitely a good thing, it might be bad news for your and your car, as well as its vehicle value.

    Read on to find out why now might be the perfect time to sell your car and make sure the Low Emissions Zone doesn’t make an expensive dent in your urban driving plans.

    Low Emission Zones explained

    What is a Low Emissions Zone (LEZ)?

    A Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) is a set area where high-polluting vehicles are restricted entry or, at least, charged if they do so, and can commonly be found in city centres. The first and largest Low Emissions Zone in the UK was introduced to the capital in 2008, and covers the whole area of Greater London. But it’s not just the UK that has jumped on this initiative — you can find LEZs all around the world, including in Beijing, Oslo, and Berlin.

    In the UK, major cities including Brighton, Oxford, and Norwich have their own LEZ, and the rest of the UK isn’t far behind. Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Manchester all have plans for their own LEZs which are expected to be operational by 2022. Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is another type of LEZ and came into effect in June 2021.

    The good news is Low Emissions Zones aim to target older, high-polluting vehicles or internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. In the case of London, the LZE doesn’t affect cars or bikes, only vans, buses, coaches, and lorries. The bad news is, the ULEZ isn’t quite so lenient, impacting all vehicles.

    What sort of cars have to pay a LEZ or ULEZ charge?

    The ULEZ checklist looks at how well vehicles meet European Emission Standards. Based on this, TFL decides if they are environmentally friendly enough to pass through central London free from the financial blow that is a ULEZ charge. A ULEZ check looks for the following:

    • Motorcycles that don’t meet Euro 3 standards
    • Petrol cars, vans, minibuses that don’t meet Euro 4 standards
    • Diesel cars, vans and minibuses that don’t meet Euro 6 standards
    • Lorries, buses, coaches and heavy vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 (Nox and PM) standards

    In contrast to the ULEZ, the LEZ only applies to the following:

    • Large commercial vehicles that weigh more than 3.5 tonnes
    • Minibuses
    • Vans
    • Motor caravans and ambulances

    Large commercial vehicles must meet Euro 6 standards to be LEZ compliant. Minibuses, vans, motor caravans and ambulances must comply with Euro 3 standards to drive penalty-free through the Low Emission Zone.

    You can check your car for compliance within London’s ULEZ area with our ULEZ checker.

    What are the European Emission Standards?

    The European Emission Standards govern the sale of cars in the EU and EEA states to help control exhaust emissions. There are seven standards in total, with Euro 7 due to be announced in 2021 and come into force in 2025. After this, a clampdown on fossil fuel vehicles is expected to take place.

    The European standards aim to reduce harmful exhaust emissions such as:

    • Nitrogen oxide (NOx)
    • Particulate matter (PM)
    • Hydrocarbons (HC)
    • Carbon monoxide (CO)

    Will Brexit affect climate change or the LEZ?

    Brexit isn’t expected to change the LEZ or ULEZ requirements. In fact, even if they did, the LEZ wouldn’t be going anywhere considering the UK’s climate change targets are the most ambitious in the world, with plans for net zero emissions by 2050.

    The 2035 electric switchover also closely follows the European framework for tackling climate change.

    Internal combustion engines and low emission zones
    Low Emissions Zones target internal combustion engine vehicles

    How can I check if my car is LEZ compliant?

    Like we said, if your car was made after 2006, there’s a good chance it is LEZ compliant, with cars made after September 2015 likely also being ULEZ compliant. But if you want to be certain, you can use a ULEZ checker to ensure your car is in the clear.

    Transport for London (who run the Ultra Low Emission Zone and Low Emission Zones for the capital) has its own TFL ULEZ Check tool which lets you see how much you will pay for things such as congestion charge and safety permits, as well as check potential LEZ and ULEZ charges based on your vehicle reg.

    Petrol and diesel cars in the LEZ

    LEZs impact petrol and diesel vehicles in different ways due to the time difference in each of these manufacturing processes coming up to standard. The Birmingham CAZ, for example, will apply to diesel cars manufactured before 2015. That means your car may still be relatively new and still not fit for the CAZ.

    Petrol cars are only impacted if they were made before 2006. These dates should be taken as loose guidance, though, as ultimately it depends on what your vehicle’s emissions are, not its age.

    How much is a LEZ or ULEZ charge in 2021?

    The cost of entering the LEZ is currently:

    • 100 per day for vans or specialist diesel vehicles and minibuses that do not meet Euro 3 emissions standards. 
    • £100 per day for HGVs, lorries, vans, buses, minibuses, and coaches over 5 tonnes which do not meet Euro 6 standards, but meet Euro 4 standards
    • £300 per day for HGVs, lorries, vans, and specialist heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes; buses, minibuses, and coaches over 5 tonnes, which do not meet Euro 4 standards.

    The cost of entering the London ULEZ zone is:

    • £12.50 a day for most vehicles such as cars, motorbikes and vans weighing 3.5 tonnes or less
    • £100 for heavy vehicles such as lorries over 3.5 tonnes or buses and coaches weighing more than 5 tonnes

    Is any car future LEZ compliant?

    With new Euro standards still due to come into place, and more and more cities creating their own green initiatives, even if your car is LEZ compliant for now, it can be difficult to know if it will stay that way. Ultimately, the only car that will completely satisfy the emissions regulations as they grow stricter and stricter is one that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels.

    Electric cars can be a big change and seem like an even bigger investment, but it’s a change we’ll all soon have to make if the switchover of 2035 goes ahead. Electric cars are also uniquely quiet compared to regular cars, so you’ll guard against any rules that might come into force regarding noise pollution, too.

    Selling your car?

    Read about everything you need to know about how to sell your car with more guides here. There’s a lot to learn as Clean Air Zones and emissions standards in the UK change in the run-up to 2035.