London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

| 20 Feb 2019
Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

London’s first Ultra Low Emissions Zone, or ULEZ, came into effect today (Monday 8 April 2019) – and if you don’t know what one of those is then you might well want to read on. 

Certainly if you ever drive in the UK capital – or plan to – you’d be advised to find out, because you might well be subject to a new daily charge for doing so. And if you don’t pay it, you could even face a hefty fine. 

So what exactly is the ULEZ? Will it apply to all classic cars? And what do you need to do about it? We’ve got the answers here.

1. What is the ULEZ?

The ULEZ is the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone: an area covering central London within which cars will be subject to a daily charge as a way of tackling air pollution in the city.

Not all vehicles will have to pay to drive within it, with low-emissions cars and others that meet certain criteria being exempt. But if yours doesn’t qualify for one of those exemptions – and not all classics will – you will have to pay or face being fined.

2. Where and when will the ULEZ apply?

Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

Initially, the ULEZ will cover the same area as the existing Congestion Charge zone in the capital, although it will be widened at a later stage (more on that below).

The handy map above from Transport for London shows exactly where it will apply – but if you want to be certain, then you can use the TfL postcode checker here to see if a specific road falls within it. 

Note that it also covers an area that already exists within the wider London Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) – and that if your vehicle already has to pay that charge, you’ll probably have to pay the new one on top of it. That’s not guaranteed, though – see below for more on that.

Unlike the Congestion Charge, it will apply 24 hours a day, and seven days a week, including public holidays.

3. Which cars will have to pay to drive within the ULEZ?

Unlike the existing Low Emissions Zone, which covers a far wider area, the ULEZ will affect many standard cars rather than mainly just large lorries and buses. 

The TfL website has detailed information on the standards that will need to be met in order to not fall foul of the new regulations, plus a vehicle checker which lets you enter your car registration and see instantly whether you’ll need to pay or not.

The general ULEZ standards, though, are that a vehicle must meet:

  • Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
  • Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
  • Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
  • Euro VI (NOx and PM) for lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles (NOx and PM)


Generally, petrol cars made after 2006 will be OK, as will diesel vehicles produced after 2015 – but you’ll definitely want to check your own car just to be sure.

There are also a few key exceptions – and one of them applies to some classic cars.

4. Will classic cars be affected?

Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

It was initially feared that the introduction of the ULEZ would effectively ban classics from central London – causing havoc for owners who live in the area and possibly even leading to the cancellation of some classic events such as the London to Brighton Run.

Fortunately, following a campaign by Classic & Sports Car, among others, the decision was made to grant exemption to historic vehicles.

What this means in practical terms is that if your classic is more than 40 years old and is registered for the historic vehicle tax class, you will not need to pay the ULEZ charge. 

It’ll work the same way as the new MoT rules introduced last year, which takes the cut-off date as exactly 40 years on a rolling basis.

So, if your car was first registered on 8 April 1979 or before that date, you won’t need to pay the ULEZ charge. However, if it was first registered on 8 May 1979, you’d have to pay for the first month, after which point you’d be in the clear.

Given that otherwise only relatively modern cars built after 2006 (petrol) or 2015 (diesel) are likely to be exempt, huge numbers of classics will fall foul of the new regulations.

Sorry, you Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and BMW M3 E30 fans, but you’re going to have to budget a little extra if you want to drive into central London.

5. How much will it cost to drive within the ULEZ?

The daily charge for driving within the London ULEZ will be £12.50 for most vehicles, or £100 for (most) bigger heavier goods lorries, buses and coaches. This fee will be on top of the weekday Congestion Charge of £11.50 and the existing £100 or £200 for those vehicles not meeting the current Low Emissions Zone standards.

That means some vehicles – which will almost exclusively be large lorries and buses – could end up paying as much as £312.50 to drive through central London on a weekday.

It’s also worth noting that the £12.50 fee rate resets at midnight each day, so if you enter the ULEZ at 23.59 and exit at 00:01, you’ll be charged for two days.

Transport for London has produced a PDF outlining exactly which charges apply to which vehicles here.

6. What other exceptions are there?

Commercial vehicles, including classic ones, face slightly more stringent rules, and generally have to have been registered before 1 January 1973 to be exempt from the ULEZ.

There are notable exceptions, though, and some classes including agricultural and military vehicles may well be exempt. There’s also a discount for ‘showman’s vehicles’, not-for-profit minibuses and vehicles for disabled people.

Existing residents of the zone will qualify for a time-limited ‘sunset period’ which will give them a 100% discount from the ULEZ until 24 October 2021. It will also be available to those who live in designated areas next to the boundary where the current Congestion Charge residents' discount applies. 

Interestingly, while many buses and public-service vehicles including fire engines and ambulances will be subject to the new rules, licensed taxis won’t be.

Full details of all the discounts and exemptions available can be found here.

7. How do you pay the ULEZ charge?

There won’t be any tolls or barriers to mark the ULEZ, so as with the Congestion Charge and LEZ you’ll have to rely on signposts to signal when you’re about to drive into the affected zone.

Cameras will record the numberplate of any vehicle driving within it, and will search a database to see if you meet the emissions standards.

If you’re driving a classic of more than 40 years of age, and it’s registered for the historic tax class, you’ll automatically be exempt without needing to do anything. 

However if your vehicle is registered outside of the UK, and should be exempt, you will need to make that clear to the authorities. There are, as yet, no firm instructions on how to do that.

You’ll be able to register to automatically pay the charge each time you enter the ULEZ, or you’ll be able to pay online for up to 24 hours after incurring the fee. Failure to pay on time will result in a fine of £160 – or £1000 for lorries.

8. Why is the ULEZ being introduced?

Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

The ULEZ is all about reducing air pollution in London – a problem which few will argue does not need tackling.

It was first mooted by former London mayor Boris Johnson, but is now being introduced earlier than was initially intended by the incumbent mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Khan considers it a key part of his strategy to improve the quality of the city’s air, particularly given the effects of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) on children. 

“Tackling London’s lethal air and safeguarding the health of Londoners requires bold action,” he has said. “Air pollution is a national health crisis and I refuse to stand back as thousands of Londoners breathe in air so filthy that it shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illness.”

9. What will happen in 2021?

Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

In its initial incarnation the ULEZ will affect a relatively small number of vehicles, with TfL estimating it will reduce traffic in central London by only 5%.

However this is just the start – and on 25 October 2021 the area will expand massively to cover the whole of London within the North and South Circular roads. 

At that point, officials say, it will affect 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans and 3000 lorries per day; that’s a lot of extra dosh for London, or a lot less pollution.

And either way, it will affect many more classic car owners and drivers from that point – so budget now or enjoy driving your classic in London while you can.


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