London ULEZ: 8 things classic car drivers need to know

| 2 Dec 2022
Classic & Sports Car – London ULEZ: 9 things classic car drivers need to know

An extension to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, or ULEZ, came into effect on 25 October 2021 and this will be increased again from 29 August 2023 – and if you don’t know what one of those is and you live or work around the British capital, then you might well want to read on. 

The original ULEZ came into force on 8 April 2019 – and the area it covers has now been expanded considerably. If you’re driving a vehicle within the zone that isn’t ULEZ-exempt and you don’t pay the charge, you could even face a hefty fine. 

So what exactly is the ULEZ? Does 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 London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone: an area covering central London and beyond within which cars are subject to a daily charge as a way of tackling air pollution in the city.

Not all vehicles have to pay to drive within it, with low-emissions cars and others that meet certain criteria being exempt.

But if your vehicle doesn’t qualify for one of those exemptions – and not all classic cars will – you will have to pay the fee or face being fined.

2. Where and when does the ULEZ apply?

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

© TfL

The ULEZ now covers all parts of London that fall within the North and South Circular Roads (the A406 and A205 respectively), however neither of those roads is in the zone.

From 29 August 2023 it will be rolled out across all London boroughs.

The handy map above from Transport for London (TfL) shows exactly where it applies at present and where it will from its 2023 expansion.

If you want to be certain, then you can use the TfL postcode checker here to see if a specific road sits within it. To check if a road will be in the zone after 29 August 2023, use this postcode checker.

Unlike the Congestion Charge, the London ULEZ charges apply 24 hours a day, and seven days a week, including public holidays – apart from Christmas Day (25 December).

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

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

The TfL website has detailed information on the standards that will need to be met in order to not fall foul of the ULEZ regulations, plus a vehicle checker which lets you enter your car’s numberplate 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

On the whole, 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. Are classic cars 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 classic cars 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 Veteran Car Run.

Fortunately, following a campaign by Classic & Sports Car, among others, from the creation of the ULEZ in 2019 the decision was made to grant exemption to historic vehicles – this remains from 25 October 2021 and from 29 August 2023, too. However, the area’s expansion might cause some car clubs in the capital to rethink their plans – only time will tell.

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 MoT rules introduced in 2018, which takes the cut-off date as exactly 40 years on a rolling basis.

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.

Again, if you’re unsure, check your car before you travel.

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

The daily charge for driving within the London ULEZ will remain at £12.50 for cars, smaller vans, ’bikes and other lighter vehicles. It operates 24 hours a day, every day, apart from 25 December.

This fee will be on top of the £15 daily Congestion Charge for cars, which applies between 7am and 6pm Monday-Friday, and between 12pm and 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. There is no Congestion Charge between Christmas Day and the New Year’s Day bank holiday (inclusive).

If you drive within the London ULEZ, you have to pay the charge by midnight on the third day following your journey – failure to do so will risk receiving a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). 

It’s also worth noting that the rate resets at midnight each day, so if you enter the ULEZ at 11:59pm and exit at 00:01am, you’ll be charged for two days.

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.

The ULEZ charge applies to UK and non-UK vehicles. Note that if your vehicle is exempt but it is registered outside the UK, you must register it with TfL before travelling in the zone.

People living within the zone are not exempt – although if you’re parked within the ULEZ and not driving, no fee applies.

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

7. How do you pay the ULEZ charge?

There are no toll booths or barriers to mark the ULEZ. 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 the ULEZ, and will search a database to see if you meet the emissions standards.

If you’re driving a classic car 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 the UK and should be exempt, you will need to make that clear to the authorities. Check your vehicle here.

You must pay by midnight on the third day following your journey – forget or fail to pay the ULEZ charge and you risk receiving a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).

You can pay online, via TfL’s ‘Pay to Drive in London’ app which is available for free on Apple’s app store and on Google Play, or by phone on 0343 222 2222 if you’re in the UK or +44 343 222 2222 if you’re overseas, plus there is a textphone for those with impaired hearing: 020 7649 9123 (lines are open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm, excluding bank holidays).

8. Why has the ULEZ been 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, and was introduced earlier than was initially intended by the then incumbent mayor, Sadiq Khan.

This is something motorists are going to have to get used to. There are similar schemes elsewhere in the UK, that have either been introduced recently, or are in the pipeline:

  • Birmingham (since 1 June 2021) 
  • Bath (commercial vehicles, buses and taxis only, since March 2021)
  • Oxford (the Zero Emission Zone for all non-electric vehicles in the city centre, since 28 February 2022) 
  • York (just for buses, since January 2020)
  • Dundee (since May 2022, with a two-year grace period, enforcement from 30 May 2024)
  • Edinburgh (since May 2022)
  • Glasgow (buses only since 31 December 2018, all vehicles from 1 June 2023)
  • Manchester (plans have been postponed)
  • Sheffield (commercial vehicles, buses and taxis only, from 27 February 2023)

And that is before you consider the low-emission zones in around 200 European towns and cities – and further afield. Check before you travel and get organised.


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