ULEZ — The Ultimate Guide

If you live in London or plan to travel into Europe’s biggest city by car, then you need to be aware of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The zone was implemented in 2019, and then expanded in October 2021, with our handy checker tool, you can check your vehicle’s compliance for ULEZ.

With ULEZ an ever-present compulsory fee zone in London, not only might you need to pay just to drive across the capital, but you could also be fined for non-payment too.

We’ve created this ultimate guide to ULEZ to help you make sense of it all, but if you have a non-ULEZ compliant vehicle (e.g. a pre-2015 diesel car or pre-2005 petrol car) and you’re thinking of selling to avoid charges with the zone expanding in your area, you can sell your car fast at Motorway to a verified dealer in our UK-wide network – for up to £1,000 more.

Get started with selling your ULEZ-impacted vehicle, or read on for an in-depth look at ULEZ issues now.

ulez - ultra low emission zone
Don’t get caught out by the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) when you drive in Central London

ULEZ explained:

  1. What is ULEZ and when did it come into force?
  2. ULEZ check: tool to check if your vehicle is liable for ULEZ
  3. ULEZ map: Where in London is the ULEZ charge enforced?
  4. ULEZ map for 2021: Where in London did ULEZ expand to?
  5. How much does ULEZ cost/ what is the charge?
  6. Which cars will be exempt from ULEZ?
  7. Cars to avoid buying if you travel regularly in a ULEZ zone
  8. ULEZ exempt cars: which one should you buy?

What is ULEZ? When did it come into force?

The aim of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was to reduce pollution and improve air quality in London by introducing a charge for vehicles that don’t meet new exhaust emission standards.

It was announced in 2014 by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson. And came into force on 8 April 2019. It was originally planned to be introduced in September 2020 but was brought forward by current Mayor Sadiq Kahn.

Initially, the ULEZ area was the same as the current Congestion Charge zone across central London, however, in October 2021, the boundaries of ULEZ extended out from central London to create a larger zone up to the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205). However, the North and South Circular Roads themselves are not included in the zone and can be considered the edge of the ULEZ boundary.

The reason for introducing the Ultra Low Emission Zone was that pollution levels in London regularly exceeded safe levels. And road transport is the biggest source of harmful emissions.

Vehicles are currently responsible for producing around half of both nitrogen oxides (NOx pollution) and particulate matter in the air.

driving in london - ulez
The introduction of ULEZ is designed to fight dangerous levels of air pollution in London

This is still happening despite the introduction of the original London Low Emission Zone which came into effect in 2008 and operates 24 hours a day.

LEZ applies to a range of larger vehicles including bigger vans, minibuses, and motorised caravans registered before October 2006, and light 4x4s or pick-ups registered before 2002. If your vehicle meets ULEZ standards, it will also pass the current LEZ threshold.

The impact of the ULEZ should see an improvement in air quality in the UK capital, which will benefit the health and environment of anyone living and working in London. A similar clean air zone (CAZ) also exists in England’s second-biggest city Birmingham which aims to achieve much the same results.

ULEZ checker – how do I check if my vehicle is eligible for the ULEZ charge?

For diesel cars, the ULEZ requirement is Euro 6, which are generally cars registered with the DVLA only after September 2015.

That may seem a little confusing. But fortunately, you’re able to check whether your car meets the ULEZ standards using our free ULEZ checker tool.  

To check if your car will need to pay a ULEZ charge in London, you’ll just need to enter your registration details (reg plate) on the link above.

emission standards and ulez
The ULEZ charge is based purely on emission standards – not the size or cost of your car

The Ultra Low Emission Zone applies to all vehicle types from mopeds to lorries and includes those registered abroad but largely targets diesel cars – due to increasing reports of the danger of the fuel’s particulates.

The charge is based on exhaust emission standards rather than the age or condition of your car.

For petrol cars, the ULEZ standards follow the Euro 4 regulations. That means if your car has been registered with the DVLA after 2005, it will usually be OK.

Happily, some cars which meet the required standard have been on sale since 2001, so even specific older cars will avoid paying additional fees to travel through London.

Thankfully, most new ‘city cars’ on the UK market at the moment will be compliant with the latest ULEZ regs.

The original ULEZ map – the areas in London that the ULEZ charge was originally enforced

Before October 2021, the Ultra Low Emission Zone covered the same area as the existing London congestion charge.

The boundaries were from the A501 in the North, the A4202 in the West, and the A3204 in the South and East.

London ULEZ map
An interactive ULEZ map is available from TFL, above are the original areas covered by ULEZ before October 2021.

ULEZ map post-October 2021 – where was ULEZ expanded to?

ULEZ expanded in October 2021.

The new boundaries are set by the North and South Circular roads. If you’re using the A406 North Circular or A205 South Circular, you won’t be charged. But the ULEZ will apply as soon as you leave them and head towards the centre of London.

ULEZ map - October 2021
The ULEZ map 2021. Expanded ULEZ area from October 2021. Source: TFL, ulez.co.uk and airqualitynews.com

That means anyone living or travelling within areas including Hammersmith and Fulham, Greenwich, Camden, Haringey, and Waltham Forest will be affected.

Large parts of London boroughs such as Redbridge, Newham, Brent, Barnet, Wandsworth, Lambeth, and Lewisham will also be affected. You can see a detailed TFL map of the new ULEZ area here.

ULEZ charge – how much does it cost?

All vehicles will pay the same charge if they don’t meet the new ULEZ emission standards, except for lorries, coaches, and similar larger vehicles.

The standard ULEZ charge for all vehicles is £12.50 per day, running from midnight to midnight. It applies on every day of the year, so if you drive into the emission zone before midnight and leave in the morning, you’ll need to pay for both days. Even if it’s Christmas Day or New Years’ Eve.

If you receive a ULEZ penalty charge, you’ll be expected to pay £160. The amount will be reduced to £80 if you pay within 14 days.

When you enter the ULEZ zone, your number plate will be automatically recorded by cameras and checked to see if your vehicle complies with the emission standards.

Certain vehicles are exempt (for example, historic vehicles registered before 1973).

black mini in ULEZ zone london
A car on Wardour Street, Soho in Central London, an area eligible for the ULEZ charge.

If you need to pay ULEZ charges, there are a number of ways to do it. The current AutoPay system for Congestion Charging will be expanded to include ULEZ payments – and covers up to five vehicles.

There is an annual £10 administration fee, but you are protected from receiving a Penalty Charge Notice as long as your car is registered and your account is active. And you do get a £1 discount per day on the Congestion Charge.

You can also pay directly via either the Transport for London website or via the free TFL app.

Alternatively, you can pay by phone. The UK number is 0343 222 2222.

You’ll need to pay in advance, on the day that you drive within the ULEZ area, or the following day to avoid a penalty charge.

ULEZ exempt cars – which cars are exempt from ULEZ charges?

There were multiple exemptions to the ULEZ charge. However, some of them were only in place during a limited ‘sunset period’ which came to an end when the zone was expanded in October 2021.

Classic cars and ulez
Classic cars like this one are exempt from ULEZ charges if they’re registered for the historic vehicle tax class
  • Owners of registered disabled or disabled passenger vehicles will be exempt from the ULEZ charge until October 26th 2025.
  • All vehicles registered before January 1st 1973 are exempt, including commercial use. And the rolling 40-year period for vehicles to stop paying tax will also apply to the ULEZ charge.
  • So, if you’ve applied to have a historic vehicle tax class for your car, it will also exempt you from paying ULEZ fees. This does exclude any vehicle used commercially.

Read our latest article on ULEZ exempt cars for more information.

Which cars should you avoid if you’re in the market? What cars mean ULEZ charges?

The ULEZ standards for petrol cars mean that you’re likely to be exempt from charges if you’ve bought a new or second-hand car in the last 14 years.

The Euro 4 regulations have been around for long enough that most manufacturers met or exceeded them. All new cars will already meet Euro 6 standards.

The introduction of ULEZ in the capital could change the cars Londoners are buying
The introduction of ULEZ in the capital could change the type of cars Londoners are buying

This will generally apply to hybrids too. Only pure electric cars are guaranteed to be exempt from ULEZ charges, but modern hybrid cars should meet the same emissions standards as petrol models.

To be eligible for a discount, your hybrid needs to be capable of covering 20 miles on purely electric power as a minimum. We advise you to double-check the specific make and model you’re interested in to be sure.

But the cars to avoid if you live or travel into London regularly are diesels. To avoid the ULEZ charge, any diesel car needs to meet the latest Euro 6 emission limits, which came into force in September 2015.

Some older cars were produced to meet those standards, but you’ll need to check carefully, as it can be model and specification level specific. For example, some pre-2016 BMWs do meet Euro 6 standards, but only with the optional ‘BluePerformance’ pack.

It’s worth checking specific older model cars too, as Euro 6 diesels sold before September 2015 include examples from Audi, BMW, Citroen, Mazda, Mercedes, Mini, Peugeot, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, and Volvo. So, it’s worth checking before you buy or sell your car.

If you have an electric vehicle, you’re safe from ULEZ charges and no switching will be required.

What kind of car should you buy to avoid ULEZ charges completely?

With the ULEZ expansion now in force, it’s worth thinking about how to save when you’re buying your next car. And if you already live in the Congestion Charge zone, then your resident exemption will now also have ended.

To avoid any charge in the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (and avoid the Congestion Charge at the same time), you’ll need to meet the standards, and also be capable of driving on pure electric power for at least 20 miles minimum.

Fortunately, the choice of electric cars is increasing all the time – there are more options than ever to go electric with your car ownership, whatever your needs.

We’ve created a guide to electric cars to explain all the details about buying, selling, and living with an alternative fuel vehicle.

Some electric cars have suffered from poor depreciation values, which can mean you’re stuck driving the same vehicle longer than you might have planned. Or you’ll need to be prepared to take a big loss on your investment. Fortunately, our guide to car depreciation can help you avoid the worst outcomes.

The benefit of going purely electric is that the emission standards could increase in the future. And that means more petrol and diesel cars could be affected in the next decade.

Not a concern if you only visit London once a year. But for those living in the capital and surrounding area, it’s a legitimate issue if the combination of the Congestion Charge and ULEZ costs up to £24 per day, £720 a month, or £6,360 a year.

Considering buying or selling a car due to ULEZ?

Here are some other guides and selling pages you may find useful on related topics: