12 ways to avoid paying London's ULEZ charge

Go electric, buy a clean diesel or run away to join the circus? The comprehensive guide to avoiding London's ULEZ charge

BuyaCar team
Sep 16, 2021

The London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) came into force on 8 April 2019, bringing into force a new charge on cars producing a large amount of exhaust emissions entering the city. This has had the biggest impact on drivers of diesel-powered cars and vans, who now have to pay £12.50 per day to drive in the centre of the capital. Other cities have since implemented similar emissions-based sanctions.

Originally the ULEZ covered just a small part of London, but from 24 October 2021, it is expanding to cover every road within the North Circular (A406) and South Circular (A205) roads. Don’t confuse those with the M25 loop, though, as you can still travel within the M25 boundary to areas like Kingston, Watford and Dartford.

But the ULEZ is not just clamping down diesel cars, some petrol car and motorbike owners will face the same charges if their cars do not adhere to the new emissions limit.

London's ULEZ is designed to deter owners of the most polluting cars from the city centre in an effort to improve air quality. The zone currently operates in the same area as the Congestion Zone, but will have expanded across most of the capital by October 2021, covering the area within the North and South Circular roads.

Fortunately, there are several workarounds to avoid the charge - some are admittedly more practical than others - but we've listed them here to help you find a way to avoid the ULEZ charge. We also have plenty of cars available on BuyaCar that adhere to the new emissions limit.

Buy a petrol car

Since September 2015, every car sold has had to meet the Euro 6 emission standard; that goes for petrol and diesel cars. But before that, petrol cars produced far lower levels of toxic emissions than their diesel counterparts, so the ULEZ restrictions for these vehicles are less strict. 

In fact, any petrol car or van sold since 2006 will almost certainly be ULEZ-exempt because they will meet the previous Euro 4 emission standard which, in the case of petrol cars, is still within the ULEZ limit. Astonishingly, that means even high-power supercars like the Audi R8 are exempt from the ULEZ charge (although you’ll still need to pay the Congestion Charge in central London, which is different from the ULEZ).

Your vehicle registration document may show your car's emission rating, if not, you can check with the manufacturer or use the online checker from Transport for London to confirm whether your car is compliant or not.

Buy a recent diesel car

As mentioned above, every car sold since September 2015 has been legally obliged to conform to Euro 6 emission standards. This is all you need in order to avoid paying the London ULEZ charge, so if a diesel engine is a big priority for you, post-2015 cars are your way forward.

That's if you want to guarantee to avoid the charge. There is a very select handful of ULEZ exempt diesel cars that were registered before the Euro 6 standards were made mandatory. We've listed them here, and you might be surprised by what's there.

However, given the continued pressure on diesel fuel, it wouldn’t be a surprise if diesel cars become unwelcome in central London in the next few years.

Invest in a classic car

You won’t be doing anything to solve London’s air pollution problem, but buying a classic car that was built more than 40 years ago, is one way to drive in London without paying the ULEZ charge.

Pre-1979 cars with an historic tax class (which means there’s no annual car tax to pay) are automatically exempt from the ULEZ. The cut-off date rolls forward each year, so pre-1981 historic cars will be exempt in 2021.

There’s an exception to historic vehicles that are used for commercial purposes, like a retro coffee van, but all pre-1973 vehicles are exempt regardless of what they’re used for.

Go electric

Electric cars are exempt from the ULEZ by virtue of them producing zero exhaust emissions. In the long run, the idea of low-emissions zones is intended to push everybody towards hybrid or electric cars, so taking the plunge now will mean you won’t have to worry about plans for future zero-emission zones either.

The electric car market is growing gradually and, as the technology, they're based upon continues to evolve, they're becoming more and more usable day-to-day. The problem of range has become less of an issue, while prices have started to come down a bit and electric cars will become a very realistic option for everyone.

Perhaps the only problem for London residents with electric cars is that charging can be a problem if you don’t have off-street parking, so if you are considering an electric car, be clear on your charging arrangements first.

Choose a modern van

Ford Transit front three quarters view

Van drivers can feel hard done by the ULEZ. Not only is their vehicle more than likely powered by a diesel engine, there are also limited numbers of ULEZ-exempt vans to choose from.

Euro 6 emissions regulations only became mandatory for new vans in September 2016, so most vehicles registered before then are liable for the charge.

Small Euro 6 diesel vans cost from £5,875 on BuyaCar, , while larger vehicles cost from £15,995. Alternatively, there are rising numbers of petrol vans and electric vans to choose from.

Run away and join the circus

London's Mayor has decided that clean air shouldn't come at the price of laughter, so circus staff are one of the few groups that gain an exemption from the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

Specifically, the exemption covers anyone driving a specially constructed or modified "showman's" vehicle that's used during a performance or to carry performance equipment.

It might sound like an extreme move, but has undoubted appeal if the alternative is commuting on the Tube each morning.

Drive a tank (or tractor)

No Range Rover driver will be cutting you up during the morning commute should you choose this nuclear (warfare) option.

Military vehicles are exempt from the ULEZ but - and this is quite some restriction - they must be UK and foreign military vehicles that are not registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). So, you’ll probably need to be a serving soldier to take advantage of this.

Tractors are also ULEZ-exempt, although the saving you make must be weighed against the painfully slow trundle into town that you’ll have to endure. The same applies to mobile cranes and excavators. But given the glacial pace that London traffic moves, this might not be so bad after all.

Move to central London

Anyone living in the Congestion Zone is entitled to a residents’ discount. If you’re registered for this, then you should automatically have a complete discount from the ULEZ until 25 October 2021, when the zone expands (if you're unsure, it's best to check with Transport for London).

Confusingly, if your vehicle doesn’t meet Euro 4 regulations (most cars built before 2006), then you’ll need to pay the T-Charge - the predecessor to the ULEZ - at a discounted rate of £1 per day.

Avoid driving in central London

Unless you need to bring equipment or tools into central London, it’s easy to avoid driving into ULEZ zone, thanks to plentiful transport options. Many people park up at a tube or train station just outside the ULEZ and commute in. However, the cost of taking a family on public transport might make the charge and London parking fees look cheap.

Go by bike

A bike hire scheme and cycle superhighway network make London increasingly bike-friendly. If you're travelling through the centre, then there's a good chance that you can use park cycle paths, completing much of your journey away from roads altogether.

Ensure your vehicle is registered with a disabled tax class, if applicable

Vehicles registered with either a “disabled” or “disabled passengers” tax class are automatically exempt from ULEZ charges until October 2025.

This is different to the Blue Badge scheme: vehicles in the disabled tax class must be registered in the name of a disabled person and used solely for their purposes. The disabled passenger class applies to vehicles that provide transport for the disabled.

Buy a motorbike

As well as zipping through traffic jams, a modern motorbike should enable you to avoid ULEZ fees. Any motorbike or moped that meets at least Euro 3 emissions standards is exempt from charges. These regulations were introduced at a different time to those for cars, and so this includes virtually every bike registered after July 2007.

 

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