The ULEZ deadline on October 25 made a host of modern classics unviable options for those living in much of London – but some anomalies are appearing
Words: Paul Wager
The growth of low emissions zones in British cities has had some significant effects on the old car hobby. Most such schemes allow cars in the Historic taxation class to escape the charge, the effect on modern classics has been significant.
The recent expansion of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has made many interesting older cars uneconomic to own inside the zone, but for a significant number of cars the issue is less clear-cut.
The low emissions schemes are generally operated on the basis of a car’s emissions, but standards were adopted at different times by different car makers – and as new standards were introduced they didn’t become mandatory until some time after.
For example, the first Euro 4 approvals were performed in January 2005, yet it didn’t become mandatory for all new registrations until January 2006. Plus, as we’ve discovered, there can even be discrepancies between different examples of the same model of the same age.
This means for example that the mighty 6.0-litre W12-engined Bentley Continental GT can purr in and out of the ULEZ scot-free, whereas a 3-litre Jaguar X-Type is charged £12.50 for the privilege. Meanwhile, the Jag’s 2.5-litre sibling gets in for free, despite the bigger-engined model in theory meeting the same emissions standard.
With the charge being based on emissions, the slightest variation in specification can make the difference: bigger wheels on a sports option, an automatic box or a different engine management system.
Rectifying the issue
So can you have a much-loved classic recertified to squeak under the emissions barrier? Well, if it has just two wheels then yes: for £175 the sole accredited testing centre will certify a motorbike’s emissions and the result will be accepted by Transport for London. The emissions zones are based on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and apparently many older bikes which don’t have even a Euro category printed on their V5C in fact produce lower NOx emissions than the Euro 3 standard required for bikes. Of the bikes tested, many late ’90s models have passed and the oldest is a 1986 two-stroke Yamaha.
Sadly only the bike tested gets the exemption, rather than the entire population of that type and the system doesn’t operate for cars. Yes, it’s likely that there are many older cars which similarly can beat the required NOx standards but in order to have a car’s emissions certified, the only option would be a full emissions test to the level used by car makers in a Type Approval process which would clearly be too costly for a private owner or even a big club.
There’s also a disparity between different emissions zones, with London’s ULEZ and the Clean Air Zones (CAZ) elsewhere operating to different standards. For example, our much-loved Jaguar XJ8 is liable for the London ULEZ charge and the Birmingham CAZ, yet a 2003 Honda S2000 is chargeable in London but exempt in all the other schemes despite only being certified to Euro 3. A 2001 MGF certified to Euro 3 produces 0.079g/km NOx which actually meets the stricter Euro 4 standard, whereas the May 2003 data certifies the same car to Euro 3 but lists 0.1g/km, making it liable for the emissions charge.
The CAZ and ULEZ schemes require petrol cars to meet Euro 4 (2005) and diesel cars to meet Euro 6 (2014), which requires NOx emissions of 0.08g/km for both diesel and petrol, but permits only 0.0045g/km of particulate emissions (soot) for the diesels.
It’s also not helped by pre-2001 cars not having NOx emissions listed on the V5C document, since separate NOx measurement wasn’t required until the adoption of the Euro 3 standard from January 2001.
The advice then to anyone buying a modern classic from the early 2000s and hoping to use it in a ULEZ or CAZ zone is not to rely on any published emissions figures for that model or to rely on its emissions standard but to use the online checks to be sure.
London’s ULEZ classic clear-out
Words: Jeff Ruggles
The 18-fold expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is now in effect, making a host of 1980s and 1990s classics unviable to run in much of the Capital and leading to fears that they may be scrapped.
Plans for the ULEZ were laid out when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and introduced by Sadiq Khan in April 2019, replacing the previous toxicity charge, known as T-charge. It previously covered the same Central London area subject to the Congestion Charge, but from Monday, October 25 2021 expanded to cover a much larger zone bounded by the North and South Circular roads.
Within six months, the original ULEZ was said to have cut toxic air pollution by a third in central London, so the expansion was somewhat inevitable. However, the scale of the increase is unprecedented, covering an area containing 3.8m people. It extends into Enfield in the north and Southwark in the south, as well as Newham in the east and Ealing in the west.
Unlike the Congestion Charge, the expanded ULEZ continues to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 standard for diesel or Euro 4 for petrol (roughly pre-2016 and pre-2006 respectively) facing a £12.50 daily charge or a whopping £160 fine if they don’t pay up, which halves to £80 if settled within 14 days.
Motorists driving older vehicles still face a £15 congestion charge when entering Central London, meaning that some motorists may have to pay £27.50 to drive into Central London. Historic vehicles over 40 years old are exempt from the ULEZ charge, but that still leaves a lot of cars we’d consider as classics or modern classics entering what would seem likely to be their final chapter of service in the Capital.
A quick glance at classic car classified sites revealed several owners who were forced to sell up ahead of the deadline. Listed on Car and Classic at the time of writing was a host of interesting motors including a 1990 Volvo 760 Turbo owned for 31 years, a 1990 Volvo 740 GL, a 1991 Toyota Celica, a 1985 Mercedes C123 and a 1985 BMW 320i – all said to be reluctant sales brought on by the ULEZ expansion. A look through the CCB classics revealed more of the same, including a Ford Orion similarly out in the cold. It’s potentially good news for those living in other areas looking for classics, but the worry is that similar cars will be scrapped rather put up for sale, perhaps by owners unaware of their significance.
One man who’s been long keeping a keen on the situation is 19-year-old Jude Currie from nearby Cobham, who we spoke to in the lead-up to today’s deadline. “I have no doubt that London has the highest population of ’80s and ’90s cars still in use in the UK and is home to sole-surviving examples of certain models and specifications,” he explained. “They have been indirectly preserved through short journeys, less grit on London roads and of course, slightly eccentric Londoners hellbent on keeping their car going, but with the ULEZ deadline approaching, I reckon there will be a sudden rush for people to get rid of them.
“Sadly, most of which will go for scrap as a majority of the owners of these cars are oblivious to their rarity. These already include an immaculate 1995 Renault Laguna with only 28,000 miles on the clock, a one-owner 1987 Ford Transit scrapped earlier this month, an immaculate early Vauxhall Corsa B, a purple coloured Rover Metro Rio and a loved looking Mazda MX-6, all amongst many others scrapped no doubt because of ULEZ. Sadly, this list is increasing daily.”
Jude has made it his mission to try and save some of these cars from an unnecessary demise. “Through leaving notes under wipers I have saved several already. These include a 1996 Daewoo Espero, which is one of about 15 left on the road, a 1994 Renault Laguna that’s one of the earliest examples left on British roads, a 1996 Rover 216 Si in Kingfisher blue and a 1998 Rover 416 S in Copperleaf Red. I have others arriving in the coming weeks as well, which include a 1989 Toyota Starlet that was going to be scrapped, a 1994 Renault Clio and several Rovers, amongst others.
“A friend of mine has saved several in recent months too, including a 1988 Peugeot 205, 1994 Peugeot 205, a 1984 Vauxhall Nova saloon and a Renault 9. A majority in the list above were going to be scrapped by unsuspecting owners. He is also due a Mk1 Ford Mondeo saloon soon.”
There’s a further threat to older cars in the form of a scrappage scheme. Critics have argued that the ULEZ has punished low-income motorists who cannot afford to change their vehicle, so Transport for London have introduced a scheme offering a £2000 grant to remove a non-compliant car. As of July, more than 4500 vehicles had been scrapped, but you must be a resident of London and be claiming benefits to be eligible, and with used car prices currently at a high, the pool of suitable sub-£2000 replacement cars is likely to be quite small and low-income motorists could be priced out.
For those cars that are deemed unviable, our hope is that they can survive elsewhere, and perhaps re-enter the capital once they’re old enough to be exempt. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable that a good proportion of the old motors that make up the fabric of London’s streets will now be hidden away elsewhere or gone altogether. While attempts to reduce emissions undoubtedly carry merit, that’s a real shame for enthusiasts.