“Is there anything I should know before my drive?” he asked. “Nope, it’s all good” I replied as I walked away. That was a lie. Not that there was anything wrong with the car, but I wouldn’t call the situation “good.” I was feeling anger at the used car dealer who just bought my Jeep after a protracted dog and pony show with his “body guy” over the minor hail damage (resulting in a reduced sales price). While there was relief that the ordeal was now over, there was definitely sadness that my Jeep was gone, not to mention frustration that I was forced to sell it in the first place. Bloody ULEZ . . .
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was implemented in London in 2019 by Mayor Sadiq Khan after being floated for consideration by then Mayor Boris Johnson’s administration back in 2012. The intention is to discourage people from driving older, more polluting vehicles by charging them each day that they drive within the zone. Transport for London’s report to the Mayor describes things in a bit ore detail:
Under the ULEZ scheme “light vehicles” – cars, motorcycles, vans and other specialist vehicles (up to and including 3.5 tonnes) and minibuses (up to and including 5 tonnes) – must meet the following minimum exhaust emission standards to travel within the zone or they are required to pay a daily ULEZ charge of £12.50 [~$15]:
- Euro 3 (NOx) for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles.
- Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans and other specialist vehicles, up to and including 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW) and minibuses, up to and including 5 tonnes GVW.
- Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and other specialist vehicles, up to and including 3.5 tonnes GVW and minibuses, up to and including 5 tonnes GVW.
Electric vehicles are obviously exempt, as are historic vehicles, which in the U.K. means any car over 40 years old.
The initial ULEZ covered the same geographic area (Central London) as the Congestion Charge zone. Whereas the Congestion Charge of £15 (~$18) is only applicable from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday to Friday and between 12:00 noon and 6:00 pm on the weekend, the ULEZ charge is applicable 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (except Christmas day). The Congestion Charge has been around since Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone introduced it in 2003, so most people had already adapted and avoided driving into Central London by the time the ULEZ was introduced, at least Monday through Friday. Roughly two and a half years later, the ULEZ zone expanded. From the London government:
On 25 October 2021, the Mayor expanded the ULEZ up to, but not including, the North and South Circular Roads, including the original central London area. The zone is 18 times larger than before with nearly four million people living in the zone. Measuring 380km² [147 square miles], it covers one quarter of London and is the largest zone of its kind in Europe.
The extent of the effectiveness of the ULEZ itself in terms of improving air quality is debatable. Unsurprisingly, according to the Mayor of London’s office, it’s been a success, with air quality improving throughout London since 2016. However, as a report by Imperial College London notes, the ULEZ was introduced alongside other measures, such as the Low Emission Zone (aimed at heavy goods vehicles) and stricter emissions requirements for taxis and buses, including a transition to hybrids and EVs. These other measures plus the ULEZ, combined with the general improvement of vehicular emissions, resulted in significant reductions in air pollution levels. Still, there’s a reason why London is known as the Big Smoke, and pollution levels are still too high in general within Greater London.
So it should come as no surprise that in August 2023, the Mayor of London will be expanding the ULEZ to cover all of Greater London. According to a survey commissioned by the Mayor’s office, 59% of 48,000 respondents are opposed to the expansion. The report to the Mayor also analyzed the results by location, revealing that 70% of those in “outer London” (i.e. not within the current ULEZ) are opposed to the expansion. Clearly this is not a popular move, although considering that only 24% of the survey respondents who live with the current ULEZ were opposed to the expansion, perhaps there will be a change of heart amongst those in outer London by the time the next mayoral election comes in May 2024, after they’ve gotten used to it.
London is not alone in cracking down on emissions. Within England there are Clean Air Zones (CAZ) that affect private cars in Birmingham, Bristol, Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead), and Sheffield (as of 27 Feb this year), with Greater Manchester likely to follow in the next year or so. A few other cities (Bath, Bradford, and Portsmouth) have less strict CAZs in place that only restrict buses, coaches, taxis, and heavy goods vehicles. Other cities will likely follow suit in the next few years since; in addition to helping to clean up the air, there is a lot of revenue to be had from CAZ fines.
Back in summer 2021, my wife and I were busy planning our move from Frankfurt to London and trying to decide what to do with our cars. While I had heard of the ULEZ and knew that it covered the same area as the Congestion Charge zone, I was completely oblivious to the fact that the ULEZ would be expanded in a matter of months. Had I done more research and known about the expansion (and the Mayor’s aspirations for the Greater London expansion planned for next year), I would have made better choices. Unfortunately, my wife and I were blissfully unaware that we were about to make a stupid decision.
The stupid decision was the one to keep my Jeep. As I recently recounted on this website, I bought a 1995 Jeep Cherokee in August 2020 and invested a good deal of my time and money taking care of rust issues, sorting out the suspension, and, in general, making it a comfortable and fun car to drive. This was a car that I had spent over a year searching for and the thought of selling it was far from my mind. As I said, I was aware of the original ULEZ border and was fine with it as I couldn’t envision ever having a need to drive into it. Besides, we were looking to live miles away from the border, so no worries. So in August 2021, we packed up the Jeep with our three kids and 19-year-old cat and hit the road.
It was probably within our first week in London that I heard a radio ad (while driving in my Jeep) from Transport for London about the initial ULEZ expansion that was scheduled to be implemented in October. As soon as I had a chance, I checked out the expanded border. While we would be living a few miles outside the expanded ULEZ, I did see that it covered some areas that we would regularly be visiting. Fortunately, we were planning on buying a new car as our daily driver, so we managed to find a workaround.
The second expansion of the ULEZ, to cover all of Greater London, was announced in March of 2022. This expansion includes the area where I live, which would mean that each day that I wanted to move the Jeep, I would have to pay £12.50. I am in the fortunate position that I don’t need to drive every day; I commute to my office in central London via the train, my Vespa, or bicycle. To be clear, I am all for improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions, and making the world a better place. If I needed to drive on a daily basis, it wouldn’t be in a 4.0L Jeep sucking down $8 per of gallon fuel. But as I said, I don’t drive everyday; on average; I was using my Jeep twice per week. With the ULEZ expansion, I was looking at having to spend roughly £1,200 (~$1,500) per year for maintaining the same driving habits. Using this as my baseline, I started looking into other options.
[Editor’s Note: If you don’t think this will happen in the U.S., you’re a bit naive. There’s no question that certain parts of this country — likely wealthy neighborhoods in California, if I had to guess — will soon ban internal combustion engines from their streets. And from there, things will just expand. It’s very hard to argue with the facts, and the facts say that ICEs produce pollution that’s harmful to breath in, while EVs do the same, but overall less pollution and remote polution. -DT].
As I mentioned in my Vespa EV conversion article, I have wanted to build an EV for a long time. While I now have a couple of Vespa conversions and bicycle builds under my belt, converting a car would be a stretch for me, not to mention a massive drain on my bank account and a huge (but enjoyable) time suck. Still, I did my research, but quickly came to the conclusion that an EV conversion would be unfeasible.
Even if I managed to find the time and space to do it myself, I would be looking at spending tens of thousands of pounds (or even more dollars) on the conversion. Out of interest, I did reach out to an EV conversion specialist in the London area for a quote to see what they would charge for the conversion. Their response was a jaw-dropping £75,000 (~$90,000). [Editor’s Note: Holy Crap. -DT].
How About A Non-EV Retrofit?
In the CAZ area of the UK government website, there is a link to a Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS). When I first saw this site, I got my hopes up. They were quickly dashed. The retrofit scheme is focused on vans, buses, taxis, and other commercial vehicles. The only “normal” vehicle that can be retrofitted is a Euro 5 diesel Land Rover Defender. The cost of converting it to Euro 6 is £6,600 (~$8,000). For everything else, the government’s advice is to buy a car that is already exempt.
The CVRAS site has an FAQ section that asks about LPG conversions and engine swaps, but the advice is the same: Yes, you can do it, but it won’t change your official emissions rating, so just buy another car. [Editor’s Note: That’s absurd. Also, uncool. -DT].
A ‘First World Problem’
To be clear, the dilemma I was facing with my Jeep was a luxury problem. My Jeep was my fun, second car, and I didn’t rely upon it daily. You could say that I’m fortunate enough to even have this problem. I live in a part of London with good public transportation links, and I have nearly every shop I need within walking distance. This isn’t the case for thousands of others living in the outskirts of Greater London. It also isn’t the case for those in my neighborhood who commute to their jobs outside of central London. My next door neighbor commutes regularly to his office via car or motorbike. Taking public transportation would involve several buses and more than double the amount of time. Lucky for him, his vehicles are all ULEZ-exempt, but thousands of others will be forced to do something about their non-exempt cars.
There is a £10 million scrappage scheme (not unlike the U.S.’s “Cash for Clunkers“) where you can get up to £2,000 for a car or £1,000 for a motorbike (plus more for wheelchair accessible vehicles), but you have to apply and prove that you aren’t receiving government benefits already. If you were to take the scrappage money and then look for another car, it is true that you can get a ULEZ-exempt car for the £2,000 you got for your car. Basically any gasoline car sold in the UK since 2006 is exempt, and a quick search of Autotrader shows that over 2,700 cars are for sale that would fit the budget and be exempt.
If you are not eligible for the scrappage scheme, then you’re on your own. Ultimately, this will force people to get rid of their car and not replace it, which is what the Mayor of London is hoping will happen for a decent percentage of Londoners. There are the normal car sharing services here and if you live in the right part of London, public transportation can be a good option (when they’re not on strike). But a large percentage of Londoners will still be reliant upon their car or motorbike.
A Bummer For Radwood-Era Car Enthusiasts
Another group of people who will be screwed by the ULEZ expansion are the car enthusiasts (like myself) who are into their Radwood-era cars. Do you lovingly maintain your NA Miata, BMW E30, or Mk2 Golf GTI and live in Greater London (or Birmingham, Manchester, etc)? Get ready to be charged £12.50 each time you feel like taking it for a drive. Of course, for those who can afford it, it’s annoying, but they will keep their beloved car and wince each time they take it out for a spin. For others like me, it will be too much and will force them to bid fond farewells to their babies.
Replacing The Beloved Jeep
After months of hoping that the ULEZ expansion would be delayed or cancelled, the Mayor of London confirmed in November that it will be implemented in August this year. I then proceeded to spend hours and hours on the various used car websites, cross checking the registration plate numbers on the TfL website to see if they were ULEZ-exempt.
One surprising ULEZ-exempt option was a 2001 Jeep Cherokee. Somehow, the additional emissions controls on that model year only satisfied Euro 4 requirements. There was one for sale that I was tempted to buy, but the copious amounts of rust above the windshield and the dented tailgate put me off. I just didn’t have it in me to deal with more rust repair and bodywork. Plus, did I really need a Jeep or anything with 4WD? It doesn’t really snow in London, and I don’t have time for off road adventures, plus the fuel consumption was terrible. As much as I love an XJ, it didn’t make sense for me to buy another.
I was tempted by several MK4 Golf GTIs (although not the MK5 – I never liked the way they look) and was tempted to stretch for a MK6, but I wanted something more interesting and less common.
The R53 Mini was also calling my name. I had a 2003 Mini Cooper S back when they were new and loved it. However, potential maintenance nightmare aside, it only seats four people and I needed something that could take all five of us.
Since 40-year-old cars are also ULEZ-exempt (not to mention tax and MOT exempt), I was tempted to go the classic car route. While drooling at the classic cars on the market, I came across a 1983 Saab 900 for sale that looked beautiful. I contacted the seller for more information and was seriously considering driving four hours north to check it out. However, the more I drove our daily driver (a 2021 Seat León Estate), the more I realized that I enjoyed modern conveniences, like power windows, heated seats, etc. Maybe a classic wasn’t what I needed.
As an aside, the fact that I could replace my Jeep with a 40+ year old car that is likely much worse in terms of emissions and still be ULEZ-exempt is ridiculous. I get that “historic” vehicles are not typically driven as often as newer vehicles and therefore are less likely to have the same impact from an emissions standpoint, but for me, I would be driving just as much.
In the end, I settled on a 2001 Saab 9-3 Aero with a 5-speed manual and just under 64,000 miles. I found it for sale at a Saab specialist a few hours away in Norfolk. It’s in great shape and runs very well, but there is still scope for improvement. It’s obviously ULEZ-exempt and the fuel economy is twice as good as my Jeep, so I ended up doing the Mayor’s bidding and removing one more older “polluting” car from London’s roads. But as happy as I am with my Saab (this is my 3rd OG9-3), I miss my Jeep and am bitter that I was forced to part with it prematurely. Still, I should have done my homework before I moved here.
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Re 4WD, the loss of it. Being a classic myself I well remember the 1960’s heyday of 2WD rally racing and FWD SAAB’s dominance when driven my Nordic guys with many repeated vowels in their names…”Haakineenen”. Your SAAB will be be fine on muddy unpaved roads in the shires.
But it *does* look like a lovely 9-3 tho ???? …
Wtf is up with the emojis and punctuation! New commenting system can’t come soon enough…
‘There’s no question that certain parts of this country — likely wealthy neighborhoods in California, if I had to guess — will soon ban internal combustion engines from their streets.’
I don’t think so. Banning ICE engines also means banning “the help”. Landscapers, housekeepers, pool boys, caregivers, transport services, the folks who can’t carry everything they need on the bus and walk it the last mile. They won’t be able to afford EVs even if there was an EV that fit their needs. Wealthy households would disintegrate!
A ban on ICE also bans many contractors: street maintenance, utilities, plumbers, electricians, construction, delivery, etc.
Unless EV prices come down MUCH further such that even the poors can afford them the wealthy will be foolish to implement such a ban.
Unless the wealthy are willing to buy their help some Rivians, anwyway.
… this website really needs an edit button.
Where’s the cat pic?!
I live in Wolverhampton which is about 20 miles North of Birmingham. My everyday car is a 2013 Golf diesel which incurs the charge. I don’t want to change it as I like it and keeping a car for a long time is in my opinion good for the environment.
I therefore have 4 options when I want to go into the Birmingham clean air zone:
1 Pay the fine – no chance, I am driving an antisocial vehicle and also I am careful with my cash.
2 Use public transport. Ideal as I have a pass. But not ideal if I want to be alive after seeing a theatre or cinema show and travel on the dark streets of the West Midlands near midnight.
3 Use another car. I have a “nice” 2010 petrol car which is exempt. But it’s too nice to leave in a nasty Birmingham car park.
4 I don’t go into Birmingham. I don’t know if the theatre, cinemas, concert halls and cafes miss me (or more likely my money) but it’s an easy solution, the one I adopt, and I’m not sure if it’s the one Birmingham had in mind. Unintended consequences?
I also live in the West Midlands, but don’t really have occasion to go into Birmingham unless it’s for gigs, and like London that decision has pretty much been made for me now. It’s not that I don’t mind leaving the Rangie, it’s that becomes an additional cost on top of parking on an already expensive night out. As for shopping, yeah I have been into Birmingham for that but no longer.
I was pretty much done with London anyway – too crowded, too expensive and anything decent to see or do sells out instantly or is unbearably crowded.
For our US friends, Birmingham is the UK’s second city but compared to London it’s not even close in terms of size and population (1.2million v 9 million).
“I don’t want to change it as I like it and keeping a car for a long time is in my opinion good for the environment.”
Why? Any new car that you buy would have already been built, or will be built whether or not you buy it. That is to say, the pollution from making the car either has already been created, or will be created.
Because buying that new car makes a hole for one that hasn’t been built yet.
Also my condolences for loss of your mechanical family member. (Please tell me you are not handicapable with a mechanical attach and I offended you) lol. But when searching all those car sights did you consider posting it for sale outside the collective and letting it live on in the wild? Probably could have made bank and let the monster live!
Politics aside, I spent eight hours driving from one side of London to another in the early 90s, so there definitely was a problem with traffic congestion that had to be solved. Cars are great. Cars idling in traffic jams aren’t. So having to spend 15 bucks on the odd occasions you want to take your fun car out for a joy ride seems like a fair compromise.
I’m certainly no fan of the government’s thumb on my neck and could bloviate for hours in American Boomer style on why runaway government will lead us to the evils of socialism, a blight of electric car powering solar panels and windmills covering our great land, and national health care. But sometimes it’s just easier to pay the man and choose your battles wisely.
Yes to more public transport.
Was the Jeep ok for the Umweltzonen in Germany, or did you just avoid going into Frankfurt?
If this were truly about emissions then an engine swap or a fuel swap would be allowed.
Something else is going on here.
If a 22 year old SAAB can be ULEZ extempt, the London rules aren’t that bad, are they?
I think it’s funny that politicians all believe air stays in one place.
Sometimes it does.
Just do what people in the US do. Get one of those reflective plate covers so ‘the cameras can’t read it.