7th February 2020

Classic Cars and Ultra Low Emissions Zones – will historic vehicles take back the city?

With last week’s announcement that the UK’s ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid powered cars is being brought forward five years to 2035, there has been a renewed interest in the introduction of low emissions zones across UK cities.

Following the introduction of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in April 2019, another 13 cities around the UK including Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol have followed suit, with proposed charges to be levied on all but the cleanest of vehicles within city limits.

With London leading the way in the fight against air pollution, so far it has provided the legislative template for such schemes to be rolled out in other cities, with the aim of producing a significant drop in carbon gas levels by 2025.

Although the new regulations will see the removal of thousands of petrol and diesel cars from the roads, there is a glimmer of hope for classic car owners in the form of the rolling 40-year exemption.

Introduced in 2018 alongside the reforms to the MOT regulations, this rolling exemption means that any classic vehicle of more than 40 years of age will not have to pay the charge to enter such a zone. The cut-off works on a rolling basis, meaning that although last year the cut off date was April 1979, this year the cut off is April 1980.

It may seem counterintuitive to have such an exemption on classic cars. On a like-for-like basis the emissions on a carburettor-fed 2-litre engine from the 1960s will be many times higher than those of an injected 2-litre engine with an exhaust catalyst from 1998. When the numbers of such cars are viewed as a percentage of the overall vehicles on the road however, they become negligible, meaning that there would be little benefit in removing such cars from the road.

With government statistics showing that the average classic car is driven significantly less that 1000 miles per year, it seems that for now at least, our historic vehicles are safe from legislation that would otherwise see them charged to enter city centres.

Does this exemption mean that classic city cars such as the original Mini, Morris Minor, or even Isetta ‘bubble cars’ will once again become a common site on our roads? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

I drive a classic 1988 BMW 318.i, I will wait for the 40-year rollover. My every day, is a Toyota Celica 53 reg. VVVTi. It is exempt. But I find it to be very nonsense extending it beyond inner London. It seems the working man has no chance, to excel. Thanks to the Japanese, I can save some money. Everything reminds me of the Godfather (movie) life imitating art. Same extortion methods with no room to manoeuvre. Actually, what is the difference? Forever gone are the petrol heads.

Paula, 11/05/2021

I don't think the government has given much thought to this idea. what about people on low pay that use an old car or bike to get to work, most use a old bike or car because of the high cost of public transport and to travel by such makes going to work unprofitable. its the government going to give an incentive? what will the government tax when all the petrol and diesel motors are gone? i bet they wont consider taking a cut in salary, like some employers ask there workers to do.

Dr Baz 40, 23/02/2020

The most environmentally damaging aspect of a car is it's manufacture. Therefore the older the car the better.

Plug, 14/02/2020