Expert advice: what you need to know about new exhaust emissions zones

These signs will be springing up around the country (Picture iStock/ChrisSteer)

Whatever you think about the government and local authorities clamping down on pollution with exhaust emissions zones, we can’t escape them. And as time goes by, restrictions are only going to become tougher. We’ve already heard of some customers being caught out and fined for driving in London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Read on to find out what you need to know.

What are exhaust emissions?

When an internal combustion engine burns fuel, the chemicals in the fuel are turned into gases that are released into the atmosphere through the exhaust pipe. Some of these are harmless such as oxygen, nitrogen and water. The harmful gases you’ll see mentioned most are carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

How to find out what your car’s emissions are

Car makers advertise their various models’ CO2 emissions because that’s what car tax for the first year of a model’s life is based on. They will also publicise its fuel consumption. And the more fuel a car consumes, the more harmful emissions it will pump out. Check out a model’s emissions via this government website.

What are Low Emissions Zones?

Greater London currently has the largest LEZ in the world. Other UK cities that have an LEZ are Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Glasgow. Apart from London, the UK’s Low Emissions Zones only affect buses. The London LEZ applies to buses, coaches, lorries, larger vans and light utility vehicles. One of the aims of the LEZ is to reduce particle matter (smoke) plus nitrogen oxide gases. Affected vehicles can avoid the LEZ charge by having a special filter fitted. The LEZ – like the ULEZ below – is policed by Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras.

What are Ultra Low Emissions Zones?

exhaust emissions zones
So far, the only ultra low emission zone is in central London (Picture iStock/ChrisSteer)

To improve air quality in the capital, central London now has an Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). The idea is to keep the most polluting vehicles out of the centre of the city by making their owners pay a £12.50 charge every day they want to enter. The charge applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You don’t have to pay a charge if your car is Euro 4 compliant (petrol) or Euro 6 (diesel). See below what this means. Scotland has said it will follow London’s lead. If you don’t pay the charge you can be fined £160 per day (reduced by half if you pay within two weeks).

What are Euro emissions standards?

European emissions standards began in 1992 as an effort by the European Union to force motor makers to clean up their act. The latest standard is Euro6. This was launched in 2014 and every newly registered car from September 2015 must comply with it.

As diesel and petrol cars produce different types of emissions, they must conform to different Euro standards. Petrol cars that meet ULEZ standards (Euro 4) are usually first registered in the UK after 2005. Diesel cars that comply (Euro 6) are generally first registered after September 2015.

How to buy a less polluting car

exhaust emissions zones

Because of the way car makers are policed, the newer the car that you buy is, the less pollution it will produce compared to its predecessor. And the smaller it is, the less pollution it will produce relative to larger models.

Historically, automatic cars used more fuel and were therefore more polluting than manual models. However, clever electronics that control gearshifts have changed that. It isn’t always the case, but it’s worth checking any model you’re interested in buying to see if the automatic version is more economical and therefore less polluting.

Damon Jowett is head of Service Delivery – Rescue for Green Flag

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