Majority of drivers confused about Clean Air Zones ahead of major changes this summer 

May 25, 2023 by

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  • New research by carwow reveals confusion amongst Brits amid the expansion and introduction of ULEZ across London and Clean Air Zones in the UK this summer
  • Just three in 10 say they understand how the zones work, while one in 10 say their vehicles are non-compliant but they can’t afford to switch
  • Hundreds of thousands of Brits are driving non-compliant cars, with more than 850,000 non-compliant vehicles on the roads in London alone 

New research commissioned by carwow reveals widespread confusion over upcoming changes to Clean Air Zones, and whether their cars will be compliant. 

The figures show an eye-opening three in four (74%) Brits are unsure if their cars will incur charges, while just three in 10 (29%) say they understand how the zones work. 

This summer will see the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) across all London boroughs from 29 August, while Glasgow’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) comes into effect next week (1st June), bringing with it an outright ban on non-compliant cars. There are over 850,000 such cars in London alone, and carwow’s findings suggest the vast majority of Brits don’t know if their vehicle is compliant or not. 

Since the expansion of ULEZ was announced in November 2022, carwow has seen a 101% increase in drivers selling their non-compliant used-cars via its Sell My Car service. 

Broad support for Clean Air Zones, despite confusion

Despite widespread confusion around whether their cars will be affected, carwow’s research finds broad support for the schemes, indicating that people are in favour of using emission zones to reduce air pollution. Some 37% of those polled outrightly support the zones compared to just 28% who oppose them. Furthermore, more than half (54%) of those surveyed agree that the ULEZ expansion and other new Clean Air Zones will help build a better world for future generations.

For those living, or soon to be living, in a Clean Air Zone, support for these schemes rises to nearly half (47%); for those who do not, over half (54%) say they would be more receptive to them if they found out their area had high levels of pollution.

But Brits feel time is wrong to expand zones now

carwow’s study also shows that while support is there for the growth of Clean Air Zones across the UK, there remain strong reservations over their timing. Clean Air Zones have appeared in Birmingham, Bristol and Oxford which now charge drivers to enter the zone, while schemes in Bath, Bradford, Portsmouth, Newcastle and Sheffield currently only apply to business-use vehicles like taxis and HGVs. Manchester’s Clean Air Zone is under review, while Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee will all bring in charges for drivers from May/June 2024. 

Almost six in 10 (59%) of all those surveyed think that given the cost of living crisis, now is the wrong time to grow these zones. This rises to 70% for those living in the Clean Air Zones who are more likely to be impacted on a daily basis. And with one in 10 (10%) saying their vehicles are non-compliant but they cannot afford to switch, many will be increasingly concerned as zone expansions draw near. 

In light of the upcoming changes, carwow’s in-house expert is recommending that drivers investigate whether their cars meet CAZ criteria sooner, rather than later. 

Hugo Griffiths, Consumer Editor and automotive expert at carwow, explains:

“Drivers are caught between rocks and hard places when it comes to the rise of the Clean Air Zone. On the one hand there’s broad support for improving urban air quality and a general sense that emission zones are the right way to go about this, but on the other many people are simply too up against it to think that now is the right time to be expanding or introducing zones.

“The silver lining is that for those on tight budgets, a compliant car can be relatively affordable as long as you’re prepared to compromise: any petrol car from 2006 onwards should make the Clean Air Zone grade. 

“Be sure to use Transport for London or carwow’s online ULEZ checker, as emission regulations for cars were introduced over time, so there’s no hard and fast rule for whether or not a vehicle will be compliant. 

“If your car doesn’t meet the new ULEZ zone requirements and you frequently drive into that area, it could be a good idea to consider selling it sooner rather than later, before the expansion deadline. It’s likely that we’ll witness an influx of non-compliant cars entering the used-car market in London and the South East as we approach 29 August. This influx could potentially affect the prices sellers can obtain for their vehicles. Moreover, if you need to replace your car with a compliant model, it might be advantageous to start looking now. As Clean Air Zones continue to expand around the UK and public awareness grows, prices may increase accordingly.”

carwow’s top emission-zone tips:

1. Don’t underestimate how big the ULEZ area is getting

The vast majority of land inside the M25 will be covered by ULEZ from 29 August, including attractions and facilities that draw people from miles around – think Chessington World of Adventures, Heathrow Airport and IKEA Croydon. So if you’re driving anywhere within sniffing distance of London, check both if your car is compliant, and if you’re likely to enter the zone.

2. There are lots of options for compliant cars at many price-points

Petrol cars made since 2006 should be ULEZ compliant and the starting price point for older emission-zone-friendly cars is pretty low – for now at least. If you want a car with all the mod-cons and aren’t tied to the idea of car ownership, leasing can also be a good option. The costs are typically lower than other car finance methods, which means you could afford a higher spec car. Deals include road tax for the contract length and a full manufacturer’s warranty.

3. Don’t judge a car’s ULEZ compliance by its age

Euro emission regulations were never intended to be used for low emission zones – they exist to force car makers to build cleaner cars. Because of this, Euro regs roll out in stages: first, newly launched cars have to meet them in order to be introduced to market, then, a year or so later, all new cars in showrooms have to be compliant. Ultimately, one diesel car from as early as 2014 might be ULEZ compliant, whereas another from 2016 might not. The best advice is therefore to plug the number plate of any car you’re thinking of buying into TfL, carwow or the Government’s emission-checking tools before even bothering to go for a test drive.

4. Some emission zones are even stricter than ULEZ

The vast majority of the population lives outside London, but with Low Emission Zones now present in all four corners of the country and more coming soon, non-compliant cars are being squeezed into ever-decreasing areas. In Scotland, Glasgow’s Clean Air Zone, active from 1 June 2023, completely bans non-compliant cars from the city centre, while Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee have identical schemes launching in 2024.

5. Look at national sales to get the best price

If you’re looking to sell your car and live near a Clean Air Zone like ULEZ, you might find you can get a better price by selling it further away from home. Online car selling and buying sites like carwow can help your car achieve a great price, and make selling your car simple by connecting you with an ecosystem of respected, trusted dealers. Those dealers can come from anywhere in the UK and will bid on your vehicle from all over the UK, collecting it from your home for free if you accept their offer.

Polling carried out between 2nd May 2023 and 5th May 2023, with a sample of 2,002 UK adults. All research conducted adheres to the UK Market Research Society (MRS) code of conduct (2019).