Analysis : LEZs, classic movement’s greatest threat?

Andrew Elphick delves into Low Emissions Zones (LEZs), and how their widespread introduction could affect widespread classic car usage for years to come…

The future. Its scary right? Maybe. One thing is for certain you will never outrun it in a car. You may or may not be aware of the LEZ, or you might have read about the ‘Umweltzone’ or presently it may be of little concern to you if London is far, far away on a map.

Here at AROnline we love cars, all cars old, new, desirable and British Leyland. But here’s the rub: they’re killing us. Yeah we all know that, we all ignore it too – after all we are only doing a few hundred miles in our pride and joy, on top of which as enthusiasts our pride and joy is normally in optimum condition. This is absolutely true for the most part, and the liberty four wheels and a gallon of petrol gives us is un-measureable at the moment. However current EU regulations force several European cities to take measures (including our own capital if your classic is a commercial or a Landrover) that are strangling our right to throttle assisted roaming.

Low Emission Zones (LEZ) are becoming common place, a fact which lets be honest is no bad thing. But what is a LEZ?

LEZs are areas where the vehicles in the highest polluting group are banned. Yep, you clutching your Castrol valvemaster bottle. Yep, you too, the proud owner of the million mile LTI Fairway. Around the globe these areas can be spotted as Enviromental zones, Umweltzonen, Milieuzones, Lavutslippssone, Miljozone to name the most famous. All open 365 days a year bathed in glorious CCTV and warden control.

We know Air travel is far more polluting, as are cattle, domestic heating and pretty much ever other mechanised process. However the motor vehicles pollutant level is easy to monitor, easy to rectify (should you have the fiscal means for a brand new car). Transport for London’s grounding by 2013 of over 4000 traditional FX4 based Taxi’s shows the power behind these incoming environmental measures.

Our car loving Italian cousins have the ability to battle their nation’s famous legal bureaucracy, and register pre-1992 vehicles as ‘Historic’ so long as the New Highway Code requirements are met. Germany is possibly the strictest emissions disciple with 42 existing ‘Umwelt’ environmental zones. In a nutshell if you’re not Euro 1 compliant, you not allowed in. However register as an ‘Oldtimer’ and freedom is restored – if over 30 years old.

Historic plate legitimises Maxi's 'classic' status in Germany.
Historic plate (H-suffix) legitimises Maxi's 'classic' status in Germany.

AROnline’s deputy editor Alexander Boucke explains: ‘When German authorities looked for solutions to fight the PM10 and NOx immisions often exceeding limits imposed by EU law since 2005, a bundle of measures was taken. Apart from targetting industry and domestic heating, a particular emphasis was put on road traffic. In the end laws were passed that allow cities to ban cars based on emssions if other actions did not achieve the necessary effects.

‘When it transpired 2006 that all cars without catalytic converters and almost all old Diesels would be banned, the classic car movement was shaken up – and finally started some protest actions after debating the topic. The argument that the small number of registered historic cars (‘Oldtimer’) would not significantly affect the immisions in the new Umweltzone areas could be backed up by numbers and brought to the parliament. The nice – and not self-evident result was the total exemption from these regulations for classic cars.’

So what is this pollution fear? Air pollution. The two most prominent are microscopic particles (PM10) and various Nitrogen oxides (NOx). PM10 particles are less than 10 microns in diameter, that is 10 millionth of a meter. These particles can be dust, pollen r soot – either natural or man-made. The contaminant of most concern being Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which as Nitrogen monoxide (NO) mixes with atmosphere ozone (O3) to create NO2 (Nitrogen dioxide). Both are thought responsible for an increase in respiratory (breathing, asthma) and fine particles also for cardiovascular (heart) conditions. A black cloud over our most densely populated cities. In simple terms that choke you do if you’re stood near the back of a smoking bus.

European emissions regulation compliance chart:


Euro 1 Euro 2 Euro 3 Euro 4 Euro 5 Euro 6
Passenger cars July 1992  Jan 1996 Jan 2000  Jan 2005 Sept 2009 Sept 2014
Light commercial vehicles (N1-I) Oct 1994  Jan 1998 Jan 2000 Jan 2005 Sept 2010 Sept 2015 (diesel only)
Light commercial vehicles (N1-II & III)  Oct 1994 Jan 1998 Jan 2001 Jan 2006 Sept 2010 Sept 2015 (diesel only)
Trucks and buses 1992 1995  1999 2005 2008
 Motorcycles 2000 2004 2007
 Mopeds 2000 2004

So is the British classic car movement is prepared and armed?

Not yet. At present the classic car community at large seems preoccupied with free RFL – road fund licence. A fair goal, one which would likely benefit tens of thousands of enthusiasts. However if you can’t actually drive your car, it doesn’t matter if RFL is free or not.

Several associations (including the Association of car enthusiasts and the FBHVC have submitted proposals questioning future trends with the LEZ’s, AROnline’s worry is that the average enthusiast in the street has missed these potential incoming dangers for the classic car community.

So dear reader what do you think? Should we lobby for a combined registration and taxation system similar to the German ‘Oldtimer’ process? An ability to drive the length and breadth of Britain tax free at a vehicles 30th build date anniversary?

It seems a simple pilgrimage to us.

Keith Adams


  1. This is a much more sensible campaign than just asking for free road tax.

    I think if in return for free road tax and exemption from other restrictions we agree to some sort of system where we show our cars are well maintained then it would be fair and prevent wrecks hitting the road.

    What i mean is even a 1920’s Austin 7 is capable of stopping in a reasonable distance and be able to be driven with out pumping out obvious clouds of smoke if it’s well maintained.

    For classic car enthusiasts this shouldn’t be an issue as we all maintain our cars well and generally look after them anyway, they’re our pride and joy. It would put an obstacle in the way of those who just stick an old wreck on the road with minimal repairs simply to get out of road tax.

  2. I did hear that some classic car club representatives/lobbyists were in talks with transport ministers regarding these matters last year,was wondering has anyone heard anything?

  3. One word about the situation in Italy –
    Yes, a 20+ yr-old car may be registered as an “Historical Interest Vehicle” but that’s not immediate as far as I know. Your vehicle must be registered in a so-called “Historical Motor Vehicles Registry” which takes a bit of documents (oh well – bureaucracy never dies); your car must be evaluated by a specific club or a commissioner, ie beyond meeting Highway Code requirements it has to be in near-to-pristine conditions.
    Many car enthusiasts go through this (and I know quite a few people who actually did it), but one thing is a historical car, another thing is a 20-yr old smoking knacker – whose owners usually happily get rid of provided they’ve got the money to do it.

  4. Simon, cheers for that tip! I read up on the Italian mine field, and it seemed the easiest get-out option was to claim you were clergy on the documentation! Your probably a far better man than me to fill in the blanks – If you will 🙂

  5. That was a really interesting piece, thanks for bringing it to our attention Andrew.
    There’s a very real chance that if this is successful in London, this could rolled out across the whole of the UK, that’s what worries me.

  6. Thanks for this article Andrew, I for one was not aware how widespread these LEZs were. The environmental war on the vehicle is gathering pace, it makes you wonder how long until the next UK Low Emission Zone and Congestion Charge Zone will appear – it’s only a matter of time. I feel sorry for people who own commercial vehicles that are used within the LEZ which I gather is pretty much all of Greater London – they are going to have to pay to upgrade their vehicles if they are non-compliant – even if those vehicles have years of useful life left in them. This is a cost that could push many businesses over the edge financially. In addition, the cost of providing a service to customers in the LEZ will increase, at a time when many people are struggling to survive. No-one wins, not even the planet – vehicles take energy to build as well as to run. A sad state of affairs indeed.

  7. “No-one wins, not even the planet – vehicles take energy to build as well as to run”

    I think the main rationale behind LEZ’s is with regards to air quality rather than CO2 emissions. I’m not really old enough to remember the London smog, where you needed headlights during the day! You can certainly seen the difference in the stone work on buildings now compared to old photos though. Even i can remember going to London in the 80’s though and the air tasted noticeably different. It’s to do with the density of traffic in one place, the exhaust fumes don’t get chance to disipate.

  8. land rover apparently published a statement not that long ago that cars use 7 more times energy to be made than they use in their lifetime. if that is so and if a car engine (of anytype) is burning clean (no smoke and engine and fuel systyem basically in good order) then how is forcing people to buy new cars going to fix the problem?, all it does is “shift” the emmision problem from the UK to China or Korea (where the cheap disposable cars are soon to be comming from). i do accept though that keeping ALL cars out of any City centre as a whole is a good thing. alex

  9. Re Steve@ 6–did you know that London Fire Brigade was forced to sell a considerable number of still young in life Volvo appliances because they could not comply with the LEZ? The commercial vehicle area of preservation is by far the hardest hit in complying with the “rules” and it is certainly a sound argument that we should be addressing these prohibitions rather than the VED issue.

  10. “did you know that London Fire Brigade was forced to sell a considerable number of still young in life Volvo appliances because they could not comply with the LEZ?”

    Although the LFB are basically part of the same organisation that came up with the scheme in the first place, fire authorities come under the local authority, in this case the mayor of London.

    • No doubt our EU masters will see to it that all our cities have a LEZ soon.

      Not really – the EU only says that the air should have a certain quality and if worse, that a plan has to be made and put into action. What sort of plan that is, is completely open to the local administration. They could ban all BBQs, open fires, coal and oil burning central heating systems if they think this solves their problem. When it comes to PM10 (particulate matter), this would be more effective than banning older cars. But when it comes to NOx, the situation is different: NOx concentration in air is very closely related to road traffic. Non-cat fitted petrol cars, as well as all Diesels without advanced emission control systems emit most of the NOx found in dense city areas – a ban of these will work. So apart from the motorist being seen as an easy target by some, there is also a clear evidence that motoring is polluting the air.

  11. Well actually the whole LEZ thing doesn’t originate from Europe. LA was the first to come up with it, basically because it became impossible to see where you were going during the day. Pretty much the whole of California is an LEZ.

  12. @4 Andrew Elphick –
    You’re welcome!
    Cannot remember much more details on the matter at the moment, just one thing – many car owners (if given the possibility) inscribe their vehicles as ‘historic’ to enjoy benefits (ie reduced premiums) on annual registration tax and insurance; if a ‘historic’ car is involved in an accident, damage will be paid according to its supposed value, which surely is going to be significantly higher than simply an old car’s. Which is usually scrapped and written off for good.
    And then there’s that thing you mentioned in your article about free access to LEZ/Limited Traffic Zones, which becomes more of a nuisance to average car owners every year.
    Living in a smallish town that’s not a big problem to me (so far), but in larger cities such as Milan (just to name one) even driving a recent Euro-4 class car (like mine – I drive a 2 yr-old Diesel hatchback) you might not be granted free access. That’s why CNG and LPG (supposedly more eco-friendly) cars are, if not popular, quite common here. OK – end of OT. 🙂

    PS should you find articles/stuff that you might find interesting about Italian cars/marques and need help translating to English, give me a shot and I’ll try being of some use. 😉 Cheers

  13. The situation here in Spain is also complicated. I have a Austin Westminster which failed the locla annual test on emission gasses. It is not logical to test a 45+ year old car on emission. Plus have you seen the way some diesels push out their sh** here in Spain?? It is not a level playing field.

  14. We have the same problem here in the US,but our classic car associations have sanctioned against the proposed legislation and so far we are holding our own so far! I have as my daily driver a ’96 Jaguar XJS that didn’t pass NY emission inspection,and the Motor vehicle dept sent me the 2016 registration renewal with a memo if it doesn’t pass emissions it can’t be registered.Needless to say it in the shop for the last several weeks. I know what you guys are going through,because we are too! DON’T GIVE UP & GOOD LUCK !!! We drive our classics maybe a 1000 miles a year.I doubt this is polluting the atmosphere compared to the government testing nuclear devices or dumping toxic waste !!!

  15. @Ian

    I’m sick of following german repmobiles which leave huge plumes of derv smoke in their wake, yet they’re taxed less than my admittedly gas guzzling 2 litre turbo petrol

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