With the low emissions zone coming into force on 3 January, older diesel vehicles will have to undergo an expensive conversion – or stay away from the streets of London
Many camper vans do not comply with London’s low emission zone, which comes into force in January 2012. (Photography: Rick Colls / Rex Features)
Drivers of older diesel-engined camper vans and a host of other older vehicles, including minibuses, face having to spend thousands of pounds on new exhaust systems if they want to drive in London from January 2012.
The changes to the capital’s Low Emission Zone were announced by Transport for London (TfL) back in 2007. However, many camper van owners, in particular, are unaware of the changes that come into force in a few months.
Until now, TfL’s Low Emissions Zone has restricted only those driving bigger, mostly commercial, vehicles into the capital. But from 3 January 2012 it will also affect the owners of larger vans, campers and minibuses first registered before January 2002. Larger motorhomes, first registered before 2006, will also have to comply. The rules affect diesel, not petrol engines.
If you’ve got such a vehicle, you will need to have an expensive particulate filter added to the exhaust system – or pay a £100 or £200 charge for every day you drive in the capital. If you don’t, you’ll incur a £500 fine.
Camper van owners in the capital appear to have been most caught out by the new rules, although they will also have a huge impact on schools, and scout and charity groups who run older minibuses in and out of the capital on trips.
Mechanics say there is a backlog of camper owners waiting to get their vans updated, and many won’t be able to comply with the new rules before they come into play. Owners complain it has been difficult to get information on what their vehicle requires to meet the rules.
Many face having to move their vehicle out of London in January, or paying the fine every time they drive – even for a trip to the local supermarket. Many may decide it is not worth spending the money on their elderly van, and be forced to sell up.
Which vehicles are affected?
Anyone driving an affected vehicle anywhere in greater London will need to comply with the rules. Vehicles include large vans, 4×4 commercial vehicles and horseboxes that have a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of between 1.205 and 3.5 tonnes. It also affects all but the smallest camper vans (those weighing above 2.5 tonnes GVW) and minibuses with more than eight passenger seats.
The changes mostly affect diesel-engined vehicles first registered before 1 January 2002 – those with engines deemed not to meet Euro 3 emissions levels that came into force between 2001 and 2002.
Some vehicles registered before this date are compliant with Euro 3, although you will have to be able to prove this to TfL to escape the charges. Larger vehicles above 3.5 tonnes GVW registered before 1 October 2006 are similarly affected. They will have to have a Euro 4 compliant engine from January. Petrol vehicles are not affected, and all vehicles first registered before 1973 are considered to be historic and are exempt. This means the iconic early VW camper is in the clear.
I’ve got an affected vehicle. What do I have to do?
You will have to have the vehicle’s exhaust system modified to make the emissions cleaner by adding an expensive particulate trap at a typical cost of £1,500-£2,200. Large vans will be at the lower end of the spectrum – campers at the higher end. In some cases a particulate filter could cost as much as £3,500.
The installation has to be carried out by a TfL-approved installer and checked annually. You need to get tested at the VOSA MoT centre and 10 days later, you should be issued with a certificate allowing you to register your vehicle on TfL’s database. Make sure you act before 3 January next year.
What happens if I can’t get it done in time?
From 3 January every vehicle’s registration will be checked (using cameras throughout London) against the database of vehicles that are exempt. When the system spots a non-compliant vehicle being driven in the capital, a penalty charge will be issued if the £100 or £200 a day fee has not been paid. Users will get a warning letter for the first offence. The penalty is £500, reduced to £250 if you pay within 14 days.
It doesn’t look as though you will get an MoT-style exemption to drive to and from the garage. In reality, those who own a motorhome or van that they can’t get upgraded in time will have to move it out of the zone until the work has been carried out.
Where is the Low Emission Zone?
A map on the TfL website shows the zone includes almost all of greater London – most urban areas within the M25, including Heathrow airport, but not the M25 itself. If you live in London, or plan ever to drive into London you will need to comply. Owners of older motorhomes in the rest of the country will no longer be able to visit the two main London campsites at Crystal Palace or Lee Valley in east London without paying the £100/£200 a day charge.
How can I check whether my vehicle will incur a penalty?
TfL says if you fear that your vehicle is affected you should log on to its vehicle checker website.
Who else is affected?
Community groups and charities that run minibuses are going to be particularly affected.
Back in August, a charity that supports stroke victims in Waltham Forest, north-east London, revealed how it is trying to raise around £20,000 to replace its minibus before January. The Connaught Stroke Club, which caters for around 40 sufferers and their families, uses its minibus to get members to and from its social and support meetings at the Connaught Day Hospital at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone. After January they will have to pay £100 a day to continue to use it.
Elsewhere, many users of commercial 4x4s and pick-ups – typically tree surgeons and gardeners – will be affected by the rules. Some VW Caravelle owners seem to have fallen foul of the new regulations, although on the face of it they should be exempt.
A TfL spokesman said: “The changes are being introduced to deter the oldest and most polluting vehicles from driving in the capital. Poor air quality poses a serious health threat to Londoners, in particular younger and older people and those with underlying health problems.
“TfL recognises and values the essential role performed by charities, voluntary and community groups, however some of the vehicles operated by this sector are among the most individually polluting of their type. The mayor deferred the introduction of larger vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles for 15 months to allow people to prepare.”
Will it improve air quality?
It certainly should – the older the vehicle they more it tends to pollute. However, many disgruntled camper van owners are asking why they have been included in the rules, while taxi drivers have been let off.
Most camper owners drive only a few thousand miles a year. Research in 2010 found that London taxis are responsible for more than a fifth of all particulate pollution in central London. Yet, under TfL rules, existing black cabs don’t require particulate filters and will only be taken off the road after 15 years.
‘Worthless pile of junk’ – at the stroke of a pen
Guardian journalist Steve Chamberlain from east London bought a VW van a month ago. Then came the letter from Transport for London …
“Dear Sir, the vehicle you recently bought is now a worthless pile of junk.” Or words to that effect.
Ah, the Low Emission Zone. I’d seen the signs around town but assumed that it was aimed at commercial vehicles only. Not so. Yes, I got caught out because I didn’t do that extra research but I do think that, this close to the roll-out of the scheme, it should be harder to buy a vehicle that is essentially illegal.
Along with their letter, Transport for London provided a leaflet that helpfully explained I could buy a brand-new van and even provided a list of companies that sell them (who knew Volkswagen, Ford and Renault existed! Thanks for pointing that out, guys). The alternative is to fit a filter, which costs more than the van. Thanks again. Maybe more effort on publicising it in the first place?
Author: Miles Brignall
Source: The Guardian