With London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion on the way, residents in the capital’s 33 boroughs face the agonising decision between paying out £12.50-a-day to use their non-exempt cars or forking out for newer – considerably more expensive – models that meet emissions requirements.
However, there is a cheaper way of getting around London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to force more drivers to pay to use their vehicles.
Classic car experts say Londoners willing to put in some research can identify older models that are exempt from ULEZ’s daily charge and – granted you can get your hands on one – could be an affordable and more entertaining way to continue driving in the capital for the time being.
We’ve already done exactly that. This is Money editor Simon Lambert pinpointed a sub-£3,000 older motor on the verge of ‘modern classic’ status that wouldn’t cost him a penny in ULEZ as a daily driver in London… and then bought it.
Find out what that car was and see which five vehicles collectible-car gurus at Hagerty suggest below.
How to beat ULEZ with an older car that costs less than £3,000: Here are six options for cheap second-hand models that are evade Sadiq Khan’s emission charge
From 29 August, Mr Khan will extend the ULEZ boundary to encapsulate all 33 London boroughs.
It’s a move that’s caused huge controversy, not least with the expansion coming during a cost-of-living crunch.
It means anyone driving a petrol car that fails to meet at least Euro 4 emission standards and those with diesels that are not Euro 6 compliant will be forced to cough up £12.50 each day it turns a wheel.
However, it is not only post-Euro 4 petrols (generally those registered after 2006) and Euro 6 diesel (typically registered after 2015) that evade the daily fee.
So do ‘classic’ cars.
ULEZ rules stipulate that any vehicle over 40 years is excused from the emission zone’s charge, which amounts to a massive £62.50 a week if you’re using your motor five out of seven days.
From 29 August, Mr Khan will extend the ULEZ boundary to encapsulate all 33 London boroughs. It’s a move that’s caused huge controversy, not least with the expansion coming during a cost-of-living crunch
The ruling is in line with other motoring provisions, such as four-decade-old cars not requiring an annual MOT and automatically qualifying for ‘historical vehicle tax exemption’.
While many will consider a classic car a huge investment, there are some vehicles over 40 years of age that will cost you far less than a brand new – or nearly new – motor, be easier to maintain and less of a drain on your finances than you first thought.
Experts at insurer Hagerty – which has a team of classic car valuations boffins – have highlighted five older motors that aren’t just ULEZ exempt but are also affordable to purchase.
‘The Ultra Low Emissions Zone will impact hundreds of thousands of drivers living in and visiting London, including owners of collectible older cars that are less than 40 years old, which is why we wanted to identify some of the most affordable classics that are just old enough to be exempt from ULEZ – but user-friendly enough to be comfortable when driven in the capital, ‘explains James Mills, Hagerty UK’s editor.
‘And the good news is anyone can use the Hagerty Price Guide online valuation tool to identify pre-1983 classics, and get an accurate indication of how much one would cost to buy.’
Our very own Simon Lambert did his own research ahead of the previous ULEZ expansion in 2021 before buying an older charging-zone-exempt motor.
He’s thrown into the mix his personal choice for dodging clean air zone fees…
1. Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 (1981-1988)
Average price: £1,925–£2,425
Early examples of the Mk2 Cavalier – those that were registered between 1981 and the end of January 1982 – will already be exempt from the ULEZ charge. Probably avoid this car used for a Vauxhall stunt…
While all Mk1 Vauxhall Cavaliers are ULEZ exempt, these are worth quite a bit more money having already acquired true classic status.
However, go for an earlier Mk2 model and it will also evade Mr Khan’s driving tax but also be relatively affordable to purchase. Demand for these models in the early eighties was high, especially with many customers not taking to the ‘jelly-mould’ design of the Sierra, with this family-friendly Vauxhall out-selling its Ford counterpart in 1984 and 1985.
Hagerty doesn’t track the value of standard Mk2 Cavaliers, but it does keep a record of the sportier examples that are commonly cherished by keepers.
The 1300 saloons are the cheapest option while a 1800i five-door hatch – making 114bhp – covers the top end of the market. All should sit below £3,000.
2. Austin Maestro (1982-1995)
Average price: £2,075–£2,300
The Austin Maestro were ten a penny in the eighties. Today, very few remain on the road. But if you can get your hands on a decent-condition example – which should cost around £2,000 – you will benefit from ULEZ-free driving
The Austin Maestro was a car you’d once have seen everywhere across the British Isles. Not surprising, given over 600,000 were made.
But fast forward to the present day and there aren’t many of these cars left. Official records in 1995 (the final year it was produced as the Rover Maestro) showed that 231,824 remained in existence. An Auto Express survey in 2006 revealed it as one of the most scrapped cars of the preceding 30 years, with just over 11,500 examples with registered owners 15 years ago.
That number has shrunk considerable, with a little over 100 shown as still being on the road at the end of 2022, according to DVLA records reported by HowManyLeft.co.uk. Others may also be SORN,
However, if you can get your hands on an early model these now benefit from ULEZ exemption.
The most affordable 1.3 and 1.6-litre petrol models now qualify.
The MG Maestro, launched in 1983, is also now old enough, but with higher prices (spanning £1,100–£5,800 for non-turbos), you won’t find it in this list.
3. Austin Metro (1980-1986)
Average price: £2,075–£2,425
For those looking for a smaller city run-around, the Austin Metro is another ageing British motor that – granted you get one over 40 years old – will evade the £12.50 ULEZ daily charge
Princess Diana proved that the Metro is just the car for city slickers, bombing about Earls Court and wider London in an Austin Metro L in the early 80s.
Launched in 1980, three years of the Metro are now ULEZ compliant, and Austin’s shot at making a more modern Mini is as ideal for scooting around a city as it ever was.
Both 998 and 1275cc models are included, and the average price is comfortably less than £3,000. They should be easy to maintain and cheap to fix, too.
Unfortunately, like its larger sibling, the Maestro, there aren’t many readily available.
Over half a million (572,974) were registered on the road in 1995. But by 2020, that number hand dwindled to just 289 – even less today.
4. Citroen BX (1983-1994)
Average price: £2,300–£2,400
Find a very early example of the Citroen BX and it will not only qualify for ULEZ charge exemption when the boundary is extended in August, it should also be a sound investment with values expected to increase
£110m ULEZ scrappage scheme launched
Sadiq Khan’s controversial plans to extend London’s ULEZ took a massive step closer with the launch of a new £110million scrappage scheme.
It will provide financial support for those needing to ditch older vehicles to avoid the £12.50-a-day ULEZ charge.
> Find out more here
Buy a Citroen BX to drive around London and you will certainly stand out from the crowd.
Only the earliest UK examples of Citroen’s eighties and early nineties family wagon (those registered from 1983) will be ULEZ exempt, which does – currently – narrow down the selections.
Series one ’14’ and ’16’ hatchback variants are just old enough, and just affordable enough, to sneak onto this list with average prices below the £3,000 mark.
In typically French fashion, not many BXs stood the test of time, but find a quality example of a desirable specification car and you’ll be onto a winner in terms of it going up in value, says Hagerty.
It has only been tracking BX values since last year but says its rarity should see them make money in the coming years – which is why Hagerty told us in December that it’s one attainable classic collectors should consider investing in this year.
Average prices over the last 12 months have climbed only £25 – from £2,125 at the start of the year to £2,150 today – and should continue to appreciate in-line with inflation.
5. MG TF (2002-2005)
Average price: £2,550
The MG TF, produced from 2002, is available with Euro4 emissions compliant petrol engines. And you can easily pick them up for less than £3,000 today
The last of the cars recommended by Hagerty is one that isn’t a classic that’s over 40 years old. However, it does meet the requirement of costing less than £3,000.
The MGF and TF remain one of the most affordable open-top two-seaters on the market, and later examples meet Euro 4 emissions regulations, and are therefore compliant with ULEZ standards – for the time being, at least.
The mid-engined TF’s true calling is the open road but it’s great fun in the city, too.
The petrol powerplants are generally durable, though the 1.8 were known to blow a head gasket well before they were due to be changed in the service intervals. Electrical glitches are another bugbear of the TF, such as faulty power windows.
This is Money’s own ULEZ-beating old motor: Saab 9-3 Convertible (2003-2014)
Price paid: £2,600
This is Money Editor Simon Lambert wanted a fun, interesting and cheap car that was ULEZ-compliant, so he’d avoid having to pay £12.50 to enter London. His choice was this Saab 9-3 Convertible, which cost £2,600 in summer 2021
by Simon Lambert
About 18 months ago I was in the market for a good value second car and as someone who drives into London regularly, I knew I needed it to be ULEZ-charge free.
My car-buying criteria were petrol-engined, ULEZ-compliant, four seats, and to cost less than £3,500 and be unlikely to fall much further in value.
As I wasn’t planning to do more than about 5,000 miles a year in it, I wasn’t too fussed about fuel economy, and I’m also not scared of cars that have done plenty of miles, if there is evidence they’ve been looked after.
What I did want was for it to be interesting and fun.
Can you do that though? Is it possible to find an interesting car, that’s reliable, cheap and beats ULEZ?
It is if you are willing to do a bit of digging into unlikely candidates that are ULEZ compliant.
Among the cars I very seriously considered and could have brought in on-budget back then were Alfa GTVs and six-cylinder BMW E46 3 Series estates and coupes. But then browsing online served up an idea: a petrol Saab 93 convertible.
Initially, I was on the hunt for a 2.0 litre, four cylinder, Saab 9-3 convertible, ideally in Aero spec. I had to do a bit of travelling about and look at a few: some promising, some underwhelming, some avoid-at-all-costs.
And then one popped up: a black 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero, with 100,000 miles, two owners, and full service history but with a 2.8 litre V6 engine.
I initially baulked at that bigger engine, it’s less fuel efficient and means very expensive tax (£615 a year or £53 per month). But then I looked into it and these are relatively rare cars with a keen following among Saab enthusiasts.
The keen price and potential for this in-demand model to rise in value, meant I could swallow the more expensive car tax and petrol bills.
I visited the private seller and he was a long-term owner, who had clearly loved the car and cared for it – and bar some slightly chipped alloys and a few paint chips it was in great condition.
So, I bought my ULEZ-compliant car, a V6 2.8 litre, 250bhp Saab convertible, for £2,600.
Since then, it’s cost me a few hundred quid in servicing costs and new rear brake pads, plus the cost of a new tyre after an unrepairable puncture. It’s also provided a lot of good fun motoring, including a fantastic roof-down, solo four-hour drive home, cross country on A and B roads from Shropshire one Sunday evening last summer.
The verdict, after 18 months and about 8,000 miles of motoring, I’ve fallen in love with my cheap Saab.