What are Euro 4 car emissions ratings?

How green is your car? Do you know what its Euro emissions rating is – and why it matters?
The Euro emissions ratings are standards that all new cars must meet to keep our air clean. They’re now in the headlines due to the London ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) and forthcoming regional clean air zones (CAZ), which will be free for greener, newer vehicles.
All this talk of Euro 4, ULEZ and CAZ can leave your head reeling! But it’s important to stay on top of it, otherwise you could land yourself with some hefty penalty charges.
And if you fail to pay those charges, you might soon find yourself learning the hard way about seized vehicles! At Insurance Factory, we’re here to help you find impounded car insurance if need be, but we hope we can help you stay out of trouble in the first place with our guide to Euro emissions ratings.

What are the different emissions ratings?

If you’re old enough to remember the early 1990s, you might recall how the phrases ‘unleaded petrol’ and ‘catalytic converters’ suddenly became part of everyone’s normal vocabulary.
That’s down to the Euro 1 rating, introduced in 1992/3, which all new cars in the EU had to meet. It lowered the amount of hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) they could emit, plus particulate matter in the case of diesel engines.
In the almost 30 years since then, there have been five further ratings, covering a wider range of pollutants and introducing more stringent limits. Nowadays, they mainly cover NOx, HC, carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter (PM).
Despite Brexit, the UK is expected to stick to this ratings system to ensure a common standard across the continent and drive down dangerous emissions.


So what’s so special about Euro 4?

Euro 4 was introduced for all new vehicles from 2006. To pass the standard, petrol cars were permitted to produce carbon dioxides (CO2) of no more than 1g/km, Total Hydro Carbon (THC) emissions of no more than 0.1g/ km, and nitrogen oxides (NOx) of no more than 0.08g/km.
For diesel cars, the limits were even lower: CO2 of no more than 0.5g/km, and THC plus NOx of no more than 0.3g/km. Particulate matter had to be less than 0.025g/km, leading to the introduction of diesel particulate filters on some vehicles.
That was 15 years ago, so the majority of vehicles on our streets today comply with these limits.
Now, for petrol cars, the Euro 4 rating has gained a new significance: it’s been set as the cut-off point for charging in the new low emissions zones being introduced across the UK. If your petrol vehicle is Euro 4 or higher, you can drive in those zones for free – otherwise, you’re likely to face a daily charge. Read on for more details.

What about diesel vehicles?

In recent years, concerns have grown about the pollution caused by diesel vehicles. Diesel NOx has been linked to respiratory problems, raising potentially serious public health issues in congested urban areas.
Therefore, the London ULEZ and the forthcoming CAZs will set a stricter limit for diesel vehicles: that of Euro 6.
This cuts the permitted level of NOx from 0.18g/km in Euro 5 to just 0.08g/km. Diesel vehicle manufacturers use one of two methods to get NOx levels this low: either selective catalytic reduction (SCR), or exhaust gas recirculation (EGR).
Other limits for Euro 6 diesel are: CO of 0.5g/km, HC plus NOx of 0.17g/km, and PM of 0.005g/ km.
Since the Euro 6 diesel rating was introduced only in 2015, there are still a great many vehicles on the roads that don’t comply. So it’s diesel owners and drivers who are most affected by the introduction of new ULEZ and CAZ areas in our cities.
If you own an older diesel vehicle, have you considered how you’ll adapt? If you live in, or frequently visit, a ULEZ or CAZ, you could soon find yourself racking up charges or – worse – Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) and fines for non-payment.
And if you continue to stick your head in the sand, you could even have your vehicle seized for non-payment of your fines. That means a whole new world of hassle, as in order to recover your vehicle, you’ll have to pay outstanding charges plus storage fees, and may well need to take out impounded car insurance to drive your vehicle home again.

What about electric and hybrid vehicles?

Good news for electric vehicle owners – they are categorised as zero emissions. If you charge them using electricity from a green source, they’re considered to be as clean as private motor vehicles get. They’re exempt from ULEZ or CAZ charges.
Hybrid cars or vans do use some fuel, so they’re also subject to the same Euro ratings system as petrol or diesel vehicles. Again, most hybrid petrol models on the streets today meet Euro 4 standards, but pre-2015 hybrid diesel models might fall foul of new charging systems.

Where can I find my vehicle’s Euro emissions rating?

It’s often stamped on the inside of the passenger or driver door frame, along with information such as tyre pressures. You might also find it in your registration documents.
The easiest way, though, is to type in your registration number to the HPI online checker.

What is the London ULEZ?

If you live in London or drive there regularly, you’ll already have encountered the ULEZ. But be warned – it’s about to get bigger.
Currently, the ULEZ covers only central London – the same area as the congestion charge, which is separate. But from 25th October 2021, it will be widened to include the whole area between the North and South Circular roads. That’s an extensive area, in which millions of people live and work.
If your vehicle doesn’t comply with emissions regulations, you have to pay £12.50 to drive your car here. The charge is considerably higher for larger vehicles such as lorries and buses. It applies 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas Day. And if your journey takes place over midnight, that’s two charges.
To avoid paying charges, motorcycles and mopeds must have a rating of Euro 3 or higher, for petrol vehicles it’s Euro 4 or higher, and for diesel vehicles Euro 6 or higher.
There are some exemptions, for example for historic vehicles. And there is an extended ‘grace period’ for registered disabled passenger vehicles (not just blue badge holders), who have until October 2025 to switch to a higher rated vehicle.


What is a CAZ?

A CAZ is a Clean Air Zone – similar to the ULEZ, though regulations are less stringent. They are being introduced in central areas of some UK cities over the next couple of years, with more expected later.
Again, charges apply to petrol vehicles with a rating lower than Euro 4 and diesel vehicles lower than Euro 6. However, some areas will levy the charge only on vehicles such as buses, lorries and taxis.
Bath introduced a CAZ in early 2021, but it does not apply to private vehicles. Nor will Portsmouth’s CAZ, due to be launched in late 2021.
Birmingham’s new CAZ charges £8 for non-compliant vehicles, including private cars and vans. Bristol’s CAZ has been delayed from autumn 2021 until summer 2022, and will also charge non-compliant private vehicles.
Cardiff, Hull, Manchester, and Sheffield are among the other English and Welsh cities said to be working on plans. In Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen all have plans to introduce schemes in early 2022.
You can see if you have to pay by entering your registration number into the government’s online vehicle checker.
Again, there are various exemptions for certain groups of people or types of vehicle – rules vary, so check with your local authority.

How do I pay the charge?

In London, you can pay online, by phone, through an app, or by setting up Auto Pay. Make sure you use the official Transport for London (TfL) channels, and don’t get fooled by any fake websites.
You can pay up to 90 days in advance of your journey, or by midnight on the third day after your journey.
For other areas, you can pay on the government’s CAZ website.

What happens if I don’t pay?

Automatic number plate readers will check every vehicle entering the ULEZ or CAZ. In London, if you don’t pay for your car on time, you’ll be sent a Penalty Charge Notice for £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. Other cities charge varying amounts.
In extreme cases of non-payment, fines enforcement agents can seize your car. To get it back, you’ll have to pay the outstanding fines plus a whole host of other costs. You’ll also need impounded car insurance to drive it away from the pound.

Should I avoid the charge by replacing my vehicle?

The ULEZ has been introduced in stages to give people time to adapt to different modes of transport, or replace their vehicles with newer models.
Many CAZ areas are following a similar pattern. In Bristol, for example, there will be a one-year exemption from charges for certain people, including residents and businesses based in the CAZ, people on lower incomes, and disabled people with blue badges.
After those grace periods are up, you need to consider how often you’re going to be driving in an ULEZ or CAZ to decide whether it makes financial sense for you to upgrade.
If you only occasionally drive into a city centre, you may prefer to keep your older vehicle and just pay the charge. However, if you live in the charging area – as many Londoners will from autumn 2021 – then your costs will add up fast!
Support may be available for people who want to buy a low emissions vehicle. Check with your local authority for details of any grants, particularly for people on a low income. There are also government discounts available on new plug-in vehicles.
If you do choose to upgrade, make sure you sell or dispose of your old car responsibly. Abandoned, untaxed or unroadworthy cars are likely to get impounded – and that will cause you a whole lot more trouble than just paying the ULEZ charge! You could have to pay costs including storage and disposal, or get impounded car insurance if you want to drive your vehicle away.

What about driving abroad?

There are similar low emission zones in other cities around Europe, including Paris, Brussels and Milan. Many also use Euro 4 as their cut-off point. So if you’re heading abroad, do check regulations in advance to make sure you’re not caught out.

Is further legislation on the cards?

Yes indeed! The UK government has announced plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030. Hybrids will also be phased out, and from 2035, all new cars and vans should be zero emission at the tailpipe.
So over the next few years, there should be a massive investment in infrastructure to make this possible. You can expect to see electric charge points being installed on streets and in homes across the UK, making it easier to switch to an electric vehicle.
Grants are also promised to help people replace their diesel and petrol vehicles with electric alternatives. The Euro emissions ratings will be a thing of the past!

Get a quote from Insurance Factory today

The world of motoring is a complex one, and drivers can unwittingly fall foul of regulations – particularly when new measures are introduced, such as a CAZ. If this happens to you, help is at hand.
If you’re unlucky enough to have your car impounded, you’ll need to provide evidence that you’re insured before you’re reunited with your vehicle. Most standard insurance policies won’t cover this.
At Insurance Factory, we know that having your vehicle impounded is an extremely stressful experience, so we simplify the process by arranging specialist impounded car insurance for you. It covers you for driving your car away from the pound, and for the next 30 or 365 days, depending on the policy you choose.
So if you need to recover your car from the pound, call the Insurance Factory today. We’re here to help.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.