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Which cars are congestion charge exempt?

The congestion charge was first introduced to London in 2003 by its first mayor, Ken Livingstone. It aimed to charge drivers a set daily fee for using busy London roads in a defined zone between 7am and 6pm.

Since then, a number of UK cities have begun to implement their own congestion zones, based on the current London model, such as Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ).

In this guide, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts explains everything you need to know about congestion charges, including how much you have to pay, when it applies and which cars are exempt from congestion charges. 

What is a congestion charge?

The congestion charge is a £15 daily charge that motorists have to pay if they want to drive into central London within the Congestion Charge zone from 7:00-18:00 Monday-Friday and 12:00-18:00 Sat-Sun and bank holidays. There is no charge between Christmas Day and New Year's Day (inclusive).

You must pay the Congestion Charge if you drive a combustion-engined vehicle, including hybrids, into London during its operating hours. However, beginning in December 2025, even drivers of zero-emission vehicles will be compelled to pay. 

The congestion charge aims to reduce traffic congestion in the city centre, which was initially investigated in a 1964 UK Government report. The scheme is enforced by Transport for London (TfL). It is separate from the ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone), which operates in a larger area.

Where are congestion charges in operation?

Currently, congestion charges only operate in the City of London. Other city locations feature 'clean air zones' which operate similarly to the congestion charge to help improve air quality in the city.

London Congestion Charge

The London Congestion Charge zone is located in the City of London West End, located within the London Inner Ring Road. All roads around the zone perimeter are monitored by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. You can use the Transport for London website to see if a specific address is in a congestion charge zone by entering the postcode before you drive through the zone.

Clean Air Zones 

Clean Air Zones are parts of a city that have been targeted to improve air quality by discouraging high-emission vehicles from entering. No vehicles are banned in Clean Air Zones however, vehicles with insufficiently clean engines must pay a daily charge if they travel within the zone, which works 24 hours a day, every day of the year, from midnight to midnight.

Clean Air Zones are located in Bath, Birmingham and Portsmouth. There are plans for Clean Air Zones to be brought into Bradford, Bristol and Manchester however, these plans haven't been put into place yet by the UK government.

How much is the congestion charge?

The Congestion Charge is a £15 daily charge and is enforced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. 

Drivers who fail to pay the Congestion Charge within three days of travel will be issued a £160 Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). The charge is £80 if you pay your PCN within 14 days. You have 28 days to settle the charge or file a PCN challenge.

How much is the Clean Air Zones charge?

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), buses, and coaches are charged £60 per day, while vans are charged £10 and taxis and private rental vehicles are charged £7.50. The zones are open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Failure to pay the charge will result in a £120 fine plus the daily charge.

The emission standard for your vehicle can be found in your vehicle logbook or on the GOV.uk website.

Who has to pay congestion charges?

You must pay the Congestion Charge if you drive a vehicle that emits 76g/km CO2 or more during 07:00-18:00 Mon-Fri, 12:00-18:00 Sat-Sun and bank holidays. There is no charge between Christmas Day and New Year's Day bank holidays (inclusive). This includes most combustion-engined cars on the road, including hybrids.

Only zero-emission cars have been exempt from the Congestion Charge, such as electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. However, from December 2025, even drivers of zero-emission vehicles will be required to pay the congestion charge.

Who doesn’t have to pay congestion charges?

If you can prove you live within the C-Charge zone, you'll be eligible for a 90% resident discount.

The following are fully exempt from the Congestion Charge, subject to a £10 annual registration fee:  

  • Blue Badge holders
  • Roadside recovery vehicles
  • Accredited breakdown vehicles
  • Vehicles with nine or more seats
  • Cars that emit 75g/km or less of CO2
  • Zero-emission vehicles (Fully electric vehicles and any other zero emissions vehicles)
  • Motor tricycles less than one metre in width and two metres in length (fully exempt)

Which cars are exempt from congestion charges?

With London's congestion charge expanding and Clean Air Zones (CAZ) being introduced in more and more cities, there's never been a better time to lease a car exempt from congestion charges. Check out this list of cars that are exempt from any congestion charges based on style and practicality:

Top 10 Congestion Charge Exempt Cars 2022

  1. red tesla model 3 driving on open road

    1 Tesla Model 3

    Despite being released a few years ago, the Tesla Model 3 is one of the best electric cars thanks to its excellent mile range and minimalist interior. It also offers access to the Tesla Supercharger network, which offers simple, lightning-fast charging at over 600 locations around the UK. 

    Long-range models can manage up to 360 miles of range between charges, so you won't have to worry about running out of battery charge when getting stuck in London's heavy traffic. 

    The Model 3 is particularly popular with company car drivers due to its low BIK tax rates and fully electric engine meaning you won't have to pay any congestion charges.

    FROM £546.74 Price per month Incl VAT
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  2. black renault zoe driving on country road

    2 Renault Zoe

    The Renault Zoe is a small electric car with a decent range. It is an excellent option for drivers who spend a lot of their time navigating narrow city streets. The Zoe is well-proportioned for city driving and has a range of 245 miles which can be restored to 80% in just over an hour.

    The Zoe is fun to drive, comfortable with a slick dashboard layout, a classy infotainment system and a digital driver's display Inside.

    Being fully electric, the Zoe is exempt from the Congestion Charge. So, if you're looking for a city car and want a low-cost way to journey into central London, the Renault Zoe might be for you.

    FROM £312.40 Price per month Incl VAT
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  3. grey nissan leaf driving on country road

    3 Nissan LEAF

    The Nissan LEAF is an excellent car leasing option if you're looking to go electric and avoid congestion charges. The Nissan LEAF produces zero emissions and feels great to drive, thanks to its smooth handling and floor-mounted battery pack with its low centre of gravity. The LEAF has a sleek design and strong performance, with a range of 168 miles between charges.

    It's not only quiet and comfortable to drive, but it also has a strong regenerative braking system, Nissan's 'e-Pedal,' which softly slows the car as you take off the accelerator. As a result, the LEAF offers a decent turn of speed, but it's in the city that the LEAF comes into its own.

    FROM £272.77 Price per month Incl VAT
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  4. blue hyundai ioniq 5

    4 Hyundai Ioniq 5

    If you're looking to avoid congestion charges and want to stand out, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 is an excellent option with its unique retro and futuristic design. The Ioniq 5 has plenty of angular creases in the bodywork helping it stand out on the road.

    Inside it has a plush, comfortable interior that's very spacious with high-tech screens and eco-friendly materials used throughout. The Ioniq 5 offers a decent range of 238 miles, with higher trim levels increasing this to a Tesla-rivalling 300 miles and enabling the ability to use super fast 350kW charging. Plus, with Hyundai's five-year warranty, it's no wonder the Ioniq 5 is such a popular electric leasing option.

    FROM £455.04 Price per month Incl VAT
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  5. black bmw i3 electric car driving on road

    5 BMW i3

    The BMW i3 is one of the best electric city cars on the market, and it's perfect for anyone who lives in the city centre and wants to avoid any congestion charges. The i3 is great for nipping around the city, steering in and out of traffic, and navigating down narrow streets.

    The BMW i3 is extremely environmentally friendly as it's up to 85% recyclable using 27 used plastic bottles to make parts of the doors and seats. The car also has a great battery life, offering a claimed range of up to 190 miles and produces zero CO2 emissions.

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  6. blue jaguar i-pace driving on open road

    6 Jaguar I-Pace

    The Jaguar I-Pace is an excellent choice if you are after a more family-friendly lease vehicle to avoid congestion charges. Mixing luxury and practicality, the I-Pace offers mind-blowing performance car and environmental benefits when driving around the city.

    The Jaguar I-Pace has a range of 290 miles between charges and has the capability of quick-charging with a 100kW charging point that can take the car from 0 to 240 miles of range in only 40 minutes.

    Inside the SUV, it's very comfortable, thanks to the abundance of head and legroom in the front and back, making it one of the Best Electric Cars for Families.

    FROM £796.92 Price per month Incl VAT
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  7. grey volkswagen id.3 driving on road

    7 Volkswagen ID.3

    The Volkswagen ID.3 looks like something from the future with its aerodynamic styling and funky design. It's a practical, relatively affordable electric hatchback ideal for someone who wants to avoid the congestion charges.

    The ID.3 has a range of up to 259 miles, with top-spec models capable of managing up to 340 miles of range. It's also fun to drive thanks to its rear-wheel-drive setup, balanced weight distribution, and low centre of gravity, making it feel like it hugs the road while driving.

    FROM £304.47 Price per month Incl VAT
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  8. blue peugeot e-208 driving on road

    8 Peugeot e-208 Hatchback

    The Peugeot e-208 is a great electric option for saving money on congestion charges. It has a decent range, looks modern and is a practical day-to-day car to drive around the city. It has a distinctive look with a sculpted bonnet, three-claw LED light designs and a prominent rear.

    The e-208 has a nippy performance around town. All models have a 136hp electric motor and 50kWh battery capable of 217 miles when fully charged.

    FROM £350.89 Price per month Incl VAT
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  9. black porsche taycan saloon driving on road

    9 Porsche Taycan Saloon

    The Porsche Taycan Saloon isn't the cheapest vehicle to avoid congestion charges. Still, it may be for you if you want to drive around the city in style and luxury. Its curvy bonnet, subtle air intakes and sloping roofline make it look incredibly futuristic.

    The Taycan is one of the best electric cars available, with superb build quality and class-leading technology. The all-electric saloon has sports car-like handling and supercar-rivalling levels of acceleration with a range of 268 miles before you'll need to charge it again.

    FROM £828.62 Price per month Incl VAT
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  10. grey kia e-niro driving on road

    10 Kia Niro EV

    The Kia e-Niro has a similar appearance to the petrol and diesel Niro models. However, there are some design differences, such as a closed-off grille that helps to reduce drag. The e-Niro also has a new front bumper and alloy wheels with blue bodywork accents to show its eco credentials.

    The e-Niro has a driving range of 282 miles per charge, thanks to a 64kWh battery powering its single electric motor. Plus, it produces zero tailpipe emissions, meaning you won't have to pay any congestion charges.

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Want to know more? 

Call Nationwide Vehicle Contracts on 0345 811 9595 on all things car leasing, or check out our motoring guides for expert advice. 

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