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What will happen to Petrol Cars after 2035 in the UK?

In this article we’ll explore why petrol cars are so bad for the environment, what the UK Government is doing to decarbonise the transport sector and what the rules mean for UK car owners.
4x4 car on road with lavender fields

Petrol cars, which guzzle non-renewable fossil fuels, are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. This greenhouse gas is extremely detrimental to our environment, playing a pivotal role in the acceleration of climate change and global warming.

With the UK Government's legally binding commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, it's clear that drastic changes are necessary, especially within the transport sector - a major contributor to these emissions. In response, the government had initially set an ambitious deadline to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. However, in a recent turn of events, this deadline has been pushed back to 2035.

This postponement has sparked a wave of concern and frustration, particularly within the automotive industry. Business leaders are expressing their discontent over the lack of certainty and clear direction, which is crucial for planning and investment in new technologies. This delay is not only seen as a setback in the industry's efforts to innovate and adapt but also raises alarms about the UK's ability to meet its net-zero targets. The concern is that this shift in timelines could see the UK falling behind in its net zero transition.

👉 In this article we'll explore why petrol cars are so bad for the environment, what the UK Government is doing to decarbonise the transport sector, and what the rules mean for UK car owners.

Why are petrol cars so bad for the environment?

Diesel and petrol cars are leading contributors to transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions. In the UK, road transport - mostly involving passenger cars - accounts for around 28% of the country's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the majority of which are carbon dioxide emissions. However, the environmental footprint of these cars extends beyond just carbon dioxide.

The exhaust from petrol engines also releases methane and nitrous oxide, albeit in smaller quantities. These gases, despite their lower emission levels, have a significant impact on global warming. Methane and nitrous oxide are much more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, making them potent greenhouse gases.

And it's not just the environment that suffers from the emissions of petrol cars, it's human health too. According to the Royal College of Physicians, the exhaust fumes from vehicles contribute to the early deaths of around 40,000 people in the UK every year!

This is why it's so important that we take steps to eliminate heavy polluting vehicles that use fossil fuels (such as petrol and diesel) from our roads. Unless we work to decarbonise our transport sector it will be impossible for the UK to reach its net zero targets

👉 To learn more about vehicle emissions and their impact on our planet, check out our article on the topic here.

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What has the UK Government done to remove petrol cars from roads?

The UK Government's approach to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from road transport, a sector accounting for around 28% of the country's emissions, has evolved significantly over time. The journey to phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles began in 2017, with the original plan setting a 2040 deadline for the ban. This initiative was aimed at reducing the reliance on fossil fuel-powered vehicles, thereby decreasing the environmental impact of the nation's transportation sector.

However, the 2040 target was met with criticism from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, who labeled it as "vague and unambitious." This critique was a pivotal moment, prompting the UK Government to reconsider and subsequently advance the timeline for the ban. In 2020, a revised plan was announced: the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned starting from 2030, a decade earlier than initially planned, and the ban would extend to hybrid models by 2035. This change represented a more aggressive stance in tackling the environmental challenges posed by road transport.

UK ban delay

Despite this progressive step, the government recently decided to push back the ban's commencement from 2030 to 2035, a move that has attracted substantial criticism. Climate experts have argued that this delay could seriously hinder the UK's efforts to meet its net zero targets, as it prolongs the period during which high-emission vehicles can be sold. From the perspective of business leaders, especially those in the automotive industry, this policy shift introduces uncertainty and potentially disrupts the investment and development of greener technologies.

The recent decision by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to delay the ban on new diesel and petrol cars from 2030 to 2035 appears to be influenced by a broader political strategy, particularly in the context of the Conservative party's recent electoral tactics. This shift in policy direction can be traced back to the July 2023 Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, where the Conservative party targeted London Mayor Sadiq Khan's ultra-low emission zone policy. The party used Khan’s stance on emissions as a means to criticise the Labour Party, engaging in what is often referred to as wedge politics. They framed Labour as being against the interests of owners of older, more polluting vehicles, suggesting an agenda towards a "carless society."

This strategy of challenging green policies was perceived to have been successful in the by-election, leading to concerns that Sunak and the Conservative party might view opposition to environmental policies as a potential electoral advantage. Following the by-election, there were indications of potential rollbacks or delays in climate policies, particularly those perceived as financially burdensome to consumers.

Statements from Downing Street further suggested a shift in the government's approach towards environmental policies. The emphasis was placed on ensuring that net zero measures are "pragmatic" and do not unduly impact "hard-working families" who are struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy. This stance, while arguably addressing the ongoing cost of living crisis, has been viewed by some as a politically motivated strategy to differentiate Sunak’s leadership from that of Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Unfortunately, these concerns have materialised in the form of Sunak's recent announcement to delay certain UK climate targets, ostensibly to alleviate financial pressures on the public. Among the most significant of these delays is the postponement of the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars to 2035. This decision not only signifies a departure from the UK's previous environmental commitments but also raises questions about the government's long-term dedication to its net-zero targets. Critics argue that while the delay may offer short-term political gains and address immediate economic concerns, it risks compromising the UK's climate goals and its role as a leader in global environmental efforts.

👉 To find out more about Rishi Sunak's recent green policy U-turn take a look at our article.

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What about second hand cars?

From 2035, the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be prohibited in the UK, a measure taken to reduce carbon emissions. This ban is part of a broader strategy to nudge car owners towards electric vehicles, as part of a future plan where all new vehicles are expected to be free of exhaust emissions - including hybrids.

It's important to note that this ban only targets new cars for sale. As such, the market for used diesel cars and used petrol cars will not be directly affected by this policy. These vehicles will continue to be available for purchase and sale.

Regarding the use of existing petrol or diesel cars after 2035, there will be no immediate restrictions. This ban impacts only the sale of new cars, meaning individuals will still have the freedom to drive their existing petrol or diesel vehicles. Owners will not be required to discard or sell their current vehicles with the onset of the ban. Instead, the current plan is for the transition to hybrid or electric vehicles to occur gradually.

What about other vehicle types?

Hybrid vehicles, which combine an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine, offer a less environmentally harmful alternative compared to traditional petrol or diesel vehicles. However, their reliance on fossil fuels means they fall short of aligning with the UK's net zero emissions goals. As a result, the sale of new hybrid vehicles will be prohibited from 2035. Notably, this deadline for hybrids has remained the same, despite the recent postponement of the ban on new petrol and diesel cars to the same year, 2035.

The UK Government's efforts to reduce emissions in the transport sector also encompass commercial vehicles, though these are affected by the recent delay in policy implementation. In alignment with the revised timeline for petrol and diesel cars, the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vans is now set for 2035, a setback from the previously planned date of 2030. This extension also applies to petrol and diesel lorries, which are to be phased out progressively.

While the UK Government's initiative to tackle emissions in the transport sector is a positive step, the postponement of these critical deadlines is undeniably a significant setback. This delay not only impacts the pace at which the UK can reduce its transportation emissions but also raises concerns about the country's overall commitment and capability to meet its ambitious environmental targets.

What’s the best option for those looking to buy a new car now?

The UK Government's ban on new petrol and diesel cars doesn't come into effect for over a decade, and even then car users will be able to buy and sell diesel and petrol second-hand cars. However, consumers looking to buy a new car may want to take into consideration the 2035 ban even at this early date. 

For a start diesel cars are already being cracked down on by local authorities. They're subject to higher taxes and surcharges. It's possible that diesel and petrol cars may be increasingly subject to these kinds of measures as local governments try to improve the air quality and reduce pollution levels.

Another consideration is the resale of petrol and diesel cars. Car sales of these varieties have been decreasing for some time already and as we near the 2035 deadlines, we can expect the demand for petrol and diesel models to decrease even more. Therefore, it might be harder to resell a vehicle that relies on fossil fuels vs. an electric vehicle. Another consideration is that as petrol and diesel vehicles become increasingly rare, the price of repairing them will also increase. 

👉 Get the low down on the environmental benefits of EVs in our article.

second hand car parked on street road

Is the UK ready for a switch to electric?

Electric vehicles are undeniably better for the environment than their petrol counterparts, and by switching to an electric vehicle you will be helping the UK to transition to net zero and prevent further levels of global warming. 

However, the UK Government still has some way to go when it comes to preparing the UK for electric vehicles. The Competition and Markets Authority estimates that the UK will need as much as ten times the current level of EV (electric vehicle) charging points by 2035 if it wants to meet net-zero targets. So what is the UK Government doing to prepare? 

The UK Government has made some effort to help UK citizens transition from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) with its ‘plug-in grant'. Backed by £582 million worth of funding, the grant provided funding of up to 75% towards the cost of the installation of EV charge points. However, the grant ended in 2022, and the government has now turned to focus on expanding the UK's public charge point network. 

The UK Government has focused its attention on tackling the shortfall in terms of public EV infrastructure across the UK with £1.6 billion worth of investment that will facilitate the installation of public EV charging points. Additionally, the UK Government offers a number of incentives and discounts for people who would either like to buy an electric vehicle or already own one.

electric car on charge

Will electric vehicles become cheaper?

Cost is widely seen as a prohibitive factor when it comes to electric vehicles. At the moment it is much cheaper to buy a petrol or diesel vehicle than an EV, and with decreased demand for petrol and diesel vehicles, their prices are expected to drop further. Some are concerned that this will make fossil fuel-burning cars a bargain that attracts more customers. However, the cost of electric vehicles is also expected to drop over time. In fact, some experts believe that electric vehicles and petrol and diesel cars will reach a point where there's very little price difference. 

Not only this, but petrol and diesel cars will incur other costs such as taxes and charges that aim to disincentive their use in an effort to promote the switch to EVs. Conversely, Electric vehicles are exempt from fuel duty or vehicle excise duty (also known as road tax), making them more economical to run. Not only this, EVs are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and the ULEZ fees, plus they incur lower fees for repairs and servicing, and electricity is cheaper per mile than that of a diesel or petrol car. Therefore, it's likely only a matter of time before EVs become a cost-effective option.

What about changing a petrol engine to electric?

While it is technically possible to swap out a petrol engine for that of an electric one, it's incredibly expensive. The better alternative is undoubtedly to buy an electric car. Though where a car is a ‘classic model' or collectors item it may be desirable in the long run to replace the petrol or diesel engine so that the car can run on electricity. 

Emerging technologies may also help - it's possible that synthetic e-fuels of the future will allow petrol and diesel engines to continue to run but without the environmental repercussions.

exposed car engine

Looking forward

There's no way around it, the UK transport sector is decarbonising and within the next fifteen to twenty years the majority of fossil fuel-burning petrol and diesel vehicles will disappear from our roads. 

The UK Government and local authorities are working to incentivise this shift from petrol and diesel to EVs and are doing so by using taxes and charges on petrol cars, as well as grants and tax exclusions for EVs. The hard ban on new petrol and diesel cars in 2035 however, is the most significant motivator - from this point on it will be impossible to buy a brand-new car that uses petrol or diesel as fuel. However, the UK Government still has some work to do if the transition to EVs is going to be a success. As it stands the UK lacks charging points and the infrastructure required. Thankfully the UK Government has pledged funding to rectify the situation, and it's hoped that by 2035, EVs will make up the majority of cars on the road.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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