Understanding Euro 6 emissions standards

Euro 6 explained

We all know Euro 6 engines are better for the environment. But what are they, why are they and how do you get one? We sort the nitrogen oxide from the particulate matter.

What is Euro 6?

Since 1992, the European Commission has been setting legal limits on the levels of poisonous substances that are acceptable from vehicle exhausts. These include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulates, or soot.

Euro 6 is the latest, and most stringent, of these standards. The first - Euro 1 - made sure every car had a catalytic converter. Euro 5, introduced in September 2009, focused on carbon dioxide emissions, as well as introducing a requirement for all diesel vehicles to have a particulate filter.

Euro 6 was introduced for cars in 2015 and vans in September 2016, and focuses on nitrogen oxide from diesel engines. The amount of nitrogen oxide diesel vehicles are allowed to produce was reduced from 180mg/km to 80mg/km.

Why is this important?

The World Health Organisation says that air pollution is now the greatest environmental risk that exists to global health, contributing to a third of deaths from lung cancer, stroke and heart disease. And in Europe, vehicles are one of the biggest causes of air pollution. A study by the University of Oxford in 2018 found that around 10,000 people die prematurely across the continent each year because of pollution from diesel cars alone.

Safe levels of nitrogen oxide are regularly exceeded in a number of UK cities, and Transport for London says there are at least 360 primary schools in the capital alone in areas with illegal pollution levels.

However, we should be aware of, and celebrate, the progress we've already made. Today, it would take 50 new cars to produce the same amount of pollution as one in the 1970s. The Euro 1 standards allowed diesel vehicles to produce 780mg/km of nitrogen oxide.

How do I know if my van is Euro 6 compliant?

Every new van from September 2016 is Euro 6 compliant. Some earlier vans also meet the standards, in some cases from as far back as 2013 – check your vehicle registration document to find out.

What's the WLTP cycle?

The Euro 6 legislation also changed the way fuel economy is measured for new vehicles, to make it more realistic. Instead of lab tests designed to produce the best figures possible, vehicles are tested on roads in a more authentic way. This is called the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, or WLTP. It became mandatory for cars in September 2017 and vans in September 2018.

The WLTP is complemented by the Real Driving Emissions test, which measures how much pollution a car produces, again in conditions designed to be realistic.

How are diesel engines being made more eco-friendly?

Manufacturers have spent millions of pounds making engines more environmentally friendly – which has also made them more fuel efficient and often more powerful. There are several ways they are doing this:

Particulate filters: these trap soot from your exhaust instead of letting it out, and burn it off in a less polluting way.

Selective catalytic reduction: A liquid agent, usually a fluid called AdBlue, is injected into the exhaust, inducing a chemical reaction which converts nitrogen oxide into water and nitrogen, which are harmless, to be expelled through the exhaust.

Vans which use this system need an extra tank to store the AdBlue, which is usually between 10 and 20 litres, so there is usually a consequent reduction in payload of between 30kg and 80kg.

The AdBlue needs to be topped up from time to time, in the same way you top up windscreen washer fluid; it normally costs anywhere between £8 and £20 per litre from service stations, motoring stores like Halfords and car and van dealerships. How much AdBlue vans use varies: small vans use about a litre every 700 miles, while larger vans can use almost three times as much.

Exhaust gas recirculation: Nitrogen oxide is formed when oxygen and nitrogen combine at high temperatures in the engine's combustion chamber. Exhaust gas recirculation returns some of the burned exhaust gases to the engine, replacing some of the air being taken in and thereby lowering the amount of oxygen available for combustion.

Ultra-low emissions zones

In April, London brought in an ultra-low emissions zone covering the same area as the congestion charge. Diesel vehicles which don't meet Euro 6 standards, and petrol vehicles which don't meet Euro 4 standards, now have to pay £12.50 a day to drive into the zone. That would be £62.50 per week if you did it every weekday – that's £3,250 per year.

Other UK cities are considering their own low emissions zones – Glasgow already has one, although at the moment only buses are affected, and Birmingham plans one at the end of the year, similar to London's but with an £8 daily charge. Since 2015, more than 60 councils have been ordered to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

Road tax

In May 2018, the government published a consultation on charging vans road tax according to how much carbon dioxide they produce, as it already does for cars (van drivers pay a flat rate at the moment), to incentivise people to drive more eco-friendly vans. This is likely to come into effect in April 2021.

How will Brexit affect Euro 6?

After leaving the European Union, the UK government will be free to make its own laws on how polluting cars can be, but this is very unlikely to happen: having different laws in the UK would force manufacturers to adapt their products to two different sets of rules. This in turn would result in an increase in costs that no one would want to pay, for no good reason unless our standards were significantly stricter.

At used van dealers Vanwise Group, the vast majority of our used vans – around 95 per cent as of May 2019 – are new enough to meet Euro 6 emission standards. If you'd like to test drive one of them, give our Maidstone or Harlow dealership a call. We can also provide information on our van financeand van contract hire options.