The headline news from the announcement of the Government’s air quality strategy is all about the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 onwards. 

What does this mean for the car you own and might want to sell in a few years’ time – and what does it mean if you can’t stretch to a new car, and only ever buy used?

The answer to that might seem to be ‘not much’. Petrol and diesel cars will one day become obsolete, that much is for certain – with or without legislation, that was always going to be the case, and there’s currently some debate as to whether the new rules will actually have any effect, or whether organic change will happen well before 2040 anyway.

But it isn’t that big, attention-grabbing headline that should be of most concern to used car buyers. More worrying is the effective licence the air quality strategy gives to councils to charge older vehicle owners for driving their cars into city centres.

Granted, the Government’s stance on this is that it should be used as a last resort – but given the seeming keenness of councils around the country to enforce this sort of legislation (no less than 27 British towns and cities have proposed or been given the go-ahead to create clean air zones), I wouldn’t bet against it.

While these charges will affect all owners of older vehicles, it’s likely that they’d be skewed against diesel cars, as per London’s T-Charge and Ultra Low-Emissions Zone (ULEZ) schemes. The former targets all cars that don’t comply with Euro 4 emissions standards, but the latter slaps an extra charge on diesel cars that don’t hit the newer Euro 6 regulations.

Already, used diesel values are roughly on a par with their petrol counterparts in certain classes of car, negating the idea that you’ll get back the extra you pay for buying a new diesel when you part with it. As we’ve already discussed, if this methodology is applied nationwide, there’s a strong chance it will hit diesel car values further, meaning drivers who currently own diesels may find they get far less than they expected when the time comes to sell on. And if that is the case, the ubiquity of diesel models and the paucity of their equivalent petrol versions will only exaggerate the switch in values. 

Here’s the dilemma that could face used car owners before too long if councils get their way: let’s say you own a 10-year-old diesel Volkswagen Golf, and your town introduces a ULEZ-type charge. Suddenly you can’t commute to your office in the town centre anymore without incurring a £10 daily fee. Chances are you’re going to want to get out of that pretty quickly, either by selling privately or part-exchanging it. The problem is, everyone in your area, and indeed the whole country, has had the same idea; as a result, 10-year-old Golf diesels are now worth about 3p.