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8 Dec 2020

Electric cars hit the road with new green number plates

The government hopes the scheme will encourage people to buy zero emission vehicles as petrol and diesel cars will be phased out by 2030

From today, you'll start seeing new green rectangles on certain car number plates, signifying that the vehicle has zero tailpipe emissions.

This latest move is part of a wider government initiative to make our roads greener, which will also stop the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2030.

Alongside new vehicles, green number plates can also be retrofitted to existing zero emission vehicles. Keep scrolling for the details.

Best electric cars - our top picks offer virtually all the functionality and practicality of traditional petrol or diesel cars

Green number plates scheme explained

First announced by the government back in June 2020, the green number plates scheme officially comes into force today (8 December 2020).

These new number plates will feature a green bar on the side (see below), combined with the Union flag and any national identifiers. The plates will be applied to all new electric cars sold.

If you already have a zero emissions car, van, bus or motorcycle, you can retrofit a green number plate to it for around £40 from a motoring products retailer such as Halfords.

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars won't be eligible for the green number flash, however, and will also be phased out from 2035.

The government believes this scheme will drive sales and that the plates could make it easier for local councils to spot greener vehicles for a cheap parking or congestion charge scheme.

However, we have not yet heard any concrete details about cost-saving schemes for owners of the new green plates. If you're thinking of spending money on a new set of plates, you may want to wait until the benefits are clearer.

Browse our full selection of expert electric car reviews to see which models offer zero exhaust emissions and the potential for low day-to-day running costs.

Is the UK ready for electric cars?

At the moment, the charging network for electric vehicles is confusingly complicated, with many different networks, most of which require you to register prior to charging your car.

According to our own data (gathered as part of the Which? car survey*), 78% of electric car charging happens at home, suggesting the majority of EV owners have a driveway. But not everyone has a driveway, so more needs to be done to make the public network larger, simpler and more accessible.

Lisa Barber, Which? cars editor, said: 'It's to be commended that the government wants to raise the profile of zero-emission vehicles, but in order to help make electric cars a viable option for UK consumers, the public charging network needs to become larger, simpler and much more accessible than it is today.'

For more details on both charging at home and public charging,see our expert advice guide on how to charge an electric car.

Will hydrogen cars get green plates?

A hydrogen car is effectively an electric vehicle, but with the power generated not by on-board batteries, but by chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell.

These vehicles have zero official CO2 emissions, meaning no road tax in the first, or indeed subsequent years. They should also be eligible for a green number plate.

However, the drawback with hydrogen cars is they are still in their infancy and currently have an incredibly limited infrastructure. There are just 11 stations in the UK where you can currently refuel with hydrogen.

Find out more about these types of vehicles with our expert hydrogen car reviews.

* (Data from the 2020 Which? Car survey, in field from December 2019 to February 2020. A total of 47,013 UK car owners told us about 55,833 cars, including 1,016 electric cars.)