Car exhaust emissions when driving in real world conditions are so much higher than official figures that the MOT test is to be made considerably tougher.
Tests carried out by Emissions Analytics revealed that exhaust gases from diesel cars contain levels of NO2 (a toxic component of NOx) up to 12 times greater than those permitted at the time they were sold.
The worst offenders were 4x4s with the Kia Sportage 2-litre diesel found to emit 12 times more NO2 than was permitted by the Euro 5 emissions standard it passed. Exhaust pollutants are worse when cars are used for short trips for which 4x4s are used commonly in towns and cities.
Changes to the MOT test
The Department for Transport aims for changes to the MOT test to be in place by 2018. Whereas the Euro emissions ratings are determined based on a rolling road test that sees the vehicle accelerate very gently, the revised MOT test will be replaced by detailed measurements at different speeds and loads – tests that seek to recreate realistic driving habits. Vehicles that emitted excess levels of pollutants would need to be tuned or repaired before they passed the MOT test.
Confused about diesel? Here’s why
Drivers over the last 15 years who have traded their petrol-engined cars for a diesel equivalent on the strength of a lower rate of emissions-based vehicle excise duty, are now being told their cars are amongst the worst polluters; In the rush to reduce climate changes gases, we forgot about human health. We have yet to discover the full extent of the damage done to people by diesel exhaust, but it’s a problem that is getting worse. Diesels used to account for less than 10 per cent of the British car fleet, but now make up more than half of all cars.
The diesel particulate filters fitted to newer cars remove soot from exhaust gases and limit harmful emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx). The resulting exhaust gases are cleaner, but the engines suffer reduced efficiency and consume up to an estimated 3% more fuel.
Euro 6-compliant diesels, with much lower NOx emissions, will not pay the higher rate of congestion charge in London’s proposed ‘ultra-low emission’ zone, but the relationship between these standards and real world driving is now in question. Research by King’s College London found nitrogen dioxide levels on Oxford Street were worse than anywhere else on Earth – higher than Beijing and Dhaka. A dire situation for health that strengthens the case for increased pedestrianisation and provision for cycling. According to the London Mayor’s office, diesels emit the bulk of emissions that endanger health, with cars and taxis contributing 39 per cent of smog-forming nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 28 per cent of related oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
A ‘ultra-low emission’ zone planned for central London will help a little, but given that diesel pollution is killing those of us who live in urban areas through asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart and circulatory disease, and cancer, change is not happening quickly enough.
Car exhaust cocktail
Cars emit a complex cocktail of exhaust gases, many of which have harmful effects on both our bodies and the planet. Below are listed some of the major pollutants, along with some of their harmful effects.
This naturally occurring hydrocarbon is found in crude oil, and therefore petrol, but is also produced during its refinement and combustion. Although typical atmospheric levels of Benzene are thought not to be harmful, benzene is a carcinogenic substance, and high levels of inhalation can carry severe penalties to human health.
This metal naturally occurs in the Earth’s crust, and is released into the air in the form of various cadmium compounds on combustion of petrol and other fossil fuels. Cadmium oxide, one of the main by-products of combustion, is damaging to the lungs and kidneys on inhalation or ingestion, and is thought to be carcinogenic.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
CO2 is not a health damaging gas at normal atmospheric concentrations, but it is the principal driver of climate change today, and thus, arguably the most dangerous pollutant for mankind today. Did you know, for example, that a 6,000 mile journey travelled by car produces roughly its own weight in CO2? Transportation is the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions. The main way to cut these emissions is through reducing our use of fuel, and this can be done by (a) driving less, and (b) using more fuel-efficient cars. You can also help offset the emissions you do create by making your driving carbon neutral.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
This is a toxic, colourless and odourless gas, produced by the incomplete burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, petrol and gas. In Britain, road traffic is responsible for over 70% of CO emissions. CO reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, interfering with the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues (including the brain). It can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, and at high concentrations, coma and death.
CO also adds to ground level ozone concentrations, combining with other pollutants to form photochemical smog, and is one of the minor anthropogenic gases contributing to climate change.
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
There are a number of nitrogen oxides, all of which are produced on combustion of fossil fuels. Not only do they aggravate asthmatic conditions, and react with oxygen in the air to form the irritant ozone, but they are also one of the key causal agents of acid rain. On reacting with atmospheric moisture, they acidify it, and this moisture, when it falls as rain inhibits the growth of plants, is damaging to freshwater and soil life, and is damaging to buildings.
Nitrogen oxides also contribute to photochemical smog. They irritate lungs, and increase susceptibility to viral infections.
The percentage of NO2 in the NOx is an important consideration as NO2 is a major contributor to pollutant-related health issues – the ratio of NO2 to NOx can be as high as 90% in urban driving. A large proportion of NOx is emitted during stop-go urban driving – particularly while a vehicle is accelerating. This is one of the principal contributors towards urban air quality problems, and underlines the importance of looking beyond the headline numbers.
Diesel engines emit particulates (or soot), which are increasingly being linked with asthma. Although car manufacturers are attempting to make these particulates smaller (as is now legally required), these micro particulates now penetrate even further into the lungs resulting in less obvious, but longer-term damage. Euro 5 diesels are fitted with filters that remove exhaust particulates.
Some estimates have suggested that particulates are responsible for up to 10,000 premature deaths per year in the UK alone. What’s more, 25% of particulates come from road transport.
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
This is a colourless gas, which smells like burnt matches, and is emitted by both petrol and diesel engines. Along with Nitrogen oxides, SO2 contributes to acid rain. The gas can also cause breathing problems, aggravate asthma, and worsen both respiratory and cardiovascular disease. It also brings about the formation of acid aerosols, which as well as being highly detrimental to human health, contribute to climate change.
ETA breakdown cover
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On top of this, we offset the carbon emissions of the recovery trucks that go out to assist you, reducing the impact your breakdown has on our environment. Every breakdown policy you buy helps fund the work of our charity, the ETA Trust, which we set up in 1994 to campaign for a safer, cleaner transport future.