The truth behind car pollution

What makes more pollution, a car, an aircraft or a power station?

The answer seems obvious, but according to a new survey, people in the UK believe cars and aircraft to be the biggest carbon polluters ahead of power stations and industry.

In fact, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) report found power stations to be the biggest polluters, and facts of car pollution were actually encouraging for the UK.

The IAM says cars are now a quarter more efficient than they were in 1997, and in real figures this means the average car today will travel 100km on 6.93 litres of fuel. In comparison, the same distance would use 8.28 litres of fuel in 1997.

Even more surprisingly, the amount of CO2 emissions from today’s cars is less than that of 2000 despite there being four million more cars on the road today.

This is all down to improvements in tailpipe CO2 emissions from cars on the road today, but why are they so important?

CO2 is just one harmful gas emitted by a petrol, diesel or hybrid car while it is driving. Diesel cars will also release NOx and diesel particulates – or soot – but these seem to be overlooked by many people.

This is mostly because CO2 emissions are used for a wide range of things, including deciding on the level of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) you will pay and whether your car is eligible for exemption from the London congestion charge.

With VED rates varying from zero in the lowest band to over £250 per year, car manufacturers have identified it as a major selling point.

This means most new cars will have its CO2 emissions figure blazed all over the promotional material. Most manufacturers of small cars will aim for the 100g/km figure. If CO2 emissions are below 100g/km, then the car will offer free VED and exemption from the London congestion charge.

However, car makers also need to lower CO2 emissions to come in line with average CO2 emissions targets set by the European Union.

This means all of the cars a manufacturer makes must have average CO2 emissions at a certain level by 2015, and so far only four car makers meet the criteria.

Of course, this is where electric cars come in. With zero CO2 emissions when they are being driven, they are VED free and help manufacturers reach their targets.

Cars such as the Citroen C-Zero, Peugeot iOn and forthcoming all-electric Ford Focus are helping the car industry shed its polluting image at a faster rate than ever.

The IAM says cars make up 14 per cent of all CO2 emissions in the UK, but this figure is declining as cars become more frugal than ever.

So next time somebody asks what you think is more polluting, cars or power stations, it may be worth considering the huge strides the industry has taken to deliver frugal and cleaner cars in recent years.