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Vehicle Emissions Guide

Based on studies from the Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), driving a vehicle is the most polluting thing that most people do. Vehicles emit millions of pollutants into the air each year, and are the single largest contributor to ground level ozone which is significant component of smog. Cars and trucks also emit pollutants called toxics which cause more than one thousand cases of cancer in the United States alone each year. Auto emissions have also been proven to contribute to major environmental problems like global warming and acid rain.

Vehicles have been shown to generate three types of pollutants classified as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. Hydrocarbons work by reacting with nitrogen oxide in the presence of high temperatures and sunlight and form ground level ozone. Ground level ozone has been proven to cause coughing, wheezing, eye irritation, shortness of breath, and it can lead to permanent lung damage. Along with hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of ground level ozone and aids in the formation of water quality problems and acid rain. Carbon monoxide reduces oxygen in the bloodstream and is an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas. In some urban areas car emissions amount for as much as ninety percent of carbon monoxide in the air. Vehicles also emit a large amount of carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming.

Pollutants from vehicles are released from the tailpipe. The release of pollutants is the result of the car's fuel combustion process when heat causes fuel evaporation. Evaporative emissions can occur at various times such as when there are hot temperatures outside, when the hot engine of a running car causes the fuel to be heated, and during refueling when gas vapors escape into the air. These emissions can even occur once the vehicle is shut off because the car remains hot and causes fuel to evaporate. The greatest amount of pollutants that come from a tailpipe are emitted during the first few minutes that it takes for a car to warm up.

There are ways that drivers can help to reduce motor vehicle emissions.

  • Reduce the number of miles that you travel by planning ahead and using public transportation, carpooling, and combining trips.

  • Travel at steady, moderate speeds and try to reduce idling time, high speeds result in much greater emissions.

  • Keep a well maintained vehicle that is in good running condition.

  • Have your vehicle inspected regularly and don't try to tamper with the pollution controls.

  • Make sure to pay attention to dashboard warning lights, and get your car checked out as soon as possible if a light comes on.

  • Watch your exhaust and make sure it is not burning excess hydrocarbons.

  • Keep track of fuel economy.

  • Use clean fuels if they are available in your area, clean fuels include oxygenated gasoline, alternative fuels, and reformulated gasoline.

  • Make sure the gas cap fits properly to avoid spills.

  • Older cars cause more pollution so be sure to keep the vehicle well maintained.

Some resources on vehicle emissions, pollution, and alternative fuels.

  • Green Vehicle Guide – a guide from the Environmental Protection Agency that helps you choose a vehicle based on low emissions and good fuel economy

  • Emissions Standards – information on the two sets of emissions standards for cars and light duty trucks

  • Carbon Calculator – a calculator that lets you know what your carbon output score is

  • Alternative Fuels – information on the different types of alternative fuels available including ethanol, and biodiesel

  • Fuel Economy – an article explaining what fuel economy is and how to find out your vehicles fuel economy

  • Vehicles and Air Pollution – information and statistics on automobile pollution and its effect on the environment

  • Highway Vehicle Emissions – a study involving the measure of highway vehicle emissions over a span of several years

  • Auto Emissions History – an article on the the history of vehicles and their impact on the environment

  • Vehicle Emissions – information on what is measured during vehicle emissions testing and why it is measured

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