Emissions shock: 95% of cars are illegal. What does it mean for drivers?

Emissions shock

New research says nearly every car pumps out illegal levels of toxic gases

It’s not just Volkswagens that allegedly pump dangerous toxins into the atmosphere, according to the latest emissions shock. New research claims nine out of 10 diesel cars on Britain’s roads exceed official limits for illegal gases. The study also found that 10 per cent of petrol cars surpassed nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits, set in 2011. And the majority of petrol cars go beyond EU carbon monoxide (CO) output levels.

According to Which?, part of the Consumer Association: “It’s not just Volkswagen. In fact, it’s not just diesel engines, either. It’s almost everyone. Whether diesel, petrol or hybrid, the majority of cars exceed EU emission limits when faced with our more realistic tests.” So what is the truth behind the latest revelations? And more importantly where, as drivers and car owners, do we stand?

How did Which? Conduct its tests

The Which? tests took detailed emissions data from the 300 cars it’s examined since 2012. Rather than conduct its tests in a laboratory, as the official tests that determine mpg and carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions are carried out, Which? gathers data from its test cars in on-the-road driving.

According to trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders: “All cars sold in the UK undergo an official test under EU law to ensure they meet the latest emission standards. The existing test was never designed to reflect the infinite variations of ‘real world’ driving.” So at the moment, none of the manufacturers mentioned in this report has officially done anything illegal.

Which cars gave the biggest emissions shock in these new tests?

According to the Which? figures, 95 per cent of the cars it tested ‑ diesel, petrol and hybrid ‑ had NOx emissions greater than the legally permitted maximum. The Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel emitted 2.7g/km of NOx. That’s 15 times higher than the 180mg/km permitted since 2011. Analysts found that the petrol Hyundai Veloster produced five times the legal limit of carbon monoxide (CO). The diesel-electric hybrid Peugeot 508 RXH created more NOx than EU limits. And some petrol hybrids created more CO than limits allow.

Why are these tests important?

Nitrogen Oxides are created when Nitrogen Dioxide and Oxygen come together, usually at high temperatures such as during the combustion process in an engine. Exposure to NOx can cause breathing difficulties and contribute to heart disease. It’s estimated that around 30,000 people a year die in the UK because of pollution.

The increase in popularity of diesel engines – favoured because of their low CO2 output – has increased the amount of NOx pollution. The City of London Air Quality Strategy 2011-2015 believes major roads are responsible for 65 per cent of NOx output. In fact UK pollution levels from NOx are so far above safe limits that the EU is threatening to prosecute us and impose multi-million pound fines.

Renault’s recall

The French car maker has been forced to recall 15,000 vehicles, 260 of them in the UK. There are fears its emissions controls may not work outside the 20-30 degrees Celsius range that official tests are conducted at. Renault’s factories have also been raided by police searching for VW-style defeat devices. These allow cars to cheat their way through official emissions tests. Renault have denied such devices exist and investigators have yet to reveal finding any.

What’s happening with Volkswagens now?

Volkswagen has fitted 11m cars world-wide with so-called diesel defeat devices. These altered the cars’ NOx emissions to be legal when they were tested, then reverted to different, illegal emissions for real-world driving.

Drivers of affected VW diesels will have received letters from the company saying how their cars will be dealt with. Cars with the 2.0 and 1.2-litre diesels require only a software tweak. The work will be carried out for free and will take around half an hour. Those with the 1.6-litre diesel need to have a flow transformer device fitted as well as the software upgrade. Again, this will be carried out for free and the work should take less than an hour. Owners of affected cars should hear either from VW or from their dealer about the relevant fix.

Initially VW suggested that drivers of affected cars may get financial recompense. However, with no evidence that second-hand values of these cars have fallen, there are currently no plans for any compensation.

Read how the VW saga unfolded

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