Emissions standards: what they are and how to tell what your car’s is

Emissions standards

If there were no emissions standards, pollution would still be this bad

Whether you’re looking to buy a new car or you’re working out where you can use your existing model, it won’t be long before you have to know its emissions standard.

This will tell you whether you have to pay the Toxicity Charge before driving into central London. It is also useful for knowing whether you can take advantage of one of the many car maker scrappage schemes around. And it’ll even help you convince the doubting Thomas next door that your new diesel could well be cleaner than their old petrol.

Read on to find out more about emissions standards and how you tell what your car’s is.

What are emissions standards?

Every combustion engine car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus emits potentially harmful gases. To ensure these gases stay within acceptable limits, the European Union devised emissions standards. If a vehicle’s exhaust emissions fall outside the limits defined by the European Union, the manufacturer can’t sell it. Emissions standards were brought in for 1993 and called Euro 1. Euro 2 followed from January 1996, Euro 3 in January 2000, Euro 4 from January 2005, Euro 5 after September 2009 and our current Euro 6 has existed from September 2014.

What do they regulate?

A variety of chemicals make up exhaust gases. Some of these are harmful for the planet and our health. The purpose of the emissions standards is to limit the worst offenders. They measure nitrogen oxides (NOx), total hydrocarbons (THC), non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM).

How do they apply to cars?

Emissions standards

Emissions standards apply to both petrol and diesel cars. However, there are different levels of pollutants for each. Until Euro 5, petrol cars weren’t measured for particulate matter (the black smoke you see, usually from old diesel engines). Now direct injection petrol engines are. Petrol engines are allowed to produce more CO, diesels more NOx. Euro 5 witnessed a big cut in particulate matter, thanks to the addition of Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF). Nitrogen oxides were reduced by 28 per cent compared with Euro 4. Euro 6 witnessed a further 67 per cent reduction in NOx for diesel cars.

Standard/gas CO NOx PM
Euro 4 petrol 1.0 0.08
Euro 4 diesel 0.5 0.25 0.025
Euro 5 petrol 1.0 0.06 0.005
Euro 5 diesel 0.5 0.18 0.005
Euro 6 petrol 1.0 0.06 0.005
Euro 6 diesel 0.5 0.08 0.005

How do you find out what your car is?

A new web page has been launched by car history checker HPI. Simply scroll down, enter your car’s registration number and it’ll tell you what European emissions standard it conforms to.

You could also look in your car’s user manual. Its age is only a rough indicator. The above dates for the standards apply to what’s known as type approval. This is the date it was deemed legal to sell the car. Cars can be sold, usually for up to a year, after the date of the directive. It means you could find a newly registered 2015 car that’s sold legally as Euro 5.

Why are emissions standards measured?

Back when smoking cigarettes was considered good for your health, car makers could just concentrate on power. The more they could get from an engine, the better it looked in adverts. Exhaust emissions, global warming and any link between the two hadn’t been invented. Except, of course, exhaust emissions have always existed; it’s just measuring them that’s relatively new. Some might argue that the way emissions are tested bears little relation to driving in everyday conditions. But one thing’s for sure: our health and planet would be a lot worse off without the emissions standards.

2 comments on “Emissions standards: what they are and how to tell what your car’s is

  1. Mr Barry W Linnard 20/11/2017 9:37 AM

    That HPI facility doesn’t work. Message says “used too many times”
    Very helpful (NOT) !!

  2. chris owen 20/11/2017 11:39 AM

    Your car log book has this information, from about Euro 1

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