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GREENTIPS - How Clean Is Your Car? (8/05) August 15, 2005 8:59 AM


How Clean Is Your Car?
August 2005
Read this issue of Greentips online

Cars and trucks are a major contributor to ground-level ozone (smog) in the United States and generate more than 20 percent of this country’s heat-trapping gases. Even if your vehicle seems to be running smoothly, it could still be emitting high levels of smog-forming pollutants, so routine emission testing, proper maintenance, and smart driving habits are critical to keeping your vehicle as clean as possible.

Many states require regular emission testing as part of their vehicle inspection process, but if yours doesn’t, try to have your vehicle checked once a year. Testing typically includes a tailpipe emission analysis and an inspection of emission control equipment such as the catalytic converter and oxygen sensor.


  • Change your oil, spark plugs, and air filter regularly.
  • Use the grade of gasoline and motor oil recommended in your owner’s manual.
  • Don’t “top off” your gas tank. Putting excess fuel in the tank can cause spills and allow smog-producing fumes to escape into the atmosphere.

Efficient Driving
The following tips can decrease your vehicle’s emissions while increasing its fuel economy:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated and aligned.
  • Unless you’re stuck in traffic, turn off the car’s engine rather than allowing it to idle for more than a minute.
  • Obey posted speed limits and apply modest, even acceleration and braking.
  • Avoid transporting unnecessary weight.
  • Watch for declining fuel economy, which could indicate mechanical problems.

Emission Standards
When buying a car, choose the least polluting model in its class. As described below, the federal government maintains a basic standard that all new vehicles must meet, and a few states have more stringent standards. If emission performance is not listed on the vehicle’s window sticker, ask the dealer for this information or visit the federal government’s online fuel economy database (see the link below).

Federal standards

  • Tier 2—This new set of standards, which will be fully phased in by model year 2009, comprises 10 categories called “bins,” ranging from Bin 10 (highest emissions) to Bin 1 (lowest emissions).

State standards (CA, CT, MA, ME, NJ, NY, RI, and VT)

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 August 15, 2005 9:00 AM

The following designations fit into a system designed to deliver greater overall emission reductions than Tier 2:

  • LEV (Low Emission Vehicle)
  • ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle)
  • SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle)
  • PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle)
  • ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle)

For more information:

Consumer Federation of America—Clean Cars, Clean Air

National Safety Council—Environmental Health Center

Union of Concerned Scientists—The Plain English Guide to Tailpipe Standards

U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—Fuel Economy and Emissions Performance


Want to have a bigger impact on environmental issues? Add your voice to more than 100,000 online activists.

Help us develop practical solutions to environmental problems by joining UCS or making a donation today.

Subscribe to this free monthly newsletter or read past issues in the Greentips section of the UCS website.

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