European Diesel Emissions Standards Explained

Ian Lewis[1]

Ian Lewis

Money Savings Advice European diesel emissions standards

European emissions standard protect us from unsafe vehicles. Nitrogen oxide should not exceed 0.080g/km in diesel cars or more than 0.060g/km in petrol cars. The figures are slightly different for larger commercial vehicles.

Diesel cars produce emissions when their fuel is burned. Emissions are a byproduct and are created through the process of combustion. Car manufacturers must make sure that emissions are below a certain level.

Diesel emissions standards keep us all safe, making sure that there aren’t too many toxic chemicals in the air that we’re breathing. Cars must go through rigorous testing before they’re sold in the UK and Europe.

Read on to find out more about diesel emissions standards and why they exist.

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What Are Vehicle Emissions?

When fuel is burned in a vehicle, various gases are produced as a result of combustion in the engine. These gases aren’t needed by the car, so they must be neutralised, filtered or removed from the vehicle. Any gases that come out of the vehicle are counted as vehicle emissions. There are European emissions standards to keep these emissions in check.

Why Do We Have European Emissions Standards?

Some of these gases that come from a vehicle are harmless. They’re gases that already make up a significant proportion of the air that we breathe. Other gases may be more harmful, so levels must be kept in check.

Nitrogen oxide is a big concern, as a greenhouse gas that can be toxic. Nitrogen oxide doesn’t just damage the planet’s ozone layer but has also been linked to premature deaths, cancer, childhood asthma, eye problems and other respiratory issues.

By setting European emissions standards that vehicles must adhere to, we can be sure that day-to-day we’re not breathing too many toxic fumes. Rather than living in smoggy conditions that can be harmful to our health, we can breathe air that’s relatively clean and isn’t likely to harm us.

What Are the Current European Emissions Standards?

Levels of nitrogen oxide shouldn’t exceed 0.080g/km in diesel cars. They shouldn’t go above 0.060g/km in petrol cars.

There are maximum emissions levels for other types of gases, as well. Carbon dioxide shouldn’t rise above 0.50g/km in small diesel vehicles, whilst the figure is higher at 1.0g/km in petrol cars.

Figures for light commercial vehicles are the same as those for cars, though European emissions standards change slightly as vehicles get larger. A larger commercial vehicle is allowed to have slightly higher levels of emissions.

Vehicles are given a classification according to their level of emissions. The higher the number, the lower the vehicle emissions. For a petrol car, Euro 6 classification is the current best available. Cars classified as Euro 5 are older vehicles with higher emissions. Euro 5 cars can continue to be used, but a car that doesn’t meet Euro 6 regulations could no longer be registered and sold as a new vehicle.

You can view the full detail on the European Commission’s website here.

How Are Emissions Levels Checked?

Cars go through emissions tests. These make sure that they’re within limits for European emissions standards. These emissions checks put the car through its paces in various driving scenarios, with gas output monitored. Cars should have emissions below the limits set as the European standard.

What if Vehicle Emissions Are Too High?

If your car’s emissions are too high, it will fail its MOT. Emissions problems are classed as Major faults and will need to be resolved before you’ll pass.

How Can You Reduce Car Emissions?

There are some problems that can only be fixed with costly vehicle repairs. Your car might need new filters or could have a much larger problem with its engine or exhaust. There are, however, many things you can do to help lower car emissions on your own.

Stick to your vehicle’s recommended service schedule. Servicing can include oil checks and changes that can help to keep your car emissions low. Also, work quickly to repair damaged parts like a broken exhaust.

Sometimes, cars emissions can rise because the vehicle’s a little clogged up. This might happen if you only use your vehicle for very short local drives. Giving your car a good motorway run can help to reduce car emissions.

Often you don’t need costly products to clear out your vehicle’s fuel system. Often, all your car needs is a longer, faster drive that will help to get the fuel moving through.

Does Supermarket Fuel Make Car Emissions Worse?

Many people believe that vehicle emissions are affected by the type of fuel you use and that getting fuel from a supermarket forecourt is worse than buying better brands. In fact, you can save money getting supermarket fuel without worrying too much about quality.

All fuel sold in Europe must meet quality standards. All the standard or ‘basic’ fuel on offer will use the exact same fuel base. Where things might be added, the quality of these won’t vary much from brand to brand. Where better quality additives are used, the fuel comes with a premium price tag.

The average consumer will notice no difference between branded fuel and supermarket fuel, though the difference in cost could help you to save more than £100 per year.

When European Emissions Standards Aren’t Met

In 2014, news of Dieselgate shocked car owners worldwide. Researchers had found that many diesel cars weren’t meeting emissions standards in the UK, Europe or the US due to test manipulation.

Keeping car emissions below legal limits can lower their performance and increase their build and maintenance costs. To get around these issues, several car manufacturers were using defeat devices.

Defeat devices could be used to identify when cars were under test conditions. They’d temporarily activate all the car’s filters and emissions control technology. The recorded emissions would be below European emissions standards, meaning that the vehicle would pass the test and be allowed on the road. In real-world driving conditions, the actual emissions were much higher.

Once the diesel emissions scandal was uncovered, companies had to set things right. Emissions tests were changed, to be harder to manipulate, with more real-world driving scenarios. Several large car manufacturers were forced to pay big fines and penalties. Cars that didn’t meet the emissions standards were recalled for changes and adjustments.

If your diesel car doesn’t meet European emissions standards, and if it was fitted with a defeat device that could manipulate test results, it may be subject to a recall for free adjustments and improvements. To find out, search your car manufacturer’s website. You’re likely to need the VIN to see if your car’s been recalled.

Emissions Zones in Cities

Knowing your car emission levels is now more important than ever. Across Europe, low emissions zones are being set up in larger cities.

Cars with higher emissions might be unable to drive in certain European cities. Where they’re allowed, there many be additional charges to pay.

In Paris, cars must be at least Euro 4 to drive within city borders from 2022. From 2024, they’ll need to be at least Euro 5. London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone applies a charge to cars that aren’t at least Euro 4. Many cities plan to allow only electric vehicles within their borders by 2030.

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Money Savings Advice Author Ian Lewis

Ian Lewis

Ian Lewis is one of our specialist financial writers. Ian has over 15 years of financial writing experience, having worked for some of the largest financial publications in the UK covering topics from mortgages, equity release, loans and financial claims, to name a few.

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