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Car Manufacturers to Face ‘Real’ EU Emissions Tests

Most motorists are by now familiar with the concept of emissions from their car. These focus on CO2 outputs but also consider other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, and they are important for two reasons.

First and foremost, they help us to combat climate change. CO2 is recognised as a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Cars that have lower CO2 emissions are therefore useful in minimising the effects of burning fossil fuels in our vehicles. The second reason is more selfish. In the UK at least, reduced emissions means reduced road tax, so it is financially beneficial for a motorist to select a less polluting car.

Sadly, however, the figures claimed by the car manufacturers often bear little relation to the figures that are actually experienced in the real world. Motorists will be familiar with the way that the big car-makers manipulate such test results, because they have been doing it for years when to comes to fuel-consumption tests. They get up to all sorts of tricks, such as taping up the gaps between panels and fitting ultra-low-resistance tyres that would be of little use on actual roads. The EU is determined that the car industry will not be able to get away with such tricks when it comes to emissions data, and they are determined that the results that are quoted will reflect the actual performance of the car.

That is why the EU will become the first regulatory body to introduce so-called real-world tests on emissions for car makers, designed to make the fight against atmospheric pollution and global warming even more effective. These tests will show what emissions cars create out on the open road and not in the laboratory. These new tests have already been given the go-ahead by the European Commission, and they are being brought in to help to enforce a new lower limit for nitrogen oxide of 80mg per kilometre travelled. At the moment, research suggests that only about one in every 16 cars meets this emissions level.

The new regulations will be monitored by other countries, such as Korea and China, to see how effective they are. They will also be broader-based in their approach and focus on other pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, particulates and nitrogen oxide. These are a particular issue with diesel cars, and they are thought to be responsible for at least 25% of pollution-related deaths in the UK. With 29,000 deaths annually, this is a serious area for concern. This figure could even be revised upwards when the government publishes more evidence of the effects of these chemicals on public health later in 2015.

The current emissions tests for cars are based on something called the ‘New European Drive Cycle’. This test is 25 years old, and it is widely accepted that the car companies have become adept at fiddling the system by using similar techniques to those deployed in fuel-consumption tests. They also run their engines in temperatures that are far higher than any found in the real world and use roads far smoother than is realistic. Some also program the car’s computer to go into a special eco-mode when the front wheels are turning but the back wheels are not, exactly as happens during the test.

The new regulations, however, will see the cars being tested on real roads, where it will not be possible to carry out some of the fudging techniques that the car companies have previously adopted. The testers will also ensure that the car is of standard specification and not fitted with special tyres or engine-management systems. The new regulation will be called the Real Driving Emissions Test, and it will also cover more pollutants than the current testing regime. These pollutants are a serious health hazard, and the new tests will be instrumental in creating healthier cars for us to drive.

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