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Motor Vehicle Pollution Facts & Tips

In many urban areas, motor vehicles are the single largest contributor to ground-level ozone. Ozone causes public health problems including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and permanent lung damage, and is a major component of smog.
Motor vehicles also emit other major pollutants. Nitrogen oxides also help form acid rain. Hydrocarbons react with nitrogen oxides in sunlight and warm weather to form ground-level ozone. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can impair mental function and can even kill.

These pollutants and others are released when:

  • fuel is burned in internal combustion engines and the air/gasoline residuals are emitted through the tailpipe;
  • heat causes fuel to evaporate throughout the fuel system, so that hot, sunny days and warm running engines vaporize fuel;
  • refueling allows gas vapors to escape.

NYS programs for reducing air pollution from vehicles include:

  • supporting the manufacture and sale of zero and low emission vehicles;
  • selling modified fuels (oxygenated fuels in some parts of the state, reformulated gasoline in and near NYC, less-volatile fuels across NYS in the warmer months, and low-sulfur diesel fuel);
  • requiring special equipment at gas pumps, such as special nozzles that recover vapors instead of releasing them into the air;
  • a statewide enhanced inspection and maintenance program.

Motorists can help reduce air pollution

Of all our daily activities, driving is probably the single activity that generates the most air pollution. We can significantly reduce pollution from our vehicles by driving less, improving our driving habits, keeping our vehicles in good running order, and buying vehicles that are designed to emit fewer pollutants. Many of DEC's fuel economy tips also help drivers avoid polluting the air.

During maintenance, remember to:

  • make sure your tires are properly inflated and your wheels are properly aligned;
  • replace oil and filters at the manufacturer's recommended intervals;
  • fix fluid leaks in air conditioners immediately, because leaking hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) contribute to climate change;
  • watch the color of tailpipe emissions, knowing that black smoke implies there is too much gasoline in the fuel mixture and blue smoke indicates too much oil is being burned.

  • Contact for this Page
  • NYSDEC
    Division of Air Resources
    Vehicle Pollution
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-3255
    518-402-8292
    Send us an email
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