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Motor Vehicle Pollution Fact Sheet

In many urban areas, motor vehicles are the single largest contributor to ground-level ozone, a major component of smog. Ozone causes public health problems including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and permanent lung damage. Motor vehicles also emit several pollutants classified as air toxics that also adversely impact public health.

Vehicles generate three major pollutants - hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide.

Hydrocarbons react with oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight and warm weather to form ground-level ozone. Nitrogen oxides also help form acid rain. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can impair mental functions, visual perception. .

Pollutants are released when...

  • Fuel is burned in the internal combustion engine and the air/gasoline residuals are emitted through the tailpipe.
  • Heat causes fuel to evaporate throughout the fuel system. Hot, sunny days and engines warmed by running provide heat to vaporize fuel into the air.
  • Refueling at the service station where gasoline vapors escape into the air.

New York State's program for reducing air pollution from vehicles includes...

  • The sale of fuels that burn cleaner - oxygenated fuels (used in some parts of the state), reformulated gasoline (RFG, used in the New York Metropolitan Area) and less volatile fuels (used seasonally in the warmer months).
  • At gasoline pumps - using special nozzles that recover vapors before they can be released to the air.
  • A statewide enhanced inspection and maintenance program (I/M)

Motorists can help reduce air pollution

Of all our daily activities, driving a motor vehicle is probably the single most polluting activity. 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.

Keep in mind when using your vehicle...

  • Reduce the number of miles traveled by combining trips, carpooling, using public transportation and telecommuting.
  • Avoid excessive idling by avoiding drive-in windows at banks and fast-food shops.
  • Drive at steady, moderate speeds.
  • Avoid over-filling or topping off the vehicle's gas tank.
  • Make sure the gasoline cap fits properly.

During maintenance...

  • Make sure tires are properly inflated.
  • Replace oil and filters at the manufacturer's recommended intervals.
  • Watch the color of tailpipe emissions: black smoke means too much gasoline in the fuel mixture; blue smoke indicates too much oil is being burned.
  • Fix fluid leaks in air conditioners immediately. Leaking chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) harm the earth's stratospheric ozone shield.

When buying...

  • Check the vehicle's fuel economy.
  • Make sure that the vehicle is California certified. The emission control label under the hood should state that the vehicle conforms to California regulations or is legal for sale in California. In New York State, it is illegal to register a 1996 or subsequent model year new vehicle that is not California certified.
  • Consider alternative fueled vehicles for motor vehicle fleets.

  • 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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