Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Older, More Polluting Cars

“Older more polluting cars” has become a stock phrase of late, particularly with the storm brewing over the backdating of the road tax increases. Our dear national broadcaster used the phrase at the top of the news this morning, saying something like “Labour rebels and Conservatives are criticising the increase in tax on older more polluting cars”. This is a rather pejorative turn of phrase – why couldn’t they just say “road tax increase” or similar? It’s OK, though, I’m not going to launch into another rant about BBC bias and climate change, tempting though it is.

The arguments centre on the effects of the increase on poorer drivers and families, and rightly so, but in addition the blanket assumption that older cars are more polluting is wrong. My first car was 1961 Triumph Herald convertible. I doubt it had particularly clean emissions. “Aha!” says the tree-hugger, “it’s an older, more polluting car!” Er, no, because it used to go out fairly occasionally, and so contributed less CO2 in a typical year than my everyday (then) new Golf. Yet even if it wasn’t a second car, the most significant way in which my old Triumph was less polluting was that it was an older car – i.e. it was still on the road. Cars have the greatest impact on the environment when they are made, and when they are scrapped. Even when the old girl does come to the end of her life, as an older car with less plastics, no catalytic converter, no coolant filled air con system, and not much of anything else, most of the car will be easily recyclable steel.

Now, I concede that the Herald would be exempt from road tax anyway (though for how long?), and in any case is an extreme example (the road tax increase are only being backdated to 2001 cars) but the blind assumption that older cars are the chariot of the devil is one that should be challenged, if only on the main point that looking after an older car and keeping it on the road is the best thing an owner can do for the environment.

Of course, in truth the road tax changes have nothing to do with the environment – after all, what would they be trying to achieve? Clearly we can’t turn back time to not purchase the vehicles, so it must be trying to force us to take older cars off the road, which means in most cases scrapping them, and generating demand for new ones to be built – a double whammy for the environment. Yet surely Alistair Darling couldn’t be using the “climate change agenda” as an excuse just to raise environmentally irrelevant taxes?

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