B.C. Air Quality

Vehicle Emissions FAQs

What pollutants do cars emit?
Cars emit nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and smaller amounts of other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ammonia (NH3). For more information, visit our page on Pollutants that Vehicles Emit.
 
What pollutants do trucks emit?
Large trucks are mostly powered by diesel engines, in contrast to cars which are mostly powered by gasoline engines. Diesel engines emit the same pollutants as gasoline engines except that they produce much higher amounts of NOx and PM2.5 and lower amounts of VOCs and CO. Diesel PM is considered particularly harmful because the particles are extremely small and can be inhaled easily. See our page on Pollutants that Vehicles Emit for more details.
 
What pollutants do trains emit?
Trains in B.C. are powered by large diesel engines, so they emit similar pollutants to trucks. The federal government plans to regulate stricter emissions standards in the rail sector, beginning in 2011. See Transport Canada for more details.
 
What pollutants do ships emit?
Large ships burn either heavy fuel oils or diesel. Fuel oils in the marine sector are relatively unrefined. They can contain as much as several percent sulphur as well as other impurities. Because marine fuel and marine engines have not been regulated to the same standards as land based vehicles they have much higher emissions of PM2.5 and SO2.
 
What pollutants do aircraft emit?
Most aircraft use jet fuel, which is similar in properties to kerosene. Combustion in an aircraft jet engine produces the same suite of emissions as cars. Aircraft produce a relatively high amount of NOx due to the high combustion temperature in jet engines. Aircraft emissions are unique in that a significant proportion of emissions take place at high levels in the atmosphere. This creates some unique concerns as the aircraft emissions contribute to the formation of contrails and high cirrus clouds which can contribute to global warming.
 
What are the health effects of vehicle emissions?
Vehicle emissions lead to the formation of smog which has been shown to lead to increases in respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. A number of studies have shown that pollutant exposures near major roadways are greater than for other areas in cities. Other studies have linked this increased exposure to increased prevalence of a wide variety of illnesses including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia and heart disease.
 
If automobile emissions are bad for health, why does the AirCare program only apply in the Lower Mainland?
The Lower Mainland, where AirCare applies, has by far the highest concentration of vehicles in the province. The contribution of vehicles to poor air quality is greatest in this part of the province.
 
Does the marine/shipping sector produce a lot of pollution?
Relative to other transportation sectors the marine transportation sector produce a greater amount of PM2.5 and SO2, primarily due to this sector's reliance on less refined, high sulphur fuels. However a number of initiatives are underway to reduce marine emissions. For more information, see our page on Marine Emissions.
 
What can I do to minimize pollution from my car?
To minimize emissions from your car, first consider other options to using your car (carpool, public transit, biking and walking). If you need to use your car, smart driving habits and good vehicle maintenance can reduce emissions. Visit our What You Can Do to Reduce Vehicle Emissions pages for more details.
 
How do I find out if my municipality has an anti-idling bylaw?
The 2007 report entitled Inventory of Air Quality Bylaws in British Columbia for: Anti-Idling, Open-Burning, and Wood-Burning-Appliances (PDF: 197 pages/1610 KB) lists and describes anti-idling bylaws in place at that time. To find out if an anti-idling bylaw has been enacted since that time, speak to your municipality.
 
How long should I let my car warm up before driving?
Even in winter 30 seconds of warm-up time is generally sufficient for modern engines. Extreme winter conditions may require longer warm up periods. Safety concerns dictate that vehicles must be warmed until windows are defrosted/defogged.
 
How have vehicle emissions changed over time?
Emissions per vehicle have fallen dramatically over the last 20 years. Some of this decrease has been counteracted by an increase in the number of vehicles and an increase in the kilometres travelled per vehicle. However the net effect is that emissions from mobile sources have declined over the last 20 years in Canada.
 
How are vehicle emissions predicted to change in the future?
As a result of currently planned or implemented regulations at the provincial and federal level, vehicle emissions are predicted to fall in the near future. However if no new initiatives are taken to reduce vehicle emissions, emissions may begin to increase further in the future due to increases in the number of vehicles.
 
What sources are included in the category of "off-road gasoline"?
This source category includes a wide variety of vehicles and engines, including all terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, gasoline powered generators, gasoline powered garden tools, gasoline powered logging and agricultural equipment, and gasoline powered marine engines.
 
What sources are included in the category of "off-road diesel"?
This source category includes a wide variety of diesel-powered vehicles and engines, including most heavy industrial machines such as bulldozers, excavators, mining equipment, logging equipment and agricultural tractors.

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