Car Exhaust and its Environmental Impact: 5 Tips for Damage Control

In cities around the world, the personal vehicle is the single greatest polluter. Car exhaust emitted by over a billion vehicles on the road adds up to a worldwide problem that needs immediate attention.

Driving a private car is the most polluting individual activity and the negative effects of emissions are raising red flags everywhere. Idling engines can cause harm to every participant to a traffic jam. So what are some tips to control the damage of car exhaust?

Toxic Chemicals

Thanks to the increased media coverage, we all know about the dangers of carbon dioxide. Our cars emit a lot of it, but that’s not the only problem; car exhaust involves a whole bunch of nasty toxic chemicals that harm our environment.

Carbon monoxide, for example, may be odorless, colorless, and tasteless, but it’s also highly toxic. Automobile emissions are also a great contributor to the global greenhouse effect. Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide is toxic by inhalation. A long exposure – even at low levels – can lead to adverse health effects. Nitrogen dioxide also contributes to acid rain, which severely damages our environment.

Particulate matter – also known as soot – is the most visible effect of car exhaust pollution. Not only does it reduce visibility, but it also affects the respiratory system, causes cancer, and damages lung tissues. Inhaling particulate matter is among the leading causes of hundreds of thousands of people and animals dying prematurely each year.

Car Exhaust & Global Warming

Without a doubt, car pollution is currently one of the major causes of climate change. Cars and other vehicles emit greenhouse gases which contribute to the U.S. global warming pollution. Warmer global temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect have a negative impact on sea levels, farming, wildlife, as well as natural landscapes.

Particulate matter and some air pollutants generated by cars deposit on soil and surface waters. From there, these substances enter the food chain, where they affect the immune, reproductive, neurological, and respiratory systems of animals.

Soil, Air and Water Pollution

Car pollution has widespread effects on the overall quality of air, soil and water. Nitrous oxide, for example, gradually thins the ozone layer – which shields the Earth from the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

On the other hand, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide contribute to acid rain, which damages forests, crops, and even buildings. Fuel and oil spills from cars and other vehicles seep into the soil around highways; fuel from vehicle emissions that is not properly disposed of often contaminates lakes, rivers and wetlands.

Effects on Human Health

There’s no going around it: Car exhaust and other pollutants harm human health. Hydrocarbons, particulate matter and carbon monoxide emitted by diesel engines can cause allergies, skin and eye irritation, and respiratory problems. While ozone is beneficial in the upper atmosphere, at ground level it inflames lungs, causes chest pains and difficulty in breathing.

Infants and people suffering from heart disease are also affected by carbon monoxide, because it interferes with the blood’s ability to carry fresh oxygen. In addition to chemical car pollutants, vehicle noise is also harmful, damaging hearing and affecting psychological well-being.

Tips to Reduce Car Exhaust Pollution

What is there to do, then? For a dire situation, we should employ drastic solutions. Unlike other environmental matters, car pollution is something we can all work together to reduce. When you employ greener practices, it’s not just carbon dioxide you keep out of the atmosphere. These other environmentally damaging chemicals we talked about today are also kept at bay.

1. Drive a Green Car

Major brands have produced hybrids to match almost any need: SUV, two-door, four-door, and even luxury sedan. Not only do they get better mileage than the conventional vehicles, but they also save money on gas and have cleaner emissions. Also, you might find that affordable electric cars and plug-in hybrids are very practical. However, if hybrids are not your thing, you can also try cars with better MPG that still meet your needs.

2. Drive Smart

Better driving practices can also help you contribute less to greenhouse emissions. In other words, the way you drive is tightly linked to fuel economy. For example, avoid sudden starts and stops and respect the speed limit. Combine more errands in one trip to minimize unnecessary miles. Also, use GPS or get good directions for wiser driving.

3. Don’t Idle

One of the worst driving practices, unnecessary car idling causes excess engine wear, wastes fuel, and pollutes the air. Trucks and school buses are to blame the most because they are the greatest contributors. Fortunately, modern vehicles no longer require “warming up” in the winter, so turn on the engine just when you are ready to drive. Less idling in school buses limits the children’s exposure to car exhaust, save fuel money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Start Carpooling and Car Sharing

This is a no-brainer. Carpooling lanes are meant to encourage people to find coworkers, neighbors, or fellow students who are headed in the same direction as you. If you are new to the carpooling thing, start with one shared trip per week and go from there. There are also car sharing programs like ZipCar that can help you transition.

Leave the Car in the Garage

Get in the habit of using your car only when necessary. If you plan shorter adventures, leave the car at home. Instead, you can take public transit, walk, ride your bike (regular, electric-assisted), use your skateboard, rollerblades, or an electric scooter. Buying groceries or other bulky items? Bikes can still make the trip; just add a backpack or some modifications to make it work. If you need to transport several people, you can always look into a cargo bike.


You have plenty of options when it comes to protecting the environment from more greenhouse gas emissions (GAG). Car exhaust is an important pollution contributor and any kind of personal initiative helps. If everyone would do their best when it comes to better driving practices, a greener world would become a more attainable goal.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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