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Vehicle Emissions Q&A

Vehicle Emissions Q&A –


What is the proposed Vehicle Emissions Policy? The government is looking at a number of short-term and long-term options to bring New Zealand’s vehicle emissions down; the health impacts of vehicle emissions are too high. These options focus on improving vehicle emissions through improved vehicle performance, and include: An education and information campaign aimed at informing vehicle users of the need for and benefits of regular tuning, maintenance and repair. Introducing emissions screening to ensure used imported vehicles cannot be imported into New Zealand in a broken (high emissions) state, and then sold without being properly fixed. Introducing emissions screening, if necessary, for some or all of the existing New Zealand vehicle fleet to find the broken, high emitting vehicles, and ensure they are fixed. Collecting data on the emissions performance of the fleet, from statistical sampling, to determine if, and to what vehicles, the in-service emissions screening might apply.

What is the timeline of this proposed policy? This announcement is the first part of the process, because the government is confident that providing good information to the public about the importance of regularly fixing and/or tuning vehicles can be effective in reducing vehicle emissions.

Over the next few months, the Ministry of Transport will be talking to key stakeholders and gathering information in order to present a range of options to the Associate Minister.

The Associate Minister of Transport, Judith Tizard, expects to be able to report to Cabinet in August on the full range of the expected costs, benefits, and effects of these options, and the proposed timing for the introduction of the various measures.

Once the proposed policy direction has been considered by Cabinet, the government will invite wider public consultation.

Judith Tizard has indicated she is always interested in hearing New Zealanders’ views and correspondence can be sent to:

Hon Judith Tizard Associate Minister of Transport Parliament Buildings Wellington Email: mailto:

Who should be interested in this proposed policy? Anyone who operates a vehicle. Anyone who owns a vehicle. Anyone who repairs, tunes or maintains a vehicle, such as mechanics and “do-it-yourself” mechanics. Anyone who modifies a vehicle. Anyone who is concerned about improving local air quality. Local authorities who manage roads and traffic (traffic congestion causes high emissions even in “good” cars).

Who will the proposed policy benefit? The benefit of improved vehicle emissions will flow through to improved local air quality, and lower fuel use. Everyone in New Zealand will benefit, but especially those people who live and work in places like parts of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which have high levels of traffic and congestion. People who are susceptible to air pollution, from whatever source, should also gain the benefit of cleaner air, wherever they live.

Who will the proposed policy affect? Owners and operators especially. Anyone who repairs, tunes or maintains a vehicle, such as mechanics and “do-it-yourself” mechanics

How will this proposed policy affect me as a vehicle owner, operator or importer? It will be asking you to take more responsibility for how you use and maintain your vehicles. The degree to which the government may eventually have to impose controls on vehicles will largely depend on how much individual responsibility the public and industry takes for their vehicle’s emission in the short term.

Why should I be interested now? As a vehicle owner am I required to change anything yet? You can improve the way you look after your car and save on fuel bills. Get into good habits now. If you make sure to fix and/or regularly tune your car, you and your neighbours will breathe easier and you may also save money on fuel and maintenance costs.

However, if the government considers that not everyone is contributing, and badly tuned vehicles are continuing to pollute the air, it will eventually have to regulate.

What has the government done so far about the air pollution in our cities? The government has been working on improving air quality in New Zealand cities for many years. With the recent increase in monitoring data, we now know that air pollution from vehicles, home heating fires and industry can be bad enough to affect people’s health. The NIWA Health Effects due to Motor Vehicle Air Pollution in New Zealand report in 2002 was the first study to estimate how serious the health effects were. The results from this study are now being used to support new policy developments and regulations.

To reduce vehicle emissions, the government has addressed fuel quality. It has significantly improved public transport. It is addressing as fast as possible the congestion problems prevalent significantly in Auckland. It has pledged to make significant, badly needed, improvements in local and national road and rail infrastructure.

To address other major sources of air pollution, such as home heating fires and industry, the government has promulgated national Ambient Air Quality Guidelines (MfE 2002). These set targets that regional councils and industry should aim to achieve through local regulations and policies in order to protect people’s health and wellbeing. The guideline values are largely based on World Health Organisation recommendations designed to protect sensitive people from adverse health effects of inhaling air pollutants. Copies of these guidelines and further information about the research on which they are set are available from the Ministry for the Environment’s website at

The government works closely with regional councils who are responsible for managing air quality under the Resource Management Act 1991 to encourage monitoring and effective management. For example, the Auckland Regional Council’s ‘Drive-By Emissions Tests’ programme has so far tested 40,000 vehicles, looking for hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide.

Recently, the New Zealand Refining Company announced a decision to upgrade the Marsden Point refinery to produce cleaner fuels. This change will allow the supply of higher quality petrol and diesel that is cleaner and more environmentally friendly to the New Zealand market, reducing the amount of polluting vehicle emissions and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. It will also enable the use of newer technology vehicles with cleaner-burning engines that require fuel produced to stringent specifications. More information is available at the following website links:

What does this proposed policy add? This proposed policy is a new direction, as it focuses on the quality and emissions performance of the vehicle fleet.

The proposed policy initially asks people to become more informed and to take more responsibility for their vehicle’s emissions. It strongly complements and builds on our existing desire to improve the overall quality of the New Zealand fleet and make transport safer. Now we need to make road transport cleaner as well.

How much will it cost me to comply with this proposed policy? Nothing - if you already look after your vehicle. If you don’t give your vehicle regular tuning and maintenance, then looking after it will probably save you money on fuel, at the minimum. The only part of the proposed policy that is likely to affect the motoring public directly is the proposal to introduce in-service emissions screening.

If your vehicle failed a proposed emissions screening test you might not be able to use it on the road until it is fixed and passes another test. This is the same as the current requirements of the Warrant of Fitness (WOF) or Certificate of Fitness (COF) process. If you fail part of a WOF or COF you are given a period of time to fix the problem and have it re-tested, without penalty. Penalties only apply if you try to use the vehicle on the road without a valid WOF or COF.

The proposal to screen used vehicles before they are sold in New Zealand for the first time may mean a slight increase in the cost of the compliance check that all used vehicles have to undergo before registration. The Minister expects this information to be set out in the paper she expects to take to Cabinet in August on the full range of the expected costs, benefits, and effects of the proposed options.

The government stresses that there is much work to be done on investigating emission-screening design, machinery and cost, and it has indicated that any proposal to introduce in-service emissions screening would have to be done after wide consultation, at a reasonable cost and with sufficient warning to allow the screening systems to be put in place.

What is this proposed policy likely to mean to the motor industry? The proposal to regulate through emissions screening the quality of imported used vehicles is consistent with the motor vehicle industry’s declared intentions to bring into New Zealand the safest and most environmentally friendly vehicles available, both new and used. It will provide the means to ensure that all importers of used vehicles are required to meet the same standards.

The proposal to regulate, through an in-service emissions screening check, the quality of the existing fleet reflects both the public’s and the industry’s recent expectations that air quality should be improved by requiring polluting vehicles to be fixed or removed from use. This would have to be done at a reasonable cost, and with sufficient warning to allow the screening systems to be put in place.

However, in making these decisions, the government needs to balance transport and economic factors alongside health and environmental factors. Each year, significant numbers of vulnerable New Zealanders are falling ill, and sometimes dying, because vehicles are producing air pollutants that may be significantly reduced by simple measures.


Does New Zealand have an air pollution problem? Several towns and cities in New Zealand have air pollution levels that breach the New Zealand guideline values for contaminants such as fine particles (PM10) and carbon monoxide. These breaches can occur on a reasonably regular basis, particularly during still wind conditions in winter.

The causes and size of areas affected by air quality problems differ in different places. In Auckland it is mainly due to vehicle exhausts and the areas affected may be localised around congested roads and intersections; in Christchurch and Nelson, it is mainly due to domestic fires that can affect the whole city or in the case of Nelson, be localised in specific valleys.

Is it true that as many people die from vehicle emissions as from the road toll? Yes, the recent study by NIWA, for the Ministry of Transport, on the Health Effects due to Motor Vehicle Air Pollution in New Zealand estimates between 240 and 560 (best estimate 399) adults die prematurely each year due to long-term exposure to vehicle emissions. This is the first time in New Zealand that we looked at the potential “invisible” road toll. A copy of this report is available from the Ministry of Transport. More detailed research is underway now through the Health Research Council to test these preliminary results.

Who is likely to be affected by vehicle emissions? From the NIWA study noted above it is clear that those people who live in areas associated with high volume traffic corridors where congestion is common are most likely to be exposed to high levels of vehicle emissions. The places identified with the highest level of exposure are Central Auckland, Manukau, Papakura and Central Wellington. (NIWA page 60).

A large number of studies have been carried out worldwide that show associations between local air pollution levels and health effects. Some similar studies have been conducted in New Zealand. It appears that some groups within the New Zealand population are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, from whatever source, include the elderly, people with existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, asthmatics and children. (NIWA page 5).

Why should I care about vehicle emissions? Every running vehicle produces exhaust emissions – this is because it is burning fuel. The exhaust includes air pollutants such as: metals carbon monoxide (CO) particulate matter (PM) oxides of nitrogen (NOx) volatile organic compounds (VOC) sulphur oxides (SOx).

These emissions vary from location to location but become part of the air that we breathe. Depending on the pollutant and length of exposure, these can cause headaches (primarily due to CO), respiratory problems (CO, NOx, PM) or heart problems (PM and CO), and cancer (VOC). Some of these pollutants can also cause smog, when exposed to strong sunlight.

If the vehicle is really badly tuned or maintained, or not working properly, it will emit visible smoke from its exhaust pipe. Even if there is no visible smoke, the exhaust emissions from a petrol vehicle may still be high, even if the vehicle is simply out of tune. If you have a diesel vehicle and it is smoking, it may be broken or just in need of regular maintenance.

How can I do my part to reduce vehicle emissions? You can do a lot just by keeping your vehicle tuned and fixing it when it needs it. You can also do a lot by trying to be a more efficient driver. For example, by not using your vehicle during times of high traffic congestion, you can reduce both the amount of fuel used and the amount of exhaust emissions created.

If your vehicle is smoky it needs help. If you have a petrol vehicle and it is smoking, its engine is likely to be very badly broken, and may need extensive repairs. Otherwise it is difficult to tell if a petrol engine is producing excessive invisible emissions without some form of exhaust gases test. Simple regular tuning and maintenance of your petrol engine car is best.

Exhaust emissions can be decreased by: Better maintaining your vehicle Where practical, switching to using cleaner, lower emitting or emission-free fuels Using low emission engines (built to modern emission standards) and vehicles fitted with efficient emissions control equipment (such as catalytic converters and particulate traps on vehicle exhaust pipes) Using transport alternatives, especially in urban areas where buses and trains are available. Consider walking or cycling for short journeys. Using your vehicle at off-peak times.

It is highly inadvisable to remove your vehicle’s catalytic converter which is built into its exhaust system. A catalytic converter, through a chemical reaction, converts poisonous exhaust gases into harmless compounds. By removing the catalytic converter, your vehicle will almost certainly produce more exhaust emissions and it will fail even the most basic emissions screening test. If proposed in-service screening were to be implemented, this could result in the vehicle owner needing to replace the catalytic converter.

The results from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) EnergyWise Rally 2002 (http:// clearly show the advances that the motor industry has made in increasing the fuel efficiency of the modern motorcar in recent years. The Rally also demonstrated the benefits of fuel-economic driving habits that if adopted by all New Zealanders would help the environment and save families with an ‘average’ car up to $400 off the average annual fuel bill just by driving more efficiently.

For more information on how you can make a difference, go to the “transport” section of EECA’s website:

Am I legally required to do anything about reducing vehicle emissions? Yes. A smoky vehicle regulation came into force in March 2001. This allows the Police to identify excessively smoky vehicles, which are often also the worst emissions offenders. Police are able to fine operators of smoky vehicles $150. The Police decide if a vehicle is excessively smoky if they see that vehicle emit visible smoke from its exhaust for 10 seconds or more.

What is being done about removing smoky vehicles from our roads? A number of organisations, including the Ministry of Transport, the Auckland Regional Council and the Police, are educating people about the need to reduce their vehicle’s emissions. The direct benefits to owners or operators of well tuned and maintained vehicles are that they will have a more efficient car that uses less fuel, costs less money in the long term, and is less likely to be ticketed as smoky.

This approach, combined with the “10 second rule” enforced by the Police appears to be working.

The Smoky Vehicle survey 2001 revealed a significant reduction in the number of smoky vehicles on the road after the new regulation became law. The proportion of smoky vehicles dropped from 13.8% of the fleet in 2000 to 9.4% of the vehicle fleet in 2001, this is a drop of more than 30%. The proportion of smoky vehicles in all vehicle types dropped, with the largest fall being motorcycles, trucks and utilities.

Can I dob in a smoky vehicle? No. In order for the Police to fine a person for driving an excessively smoky vehicle they have to see smoke coming out of the exhaust for 10 seconds or more. No one else can do this for them. Local government is, however, working with Police on regional “blitzes” to encourage people to be more aware of their vehicle’s emissions.

What, if any, is the connection between smoky vehicles, exhaust pollution and climate change? Every running vehicle produces exhaust emissions – this is because it is burning fuel. The exhaust includes air pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), very fine particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Engines also produce carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a climate change or greenhouse gas. More details on the different air pollutants are available at:

How will we meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases? The Kyoto Protocol is about reducing greenhouse gases to stop global warming. Approximately 16 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases, and 45 per cent of its total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, are created by land transport. Last September, the government announced the domestic climate change policies that will enable New Zealand to meet its Kyoto Protocol target for greenhouse gas emissions, which is to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels over the Protocol’s first commitment period 2008 – 2012.

We can reduce transport’s contribution to greenhouse gases by using many of the same actions we can use to improve emissions and air pollution. Tuning our vehicles. They will run more efficiently, produce fewer exhaust emissions, consume less fuel and cost less to maintain or repair. Improving the overall quality of vehicles in New Zealand. This started with New Zealand’s decision to allow used Japanese imports. Although they are used, these vehicles are, on the whole, much better constructed, safer to use and able to operate at much better fuel efficiency and emissions levels than the vehicles they are replacing in the New Zealand fleet. Some may arrive in need of a tune or minor maintenance, but this is nearly always completed before their first sale here. Reducing the number of trips and the amount of travel we do in our cars. This can both reduce fuel consumption and the production of exhaust emissions and greenhouse gases. It can also provide people with a little more healthy exercise.

Where can I get more information about vehicle emissions? The following web sites have significant amounts of New Zealand information, as well as links to international information.

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