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What are the CO2 emissions of my car?

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Most of us are aware that we have to do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly so when we see extreme heat, extreme cold, flooding and fires on the news and our social media feeds. It’s likely that these things will only get worse with climate change, and so it’s important that we do what we can to reduce the carbon emissions coming from our homes and cars.

Our cars can produce a significant amount of carbon dioxide in their lifetime, and knowing this information could help you to understand how you can reduce your car’s carbon footprint. Below, we reveal just how much CO2 our cars can produce, as well as how you can find out what your particular model could create.

How much CO2 does a car produce?

The amount of CO2 a car produces depends on its age (older cars are less efficient), the type of fuel it uses and more. However, you can take the below as a general guide to get an idea of the emissions it’s creating over its lifetime.

Standard fuel vehicle - 24 tonnes
Hybrid vehicle - 21 tonnes
Plug-in hybrid - 19 tonnes
Battery electric vehicle - 19 tonnes

To understand the total impact though, it's also necessary to look at the amount of carbon it takes to manufacture such vehicles:

Standard fuel vehicle - 5.6 tonnes
Hybrid vehicle - 6.5 tonnes
Plug-in hybrid - 6.7 tonnes
Battery electric vehicle - 8.8 tonnes

What makes this really interesting is that the cars that release fewer emissions over their lifetime typically create more emissions in production. This means total emissions of a car from high to low are:

Standard fuel vehicle - 29.6 tonnes
Battery electric vehicle - 27.8 tonnes
Hybrid vehicle - 27.5 tonnes
Plug-in hybrid - 25.7 tonnes*

While standard petrol and diesel cars still top the chart, electric cars may not be as low-emission once you take into account battery production. In these vehicles, the battery may need to be replaced every so often, too, so it can run as efficiently as possible. It’s worth noting, however, that when an electric car is run on renewable energy, such as that collected from solar or wind power, its carbon emissions could be reduced. Electric cars don’t emit any carbon themselves (their main byproduct is water), but the electricity that is used to power them is often generated by burning fossil fuels.

To put the figures above into perspective, 500kg is the equivalent of a return plane journey from London to Glasgow and 1.25 tonnes is comparable to using a mobile phone for one hour every day for a year.


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How much CO2 does my car produce?

Every year, the vehicle excise duty (VED), commonly known as road tax, increases with inflation. The amount of road tax you pay is based on how much CO2 your vehicle emits. Generally, the more CO2 your car emits, the more you pay.

The CO2 emissions of a vehicle are measured in grams per km (g/km):

  • 100g/km or lower means you pay no tax
  • 150g/km is considered low
  • 160 to 255g/km is considered medium
  • Above 255g/km is considered high

We’ve taken the 10 most popular petrol/diesel cars in the UK currently, and listed their average g/km.

1. Ford Fiesta - 104g/km
2. Mini Hatch - 109g/km
3. Volkswagen Polo - 109g/km
4. Vauxhall Corsa - 119g/km
5. Volkswagen Golf - 120g/km
6. Mercedes-Benz A Class - 126g/km
7. Ford Focus - 127g/km
8. Nissan Qashqai - 129g/km
9. Ford Puma - 138g/km
10. Volvo XC60 - 149g/km

Most of these cars have a range of between 100 and 120g/km, putting them in the low carbon category. It’s the older and faster cars that tend to emit more carbon. For instance, the Lotus Elise Sport has a rating of 173g/km and the Porsche 911, 242g/km. The higher the emissions, the more tax you will have to pay.

To find out the exact information for your own car, you can use the Vehicle Certification Agency’s tool. Simply answer their questions about the type of car it is, its fuel type and when it was registered and they’ll provide you with an accurate measurement.

Electric cars are noted as having 0g/km. This is because the cars themselves don’t produce any carbon. Instead, the electricity that is used to power them is created by mainly burning fossil fuels, and so this is where the carbon emissions for electric vehicles comes from. It’s also for this reason that electric vehicles don’t need to pay the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) fee, which is a scheme to reduce emissions in the city of London.

You could use this information to help you choose your next car, opting for a model that’s more environmentally friendly over one that produces a lot of carbon. The more people that choose an eco-friendly model, the more we can bring down carbon emissions and protect our planet for future generations.

*Information correct as of 2021, based on a 2015 vehicle.

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