Posted in | News | Climate Change | Pollution

Used Cars From the UK Pollute More Abroad Than at Home

A recent investigation conducted by experts at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science uncovers that secondhand vehicles exported from Great Britain to less affluent nations not only fall short of British road safety regulations but also exhibit higher levels of pollution and lower fuel efficiency compared to those designated for recycling.

Image Credit: ssuaphotos/

The research, published in Nature Climate Change, highlights that exported pre-owned vehicles produce a minimum of 13-53% higher emissions per mile compared to those either scrapped or currently operational in Great Britain.

To conduct their analysis, the researchers leveraged data from mandatory yearly vehicle inspections, commonly known as MOT tests, covering the entirety of the 65 million used vehicles traversing British roads from 2005 to 2021. This comparison enabled them to assess the pollution and emissions intensity of vehicles exported versus those decommissioned or actively used within Great Britain.

Analysis of the data unveiled significantly elevated levels of carbon dioxide emissions and pollution in exported vehicles. Out of the seven million vehicles lawfully exported from Great Britain, used cars sent abroad generated a minimum of 13% more carbon dioxide per kilometer than those designated for scrapping and 17% more than those still operating on British roads.

Additionally, exported vehicles exhibited a 3.3 miles per gallon inferior fuel efficiency compared to those destined for the scrapyard.

Our study reveals that the UK, a leading global exporter of used vehicles with high vehicle emissions standards inside its own borders, offshores vehicle emissions to lower-income countries who are already suffering the most from climate change.

Dr. Saul Newman, Study Lead Author and Research Associate, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Demographic Science Unit, Oxford Population Health

More than half of the vehicle exports to low and middle-income countries stem from the EU and the UK, with nearly all remaining trade attributed to Japan and the United States. Despite maintaining stringent emission standards domestically, most countries receiving these exported vehicles lack their emission standards.

Exported vehicles exhibited markedly higher nitrogen oxide rates per kilometer compared to scrapped cars, a concerning air pollutant linked to millions of annual deaths, which could be mitigated through the enforcement of emission standards.

Notably, nearly all exported diesel cars (98%) failed to meet the European Union's EURO-6 diesel emissions standards for nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, with the majority (83%) predicted to also fail carbon dioxide standards. Furthermore, the study underscores the complexities surrounding the manipulation of emissions testing data, exacerbating the difficulties in accurately measuring emissions.

This study shows that we have been exporting dirtier cars than those we send to the scrapyard. This presents an enormous opportunity to clean up emissions in lower-income countries, simply by applying our own domestic emission standards to vehicles sent offshore.

Dr. Saul Newman, Study Lead Author and Research Associate, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Demographic Science Unit, Oxford Population Health

The study advocates for extending the UK's globally renowned vehicle emissions standards to all exported vehicles, ensuring that cleaner rather than more polluting vehicles are sent to lower-income countries.

Implementing such measures would alleviate the economic burdens associated with vehicle ownership, as cleaner vehicles entail reduced ongoing maintenance and fuel costs. Moreover, this initiative would align with the growing demands for cleaner air and climate action.

This study uses existing government data in a novel way to uncover considerable offshoring of vehicle emissions to low- and middle-income countries. The findings are striking and call for an evaluation of existing policies and practices around car pollution and exported vehicles.

Melinda Mills, Professor and Director, Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Demographic Science Unit

This study represents one of several forthcoming investigations conducted by the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Demographic Science Unit within the Geospatial and Environmental Demography theme. It delves into the pressing issues surrounding the escalating vehicle emissions worldwide while also proposing potential solutions to address these challenges.

Offshoring emissions through used vehicle exports

Video Credit: Oxford Population Health

Journal Reference:

Newman, S. J., et al. (2024). Offshoring emissions through used vehicle exports. Nature Climate Change.


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.