Car Scrappage Schemes – Will They Actually Improve Air Quality?


Another car manufacturer has announced that they are joining others in paying us £2000, for cars over seven years old, to be put towards a new car. This is said to be a drive to help improve air quality. It is promised that our old cars will be scrapped (and recycled) not sold on, thus taking older polluting vehicles off the road.

In 2013 the average mileage a car was driven was 7,900 miles a year. A car that is seven years old will have driven, on average, therefore 55,300 miles.

Air quality is down to many things. In our cities the biggest danger to health are the small particles that come from diesel exhausts (PM10’s or the smaller PM2.5’s). However many cars, even older than seven years, are fitted with particle filters. A proportion of the particles associated with vehicles also come from the tyres and brakes, this problem will be no different with a newer fleet of cars. Some HGVs have engine management systems or AdBlue™ that can make these emissions cleaner than many cars.

Making a car uses substantial amounts of energy. A small, well maintained, efficient hatchback would be much better kept on the road than replaced with a new car. Even a gas guzzler, if is not doing many miles, may be better kept than replaced.

My argument would be that instead of taking cars off the road, that could have many more miles in them, it would be better to incentivise getting the current vehicle fleet running cleaner by the various methods already available to us.

If you look at the table below some cars could run from 55,300 up to 100,000 miles and still emit less CO2 than the embodied energy of making a new car. I accept that the table does not take into account the CO₂ embodied in tyres, repairs and new parts and CO₂ is not technically air pollution. CO₂ does not have direct impacts on health but as our climate warms the heat waves we will endure will certainly have an impact on our health and the cost to the NHS. There will also be significant resource losses from car replacements as car recycling is not 100% efficient, there will be losses from shredder fluffs and other materials that are not readily recyclable (and will end up in energy recovery).

  Car embodied emissions

(tonnes CO₂e)

Emissions over 100,000 miles (tonnes CO₂) Emissions over

55,300 miles

(tonnes CO₂)

Citroen C1 5-7 16.5 9.1
Prius hatchback 13-17 3.7 – 12.7 2.1 -7.0
Ford Mondeo 14-20 15.3  – 29.3 8.5 – 16.2
Land Rover Discovery 23-35 28.5 – 42.3 15.8 – 23.4

Electric vehicles have a major role to play in tackling the local air emission problem, however to properly address air pollution there is a need to consider a variety of infrastructure changes and behaviour changes, including the need to drive less and utilise cleaner public transport. Financial incentives need to come from government to support a clean, integrated public transport system. If you want to do your bit to improve air quality get your electricity from a renewable energy supplier, get the electric bus into town, walk, cycle, car share, go car free and use a car pool.

If you would like more information on how you can reduce your environmental impact please feel free to call on 01746 552423 or email


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