I'm considering on buying an older car but I haven't decided if it should be gasoline or diesel powered.

I would like to choose a diesel, but I'm considering the negatives:

  • smoke
  • smell
  • NOx emisions

Is there something I personally can do to emit less NOx, smoke, smell and dust?

  • 2
    Basically it will come down to: drive it less (and gently, especially when it comes to acceleration) , maintain it well, and don't carry unnecessary weight. I.e. the usual efficiency advice with an extra emphasis on maintenance.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 9:27

4 Answers 4


By crushing the car and recycling the metal. That's how.

Diesel cars are awful and there's pretty much nothing anyone can do about it, if the recent VW diesel cheating scandal hasn't already made that abundantly clear. Volkswagen had done everything they could, using the latest technology, to reduce the emissions of these cars, but they still couldn't get the emissions down to acceptable levels. So they cheated and made the cars run super lean when the GPS told the car that it was at a testing facility. Doing this on the street would make real-world owners complain about a lack of power though, and they couldn't have that.

Now what they're doing is replacing their diesel models with electric drive trains. They're literally giving up on diesels for consumer applications.

If you'd like to do this (for a myriad of reasons, including leaving the awfulness of diesel engines behind, and cutting the cost of fuel to next to nothing, nevermind a super reliable, quiet ride that requires nearly no maintenance), then you can buy an older Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe for a fraction of their original sticker price. If you have 220v mains in your house (which describes pretty much the whole of the UK and Europe), then you don't even need to do anything extra. The car comes with a charger that will fill it within a few hours while you sleep, and there are now lots of fast chargers throughout the countryside.

  • 1
    Actually question is not about buying electrical crap with old batteries with no possibility for example to go with family to the vacation to sea coast (500+ km). Question is what can be done with the diesel car, so crushing is your option. :c) That emerges a question, why the greens were pushing it as ecological last decades? Thank you.
    – Dee
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 12:08
  • 1
    "That emerges a question, why the greens were pushing it as ecological last decades?" I think there are a few reasons for that. The most obvious reason is the high gas mileage that the VW TDI engine got. The second I think, was the promises that VW made about how they could make them clean (which was, um, a lie). The third had a lot to do with how diesel engines have been very popular in Europe in places where the price of gasoline is very high, but diesel was much lower to give commercial trucks a break and lower the price of goods. In other words, mostly politics.
    – Ernie
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:11
  • As for the family vacation to the sea coast, please refer to www.plugshare.com. You don't need to have enough battery to get there and back on one charge now, because there are lots of chargers on the ground. Last year, I took my family on a 575km trip through the rugged coast mountains of British Columbia, and honestly, the kids much prefer to not be strapped into the car for 6 hours straight. They don't see the frequent stops for charging as a bad thing.
    – Ernie
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:27
  • I'm from Europe, so no plugsahres here. But tell me please, how many "frequent charges" I can do going from Detroit... during the winter... we are not yet there. Cars with batteries is nonsense now as batteries life cycle is not sustainable at all.
    – Dee
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:57
  • Did you try the link? I see thousands of chargers, quick or slow, in Europe.
    – Ernie
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 20:29

It largely depends on the sort of driving you do - if you do lost of short journeys, buy petrol (or electric), if you mostly do long journeys, buy Diesel.

The best thing you can do to reduce the impact is simply to drive it less - The fewer miles you do, the less emissions you create, so consider using the train instead wherever possible, and walk/cycle for shorter journeys - this latter point is most important, as Diesel cars are very inefficient when cold, and so are very bad for short journeys.

Make sure the car is well maintained, particularly any emission controls such as Diesel particulate filters and echaust gas recirculation systems.

Keep the tyres in good condition and correctly inflated - a significant proportion of the particulate emissions from a car comes from tyre, road and brake wear - this Defra Report (pages 84-85) suggests that in 2009, 12.4ktonnes of PM2.5 emissions came from vehicle exhausts, and 7.8ktonnes from non-exhaust vehicle emissions - but by 2020, the exhaust emissions are predicted to fall to just 2ktonnes, while the non-exhaust emissions would increase to 8.8.

Older Diesel cars will run on vegetable oil, which doesn't really help with the point-of-use emissions, but does reduce the overall impact, as you're not using as much unsustainable fossil fuel. Similarly keeping the car going for as long as possible - it may not directly reduce the particulates in the immediate vicinity, but it's better for the overall environment than scrapping it and creating a new vehicle. This Telegraph Article, quoting from Mike Berners-Lee's book "How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Nearly Everything", calculates the CO2 emissions from a new Golf to be 22t for manufacturing + 40,000 miles (the average in the UK for 5 year's worth of driving), compared with 11t for buying a 10-year-old one and driving it for another 40,000 miles - and if you make the concious effort to reduce your milage, the old one would be 5.5t for 20k miles, whereas the new one would be 19.9t - an even bigger difference.

  • @THelper I've added some references. I can't find the one I really wanted, which compared a 20-year-old Land Rover to a new Prius, and came out clearly in favour of the Land Rover, mainly due to the manufacturing and transport costs of the Prius batteries
    – Nick C
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 9:55
  • Thanks for adding the references! I hope you weren't looking for the 2007 'Dust to dust' study where they claimed a Prius is worse than a Hummer? That study was bogus.
    – THelper
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 10:15
  • Nope, the one I was thinking of was definitely a Land Rover - I remember it commenting on the fact that the simplicity of the Landy made the initial manufacturing impact much lower, and the lack of plastics made it much easier to recycle at the end of it's life, along with the greater ease of repair and reuse compared to a normal car
    – Nick C
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 11:47

There may be a solution (although not cheap) from these people in the UK http://www.cgon.co.uk/

Responding to Dee's comments below: What you could do is buy the ezero1 unit that CGON (who are based in the UK) manufacture for around £700. It claims to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. However, the installation service only seems to operate in the UK at present. The page relating to independent (but apparently paid for, so arguably not independent) testing is here: http://www.cgon.co.uk/emissionresults

  • You should describe what is possible to be done, not just link an advertisement. Additionally, page you linked states: "Future testing : But we have to independently test and verify our findings". So it is not even trustful.
    – Dee
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 9:27
  • 1
    Welcome to Sustainable Living and thank you for your answer! Hydrogen fuel additives look interesting at first glance, however I read on Wikipedia that claims made by proponents of hydrogen fuel enhancement are difficult to substantiate and always disputed. Also installing such a system may be illegal depending on where you live
    – THelper
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 9:48
  • Link to testing contains M$ Azure http 404 error.
    – Dee
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:03

You may buy a simple petrol car and have LPG (propane) conversion, which is cheaper to drive and more eco-friendly (before the expensive hybrids or pure electric options). Though, it depends on the availability of LPG dispensers in your region

  • Welcome to Sustainability.SE! Since the question asks about diesel engines, do you know if LPG conversion works for that type of engine? or only for gasoline?
    – LShaver
    Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 15:02

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