Vehicular emissions are becoming alarming in cities of developing economies like Ghana, where an average of 150,000 vehicles are registered annually, according to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA).

Some of these cars are new from the factory, but the majority is marketed fairly used or damaged in their countries of origin, mostly from the European or American economies.

These used cars are often auctioned as salvage and sold through dealerships in countries like Ghana.

An ensuing debate is which type of vehicle – new or old – contributes most to environmental pollution and global warming?

“The energy and pollution created by building a new vehicle is far greater than repairing and restoring an existing vehicle. So from a green standpoint, repairing a car and putting them back on the road is much more environmentally friendly,” argued Dan Oscarson of the Insurance Auto Auctions (IAA) in the USA, a company that specializes in selling lightly damaged and repairable vehicles to buyers all over the world.

Most cars run on petroleum, a fossil fuel. Emissions produced by motor vehicles occur when the internal combustion engines release substances considered pollutants and unhealthy to humans and the environment.

Two major concerns associated with car exhaust emissions are the emissions of various types which contribute to urban air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change.

For a developing country, affording a brand new vehicle is a luxury to majority of the population. But does this economic determinant makes used cars environmentally better than new ones?

Sayeed Iddi, an Operations Manager at Toyota Ghana, disagrees, though he acknowledges the high energy required in producing a new car.

According to him, “vehicles are made for specific areas and they are made with the mind that emissions and everything are taken into consideration, and emission is all about the exhaust coming from engines; so if the engine is not working properly , it increases emissions.”

He noted that some new cars are fitted with components that convert carbon dioxide and others into gases that are rather friendly to the environment.

Mr. Oscarson also states that the auctioned vehicles were “registered by an owner in the United States and met all of the emission and safety requirements required for automobiles in the United States and then sustained some physical damage.”

He therefore concludes that “repairing cars is really the ultimate recycling story; extending life by 15-20 years on many of these vehicles is a very environmentally friendly situation”.

For a country which does not produce vehicles, it would be important for Ghana to concentrate on establishing a vehicular emission reduction programme to set standards for the motoring public.

Mr. Iddi, therefore, insists car owners in advanced economies are disposing off their old cars to avoid high taxes for high exhaust emissions.

“Once the car begins to grow a bit older, then they begin to charge you more because as it grows your emission grows, that is when they dispose them off and they sell them out here [Ghana] cheaply”, he observed.

The DVLA has indicated it will soon start an emission test on vehicles in Ghana to ensure they emit acceptable levels of carbon.

This forms part of a mechanism to reduce carbon emission and also in line with the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) strategy to help mitigate the impact of climate change on Ghanaians.