Clearing the Air on Historic Vehicle Emissions

by: Carmel Roberts

February 24, 2011

One of the HVA’s main goals is to arm members with accurate and up-to-date information that can be used to fight common misconceptions and unfair policy initiatives that target historic vehicles. Tailpipe carbon emissions are one of those persistent and frequent regulatory concerns raised by historic vehicle owners. Do these older vehicles really contribute that much more to air pollution than the millions of modern cars on the road? A lot of people and policy makers seem to think so. But when it comes to arguments and data supporting an exemption for historic vehicles from emissions inspections, the facts are on our side.

Why Tailpipes Are Greener than A Tailgate

We know from frequent hobby surveys and from our most recent HVA Economic Impact Study that the average historic vehicle is driven approximately 484 miles per year. Using the carbon footprint calculator on, this low annual mileage combined with the rough average of 15 mpg fuel efficiency for the average historic vehicle translates into a carbon footprint of only .3 metric tons* of CO2 per year.

That’s less than the average charcoal barbecue grill!

In 2009, researcher Eric Johnson studied the carbon footprint of charcoal grilling and determined that charcoal grills have a carbon footprint of approximately 1 metric ton of carbon emissions per year. Johnson is a chemist and the director of Atlantic Consulting in Zurich, Switzerland. Click here to see his study into the carbon footprints of both charcoal and gas grills.

The Real Dirt on Air Pollution

According to recent polls, most Americans believe that air pollution has 1) been steady or rising during the last few decades, 2) will worsen in the future, and 3) is a serious threat to people's health given current trends.

Unfortunately, what most Americans believe about air pollution is either false or grossly exaggerated even by the EPA’s own data.

In the EPA’s most recent annual report on air quality trends in the United States, the agency noted a steady decline in all measured air pollutants over the past three decades. In the case of carbon emissions, its presence in our air has dropped by 80-percent.

Good for Collectors: The Arizona Emissions Study

There’s a common belief among historic vehicle enthusiasts that environmentalists and regulators will continue to find ways to make it seem that we’ve made little progress in cleaning up our air and that things will only get worse unless aggressive new regulatory programs are implemented.

Can well-reasoned arguments backed up by hard data still make a positive difference where stricter emission law threaten historic vehicle ownership? Thankfully, the answer is yes.

Take the case of Arizona. In 2005, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) conducted an exhaustive study on the impact of “collector vehicles” on carbon emissions and overall air quality. The Arizona report concluded the impact on emissions and air quality was “negligible” and, based on this information, Arizona regulators moved to exempt historic vehicle owners from emissions regulation. This exemption required the federal EPA to review and approve the Arizona findings before the exemption could take effect. In April, 2007, the federal EPA did just that. Click here for copies of the ADEQ study and the EPA approval.

While reasoned debate and compelling data doesn’t guarantee that all regulators will come to their senses and follow Arizona’s lead, it does provide a strong precedent for the future defense of historic vehicle owners elsewhere in the future.

Check out the HVA's Interactive Emissions Laws Map

HVA Interactive Emissions Map

Get Involved

What do you think? The HVA would like to know.

Log your comments to this story below and, while you’re at it, check out the HVA’s interactive map for emission testing requirements and regulations that impact historic vehicles in your state. If emissions restrictions are threatening in your state and you or your club need help organizing and/or information on how to get in touch with your local lawmaker, please contact the HVA by sending an email to


*Correction, an earlier version of the newsletter incorrectly listed the carbon footprint of a historic vehicle as 0.03, the text should read 0.3 instead. We apologize for the error.


  1. Marv Superior thinking demsnortated above. Thanks!

    Superior thinking demonstrated above. Thanks!

  2. dwight fackender onsted mi

    i live in the middle of farm country and i still believe that ethanol is one of the biggest scams the govt. and farm lobby has foisted on us. We sure dont need 15%.