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Should classic cars be scrapped?

Published 06 October 2015

If you’ve been following the scandal over Volkswagen cheating on its emissions test over the past few weeks, you’ll know that clean air is high on the news agenda.

‘Dirty diesels’ have been in the spotlight for years as clean air champions seek to banish the most polluting vehicles from the UK’s roads. And while you’d be hard-pressed to find any classic car owner who doesn’t support air quality improvements, certain sections of the media are now calling for all old cars to be scrapped.

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea, but we’ll highlight a few for you.

For a start, the majority of classic cars use petrol engines and therefore don’t emit anywhere near the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) as modern diesel engines do. And, after all, it was this NOx figure that Volkswagen was trying to cheat.

But the argument goes way beyond petrol versus diesel. It’s how classic cars are used that means these clunkers with their ‘old’ engines shouldn’t be scrapped. The average classic car clocks up 2000 miles a year compared to 10,000 miles for the average family car. Then there’s the issue of volume. Experts estimate the total number of pre-1981 cars on the road to be 850,000. The total number of vehicles on the UK’s roads in 2015? 31.4 million. Have a think about those numbers and then guess whether it's classic cars or modern cars that produce a greater quantity of environmentally unfriendly emissions.

The majority of emissions that damage people’s health are spat out while cars are stuck, waiting in traffic in city centres. Ask any classic car owner and they’ll tell you that they do their best to avoid such congestion. Cooling systems for older vehicles don’t really enjoy idling for long periods of time.

And what about the sense of pride, joy, and national identity that classic cars give us? Thousands of people enjoy classic cars – if they didn’t, events like the Goodwood RevivalBeaulieu International Autojumble and the NEC classic motor show wouldn’t be the huge successes that they are. Classic cars should be treasured. People don’t call for National Trust properties to be torn down just because they don’t have the latest loft insulation and a ‘green’ energy rating.

Still want to take classics off the road? Then consider this: according to a 2011 report, the classic car industry is worth £4.3bn to the UK economy. Scrap old cars and that’s a lot of people you’ll be putting out of work – 28,000 to be precise.

It would be foolish to put a price on life, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. But we do believe knee-jerk calls of ‘death to old cars’ are ill thought out. In the grand scheme of automotive emissions, old cars have a part to play – but it is a tiny fraction of the part played by modern cars.


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