The Environmental Disadvantages of Cars

by WayneS
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traffic jam image by Nikolay Okhitin from

Cars have provided reliable transportation for more than 100 years, revolutionizing travel in the United States. They paved the way for the development of suburbs and allowed vacationers to travel from coast to coast. For many Americans it is hard to imagine not owning a car. All of this mobility, however, has come at a cost to the environment.

Air Pollution

Motor vehicles account for 34 percent of nitrogen dioxide released into the atmosphere. They also account for 51 percent of the carbon monoxide, 10 percent of the particulate and 33 percent of the carbon dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide is a cause of acid rain and increases the growth of algae. Particulate, also called soot, causes haze and pollutes ground water. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas capable of causing death in large doses and headaches, loss of breath and nausea is smaller doses. Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to global warming.

Water Pollution

Cars pollute water sources in a variety of ways. One is through runoff of automotive fluids, brake dust, deicing chemicals and oil. Another is through leaking pumps at gas stations. Improper disposal of motor oil is also a cause of ground water contamination.

Solid Waste

The environmental impact of cars does not end once a car stops being driven. More than 10 million cars are scrapped each year. About 25 percent of these cars are not recycled and end up in landfills. Several hundred million tires are also scrapped each year.

Land Space

With hundreds of millions of cars on the road, they take up more than 13,000 square miles of land, more than the state of Massachusetts. Another approximately 4,000 square miles are covered with urban roads.

Energy Use

Cars also use up a large percentage of available fossil fuels. The United States produces only 10 percent of the world's petroleum while using 26 percent. Light trucks and cars account for 43 percent of petroleum burned each year.

Noise Pollution

There are about 250 million cars in the United States. They account for much of the noise in major cities.

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