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Air Quality Program

Clean Cars

2009 and newer models of new cars, light-duty trucks, SUVs, and passenger vans must meet strict clean air standards. New vehicles that do not meet these clean car standards cannot be registered, licensed, rented, or sold for use in Washington.

Find out what Washington's clean car law means to you.

See EPA's list of clean cars (external link).

Get information about registering your vehicle in Washington.


What is the Clean Car Law?

The Clean Car Law is a law passed by the 2005 Washington State Legislature. It states that, starting with 2009 models, new vehicles must meet strict clean air standards to be registered, leased, rented, licensed, or sold for use in Washington. This includes cars, light duty trucks, and passenger vehicles (SUVs and passenger vans).

New vehicles that do not meet clean car standards cannot be registered, licensed, rented, or sold for use in Washington.

What does this law mean to me?

The law means that some new car models will not be legal for use in our state.

It also means that, if you buy a car out of state that does not meet Washington’s clean air standards, you will not be able to register, license, rent, or sell it for use in Washington.

What do I have to do differently?

In Washington:  If you buy a car in Washington, you don't have to do anything, other than to be informed about these changes. Auto makers must deliver vehicles to Washington that meet clean car standards. Auto dealers may only sell, rent, or lease vehicles for use in Washington that meet these standards.

Outside Washington: If you buy a car out of state and want to bring it into Washington, you must make sure it meets Washington’s standards.

What if I buy a vehicle out of state?

It is YOUR responsibility to make sure your new car meets Washington’s standards, no matter where you buy it!

At least 12 other states, including Oregon and California, have the same clean car laws as Washington. If you buy a new 2009 model car in those states, it should meet Washington’s standards.

However, if you buy a car in another state that uses the federal emission standards, you will not be able to register, license, rent, or sell it for use in Washington.

Why does Washington have this law?

The Washington State Legislature passed this law to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

Why are clean car standards important?

Motor vehicles cause most of the air pollution in Washington. Air pollution causes health problems and contributes to climate change.

Health problems: Air pollution causes cancer, asthma and other illnesses. More than half of Washington's residents have at least one medical condition that is made worse by air pollution.

Besides causing health effects, air pollution hurts our economy. Deaths and illnesses from air pollution cost Washington at least $500 million each year.

Climate change: Motor vehicles and other types of transportation also cause more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions in our state. Greenhouse gases cause climate change. Effects of climate change in Washington include reduced snow pack, low summer stream flows, more winter flooding, increased coastal erosion, less water for people and agriculture, and further loss of salmon habitat.

When do new cars have to start meeting the clean car standards?

Any 2009 or newer vehicle must meet clean car standards.

Is Washington the only state doing this?

No. California, Oregon, and a growing number of other states also have clean car standards.

Which cars are the cleanest?

The amount of pollution a car puts into the air depends mainly on which emission standards it meets. It can also be affected by how you drive and maintain the car, how much fuel the car uses, and the kind of fuel used.

Passenger cars must meet certain fuel mileage standards. Generally, the better the fuel mileage, the “cleaner” the car. For example, smaller cars typically get the best fuel mileage, which also means they pollute less.

Light trucks — which include vans, small pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) — are allowed to get lower fuel mileage than passenger cars. As a result, the average light truck pollutes more than the average car.

Some of the heaviest light trucks, such as large SUVs, do not have to meet any mileage standards. They are among the most polluting vehicles.

What are emission standards?

Emission standards limit the amount of pollution coming from a vehicle. All new vehicles for sale in the United States meet either federal emission standards (set by EPA) or California standards (set by the California Air Resources Board). The California standards are stricter than the federal standards.

What are Washington’s emission standards?

Washington recently adopted the California standards, which are stricter than the federal standards. 2009 and newer models of new vehicles must meet these strict clean air standards to be registered, leased, rented, licensed, or sold for use in Washington.

Why does Washington use California’s vehicle emission standards?

Adopting California’s vehicle emission standards complies with the federal Clean Air Act by not creating a third standard for vehicle emissions. Adopting California’s rules allows us to protect the environment, while minimizing the burden to the automotive industry. Having standards identical to those in neighboring states such as California and Oregon makes it simpler for consumers to purchase vehicles across state lines. The common standard also saves taxpayers money by not creating a new system when a program that accomplishes our goals is already available.

How can I find a clean car to buy?

You’re in luck — Washington has made it very easy for you to find the cleanest cars available. Starting with 2009 models, only cars that meet the strict clean car standards can be leased, rented, licensed, or sold for use in Washington.

See a list of the clean cars you can buy.

Clean driving tips

  • Keep your car well maintained. A poorly-maintained engine both creates more air pollution and uses more fuel. Replace oil and air filters regularly. Keep your tires properly inflated.
  • Drive less. Carpool, walk, bike, ride the bus, or work from home to save money as well as reduce air pollution.
  • Don’t idle your vehicle. If you stop for more than 30 seconds, except in traffic, turn off your engine. Idling for a total of 10 minutes a day uses an average of about 22 gallons of gas per year, as well as pollutes the air. By turning your engine off when it isn’t moving, you’ll save money on gas and you and others around you, including children and people with respiratory problems, won't have to breathe unhealthy exhaust fumes.
  • Don’t buy more car than you need. Four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, engine size, vehicle weight, and tire size all affect the amount of fuel your vehicle uses. The more fuel it uses, the more air pollution it causes.

What is the Environmental Performance Label?

The Environmental Performance (EP) label is a label that is displayed on new vehicles for sale. The label provides greenhouse gas and smog emissions scores. The scoring system allows consumers to compare the vehicle’s greenhouse gas and smog emissions to other models. People can then make more informed decisions that include climate change impacts when buying a vehicle.

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