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Could a Ban on Gasoline-Powered Cars Ever Happen in the U.S.?

Man pumping gas into his car.

In 2019, transportation accounted for 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, making it the primary source of emissions in the United States. A gas-powered car alone releases 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. You can often see the amount of CO2 emissions on your window sticker when you buy a vehicle.

With that said, electric vehicles (EVs) still have their own set of environmental issues that many overlook. Between the emissions of making the car, burning coal to make electricity, and mining raw materials such as lithium and cobalt, these “green” automobiles still significantly impact the environment.

However, while manufacturing EV parts contributes to a lot of waste, people still see burning fossil fuels as the leading cause for concern. So, now that automotive companies have made EVs a reality could a ban on gas-powered cars ever happen? The answer is complicated.

In this blog post, BenchForce, a leader in automotive bench programming components, looks at the current automotive landscape, the pros and cons of EVs, and the likelihood of a ban on gas-powered vehicles.

If It Ain’t Broke, Should We Fix It?

There are roughly 250 million cars, S.U.V.s, vans, and pickup trucks on the road in the United States. Over 99% of them run on gasoline. On top of that, automotive manufacturers built these gas-powered vehicles for the long haul.

Everyone likes to talk about how well automakers used to build cars back in the day, but the truth is, they’re more reliable today than they used to be. Between 2002 and 2020, the average age of light-duty vehicles on the road today in the U.S. increased from 9.6 years old to 12.

Filling cars with gasoline at a Shell gas station.

With active maintenance, many gas-burning vehicles can last for decades. That’s one of the many reasons it’ll be next to impossible to get every driver in the U.S. to buy and drive an electric vehicle by 2050, which is President Biden’s goal for bringing the nation’s emissions down to net zero. Biden’s plan would also require cleaner charging, powered by environmentally-friendly power sources such as wind or solar.

Plus, it’ll “take years, if not decades, before the technology has a drastic effect on greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the New York Times. Researchers have linked mining for cobalt and lithium to environmental problems and human rights issues.

What’s more, EVs tend to be more expensive. In a country where the average person has more than $90,000 worth of debt, few people have the means to make the upfront investment. Between the environmental issues and human rights issues associated with mining and expense, there are some strong points for allowing people to ride out their current vehicles until they can’t.

How We Got Here: A Brief History of Gasoline-Powered Cars

Many inventors contributed to creating the first vehicle as many different styles and fuel types were prominent in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Although it only had three wheels, Karl Benz invented the first gas-powered vehicle; Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler followed by creating the first gas-powered vehicle with four wheels. Both Benz and Daimler later came together to merge their ideas to develop the Daimler Group company, known today as Mercedes-Benz. A few years after Benz, Maybach, and Daimler invented vehicles in Germany, the Duryea brothers created the first gas-powered car in the United States in 1893.

While vehicles were being invented and becoming available worldwide, few people could afford to purchase them. Henry Ford, a famous name in the automobile industry, invented the “Model T” in 1908. The Model T was one of the first mass-produced vehicles to be affordable for many people.

Vintage car in the middle of a road.

As cars became affordable and people traveled more often, researchers noticed the impact vehicles had on the environment, specifically the air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it wasn’t until the 1950s that researchers connected vehicle use to pollution due to a thick smog appearing over Los Angeles, California.

In 1970, as a result of the visible air pollution, the EPA established the Clean Air Act to regulate “air emissions from stationary and mobile sources.” The same year, Standard Oil Development Company (now ExxonMobil Research and Engineering) introduced unleaded gasoline to the U.S. However, it wasn’t until January 1, 1996, that oil and gas companies fully phased out leaded gasoline.

Proposing a Gas-Powered Ban

The U.S. Department of Energy has determined that a gallon of gasoline weighs 6.3 pounds. Upon burning and combining with oxygen, the gasoline produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). While carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere, overproduction caused by burning fossil fuels traps heat in the air and changes the planet’s climate. In fact, carbon dioxide concentrations have increased 46 percent since the late 1700s, primarily due to human activities regarding transportation.

Some countries have already begun taking the steps necessary to eliminate harmful vehicle emissions. In 2017, France and Britain announced that they intend to ban diesel and gasoline-powered vehicle sales by 2040. Other countries are following suit, aiming to eliminate the sale of diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles by a designated year or eliminate emissions altogether. The Netherlands, for example, plans to ensure that all of its cars are emissions-free by 2030.

Eco sign in front of a parking lot full of electronic cars.

Collectively, the United States has only planned to reduce emissions further instead of eliminating gas-powered vehicle sales. However, states have created individual proposals. In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would ban new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. While many people cannot decide if that course of action may be plausible, there are three key factors to consider regarding the ban of gas-powered vehicles:

  • Affordability and availability of electric-powered vehicles
  • United States’ financial reliance on the gas and oil industry
  • Prevalence of existing gas-powered vehicles

If and when a gas-powered vehicle ban occurs and electric cars become the new standard, gas-powered vehicles may see an increase in price and value. In an interview with The Columbus Dispatch, McKeel Hagerty, CEO of the automotive insurance company Hagerty, said, “I think the last gasoline version of certain models will be highly collectible and highly sought after … just like the first year models are.”

Make a Difference With Your Vehicle

You don’t need an EV to start making a difference. With proper tuning, you can get better gas mileage and optimize your car for better performance all around. If you’d like to learn more about BenchForce’s products, visit our online store or contact us today.