Washington clean car standards

To protect public health, we set emission standards for vehicles registered in Washington. Vehicle pollution causes health problems, such as cancer and asthma, and also contributes to climate change.

Committed to cleaner vehicles

In 2005, the Legislature adopted the Clean Car Law, requiring new cars to comply with California vehicle emission standards starting in 2009. Since 1971, California has had a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act to set emission standards that are more protective than the national standards set by EPA. The federal Clean Air Act allows states to adopt the federal standards or California's standards. Washington is one of 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, that chooses to follow California’s lead.

In 2018, EPA proposed to weaken the national vehicle emission standards by freezing emission improvements for model years 2021 through 2025. In response, California updated its rules to uphold the more protective standards. In December 2018, we adopted a rule that keeps Washington in line with California, ensuring that vehicles sold in Washington continue to meet the more protective emission standards.

This rule includes cars and light-duty trucks. New vehicles that do not meet Washington's vehicle emission standards cannot be registered, licensed, rented, or sold here — even if they meet federal standards. It is your responsibility to make sure your car meets the state standards.

What do you have to do differently?

If you are buying a new car in Washington, you don't have to do anything — because dealers can only sell vehicles that meet California's (and Washington's) vehicle emission standards. If you buy a vehicle with less than 7,500 miles that doesn't meet the California and Washington standards, you can't register that vehicle in Washington. Used vehicles with more than 7,500 miles can be registered. 

Fourteen other states, including Oregon and California, have the same vehicle emission standards. If you buy a  2009 or newer model car in one of those states, it will meet state standards.

Proposed policies

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in Washington, accounting for almost 45% of total emissions in the state. In recent years, there have been several policy proposals aimed at building on Washington’s Clean Cars regulations to further reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions tied to transportation. We provide this information as a starting place for the discussion on cleaner transportation options for Washington.

Zero emission vehicle standard

In 2005, the Washington Legislature adopted the Clean Cars law. Under the Clean Cars program, new vehicles sold in Washington have to meet the strictest emission standards in the country — which, under an exemption from the federal Clean Air Act, are set by California. However, Washington’s Clean Cars law specifically excluded a major component of California’s vehicle emission standards: The zero emission vehicle standard, or ZEV.

Of the 16 states that have adopted California’s vehicle emission standards, only three have not also adopted the zero emission vehicle standard — Washington, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

The zero emission vehicle program requires automakers to deliver a certain number of zero emission vehicles each year, and earn credits based on the number of vehicles produced and delivered for sale. These credits can be sold to help automakers comply with the requirements. Vehicle technologies that earn credits and help automakers meet the ZEV requirements include battery-powered electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles.

Washington is already a leader in electric vehicles, but because Washington lacks a zero emission vehicle standard, many models of electric vehicles are not sold in the state. A ZEV standard would increase consumer choices of electric vehicle models available in the state. A zero emission vehicle program would also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation: An Ecology analysis shows that such a standard would cut carbon pollution from transportation 10 percent by 2035.

Clean fuels standard

A Clean Fuel Standard requires fuel producers and distributors to gradually decrease the carbon intensity of the fuels they sell in the state. A fuel with lower carbon intensity produces less carbon pollution than traditional gasoline or diesel.  Examples of clean fuels include most types of ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, biogas, hydrogen, electricity, and propane.

California, Oregon, and British Columbia have clean fuels standards, as does the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Clean Fuel Standards are market based and technology neutral, meaning that the standard allows fuel producers to pursue whichever strategy or mix of strategies make sense to them. Existing clean fuels standards offer fuel producers and importers flexibility in meeting the requirements, allowing them to directly produce low-carbon fuels, improve the efficiency of their processes, blend biofuels or ethanol into fossil fuels, purchase credits generated by others, or some combination of these measures.