Article | RAND Journal of Economics | winter 1985

The Nonpecuniary Costs of Automobile Emissions Standards

by Timothy F. Bresnahan and Dennis Yao


An important component of the costs of automotive air-pollution control has been nonpecuniary: a decline in vehicle performance characteristics. This regulatory impact on what the auto industry calls "drivability" has never been quantified, although there is considerable reason to believe that it has been a major component of the costs of some of the auto emissions standards of the last decade. We develop a methodology for econometric assessment of such costs, and apply it to the automobile air pollution standards of 1972-1981. We find that these costs are important. For the first standards implemented in the 1970s, they exceeded the costs of pollution control equipment installed on the car and the costs of decreased fuel efficiency. Since then, however, advances in compliance technology have allowed increases in automobile quality so that incremental costs of recent standards are much lower than previously believed.

Keywords: Transportation; Pollution and Pollutants; Cost; Standards; Performance; Quality; Auto Industry;


Bresnahan, Timothy F., and Dennis Yao. "The Nonpecuniary Costs of Automobile Emissions Standards." RAND Journal of Economics 16, no. 4 (winter 1985): 437–455. ((reprinted in W. Harrington and V. McConnell (eds.) Controlling Automobile Air Pollution, 2007) Harvard users click here for full text.)