Car air pollution consists of many chemical compounds. The main compound in the news these days is carbon dioxide or CO2 gas. CO2 is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is has begun to cause global scale climate change. Climate change will likely increase with additional air pollution, but it takes years for the changes to kick in.
The main components of air pollution likely to affect you right now, today, are the chemical compounds that create smog, smoke, and dirty air. This air makes your eyes water, breathing difficult, and very much increases your risk for more serious concerns like cancer.
Air pollution from short-haul diesel trucks is responsible for nearly 5,000 premature deaths in Southern California alone!
Technically there are 4 main classifications of these pollutants:
There are hundreds of variants of the above constituents. Some of them stay in the air a few hours; some hang around for thousands of years. Some are just irritations and some can set the stage for cancer. The chemistry is complicated but well understood and mapped. The general relation for the 4 main pollutant classes is:
Fuel + Air + (Spark) => Carbon Monoxide + Hydrocarbons + Nitrogen Oxides + Carbon Dioxide + Water
Since car air pollution is a such a well mapped constant reality in many cities and valleys, there is constant monitoring and reporting for many locations. To check current conditions for US Air Quality check the EPA. In Europe, you can check a map of cities at Air Quality Now. In India, there is Indiastat. Chinese air pollution moves across oceans as shown by NASA satellite mapping.
For quantitative vehicle pollution figures, the California Air Resources Board has a great stop called Drive Clean. You can calculate the carbon footprint of all kinds of cars and trucks there.
One thing to remember, no matter what you drive, is that car air pollution is everywhere around the globe in one form or another. In fact, recent work supported by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in the Central Valley of California may confirm Chinese pollution streaming into California!
It's in the air, the water, the trees, the rocks, your eyes, your hair, your nose and your socks. If you really want to do something about pollution, walk, ride a bike, or get an electric car.
For more information on car air pollution, and the best explanation on the web of carbon dioxide and humans causing global warming, just back up a few pages.