Tech’splaining: What Is A PZEV?

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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Maybe you’ve seen the badge on the back of your neighbor’s Subaru: “PZEV.” It’s a strange acronym, standing for “partial zero emissions vehicle.” But what does that confusing phrase even mean?

  • PZEV stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
  • Conventional internal combustion vehicles with very low emissions.
  • No evaporative emissions from the vehicle’s fuel system.
  • Vehicles carry longer warranties on their emissions systems.
  • Technology more broadly adopted after the 2017 model year, but without the acronym.
Hyundai was one of many companies who offered PZEV versions of some of its models, including the midsize Sonata.
Hyundai was one of many companies who offered PZEV versions of some of its models, including the midsize Sonata.

What Does PZEV Mean

Don’t confuse PZEV with ZEV. A ZEV is a zero emissions vehicle, either a battery electric (sometimes shortened to BEV) or a fuel cell electric (FCEV). A PZEV is usually a conventional vehicle with an internal combustion gasoline engine, but one that has extremely low emissions. This includes some hybrids and even some models that burn natural gas, although the latter are rare.

All PZEVs meet the EPA’s super ultra-low emissions vehicle classification (SULEV). But a PZEV also gets some upgraded parts in its fuel system to keep that fuel from evaporating. You might not realize it, but trace amounts of evaporating gasoline can contribute to harmful air pollution, even with your car parked and shut off. Vehicles that meet the PZEV standard eliminate these emissions.

Which Cars Are PZEVs

To insure that a PZEV does its job, manufacturer’s warranty the emissions systems in those vehicles for 150,000 miles. This, along with the extra cost of the beefed up fuel system components themselves, meant PZEV models could cost more. For instance, Subaru charged $300 more for PZEV versions of it 2016 Legacy and Outback models. Hyundai, on the other hand, offered PZEV versions at the same price as standard models.

Other manufacturers also offered PZEVs overs the past two decades, including Ford, Honda, Mazda, and Volkswagen. If you think your vehicle might be a PZEV but aren’t sure, calling the manufacturer’s customer service number and giving them your vehicle identification number should clear up any confusion.

Initially, manufacturers sold PZEVs mainly in California, as this accrued credits to help car companies meet that state’s more stringent air pollution standards. But as this decade progressed, PZEVs became common outside of California. For the 2018 model year, the PZEV classification disappeared when California stopped giving credits to manufacturers. But at the same time, new, tougher environmental regulations from the EPA have pushed manufacturers to phase in PZEV technologies in all vehicles.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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