gas guzzlers

Gas guzzlers for Africa. Picture: CNN Newsroom.

Africa: Where ageing gas guzzlers go to die

As the world switches to electric, Africa is becoming the dumping ground for ageing gas guzzlers. And that’s a huge problem …

gas guzzlers

Gas guzzlers for Africa. Picture: CNN Newsroom.

It’s a reality you’d be hard pressed to refute, but a new report from CNN sheds light on a worrying phenomenon for the African continent. As the West switches to electric mobility, Africa is becoming a dumping ground for the ageing gas guzzlers no one wants. And the impact on climate change is huge …


A fascinating report from CNN looks specifically at the situation in Benin, West Africa, which has seen an increase in imports of ageing gas guzzlers from the West. Cars like a 15-year-old Ford Escape SUV available in one of the region’s biggest second-hand car lots.

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With more than 350 000 km on the clock, it will sell for $4 000, or the equivalent of R78 000. Buyers in the region don’t care about its background or how much it pollutes, the only thing that matters is how affordable it is. With little to no access to credit, young buyers pay in cash and the growing population is only interested in being mobile for the first time.

gas guzzlers
Gas guzzlers for Africa. Picture: CNN Newsroom.

Vehicles like the ageing Ford are auctioned off in the US – and other wealthy countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and European countries – before starting their second lives in Africa. And the stream of cars is only on the increase with the worldwide shift to electrification. Nearly one in five vehicles sold globally in 2023 will be electric, according to the International Energy Agency.


As more aggressive emissions goals are set in the West, the realisation is that ageing gas guzzlers are not simply going to go away. Instead, many will be shipped off to developing countries. Experts say all this will do is divert climate and environmental impact to countries that are arguably most vulnerable to the climate crisis.

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The number of used light-duty vehicles grew nearly 20% from 2015 to 2019, when more than 4.8 million being exported, confirmed United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) official, Rob de Jong. The US exports 18% of the world’s used vehicles, with many of these travelling to the Middle East, Africa and Central America.

Gas guzzlers for Africa. Picture: CNN Newsroom.

On the African continent, more than 90% of the vehicles on the roads are used and imported from overseas. In Kenya, where de Jong is based, the vehicle fleet is doubling every eight years.


From UNEP’s perspective, it’s the older cars that tend to pollute more and are less safe to drive. “Not only is the number increasing, but the quality is decreasing. They repair cars after accidents and resell them to make a profit,” said de Jong.

Car dealers can even pick up where cars are from based on their problems. Cars that smoke heavily usually come from the US and flood-damaged cars with electrical faults generally originate from Canada.

gas guzzlers
Gas guzzlers for Africa. Picture: CNN Newsroom.

Many imported vehicles are missing catalytic converters, an exhaust emission control devices that filters out toxic gasses. Catalytic converters contain valuable metals like platinum and can fetch up to $100 on the black market, so they are removed by dealers before being sold on.

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“Millions of cars shipped to Africa from the US, Europe and Japan are polluting or unsafe, often with faulty or missing components, they belch out toxic fumes, increasing air pollution and hindering efforts to fight climate change.”

United Nations Environment Programme.


Attempts have been made by African regulators to reduce pollution and increase the safety of imported cars, and UNEP officials have engaged with US and EU officials about cracking down on the export of old or junk cars to developing nations. These conversations are yet to yield tangible results.