Gotcha? Not necessarily. I wonder how many people are using the single greatest failing of the new Gatso speed cameras - that they identify the car, not the driver - to their (illegal) advantage?

How many husbands, shackled with almost a full quota of licence-losing points, will ask their innocent wives to plead guilty, your worship, to the latest Gatso prosecution that has landed in the letter box? How long will it be before some companies start penalty-sharing schemes so that all their reps can stay on the road?

The next step will be for some enterprising chap to turn his under-used driving licence into a money-spinner by putting discreet ads in magazines or shop windows offering to own up to driving any Gatso-ed car in exchange for, say, pounds 1,000. To many people that would be money well spent, if the alternative was losing a licence.

Every new car sold in the EC from yesterday (apart from diesels) should have been fitted with a catalytic converter. Should - because the British government, in a move that pleased most car manufacturers no end, agreed to give them an extra year to shift old cat-less carriages.

The excuse is that since the manufacturers had such a bad year in 1992, and did not sell as many cars as they expected, they were left with a stockpile that they would otherwise have had to shift before the end of December.

The fine print of the government document reveals that it applies only to 'dirty' cars made between 1 September 1990 and 31 August 1992, which can be sold as new until the end of this year.

The moral is clear enough. If you are buying a new car and you like the idea of a clean exhaust, make sure it has a catalyst - otherwise the driver behind may end up with dirt on his face. And if you are prepared to forget about being green and go non-cat, make sure you get a thumping big discount. It is also worth checking just how old your 'new' car is. Unused and previously unregistered it may be, but there is not much else 'new' about a car made in 1990.

More worrying, in the long term, is the efficacy of the catalytic converter itself. When they are working properly, they kill about 95 per cent of the toxic pollutants from a car's exhaust, helping to clean up the air in cities. The problem is that they are delicate. Just a soupcon of leaded petrol will kill a cat. There's little doubt that a significant portion of motorists sometimes accidentally puts in four-star instead of unleaded.

High mileage will also ruin a cat. Do much over 50,000 miles, and your green car will start to get progressively blacker. By 80,000 miles, it will probably be polluting worse than if it had never had a cat in the first place.

Most of the other bits on the car are now expected to last for 100,000 miles, and cars are getting more and more durable thanks to improved rust protection. The upshot is that, by the end of its life, a car fitted with a cat may actually have pumped out more pollution than a non- cat model.

Cats can be replaced - but how many owners of 50,000-mile- plus bangers are going to spend hundreds of pounds on that? After all, the car will run perfectly well without one.

There is no doubt that, imperfect though they are, catalytic converters are the best way to clean up a car's exhaust. New developments in engine electronics suggest that within three or four years state-of-the-art cars may be so clean that they help to purify city air rather than pollute it. But if thousands of older cars with dud cats are on the road at the same time, the net benefit to your lungs and mine will not be great.

What is needed is a stringent emissions check as part of the MoT test, to ensure that new cars retain their perfume-sweet exhausts after they have left the showrooms. Back in November 1991, the Government did introduce an absurdly easy emissions test, designed to get the filthiest cars off the road. It hasn't worked, as you can tell by looking at (and smelling) some of the smokers on the streets today.

The Department of Transport is talking about introducing a more stringent test in January 1996, when the latest breed of cat cars will be coming around for their first MoTs. But just how demanding this test will be is open to doubt - grave doubt, when you look at the British government's record on car pollution control.

It also seems to me that 1996 is far too long to wait. All cars - even those less than three years old, which are currently absolved from MoT tests - should undergo compulsory annual emissions tests. It should also be mandatory for cars to be fitted with new cats every 50,000 miles.

Recession be damned] The coming year is going to be one of the busiest ever for new car launches. Apart from Ford's much-publicised Sierra replacement, the Mondeo (due in March), major models include a new Coventry-built Peugeot (the 306, which supplants the 309 in April), a very pretty new Vauxhall Nova (April), the Cavalier-sized Rover 600 (May) and its close relation, the Swindon- built Honda Accord (also May), the Citroen Xantia (replacing the BX in June) and a new Mercedes 190 (November).

Ford will also launch two niche vehicles. The Probe is a belated successor to the Capri which goes on sale in the autumn; the Maverick off-roader will hit the road, the bogs and - Ford hopes - Land Rover Discovery sales in the summer.

Search for used cars