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Spaniards buy old, polluting cars amid recession and COVID fears

MADRID/GDANSK (Reuters) - Fearful of catching the coronavirus while also feeling the pinch from recession, Spaniards are increasingly shunning public transport and turning to cheap old cars, industry data shows, in a trend that risks more toxic emissions.

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Sales of vehicles older than 20 years jumped 31% year-on-year in July and August to nearly 44,000 cars, according to data from the Institute of Automotive Studies.

The average price of those purchases was around 1,400 euros ($1,655.36), vehicle sales portal Sumauto said, with some cars going for as little as 500 euros.

As sales for old cars jumped, sales of new units rose a modest 1.1% year-on-year in July and fell 10% in August.

At the same time, public transport traffic plunged 40% during the summer compared with the same period last year, Sumauto added, quoting the association of public transportation operators.

With the economy set to shrink at least 9% in 2020 and unemployment ticking up in August after a brief recovery in July, many Spaniards are looking to save money.

But more use of old cars could be negative for the environment and respiratory health.

“Old cars, even when they were new, contaminated more as environmental rules were much less strict 15 or 20 years ago,” said Adrian Fernandez, a transport expert at Greenpeace Spain. After many years on the road these cars are now even more polluting, he added.

“It’s a step backwards on air quality. This means negative consequences for respiratory ailments, of which COVID-19 is one.”

Spain has recorded 488,513 cases of the virus, more than any country in Western Europe, and is suffering a second wave.

On Thursday the Health Ministry reported 3,607 new cases, down from a peak of around 10,000 last Friday. It also reported another 13 deaths, pushing total fatalities up to 29,234.

($1 = 0.8457 euros)

Reporting by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez and Inti Landauro; Editing by Nathan Allen and Andrew Cawthorne

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