'Don't buy cars like this': Climate activists the Tyre Extinguishers taking on SUV drivers

If you own an SUV, those chunkier cars with off-road styling, you could be in the sights of the Tyre Extinguishers.

"We go out at night, usually in a group, and with very simple equipment like a mung bean, we push it into the valve and let the tyre down. And then we'll leave a pamphlet on the windscreen of the SUV explaining why we've done it."

Their key words of explanation are "your gas-guzzler kills". They are an activist group who say their anti-social behaviour is justified by the harm caused by these vehicles.

"They're unsafe, they're climate-wrecking, they're huge and they're not acceptable to have in London."

I wanted to challenge them on their tactics, and they agreed to an interview if we didn't reveal their identity. I asked them what gives them the right to tamper with private property.

"Is it perhaps a responsibility rather than a right? The auto industry is showing no responsibility for the massive cars that they're marketing and advertising to people.

"So we are simply saying to these owners, you take responsibility. Don't buy cars like this."

On the charge sheet facing SUVs is their greater size making them worsen climate change, they emit more air pollution, take up more road space and are more hazardous for pedestrians. But car buyers seem to be increasingly attracted - recent figures show they made up 60% of new car sales in the UK in 2023, up from 50% two years ago.

Car buyers often say they feel safer in these bigger vehicles and enjoy the higher driver position and comfort. And this big automotive appetite is undermining other positive changes according to Ralph Palmer from the pressure group Transport and Environment.

"The trend towards larger cars is offsetting the CO2 savings we're getting from increased efficiency of engines. When you consider that this is our largest emitting sector of transport, that is a serious problem".

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The industry says there's no real definition of an SUV and the term encompasses vehicles more correctly classed as superminis.

"Today's cars are also bigger because they're safer," said Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

"Many drivers opt for these vehicles for their practicality, and manufacturers design them to reflect local market preference, driving style and conditions - as exemplified by the difference in size between vehicles used in the US, and those in Europe."

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But many European countries put a higher sales tax on vehicles with higher emissions and in Paris they have recently hiked parking charges for big SUVs. Here in the UK, local authorities in Bath, St Albans and many parts of London are bringing in variable parking charges according to emissions from your exhaust pipe.

One is Greenwich in southeast London - cursed by some nasty air pollution blackspots. Councillor Averil Lekau is their cabinet member for climate change.

"The higher the pollution, the more you pay. If you are drinking dirty water, you say, no. Why should we have dirty air [harming] the health of our residents? We have a large number of children under one with respiratory issues so we need to tackle this".

Growing electric car sales offer some advantage as they don't emit any carbon dioxide while driving, but they still contribute to air pollution particulates from tyre and brake wear.

They tend to be heavy too, with some new electric SUVs tipping the scales at three tonnes, close to double the weight of an average car.

But according to Erin Baker, editorial director of the AutoTrader website, despite higher costs for both consumers and the environment, our love for big cars isn't shrinking.

"I see absolutely no sign of our appetite for SUVs waning at all. I think we will end up, with almost everyone riding around, [sitting up high] and peering quite a long way down the road in their SUV."

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