Emissions regulations vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most automobile spark-ignition engines in North America have been fitted with catalytic converters since 1975 and the technology used in non-automotive applications is generally based on automotive technology.

Regulations for diesel engines are similarly varied, with some jurisdictions focusing on NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) emissions and others focusing on particulate (soot) emissions. This regulatory diversity is challenging for manufacturers of engines, as it may not be economical to design an engine to meet two sets of regulations.

Regulations of fuel quality vary across jurisdictions. In North America, Europe, Japan and Hong Kong, gasoline and diesel fuel are highly regulated, and compressed natural gas and LPG (Autogas) are being reviewed for regulation. In most of Asia and Africa, the regulations are often lax: in some places sulfur content of the fuel can reach 20,000 parts per million (2%). Any sulfur in the fuel can be oxidized to SO2 (sulfur dioxide) or even SO3 (sulfur trioxide) in the combustion chamber. If sulfur passes over a catalyst, it may be further oxidized in the catalyst, i.e., SO2 may be further oxidized to SO3. Sulfur oxides are precursors to sulfuric acid, a major component of acid rain. While it is possible to add substances such as vanadium to the catalyst washcoat to combat sulfur-oxide formation, such addition will reduce the effectiveness of the catalyst. The most effective solution is to further refine fuel at the refinery to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel. Regulations in Japan, Europe and North America tightly restrict the amount of sulfur permitted in motor fuels. However, the expense of producing such clean fuel may make it impractical for use in developing countries. As a result, cities in these countries with high levels of vehicular traffic suffer from acid rain, which damages stone and woodwork of buildings, poisons humans and other animals, and damages local ecosystems.