Diesel cars are to be judged under stricter criteria as part of MOT tests from February 2014.
Diesel-powered cars that have an exhaust filter fitted as standard when new will be checked to ensure that it is still present. Cars that have lost their filter will automatically fail their MOT test and will need a new filter fitted.
The filter is designed to trap harmful diesel particles that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Some drivers have had the filter removed in the belief it would improve fuel economy or have opted not to have it replaced. The announcement now makes it illegal to drive the car without an exhaust filter.
"I am very concerned that vehicles are being modified in a way that is clearly detrimental to people's health and undoes the hard work by car makers to improve emissions standards. It has become apparent that government had to intervene to clarify the position on particulate filter removal given the unacceptable impact on air quality," Robert Goodwill, the roads minister, said.
The filters need to brought up to full working temperature on a regular basis on longer distance journeys so they can burn off the soot that collects in them. This ensures they are in full working order and able to last a long time.
RAC technical director David Bizley said: "This is positive step as diesel particulate filters have an important role in cleaning up the exhaust and reducing emissions to the levels required by law. It is therefore irresponsible to remove them.
"We can understand why some people might be doing this as they are very expensive to replace and sometimes need to be regenerated using specialist electronic diagnostic equipment which also can be costly in terms of garage time.
"RAC patrols, however, are able to do this at the roadside for most modern vehicles saving members time and money as they are equipped with the latest technology."
Copyright Press Association 2013