EPA Fuel Economy Ratings Have Shortfalls Of Up To 50 Percent
Window Stickers Vastly Overstate MPG, Consumer Reports Study Finds
September 14, 2005
Hybrid cars and the diesel version of one small SUV are among the worst offenders, costing consumers hundreds of dollars more in fuel per year than they were led to believe.
In a study of 303 cars and trucks, model-years 2000 to 2006, Consumer Reports found that shortfalls in miles per gallon (mpg) occurred in 90 percent of the vehicles tested. The largest discrepancies involved city driving, with some models falling short of claimed mpg by 35 to 50 percent (see table).
Ironically, hybrids, whose selling point is fuel thriftiness, had some of the biggest disparities with fuel economy, averaging 19 mpg below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) city ratings. On average, our highway mpg more closely reflected the EPA rating. Still, hybrids won three of the best five spots for overall mpg in the magazine's testing.
"Current EPA figures are definitely misleading and ultimately expensive for consumers," said David Champion, Senior Director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center. The magazine attributes the problem to the use of the EPA's outdated testing procedures, dating back to the 1973 oil embargo, which don't account for the increased drive time spent in dense traffic and faster highway speeds on today's roads.
The EPA also allows car manufacturers to use for testing purposes hand-built prototype vehicles and the most favorable test conditions for maximum fuel economy, yielding results that are nearly impossible for consumers to achieve.
By contrast, Consumer Reports buys new cars and trucks anonymously from dealerships and uses special test equipment to accurately gauge real-world fuel economy using public roads and the test track on its 327-acre test facility in East Haddam, Connecticut.
"Just one in ten of the vehicles we tested achieved fuel economies as good as or better than EPA estimates," Champion said. For consumers, the news means that their vehicles typically cost hundreds more per year to operate than they were led to believe. Put another way, when gas in August hit $2.37 per gallon, the mpg shortchange effectively boosted the price for some motorists to $3.13 per gallon.
Assuming 12,000 miles per year of driving over five years and no further increases in gas prices, Consumer Reports figures show it will cost Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck owners $2,558 more in fuel than the EPA estimates, $1,742 more for Mercury Grand Marquis owners and $1,316 more for Nissan Quest owners.
Here are some of the test results reported by Consumer Reports.