Saturday, January 14, 2006

EPA Mileage Tests to be Updated

EPA Mileage Tests to be Updated Existing Tests Don't Reflect Actual Driving Conditions

January 10, 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce new tests to determine automobile and truck gasoline mileage estimates that will more accurately reflect the actual mileage drivers see with their cars and trucks.

The new tests and standards will begin with the 2008 model year.

Consumer advocates have repeatedly criticized the existing EPA mileage estimates as inaccurate and have called on the agency to update its tests that were first developed in the 1970s.

Modern automotive technology and changing driving demands make the EPA's laboratory numbers misleading at best. The EPA tests fail to take into account clogged commuter roads as well as high speed interstate driving.

Last year Consumer Reports said that of 303 vehicles it tested, 90 percent failed to achieve the mileage standards stated on the vehicle’s window sticker. Some of the tested vehicles missed the mark by as much as 50 percent.

The EPA estimates are important to automakers. They use the numbers to meet federal fuel economy standards.

Most recently, hybrid drivers have complained that the EPA estimates and manufacturer claims are inaccurate.

The controversy over Prius mileage continues as many owners tell ConsumerAffairs.Com that the hybrids are not living up to their EPA estimates. Deborah in Louisville joins a growing number of Prius owners complaining about the EPA estimates and Toyota’s mileage claims of 60 mpg in the city and 55 on the highway.

"After six months of tracking," she writes, "the best mileage I ever got was 43 miles per gallon. Most often my mileage is between 30-36 miles per gallon and that is no better than cars I have had in the past. I am very disappointed in (their) fraudulent advertising and the money I have shelled out only to be disappointed."

Toyota continues to insist that it just is not possible for a properly driven Prius to achieve such poor mileage and blames the results on driver error, not the EPA mileage estimates or company claims.

Carol in Evanston, Illinois found her actual Prius mileage far below the Toyota and EPA numbers.

"When my husband and I first bought the car in August 2005, the average mileage came in at around 55 mph, which I thought was pretty good since I drive 60 miles for work each day. But after a month or two, the mileage began to go down, and right now in December I'm hovering around 42 to 44 miles per gallon," Carol wrote.

"This is very disappointing, especially since I'm very careful to watch the display, watch my foot pressure on the accelerator, keep the air conditioning off," she said.

The new EPA mileage tests will be phased in two stages. The first stage will begin with 2008 model-year vehicles and will lower mileage estimates to reflect the drain of air-conditioning and other high technology and equipment now part of modern vehicles.
Phase one could cut mileage estimates by as much as 13 percent.

Phase two begins with the 2011 model year. The specifics of those tests that the EPA is contemplating are unclear but the mileage estimates are likely to include emissions as well as mileage.

After the EPA formally proposes the changes, the agency will have 90 days for public comment before taking final action.

Currently the EPA tests mileage for city driving as well as highway driving. City driving speeds are limited to 52 mph and highway speeds do not exceed 60 mph.

The tests are conducted at room temperature with the vehicle's air-conditioning turned off.

The agency tests only about 10% of new models, relying on automakers to use the guidelines to test their own vehicles.

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