EPA Tightens Fuel Economy Test Because Nobody Gets The Mileage They Want

Isn't it kind of universally accepted that you aren't going to achieve the fuel economy numbers advertised on your new car? (Not if you're a reader of this website and drive the way we do, anyway.) But since automakers keep getting nailed for misleading fuel economy claims, the Environmental Protection Agency is revising guidelines for how cars should be tested.

You'll recall that Ford, Hyundai and other automakers have been fined and subjected to class-action lawsuits in recent years because owners weren't getting close to the fuel economy figures promised after being certified by the EPA.


That's because the cars are tested by the automakers themselves, not the EPA; the agency provides oversight through audits of certain models. The agency can issue heavy fines — far heavier than NHTSA can when it comes to safety — if automakers are not found to be in compliance.

Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW and others have also been ordered to downgrade their fuel economy ratings on certain models, an embarrassing move that can potentially cost sales.

So yesterday, the EPA announced they're tightening the guidelines for testing cars for the first time in a decade. These new guidelines go into effect for 2017 model-year cars, which go on sale next year.


The new guidelines deal with how cars are prepared for testing, as well as the speeds used to test the impact of aerodynamic drag and rolling tire resistance. I'll let the New York Times sum up how this test is different:

The test under scrutiny measures a car as it slows to a stop from about 70 miles an hour. The E.P.A. laid out the new standards for how the tests must be conducted in a 10-page document sent to car companies on Monday. For instance, a test vehicle must be warmed up first for 30 minutes at 50 miles an hour to stabilize the tires, and test vehicles should not be new, but rather have about 4,000 miles on them to better simulate real-world conditions.


What's kind of funny, the Times notes, is that these are "guidelines" and not hard-and-fast "rules" because those would take too long to push through the EPA's massively bureaucratic processes:

"While initially we believed that a rule-making would be necessary, after thorough review, we believe that a combination of targeted and random audits, guidance compliance and oversight strategies can have the same impact as making a change to the regulations," said Mr. Bunker, the E.P.A. official. "In fact, these strategies would allow us to implement change quicker than a rule-making and would provide both E.P.A. and manufacturers the benefit of more flexibility to address any potential changes in technology, testing or other unforeseen conditions."


While it's kind of accepted among many drivers that they won't achieve the advertised fuel economy numbers, others take those numbers very seriously and have filed expensive lawsuits against carmakers to address their grievances. And maybe they should — after all, when car companies like Hyundai tout their fuel economy numbers, shouldn't they be accurate?

At any rate, it's being praised as a good move, including from a Kelly Blue Book analyst who spoke to the Detroit News:

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, praised the new guidelines: "We'll probably never know if automakers were intentionally or incidentally pushing the boundaries of fuel efficiency testing, but the new guidelines will make it harder for a car company to claim ignorance if its advertised numbers don't align with real-world results."


Photo credit Getty Images

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