2010-11-12 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Motor Vehicle Fuel Economy
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Shopping for a new vehicle can be very exciting, but with so many types of vehicles, styles, and trim options available, it can also be overwhelming. The main consideration for most consumers is, of course, cost.

In addition to reviewing the purchase price and calculating the cost of any financing agreement, it is important to factor in estimated annual fuel expenses.

Fortunately, thanks to recently enacted regulatory changes, consumers can more easily identify fuel efficient vehicles and compare the projected efficiency of vehicles in the same class by reviewing federally mandated fuel economy estimates that manufacturers must display in the windows of new vehicles offered for sale.

These window stickers, which are described below, offer invaluable information for consumers in the market for a new vehicle.

Prior to the 2008 model year, when the Environmental Protection Agency EPA) updated its regulations, it was widely reported that the window sticker estimates consumers had been relying on for years to gauge a vehicle’s fuel economy were often inaccurate and misleading. At that time, a Consumer Reports investigation that compared the magazine’s real-world fuel economy testing with EPA estimates found that ninety percent of vehicles tested achieved fewer miles per gallon than the figure reported by the EPA.

In addition, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that EPA’s test procedures, which had been in place for thirty years, underestimated average highway speeds, the amount of time spent in traffic, and the acceleration and braking habits of modern drivers.

In 2006, the Assembly adopted a resolution, which I sponsored, calling on the EPA to revise its test procedures for determining estimated fuel economy to more accurately reflect modern driving conditions.

After years of pressure from legislators and consumer and environmental advocates, in 2007, the EPA updated its testing methods and required vehicle manufacturers to display the results of these tests in a clear and readable manner.

If you are shopping for a new vehicle, the first thing you will notice about the new window sticker is that it is much more readable and easy to understand.

The center of the sticker contains the vehicle’s estimated annual fuel cost and a graphical depiction of the how the vehicle’s fuel economy compares to other vehicles in the same class.

The annual fuel cost is based on a set number of miles and fuel price listed directly under the cost estimate.

To the right and left of the estimated fuel cost figure are the average miles per gallon (MPG) a driver can expect to achieve under city and highway driving conditions, along with the expected range in MPG for most drivers. Finally, the sticker contains a prominent disclosure stating that actual mileage will vary depending on how the vehicle is driven and maintained.

When comparing fuel economy, you will find that smaller vehicles or those with smaller engines tend to offer higher gas mileage.

Hybrid vehicles, which use a gasoline engine and an electric motor, are becoming increasingly popular, and can save thousands in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle.

Some of these vehicles can achieve as many as fifty miles per gallon in the city and forty-five miles per gallon on the highway.

To compare the estimated fuel economy of new and previously-owned vehicles or to learn more about the EPA’s new testing methods and the revised window sticker, visit the EPA’s fuel efficiency website at www.fuel economy.gov.

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