If you're one of the 120,000 people who own a Honda Civic Hybrid made between 2003 and 2008, you may already know about the proposed settlement to a lawsuit against Honda contending its advertising overestimated the gas mileage of your car.
If you're not aware of the suit, read up quick.
EPA ratings: 49 mpg city, 51 mpg highway
In brief, two Honda Civic Hybrid owners in California sued the car company, saying that their cars hadn't returned anything like the gas mileage shown on the window sticker. The EPA ratings at the time those cars were sold were 49 mpg city, 51 mpg highway, whereas their cars--says the suit--returned "only" 31 miles per gallon.
The lawsuit specifically doesn't challenge the methods by which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates mileage, which are quite clearly noted as estimates. Remember that old phrase, "Your mileage may vary"?
Is it Honda's fault?
Instead, the suit accuses Honda of not doing enough to tell Civic Hybrid buyers that their mileage might vary from the figures on the window sticker.
That can cut both ways: Owners of Volkswagen TDI clean diesels have boasted for years that their cars get far better mileage than their EPA ratings in real-world use.
Nonetheless, in 2008 the EPA changed its gas-mileage calculation methods, which cut mileage for most cars across the board. The latest 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid is rated at 40 mpg city, 45 mpg highway.
80 gallons a year
The difference in actual gasoline consumption between 33 and 50 miles per gallon (to make the math easy) is 1 gallon every 100 miles, or 80 gallons a year if you drive 8,000 miles. That's because Miles-Per-Gallon is not a linear measure.
At $3 a gallon for gasoline (slightly higher than today's prices), the total annual cost difference would be less than $250. Apparently, that was enough for a lawsuit.
$1,000 if you sell, $500 if you keep the car
Honda argued that it complied with all laws. Nonetheless, the company chose to settle out of court, offering owners a $1,000 discount on a new Honda if the old one is sold, or $500 if the buyer keeps the Civic Hybrid. Or, any owner who can prove that he or she complained to Honda about the mileage will get $100.
The most galling irony of all: Buyers may not use their $1,000 or $500 discounts to buy a Honda Insight or Civic Hybrid, the company's two hybrid models, or the Fit, its high-mileage subcompact.
Why do we suspect that the only winners here are the lawyers?