When you buy a new car, you’ll probably use manufacturers’ own gas mileage estimates alongside the official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy database to help you choose which car will be best for you. 

Any of these gas mileage figures -- whether official or not -- can only offer a guide to how a given car will drive. They do not constitute a particular guaranteed gas mileage.

But that hasn’t stopped former lawyer Heather Peters from filing against Honda in the small claims court for what she claims is a 20 mpg discrepancy between Honda’s official mileage estimates and what her car really gets. 

Originally, the EPA rated the 2003-2008 Honda Civic Hybrid with a gas mileage of 50 mpg combined. In 2008, the EPA changed how it estimated fuel economy, making the fuel economy tests better simulate real-world conditions. As a consequence, it re-rated the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid to just 42 mpg combined. 

Regardless of the changed official EPA estimates, Peters still claims she struggles to get fuel economy better than 30 mpg in her car. Moreover, she claims the car’s gas mileage has deteriorated as the car has aged. 

2004 Honda Civic Hybrid

2004 Honda Civic Hybrid

Other Honda Civic owners are similarly frustrated with their poorly-performing cars, but most have joined together to form a class-action lawsuit which will be heard against the Japanese automaker later this year.

While the class-action lawsuit is the easiest option for owners with no legal experience, a previous court case involving Honda Civic Hybrid gas mileage resulted in low settlement figures: only $200 cash, and a $500 rebate or $1,000 discount on a new Honda. Lawyers on the other hand, are expected to profit handsomely. 

“I was shocked,” Peters told the Associated Press. “I wrote to Honda and said I would take $7,500. It is going up to $10,000 in 2012.”  She finished her various letters and emails by telling Honda “If you don’t respond, I will file a suit in a small claims court”.

When no-one responded, Peters made good her threat and paid $75 to her local court to file her claim.

Filing in the small-claims court might seem bizarre when so many other Civic Hybrid owners have hired a team to prepare a class-action lawsuit, but Peters says the small-claims court route could have more impact on Honda if enough owners opt for that route. 

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

“If I prevail and get $10,000, they have 200,000 of these cars out there. That’s a potential payout of $2 billion,” she said. 

In addition to the higher payout, the small-claims court process requires both the claimant and the defendant do not have legal representation, which legal experts say could result in higher success rates for disgruntled owners.

Peters’ case will be heard this afternoon at a small-claims court in Torrance, California, where Honda has its West Coast headquarters. While Peters is hopeful she will win the case, she has also founded DontSettleWithHonda.org to help other disgruntled owners follower her into the small-claims court. 

Will she win? We couldn’t possibly say. But we can admit to feeling a little...perplexed. 

As we’ve said before, EPA ratings cut both ways, with some car owners getting better gas mileage than the EPA says they should. 

In addition, we should point out real-world gas mileage of a car is much more a product of how an individual drives and maintains their car than the EPA’s laboratory-tested gas mileage figure -- or how the the car is designed by its maker. 


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