Should EPA Gas-Mileage Ratings Tests Change? What You Need To Know

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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

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Your mileage may vary.

We've heard it for years, we all know it's true, and yet we put our trust in the EPA's fuel-efficiency ratings as a guide to what kind of gas mileage a car will really get.

Now, two cars--the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid and the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid--have brought the failings of the EPA test system to the fore.

10-15 percent leeway

In general, buyers seem comfortable with variance of 10 or 15 percent from the advertised EPA ratings.

And although automakers generally publicize only the higher rating number (for gasoline cars, always the highway cycle), the EPA's combined rating is usually pretty close to real-world fuel economy for most buyers--within that margin.

But the new 2013 C-Max and Fusion hybrid models have generated a drumbeat of dissatisfied buyers, who claim their real-world mileage doesn't even come close.

Inevitably, there are now lawsuits.

'What was Ford thinking?'

Here's just one of many comments Green Car Reports has received on the topic:

OPEN LETTER TO FORD: I thought my 2013 C-Max would be a Prius killer. NOT! As a returning Ford buyer, I feel deceived. I want to support U.S. companies and U.S. jobs.

What was Ford thinking when they published 47/47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been OK with low 40s, but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark.

This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales.

Ford's "47MPG" marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the rollout of a truly remarkable vehicle, the C-Max. Real-world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30s.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

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Only EPA estimates allowed

We've gotten dozens of comments like this, following our coverage of the disparity between published 47-mpg combined EPA ratings and real-world figures achieved by drivers.

There's just one problem: The writer above is wrong, in that this IS actually an issue about EPA testing standards

That's because the only fuel-efficiency figures any carmaker may use in their advertising are those derived from the standardized EPA testing cycles.

Carmakers can commission independent studies--VW did just that to show its VW Jetta TDI diesel outperforms its EPA ratings--but they can't quote those results in their ads.

And that brings us back to the question that Ford has highlighted: Are the EPA test cycles flawed?

EPA mostly on target

The answer seems to be that for most cars, they're essentially on target.

They were last changed in 2007, to reflect real-world results achieved by owners of Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid vehicles.

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