/ Money, Motoring

Are misleading fuel consumption claims costing you money?

Imagine this. In your hallway sits a huge box containing a new TV. You’re excited; it’s the 50-inch model you’ve had your eye on for ages. But when you open the box, it’s no bigger than your old 32-inch set.

You check the label. It’s the right model. You look at the manufacturer’s website: ‘50-inch screen’ it says. So you call the retailer – there must be a mix-up.

No, they say. The TV is officially a 50-inch model, it’s just that the industry measures inches differently to normal people. You’d be outraged, wouldn’t you?

Readers feel let down on fuel economy

But this ridiculous situation isn’t so different to what’s happening all over Europe when people buy a new car.

They read the official miles-per-gallon (mpg) figures stated in ads and plastered over manufacturers’ websites, then find the car delivers a fraction of the miles expected per tank.

The reason? An outdated official, European Union-approved mpg test – in effect, the ruler has its inches marked all wrong.

We’ve touched on this subject a couple of times this year – first in April then again in May – and those articles prompted almost 200 comments, many from readers who’ve been disappointed with their car’s fuel economy.

Then, last week, we were contacted by Ron Nicholls who bought a new Nissan Qashqai in December 2014.

Like having to put an extra £20’s worth in the tank each time

Ron’s car, the 1.2-litre petrol version, achieved an impressive 42.8mpg in the ‘urban cycle’ of the official test, yet Ron averages just 28.8mpg driving around town.

That’s a third less than he expected. As he put it, that’s like having to put an extra £20 of fuel in the tank each time he fills up. The Qashqai also failed to live up to its mpg claims in our test.

Ron feels he was misled by the official mpg figures, but despite trying to engage with Nissan he has, in his words, ‘been given the brush-off’.

Manufacturers are required by law to publish mpg figures generated by the EC’s flawed, out-of-date official mpg test. But to conform with Advertising Standards Authority guidelines, they’re also supposed to make it clear that ‘MPG figures are obtained from laboratory testing and intended for comparisons between vehicles and may not reflect real driving results’.

We checked Nissan’s website and found it’s almost impossible to find such a caveat. In the downloadable brochure it simply states figures are ‘in accordance with 1999/100/EC’ and ‘Technical data subject to final homologation results’. Do you think that’s clear enough?

What do you think? Are manufacturers misleading us when it comes to fuel economy? Should they do more to make it clear how many mpg we’re really likely to get?


A Vauxhall ad in the DT today is an example of how not to present performance data. It is headed “Official Government Test Environmental Data” in letters 4.5mm high. Only when you read the small print a third the size doers it tell you that actual performance will depend upon driving style etc.

We should have approved standard wording and be clear it does not depend upon driving style at all – the figures given are largely irrelevant because the EU test is substantially useless.

I think it would be better if we didn’t have any figures published by manufacturers but could access a table drawn up by an accredited independent testing house.

Although Which? is pushing for the new tests to be introduced by 2017 rather than delayed to accede to the demands of some manufacturers, I have not seen Which? pushing for independent testing. I am surprised because Which? has promoted its own independent testing for many years.

Having trustworthy test data available online would be a great help for anyone in the market for a new car.

Real life figures are the most useful to motorists – see a number of websites. Test data can be used for emissions to set tax bands.
Which manufacturers are demanding the tests be delayed?

There are numerous references to members of ACEA seeking to delay the introduction of WLTP testing until 2020. This one mentions the possibility of an extra year being needed: uk.reuters.com/article/2015/05/06/eu-autos-idUKL5N0XX3U020150506

I read this Reuter’s snippet when it came out. It does nothing to explain the situation, just speculates. The question is about emissions rather than mpg as these are the limits set by the EU. What needs to be explained is whether the proposed standard will be sensible, yield good comparative results and whether carmakers can meet the deadlines proposed. I suggest we ask the EU for their assessment.

This letter to the EU http://www.acea.be/uploads/press_releases_files/Open_Letter_to_European_Policy_Makers.pdf
“Pointing out that political measures restricting the rollout of the new generation of diesel technology would undermine existing efforts to cut CO2 emissions, the associations called on policy makers to help accelerate fleet renewal and the introduction of the cleanest vehicles.”
This suggests there is perhaps more to this than rhetoric suggests.

Which? News today says:
“EU law requires carmakers to show official test figures in their adverts to help consumers compare fuel economy between different models. But we think the figures should also reflect real-world driving – and if a brand quotes an mpg figure in its adverts, a consumer should be able to achieve it in normal use.”
I agree that “real life” mpgs are the only ones of use to drivers. However just how would you a) derive that figure for new models, b) where would the “real life”figures come from so they were consistent model to model and c) how would you phrase the advert so a motorist not achieving the mpg would not be able to claim misrepresentation (perish the thought!).

“Real life” mpg will not be a single figure but a spread – probably wide – depending upon journey type, driving style, and a lot of other factors – “normal use” will be an average with as many getting mpgs below as will above. It’s a nice thought but I cannot see it being practical. What I would support is a responsible independent organisation collecting “real life” mpg from all the major groups that publish them and having the car manufacturers literature and adverts refer potential purchasers to them.

Even the proposed new test will not give “real life” mpg.

RogerC says:
3 August 2015

My main concern is that my car’s “computer” states that I am getting about 5mpg more than my calculations. I always fill my tank each time then calculate real mpg from miles (usually around 450) from the last fill and fuel added . I reset “computer” after each fill.
When I hear others stating how good their mpg figures are it usually turns out they are relying on their car’s “computer”.
Is this another way for manufacturers to disguise the differences between quoted and actual results ?

ferkemall says:
3 September 2015

Ah fuel economy testing, well its all done a wind tunnel lab they take out the seats spare tyre,and anything they can to lighten it up then they gaff tape the gaps and off they go ,the result is it does a 100 mpg ,of course when you buy it and get the kids in and the wife /shopping you end up with 31 mpg !

In 2013 I purchased a Vauxhall Corsa which was deemed to produce around 56 mpg but which, in fact, did 22 mpg (rural)! I had the engine checked twice without any fault showing. A year later I part-exchanged it for a Toyota Yaris hybrid which could produce between 55-82 mpg depending on which type of road it was driven, town driving being the most economical. Living in a rural area I get between 45-55 mpg but relative to the Corsa this is a saving in petrol of over £100 monthly! My dislike of the Yaris is that it is too small and uncomfortable so I am again considering the purchase of another car. There are a number of larger equally economical cars on the market but currently my attention is drawn towards the Skoda Greenline 1.6. I find Honest John’s site useful for what users know of the fuel consumption of their own vehicles. The following video is about the Australian car industry which is both interesting and amusing and probably factual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTfAEh27lQM. On calculating the cost of running a car this time I am going for a private contract hire which seems the cheapest method.