/ 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 An outdated official, European Union-approved mpg test – in effect, the ruler has its inches marked all wrong.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Manufacturers are required by law to publish mpg figures generated by the EC’s flawed, out-of-date official mpg test.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?


It is well established that the current NEDC fuel consumption test is out of date, but some of our car manufacturers are doing their best to delay the introduction of the new WLTP test: http://www.raccars.co.uk/news/article/3305/european-car-makers-delaying-real-world-mgp-tests

What concerns me more is the fact that manufacturers do their own fuel consumption tests rather than having the job done by independent test laboratories. Rather than testing a car straight from the showroom, various modifications are carried out to produce artificially high fuel economy figures. These can include taping up door seals, over-inflating tyres, changing the grade of oil, disconnecting the alternator, fiddling with the brakes and removing seats to decrease weight. Thank goodness Which? adopts a more sensible attitude to product testing. As I understand it, all products tested for Which? are purchased rather than submitted by manufacturers for testing.

When I bought my present car, I enquired about the fuel consumption and was quoted the manufacturer’s figures without any reference to the fact that they would not be achieved in practice.

Even if the WLTP test is delayed, there is no reason why modification of vehicles prior to testing should not be stopped promptly.

Most of us are all too aware of misrepresentation and broadband speeds have been discussed at length on Which? Conversation. Suppliers are allowed to quote ‘up to’ speeds even if only 10% of customers can achieve them. Why is honesty such an alien concept in the marketing of products to the general public?

Les spiller says:
27 July 2015

I must admit iam well pleased with the fuel consumption on my Vauxhall Mokka 1.6, I purchased the car brand new ,I get well over 410 -420 miles per tank which is pretty good when that includes town and motorway driving.

Alex Mcil says:
18 January 2016

Hello Wavechange,
You do make some very valid points there, especially the last sentence you have mentioned.
I have to say that although the WLTP will be a far better test, there is still concerns that because it too is very much a lab test, that there will still be discrepancies between the test and real world driving.

The NEDC shows cars being 35-40% more efficient than in real life. It is estimated that the WLTP will greatly reduce that figure to about 23%, but the question is, is that enough? It is also believed that in the passing years, that 23% figure will only increase.

What I cannot understand is, why cannot these tests be done on the road or a standardized track that simulates real world driving. Surely having the vehicle pull its own weight, taking corners, taking on hills, braking etc would solve much of these legal cheats……on thing seems for sure, VW’s software would not have work if their cars were actually tested on the road……….all very interesting stuff.

[This comment has been tweaked to remove a URL in line with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]



Perhaps Nic you should look at Which?’s attitude to washing machine as in August 2013 it said 8 out of 12 washing machines got nowhere near a 60C wash but this was OK as 60C did not mean what it said as a temperature but was an indication that the wash cycle delivered equivalent optical cleanliness to 60C wash.

The lowest wash cycle was at 41C.

Knowing this Which? chooses not to publish the heat profiles for 60C washes. This may seem unimportant to some but in the UK over a third of nursing staff wash their uniforms at home – and a proper high temperature wash is required. Which? not mentioning these machines 60C faux temperature is a crime.

” Nearly half of hospital uniforms are washed in temperatures too cool to kill bacteria, says DMU research

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) researchers have recommended there should be national guidelines set for washing uniforms of nurses and other hospital staff after it was revealed 49 per cent of those surveyed did not use water hot enough at home to kill off certain bacteria.
– See more at: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/news/2015/march/nearly-half-of-hospital-uniforms-are-washed-in-temperatures-too-cool-to-kill-bacteria,-says-dmu-research.aspx#sthash.Ns1uHO2L.dpuf


Thanks for your comment Diesel. Although I can see the connection, let’s stick to talking about cars and MPG claims on this particular Convo.


Actually Patrick I think dieseltaylor’s comment is to the point. I don’t think your “similar example” of the size of a TV screen is very good. Car fuel consumption and even washing machine temperatures are far less tangible things than TV screen size, and “which” elected not to make such a big deal of variable washing machine temperatures.

Now whilst agreeing car manufacturers consumption figures tend to be wildly optimistic we must remember there is a standard procedure to determine such figures and manufacturers want to sell cars so they’ll use every trick they can to make the numbers look good, and they all do it.

Most people realise that in the real world things are very different and the final fuel consumption achieved can vary greatly because of myriad factors. Bet if you or perhaps a selection of people drove the same car the same say 50 mile route at different times of the day, in different weathers and perhaps at different times of the year, the fuel consumption figures would vary greatly.
To expect a manufacturer to give figures you can expect come hell or high water is unrealistic.

However I would agree the standard test really needs to change to show more “achievable” consumption figures. But even with things as they currently are figures given still enable a comparison model to model even if the mpg figures for all are very optimistic.
Now really we’ve all already really known this to be the case for many years, haven’t we?
Just like not all washing powders really wash whiter than white, and not everything does exactly what it says on the tin unless if perfectly used in perfect conditions.

If “Which” wants to do something useful campaign to get the standard fuel consumption test changed to something more realistic, but even then it will at best still be an approximation and a very different animal to the size of a TV screen.


Chris, If you watch the Youtube video from an Aussie Auto Expert (see my post below) and take his advice you simply add 30% on to the figure given to you by the dealer to achieve a realist figure 🙂


Chris wrote: “Now whilst agreeing car manufacturers consumption figures tend to be wildly optimistic we must remember there is a standard procedure to determine such figures and manufacturers want to sell cars so they’ll use every trick they can to make the numbers look good, and they all do it.”

That is my fear and why I strongly support independent testing. Wherever money is involved there is the risk of companies trying to make out that their goods and services are better than they are.