/ Motoring

Thanks to you, we’re calling on car makers to come clean on fuel claims

Fuel claims campaign logo

Following your resounding support, we’ve launched a campaign calling on the car industry to Come Clean on Fuel Claims. Do you want action on misleading fuel claims?

When we asked for your reactions to the Volkswagen emissions scandal we weren’t quite expecting to see an influx of more than 400 comments. Almost 10,000 of you also voted in our poll asking whether the government should implement more stringent tests for car makers – 95% said ‘yes’.

Off the back of this response, we launched our Come Clean on Fuel Claims campaign on Saturday.

We’ve been looking into the issue of misleading fuel claims for years, and we’d been using our research to get the new fuel economy test implemented by 2017. However, your input gave us the impetus needed to go big and launch our petition:

The clock is ticking for car makers to respond

On the VW scandal, Steve told us:

‘I’m not naive enough to think that companies won’t dress up the facts to obtain custom, but the level of deceit is huge. I’m just waiting for the rest of the big names to be implicated.’

On that point, we gave car makers seven days to announce whether their fuel tests have been manipulated. You can read how the responded here.

Come clean on fuel claims

So what does our Come Clean on Fuel Claims campaign call for? We want:

  • All car manufacturers to announce whether their emissions and fuel economy tests have been manipulated.
  • The government to immediately publish a timetable for a genuinely independent investigation and ensure anyone found to be affected can get easy access to redress.
  • The European Commission to announce how it will bring forward new tests with full and proper independent oversight by the end of the year.

We’ll continue to engage with key stakeholders in the UK and Brussels and bring them your calls for action. We’re also looking into what emissions rigging would mean for you if Volkswagen is found to have used the same technology here in the UK.

In short, a big thank you to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We’ll keep you posted on our progress, but in the meantime please sign our petition and tell us what you think.

[UPDATE 7 October 2015] – In the aftermath of the VW emissions scandal, we asked all the major car brands whether their vehicle testing methods were misleading consumers. That deadline has passed, and of the 17 who have responded, 16 have said they don’t manipulate emissions and fuel economy tests.

[UPDATE 12 October 2015] – Volkswagen’s UK boss, Paul Willis, faced the government’s transport select committee in the face of the VW emissions scandal. Mr Willis apologised ‘sincerely and unreservedly’ for letting customers down and said that it ‘will take all the necessary steps to regain trust’. He also added that VW had ‘mishandled the situation’.

There was no mention of redress for car owners, with Mr Willis saying that ‘it’s premature to talk about loss of value’. In response, our executive director Richard Lloyd said:

‘Admitting it mishandled the situation is only the start for Volkswagen Group UK. Consumers shouldn’t have to wait months before being told what compensation they could be entitled to for any losses they’ve already faced.’


It is important not to confuse two issues.
Cheating by car makers, as VW has (and others in the USA) is totally unacceptable. I don’t know how you apply sanctions, though, without damaging the business to an extent that may put many innocent employees jobs at risk. I’d suggest financial penalties, or criminal prosecution with potential custodial sentences, for those responsible would be much more effective.
If car makers have not cheated then the mpg and emission data is largely not what you’ll get in “real life” because of the inadequacy of the NEDC test they have to use. This is imposed by the EU from which the published figures come. We should berate the EU for their incompetence in producing a badly written test in the first place, and in not keeping it updated as driving habits and car technology changed – quite radically in some ways.
All I would ask is that when we campaign, make sure we target the right perpetrators.

Heartily agree. That actual numbers given as mpg are not real life results, but because all manufacturers use the same test it is a valid comparison between different cars. Bathroom scales do not give an accurate weight but if two people weighing themselves on the same scales it can still be determined who is the heavier.

Except, Pete, that not all car tests are carried out exactly to the standard and it is open to manufacturers to decide where to have their vehicles tested. Moreover, manufacturers do not necessarily present the vehicles for testing according to identical standards and can make modifications to the tyre pressures, loads, aerodynamics etc that affect the results.

The European consumer organisation BEUC explains some of the ways that car manufacturers modify cars prior to testing in order to produce better figures in the NEDC test: http://www.beuc.eu/publications/beuc-x-2015-016_the_great_fuel_consumption_scam.pdf Since different manufacturers are likely to modify their cars in different ways, it make a mockery of comparative testing.

Hopefully the recent ‘scandal’ will help cut delays in introduction of new testing procedures (WLTP) that will produce figures that better reflect modern driving, though as every driver will appreciate, their fuel economy figures will depend on driving style, traffic, terrain, temperature, and other factors.

Until we have the new testing procedures in place, perhaps we should ban manufacturers from modifying vehicles prior to testing.

From what I have found previously the laxity in the EU NEDC test standard that does not prevent certain modifications being made is not the prime source of the disparity between the test figures and “real life”. The significant reason is the inadequacy of the standard when applied to modern cars and driving. So unless you rewrite the standard to tighten up test requirements I do not see how you can “ban” the modifications it allows.
We need the EU to ensure their replacement standard is fit for purpose and, if so, implemented as soon as possible. However, by fit for purpose should also include not imposing unrealistic requirements on the car producers which is, i believe, one of the reasons it is being delayed.

Even if the NEDC test is responsible for the majority of the discrepancy between the published fuel consumption figures and what motorists achieve, I see no reason for not taking action to stop modification of vehicles prior to testing. When the NEDC tests were compiled, did anyone think about the ways that manufacturers might cheat to produce better results? Tape up the doors, overinflated the tyres, remove rear seats etc to cut weight, disconnect the alternator, change the tyres and oil, fiddle with the brakes, and goodness knows what else. How difficult is it to insist that cars are tested as you or I would buy and use them? The purpose of the tests is to produce figures that can be compared, and if the vehicles are being modified in different ways, the value of testing is debased. Even without legislation, manufacturers can declare that their tests relate to unmodified vehicles – and that could happen immediately. I would respect any manufacturer that did this.

I fully agree with your comments about the replacement test.

wavechange, I have no disagreement with this. But a standard that is written is exactly what it says – standard test conditions that everyone should follow. To ensure there is no doubt in testers’ procedures the conditions need to be unambiguous. The EU could easily issue an amendment (or should have already) that covers the “lax” areas. It is their responsibility and they’ve had years to deal with it. Why don’t they?

However, in mitigation, there is a pretty comprehensive report that looks at the deficiencies of NEDC and the WRTP replacement that includes comments on the extent to which manufacturers have used the loopholes and their effect. They concluded, from memory, that if all the loopholes were used to maximum benefit they could give a maximum gain of around 1/3 of the NEDC “inaccuracy” (the difference between test and real life”). They found however no evidence that this “maximum” was being achieved.

Having said this, there is absolutely no point in having a test standard that is not regularly amended to keep up to date with technology and to remove vagueness. It is like having a light bulb standard written around filament lamps that is applied to CFLs and LEDs.

Would it not be possible for some repeat tests to be carried out on cars selected at random from showrooms, in showroom condition?
If results are worse than in ‘type tests’ then they would be published instead?

I might be a lone voice, here, but for as long as I can remember no credence has ever been given to MPG results by manufacturers. In the good old days, when Which? used to do its own testing, they would routinely test each new car and publish the ‘true’ MPG figures. It was that figure I always went on, partly because I’ve long believed you can never trust the claims of anyone trying to sell you something which can make them a lot of money.

And Malcolm is spot on with his observation that we need to be very cautious about confusing MPG figures (which I believe most folk take with very large pinches of salt) and emissions data, the fiddling of which I suspect qualifies as criminal.

Assuming that vehicle software automatically determines that it is under test conditions – engine running vehicle stationery, and can then modify the engine fuel burn conditions to reduce emission of pollutants, a couple of supplementary questions occur to me:
1) Does this happen under ‘normal circumstances’ when for example the car is in a queue of stationary vehicles as in traffic jam, at a level crossing or at traffic lights?. If this is so then it seems to me to be a ‘good thing’ to do.
2) Similarly would the car would able to see similar conditions when being tested for its annual MoT. That should mean that affected cars would need to have their MoTs repeated?

TimB says:
4 October 2015

Honda Jazz engines have been doing this since there introduction haven’t they?
The twin spark timings change in order to achieve the low tick over.

This issue has been widely misreported, and it is clear from some of the comments here, that much of the public, does not as a consequence understand the problem. Reports mostly talk about a ‘software’ issue.
If different software settings were in themselves capable of improving emissions, it would not just be triggered by lack of steering input, or only one pair of wheels turning on a test rolling road, but would be used all the time.
The software is just an intelligent switch, that turns on a tap then these conditions are detected.
The tap, is on a hidden tank of Urea, which is plumbed into the exhaust system immediately before the catalytic converter and silencer,. This Urea mixes with the exhaust from the engine, and by a chemical reaction mops up the Nitrous Oxide which the test is looking for.
Some Heavy goods vehicles have such a system fitted openly, and the urea tank, unlike that in the covert VW system, is topped up at regular intervals, but presumably the extra cost and the complication for the consumer, is why the Urea system was hidden.

An update for VW car owners. Volkswagen has announced that more than one million UK vehicles are affected by its diesel emissions scandal.

The rundown is as follows:

– Volkswagen cars: 508, 276
– Audi: 393,450
– Seat: 76,773
– Skoda: 131,569
– Volkswagen commercial vehicles: 79,838

A VW spokesperson said: ‘Step by step, affected customers will be contacted, with details of a process to get their vehicles corrected in the near future. In the meantime, all vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy.’

Come clean on fuel claims

Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:

‘These figures confirm the scale of the deception the British public has faced. We now need the Government to urgently set out a timetable for action so that consumers can get redress.’

Details of affected cars will reportedly be released to retailers in the ‘coming days’ and there will be a self-service process for customers to check if their car needs to be corrected.

@patrick, on what basis do Which? think redress should be made? What would directly affect motorists are CO2 – for VED and benefit in kind tax paid – and the Government for tax receipts lower than they should have been. Are official CO2 emissions affected by the VW cheat?

Peter Whitfield says:
30 September 2015

Whats the point of changing the software in Volkswagens – as I understand it, the dodgy bit only kicks in when its being officially tested.

Maybe I’m naive but surely all car makes are tested for emissions at MOT testing and/or services? If so why did these issues not emerge before now?

The problem relates to emission of nitrogen oxides, which is not measured in the MOT test.

The MoT test monitors Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Hydrocarbons (HC) for petrol cars with an exhaust analyser. For diesels just a smoke density meter I believe – no numbers for CO, NOx etc.
The EU type test for vehicle approval has limits on CO, HC, CO2 and NOx. The current Nitrogen Oxide (combined NO and NO2) limit seems to be 80mg/km.
The US emissions limits seems very much more complicated but as far as I can see the limit for cars across a fleet is 0.05 g/mi or around 32 mg/km, under half the EU requirement. Does anyone know better?
Vehicle testing is the responsibility of the “Member State” in the EU – they should ensure testing is done correctly before type approval is given, and they impose penalties and can withdraw type approval if vehicles are subsequently found not to comply. I wonder which State was responsible here, and whether their officials overseeing testing have any part to play in the false results?

The cheat device may also affect CO2 (and thus fuel consumption). Do we know if this happens and to what extent? Otherwise I don’t see how European owners can expect redress (other than inconvenience in taking their car to VW). The potential loser is the community through raised NOx in the atmosphere so redress should go to Local Authorities somehow? Maybe they could use the money to improve public transport.

I suppose we are going to get scam phone calls now offering to deal with our claims for refunds from VW.

Michael says:
30 September 2015

It appears to me that the so-called fix for the software to the relevant diesel engines is not a fix at all, in the sense that it simply (according to reports) turns off the software that cheats. Therefore it does nothing to tackle the important issue, which is the very high levels of NOX and other pollutants that diesel Volkswagens produce in normal use.

Frankly the bigger scandal is succesive Government’s failures to get pollution controls, tax incentives, Eric righ, and why aren’t they banning the sale of these non compliant vehicles now. Which are not going far enough with this petition by half.

As a Which? member I’ve been asked to sign a petition:
“Car makers must come clean on whether they’ve rigged fuel tests
The government to immediately publish a timetable for the introduction of fuel tests you can trust
Redress for those left out of pocket from car maker’s inaccurate testing”

All very laudable but the rigging (so far we only know about the VW Group) is about NOx emissions, not about “fuel tests”. I don’t quite know what Which? mean here but the implication is fuel consumption – mpg l/100km). As far as I am aware the allegations do not involve this – unless as a side effect of the NOx cheat mpg and CO2 are affected. The culprit here is the EC whose totally inadequate NEDC test is the major cause of CO2 and fuel consumptions differing from “real life”, Not the manufacturers.
As far as redress goes, I’ve previously asked Which? to tell us the basis on which they expect redress. NOx does not impact financially on car owners unless trade-in values drop substantially as a result. Redress should go to communities, presumably via Local Authorities, for the environmental impact of higher NOx levels.
At least, that is the way I see it. Others may see a different angle on this.

Which?’s campaign on “Come clean on fuel claims” points the finger on the introductory page – where you are urged to vote – at the car makers (“You should be able to trust car makers’ fuel emission and efficiency claims”) . Clicking on “Know the issue” does no better
(“All car manufacturers must announce in the next seven days whether their emissions and fuel economy tests have been manipulated”).
It is only if you then link to Which?’s mpg testing that it points to the NEDC test deficiencies (recognised at long last). How many voters get that far?
I used to rely on Which? being accurate, fair and balanced in its approach. Now I see more and more they are selective in the information they present in campaigns, clearly aimed at manipulating voters to support their particular stance.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of emissions and mpg it is not the black and white case Which? seeks to portray. I would like Which? to treat its readers as intelligent people capable of taking in facts and reaching their own decision. I do not want to be misled into supporting campaigns where they are being “economical with the facts”. 🙂
Perhaps this comment would be better placed on the Which Community website – members should visit it. If only it was used more.

My understanding is that the manufacturers are delaying the introduction of the WLTP tests. I certainly don’t know any manufacturer that is pushing for their introduction.

I accept that manufacturers are only allowed to quote NEDC figures at present but if they were honest they could admit that drivers of their vehicles are likely to achieve substantially lower fuel economy than the quoted figures. I like honesty and I suspect that others do too.

wavechange, perhaps you would provide a link to where manufacturers are delaying WLTP tests, if they are, and if so it might give more information.
The manufacturers cannot, I believe, quote figures other than the EU ones. No dishonesty in that. What Which? and others should be doing is making people aware of real life published figures. As these will be an average from a range of reported mpgs they will only indicate where your achieved mpg might be. I would imagine if manufacturers were to publish such a figure as soon as an individual driver did not reach it the car manufacturer would be in even more trouble. Best the way it is with the WLTC test and the NDE introduced as soon as possible.

Here is the first one turned up by a search: http://www.raccars.co.uk/news/article/3305/european-car-makers-delaying-real-world-mgp-tests

Can you provide any evidence that manufacturers are keen to bring in the new testing?

wavechange, this was what some of the press reported that I read back in May. The claim made that manufacturers were responsible for the difference between real life and stated mpg is not the main cause – NEDC is the culprit.
I commented at the time that one reason being put forward for the delay was not the implementation of the WLTP test, but that the CO2 emissions being set by the EC were regarded as not realistically achievable by 2017. But as I am no expert in these matters i’d like to see Which? properly investigate this – no doubt best if done with BEUC – to get at the facts from both the EU, and ACEA who represent European car makers.

ACEA fully support apparently the introduction of the RDE – a more real life road test that will supplement laboratory tests.

So manufacturers are delaying the introduction of the new tests, as I said.

But there is nothing to stop manufacturers from pointing out that the fuel economy achieved by drivers is likely to be significantly less than what the NEDC tests indicate. The commercial world needs to learn to be honest.

wavechange, I don’t know if manufacturers are delaying the tests, or, if they are, why, as I said. That is why I want the facts teased out so we supplant speculation with information.

I don’t know what regulations if any surround the wording manufacturers use, but adverts I see point out these are sourced from official EU test results, are provided for comparability purposes and may not reflect your actual driving experience.
Anyway, this is going over old ground.
Your comment on honesty and the commercial world perhaps could also be directed at politicians, NHS, education, financial services, retailers, in fact all of us would seem to be implicated. Even Which? can be economical with the facts! However I’m sure dishonesty is not that totally widespread. I suspect you and I, at least, behave with propriety and integrity. 🙂 .
Oh, and the proprietor of my local small art shop. I went in today to buy a mechanical pencil and some leads. I’ve this one at £2.80, but this is good value at £1.99 he said. And these leads are £2.40 for 12, but I have these at £2.99 for 40 – I’d go for those. Honesty in the commercial world. Any other nominations?

Malcolm – You keep bringing up the obsolete NEDC tests but tend to stay silent on the modification of cars prior to testing. I would like to see some information about what modifications the various manufacturers make prior to testing vehicles. The purpose of the tests is to provide comparative figures and any modification will make comparison invalid. On that basis, I regard it as cheating.

Throughout my adult life I have rarely been disappointed by smaller companies, and often been treated as a loyal customer. I’m less happy with the larger companies, my experience often reflecting what others have posted on these pages.

wavechange, I have not “stayed silent” on so called modifications. I have pointed out that from what I have found online if all the loopholes were used in the tests they could account for 1/3 of the reduction in emissions – but there was not evidence to say that the whole of this was used. I also pointed out that the loopholes were in the NEDC test document – seemingly a badly constructed standard that had not been amended. That is why we should be blaming, principally, those imposing the test regime, not those who implement it.
“Cheating” is evading the standard, which is what VW did with their “cheat” software. As yet we have not had other manufacturers accused of cheating. But let us wait and see what the EU uncovers.

Malcolm – The tests are to enable comparison of models, so it’s OBVIOUS that tests must be carried out on cars as they will be used by drivers, and not modified in some way. Surely the manufacturers must be capable of working that out for themselves.

In Which? testing, the tests are carried out independently on products that have been purchased rather than submitted for testing by the manufacturer. This is obvious good practice. Which? tests are also carried out by independent laboratories. I recall that you once said that independent labs are not always up to scratch. I can believe that, having made frequent use of testing labs in connection with my work. Good labs should operate their own quality control, but external assessment is also vital.

Maybe you should say this to the EU. I think we have exhausted this line of attack, perhaps?

I’m waiting to hear more from BEUC about cheating in the tests. From the link I posted earlier they obviously have some insight into the problem.

From the top of this page it appears that Which? would like manufacturers to let them know if they have been manipulating fuel tests, within the next day or so. From the top of this page:
“On that point, we gave car makers seven days to announce whether their fuel tests have been manipulated. And the clock is ticking:” It seems unlikely that manufacturers will admit what they get up to, but I would have some respect if they did.

Hey Malcolm, sorry for the delay in responding. We launched the campaign very quickly off the back of the feedback shared here, so it’s not quite as detailed as we’d like. We are clear in our asks that we wanted to hear from car makers about whether they manipulate fuel tests in the same way as Volkswagen. We also wanted to hear if they support the new EU tests. 17 car makers have responded to us (big thanks to our supporters for piling on the pressure), which you can read here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/car-fuel-tests-trust/car-makers-deny-emissions-fuel-tests/

Our second ask is targeted at the government, and then the third is targeted at the European Commission to bring forward the new tests.

I’m now looking at adding information to the Know the issue section about why they current tests aren’t fit for purpose. Thanks for the feedback.

Patrick, thanks for the response. No need to apologise for any delay, I was just sorry to hear of your loss.
My main point was to ask Which? to present a balanced and informative background to campaigns so we are not inadvertently swayed in a particular direction.
My other concern was that the EU and HMG should already be investigating whether any other car manufacturers had deliberately falsified results; I’d hope all concerned would work in concert to get to a prompt outcome. If you ask a company whether they have lied or cheated I’d expect the answer to be “no”. We need to do some testing work first to see whether we have good grounds to ask those questions with the benefit of knowledge – like they did in the USA. We must also keep “on the road” testing separate from laboratory testing; they are not the same and the results, as things stand, will not be comparable. 🙂
PS – like the improvements in the format. 🙂 🙂

Thanks Malcolm. I’ve published a new convo with the update and a bit more information about the tests, though I’ll be getting the information on the campaign tomorrow: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/vw-fuel-claims-car-makers-respond-emissions-mpg/

Hi Malcolm, I’ve added information about the EC tests to the Know the Issue section of the campaign: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/car-fuel-tests-trust/know-the-issue/

Patrick, thanks for that. I have no brief for car makers but believe the NEDC test is the root of the problem. This, therefore, in my view, should be prominent in the campaign, not at the bottom of the page.
In the mission statement “Car makers are claiming figures that are miles from the truth” still points the finger of blame at them. Popular perhaps, but inaccurate.
A more accurate statement would be “Official EU testing that car makers must use give figures that can be some way from real life driving”.
The campaign should be aimed at getting better tests in place quickly rather than demonising the manufacturers – unless there is real evidence that they substantially fiddle the figure.
Just my opinion based upon the facts as I see them. 🙂

Malcolm wrote: “wavechange, perhaps you would provide a link to where manufacturers are delaying WLTP tests, if they are, and if so it might give more information.”

Here is an extract from a recent newspaper article: “Lucas said her time as an MEP had shown her how hard the motor industry has lobbied in the past to delay and weaken proposed emissions regulation. “We were very curious as to why the push for more stringent testing had not surfaced before now,” said Irranca-Davies.”
From: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/15/uk-volkswagen-boss-denies-cars-emitted-higher-pollution-than-expected

In the circumstances, maybe the EC does not deserve all the criticism that has been levelled at it.

Hardly a link, though, just a newspaper report. These have been raised in earlier conversations- FT for example in April. My concern was not only if the WLTP test was being delayed, but if it was, then why.

A hint in this articles supports earlier speculation that it is not the test that may be the obstacle, because the industry supports it I believe, but that on the back of the WLTP test the EC introduce new emissions limits. It may well be these that are the obstacle. The EC and the industry need to agree limits that are practical and achievable. The EC press release of 25/9 says, for example, “not-to-exceed limits should reflect environmental objectives as well as economic and technical feasibility” . The same release says “A new test procedure….(WLTP) has been adopted in the United Nations system (UNECE) for measuring pollutant emissions and CO2 emissions……in the laboratory. The implementation process in the EU has started in parallel”.

Which? could tackle both the EC and ACEA to see what, if any, obstacles remain in the test introduction. I imagine there are meeting minutes that will provide information.

I don’t envisage the manufacturers publishing declarations that they are trying to delay introduction of new tests, so newspaper articles might be the best evidence we have. Maybe you are able to provide evidence that manufacturers are frustrated by the EC’s delaying tactics. BMW did send this statement to Which?: ‘The BMW Group does not manipulate or rig any emissions tests. We observe the legal requirements in each country and fulfill all local testing requirements.

‘We support the swift introduction of new regulations in Europe and beyond to ensure clarity, not only for consumers but also for the automotive industry.’ Fine words but BMW has not escaped criticism over emissions.

Introduction of new tests would be a good opportunity to ban any modification of cars prior to testing.

Bought a skoda superb in 2014 lovely car but disappointed to learn about V W emissions cheat device ,I’ve had a couple of letters to tell me that diesel engines on skoda superb needs to be adjusted,it’s been over a year ago and haven’t heard anything back from skoda .
I have read in the press that U S consumers will get compensation from V W surely british and
european consumers have the same rights for compensation due to loss of residue values on V W group vehicles.

I’ve just had the fix applied to my VW Tiguan. It seems that there is a charm offensive that goes with the fix. I got a goody bag with a key ring, pen and umbrella with the VW logo attached! I also got a short video via email say how wonderful it was that I turned up to get my car fixed. While I was waiting I fell into conversation with the brand manager. He said that he didn’t know what the problem was. The residuals in my car had not been affected; MPG remained the same and they hadn’t broken any of the omission laws in the EU! I pointed out that they had been dishonest – he agreed, but see above. There is a class action in England. It is being fronted by a well known ambulance chaser firm – I wonder if it is worth joining.

Martin, I too was thinking of joining the UK Class Action that Harcus Sinclair has launched but the negative comments I’ve read about this company makes me think I won’t take the chance.
I will be regularly checking back on the Which? site to see if they will be recommending the best way forward for VW Group car owners. It will be very annoying if VW Group treat US and UK consumers differently – as they are doing at the moment.