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Drive, She Said

I want a gas rebate for every vehicle I've owned Add to ...

I own a 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. My fuel economy numbers have never matched the sticker that was proudly displayed on it when I bought it.

At first, I figured I’d have to give it a break-in period. Then it was winter, and cold weather will blow up fuel ratings in a heartbeat. Then I wondered if I was doing too much local driving to accurately measure the combined number. Then I decided my son was ignoring my pleas to drive smoothly and not speed. And then I barged back into my dealership to ask if there was something wrong with my car.

“Nah, that’s about right,” said the service manager.

Except that is not about right, and Hyundai and Kia finally admitted that it’s not about right. I credit them for owning up, not because their actions weren’t misleading and wrong to begin with, but because it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a manufacturer flat-out say, “We are wrong.”

It is not lost on me that my vehicle is not included in their recent everybody-gets-a-gift-card gas rebate, because I believe it should be. I believe almost every car I’ve ever owned should be.

Consumers trying to fight back over misrepresentation of fuel ratings isn’t new; a California woman won a small claims suit against Honda earlier this year over her underperforming Hybrid Civic – a win later thrown out by a higher court.

Within hours of Hyundai and Kia’s announcement, class-action suits were filed in Canada and the United States. It’s not just about the extra fuel costs that have been incurred. They must now face current owners wondering about further erosion of their continued fuel (in)efficiency as well as resale values, and future customers who might wonder if the rot goes deeper. Time will tell if this particular company will bear the brunt of so many consumers’ frustration. I’m sure there was much hand-wringing over the decision to apologize and repent, but it was the right one. It’s either lose big, or lose less big.

Whether a company starts out to be deceptive about fuel ratings or not, the numbers are frustrating for anyone who uses them as a determinant when purchasing a car. These days, more and more of us care, and fuel economy isn’t something easily shrugged off. Everybody from the manufacturers to the dealers to the official governing bodies gets to peek out from behind the term “variables.”

I’m not going to pretend that jamming an asterisk beside the word “variables” isn’t fair. It is. You know you drive better than that erratic person cutting you off on the highway. You don’t pull the jackrabbit starts, you don’t tool around all year with a giant plastic container strapped to the roof of your car, and you keep your car well tuned and your tires properly inflated.

You do all the reasonable things, yet the numbers are still a strain to meet regularly, if ever. This is where they lose me. If a conscientious driver, well-trained and cognizant of the best driving methods is struggling, then the numbers are wrong.

From Transport Canada’s website:

“The fuel consumption ratings are generated based on fuel consumption values derived from laboratory tests and averaged based on Canadian production volumes. They are then adjusted to account for the difference between controlled test conditions and real-world driving conditions. However, no test can simulate all the possible combinations of climate, road conditions, vehicle load and driving habits. As such, your vehicle’s fuel consumption may differ from the estimates in the Fuel Consumption Guide or on the EnerGUIDE Label for Vehicles, depending on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):

  • driving style and behaviour
  • vehicle acceleration
  • braking and driving speed
  • overall age and operating condition of your vehicle
  • temperature
  • weather conditions
  • traffic
  • road conditions
  • drive systems
  • powered accessories (e.g. air conditioning)”

Well, they’ve certainly covered off all the real-world factors that might skew the numbers. Skew them to reasonable, that is.

I took part in a hyper-miling experiment this summer. I believe I can make any car not only get that posted fuel efficiency number, but beat it by 20 per cent, if not more.

The problem is that in order to do that, too many of the requirements would fall into the category of dangerous, unreasonable, onerous or overly time-consuming. Not all of them; not speeding is probably the single biggest way to save fuel. But doing 80 km/h in a 100-km/h zone is not reasonable; pulling from a stop so slowly you create a line of angry drivers behind you is not reasonable; no air conditioning in extreme heat is not reasonable – you bought a car with a/c on purpose.

I have made my car reach the posted numbers. Technically, yes, those posted numbers are achievable. But to make any product live up to its advertised abilities, you must be able to use it in a reasonable way, with room for reasonable variables.

I don’t object to a driving as a challenge, but I do object to it as a chore.


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