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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Discounting those EPA Gas Mileage Estimates

Richard Peach was outraged. He bought a car relying on the fuel economy figures generated by the environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The car did not come close to performing as the Mileage Guide indicated it would.

John Pennington was also upset. He realized that the EPA mileage ratings were estimates. But when he received nearly a third lower read­ing for his new car, he concluded that “the use of these ratings in advertising borders on fraud as this rating is one of the main reasons for my pur­chase of this car.” Marie Morris bought a Ford Ranger Truck after being told that it would obtain 15 to 17 mpg on the highway and 13 to 15 mpg in city driving. The maximum she obtained was 10 mpg. She wrote to the Center for Auto Safety: “I feel the only service the EPA is doing is helping the deal­ers to sell more gas eaters. . I would not have bought a $7,000 vehicle if I had known I would only get 10 mpg.”

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and other auto companies here and abroad just love the EPA figures. After defrauding consumers so many ways directly over the years, the auto companies are relieved that they can pull one off under the imprimatur of Uncle Sam. Don’t their advertise­ments of the EPA figures show such enthusiasm?

BUT UNCLE SAM is finally getting concerned. In a little noticed study completed by the Depart­ment of Energy in February, one learns that the discrepancy between EPA test vehicles and aver­age in-use vehicles operated by millions of motorists is about 20 per cent for the model year 1977. For the higher fuel economy cars — the ones with the mpg in the thirties and forties —the difference is about 30 per cent.

According to the Department of Energy study, the gap between what EPA says and what motor­ists get is worsening. The 1977 model year was five times the gap of the 1974 model year for the average of all cars.

For vans and light trucks the situation is worse. An analysis of consumers’ detailed letters by the Center for Auto Safety concluded that these vehicles averaged 45 per cent poorer fuel economy than the EPA figures. Department of Energy sources agree that the fast growing van and light truck market suffers from a greater EPA-real use discrepancy than do passenger automobiles.

What about EPA’s side of the story? I asked EPA Administrator Douglas Costle for an expla­nation. He replied: “I too have become increas­ingly concerned about the growing loss of public confidence in the fuel economy values. The goals of the program, i.e., to foster the purchase of fuel efficient cars by the public and thereby to reduce ,national gasoline consumption, Will not be achieved unless the values truly allow the public to distinguish good from poor fuel economy cars.”

COSTLE AGREED THAT “the program has some serious problems.” A recent EPA review is the basis for his judgment. The review points. out several reasons for the discrepancies and has

led to EPA’s proposed changes in its procedures that are now open to public comment by any citi­zens or groups. Mr. Costle hopes to give the general public by the 1979 model year “a better sense of both the value and limitations inherent in the fuel economy figures.”

In the meantime, motorists who do not abuse or poorly maintain their vehicles may assume that between 20 per cent to 45 per cent can be lop­ped off the industry-advertised EPA mileage fig­ures to get the real-road figures, depending on the type of vehicle purchased.

Now that EPA is becoming more candid in their public statements, what about the Depart­ment of Transportation and Secretary Brock Adams? On March 15, Secretary Adams engaged in what has become his customary repudiation of traffic safety and fuel economy administrator, Joan Claybrook, by massively cutting the pro­posed 1980 and 1981 fuel economy standards for light trucks and vans. As usual, he did what the auto executives demanded he do.

For example, he reduced the proposed 1981 standard for two-wheel drive vehicles from 21 mpg to 18 mpg and possibly lower. At the press conference, with Claybrook sitting meekly nearby, Adams neglected to inform the American motorist just how phony these reduced figures were likely to be. Because they were based on current EPA test procedures.

Believe your own experience and ask your friends and neighbors what mileage they are get­ting. For the EPA figures, drummed around the country through millions of auto company ads, are not to be believed. And the more unbelievable they become to vocal motorists, the more likely the figures will shape up in future years.