When you watch a car commercial that advertises the vehicle's EPA mileage rating, are you favorably impressed? Most likely you are.
That's because most ads tend to give you the best news about a particular model, and when it comes to fuel economy, the average mileage on the highway is going to beat city mileage. So car ads tend to focus on the positive.
In comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Center for Auto Safety say car ads should not be allowed to only list the highway rating. Doing so, they argue, amounts to deceptive advertising.
Jack Gillis, CFA’s automotive expert, says the highway-only rating is misleading for several reasons.
No way to judge
“First of all it is impossible to infer overall fuel economy performance from just the highway EPA MPG rating,” he said. “Our analysis of over 1000 EPA mileage ratings for the 2016 vehicles demonstrates that there is no relationship between a particular highway rating and its corresponding city or combined rating.”
The CFA analysis discovered that for any highway rating, the corresponding city mileage rating can be as much as 17 miles per gallon (MGP) lower. So if you're considering a car with a 30 MPG highway rating, but never drive on the interstate, your actual mileage could be 15 MPG, or even less.
The two consumer groups argue it is impossible for a consumer to make an accurate judgment of the city or combined MPG when a vehicle is advertised with a highway only MPG figure, as the FTC now permits.
A case in point are the Hyundai Sonata SE and Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE/SE. Both get the same rating for highway fuel economy – 38 MPG. But CFA says they aren't equal, since the Camry hybrid gets the same 38 MPG around town but the Sonata gets only 25 MPG.
How does this translate into real money? CFA says consumers can definitely feel the difference if they make the wrong assumption. Using $2.12 a gallon as a benchmark, driving 15,000 miles per year in a car whose combined mileage rating is 10 MPG less than an alternative will cost the driver an extra $452 a year, or an average of nearly $38 a month.
The consumer groups say the FTC should amend its rule, requiring automakers to always advertise the highway, city, and combined EPA fuel economy ratings.