Car owner wins lawsuit over Honda Civic hybrid mileage claims

Consumer Reports News: February 02, 2012 02:38 PM

Heather Peters took on corporate giant Honda in a southern California small-claims court over the fuel economy of her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. And she won.

A former lawyer, Peters chose not to join a class-action suit that would reportedly pay out $100-$200 per owner and include a $1,000 credit toward a new car. Instead, she presented her own case in a Torrance, California, small-claims court where judgments are limited to $10,000, and she was awarded $9,867 yesterday.

By going this path, Peters avoided paying legal fees. For contrast, she cites fees as being $8.5 million for the trial lawyers proceeding with the class-action suit. An Associated Press report quotes Peters as saying she hopes the victory will encourage other Civic Hybrid owners to follow her example, and she has set up a website to help get them started: dontsettlewithhonda.org. (Car enthusiast blog Jalopnik has posted an interesting, related piece: “How You Can Sue An Automaker In Small Claims Court And Win.”)

The core issue for Peters is that Honda had advertised the Honda Civic Hybrid as delivering 50 miles per gallon, and she did not experience that figure. Worse, she says a battery-related software update further reduced her mileage down to no better than 30 mpg.

Consumer Reports’ testers were disappointed in the fuel economy results when we tested the 2006 Civic Hybrid. The car achieved 37 mpg overall, with 26 mpg in the city and 47 mpg on the highway.

At the time, it was EPA-rated at 50 mpg combined, 49 mpg city and 51 mpg highway, hence the source for Honda’s claims.

With the revised EPA fuel economy figures put in place for the 2008 model year for all passenger vehicles, the 2006 Civic Hybrid was adjusted to 42 mpg combined, with 40 mpg city and 45 mpg highway.

The revisions the EPA made to its fuel economy ratings have brought their numbers closer to what we feel car owners, in general, will experience in the real world. Even still, there can be notable variance with hybrids, particularly in city driving.

Clearly, results will vary based on driving style, fuel, terrain, speed, traffic flow, altitude, and weather.

Like Peters, many Honda Civic Hybrid car owners allege that a software update resulted in a reduction in fuel economy, but we have not verified that claim.

Consumer Reports feels the current EPA figures provide a solid, comparable basis for consumers to cross-shop vehicles. We had worked hard for years to encourage an update to the fuel economy ratings methodology to better reflect how cars are used today, compared against in the 1970s when the previous protocol was developed. Today, air conditioning is common, more time is spent in cities, and highway speeds are greater. Those considerations are factored into the revised methodology.

While the methods could be further enhanced, we feel the improvements make them far more useful.

Further, updates to window stickers for the 2013 model year and beyond provide much more information for consumers and should help people make informed comparisons right on dealers’ lots. If fuel economy is a priority when shopping for your next vehicle, we recommend checking our test results. The video below shows how we test fuel economy.

Also watch: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood explains the new fuel-economy labels.

Jeff Bartlett

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