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Fuel economy labels now available for used cars

Government website makes mpg stickers available for older models

Published: September 13, 2013 10:30 AM

Want to know the fuel economy of a used car, or compare the gas mileage of a used car with a late-model car? The EPA and Department of Energy have released a new tool on the website that will allow you to select your car and see a fuel economy label estimating its city, highway, and combined mpg.

The new label is available to consumers and car dealers, detailing the fuel economy and CO2 emissions for vehicles sold in the United States since 1984. We applaud the move that arms shoppers with more information on the operating cost of a vehicle before purchasing.

Of particular interest, the labels apply fuel economy numbers based on a revised methodology by the EPA, allowing a comparison between new and late-models cars and those built prior to 2008 and tested under a different protocol. The change in the EPA test methodology was to better approximate how cars are currently used, rather than how they were typically driven in the 1970s when the protocol was first introduced. This relatively new approach means that published fuel economy figures generally dropped in 2008, providing a challenge in fairly comparing models. Because these used-car labels are comparable with fuel economy labels on new cars, they provide a better comparison tool for shoppers.

Like new-car labels, this information for used cars includes estimates of how many gallons the cars will consume on a 100-mile trip—a better basis for comparing fuel costs that more dramatically illustrates the differences between cars than a traditional mpg figure

We think used-car buyers should have this information as readily available as new-car buyers and hope that dealerships that sell used cars will adopt the stickers and apply them to all used cars. After all, with some used cars, gas expenses can be greater than monthly payments.

These labels were briefly posted on in 2011, and we are glad to see them finally return. The consumer demand for higher fuel economy only continues to build. The average fuel economy of new vehicles has reached a new high, according to findings from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, underscoring the important of comparable information.

“This action addresses what has been an information gap for used-car buyer,” says Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Policy Counsel for Consumers Union. “If dealerships choose not to take this step to help their customers, Consumers Union will urge the EPA to require them in the future.”

Dealers are able to download and print the labels to apply to cars and use in online ads. Likewise, consumers can visit to research the models on their shopping list.

Consumer Reports publishes our own fuel economy measurements based on cars bought new at dealerships. If you’re buying a used car, you can find our mpg data on previously tested models on the used car overview pages.

See our list of best used cars.

Eric Evarts

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