In Europe this week, it has been revealed that car companies are faking their fuel economy stats. Hyundai and Kia reportedly misrepresented their fuel economy ratings on over 1.2 million cars. This means that customers are getting nowhere near the mileage they were promised by Hyundai and Kia. The companies were fined $100 million for this breach of consumer trust.

via flickr

Customers hoping to save money with low fuel consumption were sorely misled by these car companies. However, the problem is wider than Hyundai and Kia. The report also showed that the Ford Fiesta has a 38% gap between fuel consumption during test, and in the real world. VW Golf reported a gap of 30%. Customers are paying 38% more than they anticipated due to misleading figures. Figures published by the car companies themselves.

This has large ramifications. Firstly, customers are paying wildly more than expected. It is false advertising and breaking trust between the car companies and buyers. However, it also sets a dangerous precedent for car manufacturers. The guidelines and checks are clearly falling short. Hyundai and Kia may have been caught out. However, Ford and VW’s misrepresentation has not been fined. There are countless more that perhaps weren’t caught at all.

Why did Hyundai and Kia do this?

Back when Hyundai and Kia were building these models, the economy was struggling. People were struggling to pay their bills and counting pennies just to pay for groceries. They were looking for cheap alternatives for running their cars. Hyundai and Kia offered that. They could offer buyers a cheap car with the promise of super high fuel efficiency. This meant less frequent visits to the pump to fill up. It meant customers could run a car for less.

A car with low emissions and good fuel economy also qualified for the lowest tax bracket. Hyundai and Kia could promise buyers that they would pay the lowest road tax rate. The claim of low emissions meant they could also advertise it as a ‘green’ car. At least, advertise it as a better alternative to gas guzzlers. Buyers could feel like they were helping the environment and saving cash. This adds up to an attractive package when advertising. Unfortunately, it was false advertising. Customers reported spending far more than advertised at the pump.

How were they faking the stats?

You would assume the tests take place under a third party, examining body. Any faults or misrepresentations would be picked up and reported by them. However, this is not the case. The tests are carried out in private. This meant that alterations could be made to the cars in order to manipulate results. Here are a few that were reported:

Streamlining resistance

Hyundai and Kia reportedly strapped tape over cracks and air holes. Any nuances that would slow the car down were covered. The gaps around the bonnet were covered with tape. The gaps around the doors and boot were taped up. Anything that restricted the smooth flow of air around the car was smoothened. Less resistance means the engine doesn’t have to work so hard. If the engine isn’t working so hard, it uses less fuel. Of course, in the real world, we don’t tape our cars up like this when we leave the house.

Removed brake pads

The car manufacturers removed the brake pads. In a real world situation, this would amount to a very unsafe car. It would be unusable. However, in a lab there is no problem. The brake pads provide a small amount of friction against the discs. Even when not applied at all, the pads rest against the disc. The result is a very small amount of drag. It means the internal parts warm up slightly and the car experiences a drag force. In the real world, the engine has to work harder and use more fuel to compensate.

Overinflating low resistance tyres

Low resistance tyres are nicknamed ‘eco tyres’. They reduce the amount of resistance while driving. Thanks to silica injections, they don’t absorb as much energy while rolling. They are advertised as being better for fuel consumption because they don’t require so much power to move. Hyundai and Kia cars both come fitted with them. However, during testing, they were over inflating the tyres. Over inflating means that they will perform even better to fuel consumption targets. There is less surface area touching the road and they can roll better. However, in a real world situation, driving on over-inflated tyres is a dangerous idea. They lessen your control over the vehicle and is ill-advised.

They used prototypes

In some cases, stats were reported for prototypes. They didn’t even use the final road car. The results were produced for early versions of the cars that featured different aspects. They were tested before they installed additional electronics and technology. This all adds weight and drag to the car. This is beyond simply misleading the figures. This is faking them entirely.

What are the consequences for buyers?

Unfortunately for buyers, it’s very difficult to manage this. If you’re looking at buying a car, take this information into account. Even if you’re glancing at Leasing Options Ltd to lease rather than buy, consider the running costs. The price of a car doesn’t end when you drive off the forecourt. Consider the costs of insurance, tax, fuel and maintenance and build that into your budget. As you can see, it’s a good idea to over-estimate fuel costs.

Not only are we seeing misleading results from car companies, the economy is variable. Always add 30-40% onto your predicted fuel consumption costs. You never know what will happen to the price of fuel. Oil is becoming more scarce as our industries seek out alternative fuels. Fuel prices are not set in stone. This is all the more worrying when your car isn’t performing to the advertised consumption. Always factor in an over-estimated fuel consumption cost.

In the wider sphere, the car industry will have to tighten its rules. Green laws are heavily in place in Europe and that’s why this information came to light. The laws are not yet as strict in the USA. Manufacturers are not so beholden to green standards. However, they are not far behind. Is your car performing as well as you were expecting?