2008 EPA Testing Changes

How and why 2008 cars have lower gas mileage estimates than 2007 models.
By Jon Alain Guzik
So, you are in the market for a new automobile. You are looking at the 2008 models, but something seems off from last year's model. You look closer. It's the same vehicle model with the same parts under the hood, but according to the sticker on the window, the 2007 and the 2008 versions get completely different gas mileage.

No, your eyes aren't fooling you; the new 2008 EPA fuel economy standards have changed drastically and, for 2008, fuel economy estimates will be lower than the estimates on the same vehicle from the previous year.

Don't be shocked and think the manufacturers are building less fuel-efficient vehicles in this time of expensive fuel. The 2008 vehicles aren't any less fuel-efficient than 2007 models - actual fuel economy has been stable for the past decade at around 21 miles per gallon, it's just that the EPA has changed the rules and applied a more real world testing standard.

What Has Changed?
What has changed is the way the EPA records the fuel economy for automobiles. The updated 2008 window sticker reflects a broader, updated range of real world factors that estimate closer to your actual fuel usage. This is due to the first changes in fuel economy testing methodology since 1984.

"Driving has changed so much since we last updated the method in 1984, that we were due for a change," says EPA spokesman John Millett. "We have faster interstate highway speeds, 65 to 70 miles an hour in some areas, up from 55. We also have a lot more vehicles equipped with air conditioning."

While the EPA's machinery for testing hasn't changed, what has changed is the fundamental way the EPA tests the cars. "We have no new machinery. What we have are three additional tests. One each for interstate and city driving, as well as a new air conditioning test," Millett continues. "The EPA began to look at changing the tests on March 24, 2004. While no test is perfect, due to real world variables that are impossible to recreate in a lab, we can look at the overall general changes in the past 20 years and do a better job testing."

When asked how the changes will affect the new 2008 vehicles, Millett says, "It certainly will be even. Whatever we do has to be a level playing field for all of the automakers; it also has to be good for the consumers, so they will get the mileage on the sticker. On average, from the 2007 to 2008 models, it's going to be a 10% decrease in change on most vehicles. For vehicles with better fuel economy, the new testing will affect the vehicle more in a 20-30% range."

To avoid sticker shock, make sure that when you are shopping for a vehicle, you are comparing mileage labels from 2007 to 2007 models and 2008 to 2008 models.

Manufacturer's Response
"We've been working with the EPA on educating the consumer," says Alan Hall, Brand Communications Manager for Ford-Lincoln-Mercury. "We are also encouraging customers to compare apples to apples, 2008 to other 2008 models. 50 to 80 percent of new car shoppers are online, so most will know what the changes imply. We applaud the EPA for getting closer to real world standards and it's the right way to go. We'll try and clarify these changes."

When asked how he thinks the other manufactures will take the change, Hall replied, "The EPA mileage change will be an equal thing for all the car companies, and it's an overall win for the consumer. We want the consumer to be well aware when they look at the fuel economy that there are no mechanical changes or an actual decrease in fuel consumption. The only thing that has changed is the testing."

"Fuel economy will still vary," says the EPA's Millett. "There is no perfect number that can capture the differences in how people drive. Even with the new label estimates, your fuel economy will vary based on many factors, such as how you drive, how you maintain your car and the climate where you live. Since these are averages we are talking about, some people may do better and some worse, but with this new method, people might actually do better than what the sticker reads."

Three Simple Tips to Increase Fuel Efficiency

Drive smoothly:
The EPA recommends you avoid the three hallmarks of aggressive driving: speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking. All of these add up to a large decrease in fuel economy. Also, just like in your home, the more you use the air conditioning, the higher the energy bill.

Remove the excess weight:
All that unwanted weight in your car causes your fuel economy to plummet. The EPA says an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent. It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up over the long haul.

Monitor your vehicle:
The EPA suggests you keep on a routine maintenance schedule. That means keeping your car tuned, checking and replacing air filters on a regular basis, keeping the tires inflated to the proper PSI and using the recommended grade of motor oil. These few steps will go a long way to increase your mileage.

To learn more on the new standards and how to increase your fuel economy, visit www.MPGwillvary.com and www.fueleconomy.gov.

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