Civic Hybrid Mileage Brouhaha Continues

In March 2007, two Honda Civic Hybrid owners filed a class action lawsuit against Honda because their cars were averaging 31 miles per gallon—well below the advertised 49 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. The news this week that Honda offered to settle the suit has done little to resolve the case, or the larger problem of Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates commonly overstating real world mileage.

In fact, in response to the proposed settlement, 26 state attorneys said the settlement was “not fair, adequate or reasonable.” The two main plaintiffs will split $22,500, while their attorneys will get $2.95 million in legal fees. But it’s the settlement for the 158,639 people who owned or leased a 2003 through 2008 model Honda Civic hybrid that is most confounding.

  • Dissatisfied owners who trade in their Honda Civic Hybrid could get up to $1,000 rebate on some vehicles—but not Honda’s most fuel-efficient vehicles, such as the Honda Insight, Honda CR-Z and the newer version of the Honda Civic Hybrid. Instead, they’d have to purchase a conventional gas-powered Honda model likely to get lower fuel economy than a Civic Hybrid.
  • Honda would send nearly 160,000 current and former Civic Hybrid owners a DVD containing tips on improving fuel economy.
  • Honda will agree to drop one claim in one advertisement for two years, saying that “mileage will vary,” not “mileage may vary.”
  • Owners who don’t want to sell their Civic Hybrid can get a $500 discount for a new or used Honda model, which can be transferred to immediate family, or those who don’t want to buy a new car can get $100.

Honda denies any wrongdoing, noting that estimates were calculated by the EPA, which the company simply used in advertising. The suit doesn’t challenge the methodology used by the EPA to predict mileage but says Honda deceived consumers by not making it clear that they were unlikely to achieve the agency’s figures.

Year 2008 and later Civic Hybrids aren’t included in the suit, because the EPA changed the methodology for calculating average fuel economy for hybrids last year. Under the new methodology, Civic Hybrids since the 2008 model year are rated at 40 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. New EPA tests to better reflect real-world driving conditions were unveiled in December 2006. They dropped city fuel economy for all vehicles by an average of 12 percent and 8 percent for highways.

Honda continues to insist that it’s done nothing wrong, but defended the proposed settlement as fair in court documents. Apparently, the company would be pleased to put the case to rest, with a settlement that could send more customers to showrooms. Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general, said that consumers will get “very minimal relief” and the real winner is Honda because it will sell more cars.

A New Era of Honesty

The 26 state attorneys filed their objections on Monday. US District Judge Virginia A. Phillips of California, who gave preliminary approval to the settlement, will consider the objections before deciding whether to issue a final approval.

Regardless of how the Honda Civic Hybrid case is resolved, the problem of overstated EPA mileage estimates, especially for hybrids and forthcoming plug-in cars, is likely to persist. However, the case does put automakers on full alert not to exaggerate mileage claims, and to be as direct as possible about acknowledging likely real-world efficiency levels.

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  • AP

    It doesn’t sound like Honda did anything wrong. The governemnt makes a mistake, a carmaker gets blamed.

    What matters most is that the real symbol af American know-how and expertise came out on top: the lawyers ($22,500 for two main plaintiffs, $2.95 million for the attorneys). If we can’t lead the world in entrepreneurship, at least we can be the best at blaming others and suing the crap out of them.

    Tort reform, anyone?

  • Skeptic

    The two plaintiffs got about what they paid for the car even though the car was not truly defective (in the sense of not drivable). The lawyers that did all the work get paid for it, although the amount certainly seems high.

    If it corrects the behavior of the defendant, that’s the point.

    As for the gov’t role … note that the testing methodology was not challenged.

    Did Honda send “special” cars to be tested? No idea – they settled.

  • TD

    “If it corrects the behavior of the defendant, that’s the point. “

    And what behavior needed correcting? The had to change the wording in an advertisement from “may” to “will”.

    This is all too typical of class action lawsuits being used today as extortion. If the two drivers who sued, are actually dumb enough to believe that they will get the exact mileage the EPA says then they probably should not be issued drivers licenses. Perhaps the cars they got were lemons. Why didn’t they do like everyone else and take the car back to the dealer and trade it in? Sounds like the two plaintiffs are vindictive sourpusses.

  • AP

    When I referred to the government making a mistake, I meant that the old EPA test method did a poor job of estimating real-world hybrid – even worse than for regular cars. There wasn’t even a requirement that you start and end the test at the same battery charge, so you could drain the battery on the EPA cycle and inflate the fuel economy numbers (no idea whether Honda did this). It wasn’t Honda’s fault that it was a poor test.

    That part has been corrected, but now we have come up against other difficulties, like rating EV’s and EREV’s (like the Volt). No solution can make everyone happy for the EREV’s, because your fuel economy will depend on how far you drive on batteries before plugging in again. Some people will hardly ever fuel, so their fuel economy will be the “equivalent gasoline consumption” from the electricity used – whatever that is determined to be. Others who drive further before recharging will use more gasoline, and get lower effective mileage. It’s not GM’s fault if 230 MPG is a meaningless number – ask the government about that.

    The government is much better at spreading blame than accepting it.

  • Norm

    I don’t see what Honda did wrong either. Sounds like the plaintiffs should’ve been suing the EPA.

    I have a 2009 CIVIC which, over 15000 miles, is averaging 38.1 mpg according to the read-out on the car. I’ve gotten as high as 50 mph on a particular trip and as low as 32 around town during the winter. (seems like mileage is slightly worse in the winter). How i drive the car has tremendous impact on the mileage.

    In the immortal words of Captain Barbossa, “The Code is more whacha call guidelines, than actual rules.”

  • John Gartner

    This suit unfairly penalizes Honda for complying with the government regulations. Honda didn’t do anything different from any other auto manufacturer. It’s also old news — I was the first to report on it more than 5 years ago.
    Honda’s lawyers could easily prove the achievable mileage when people drive carefully, and would be smart to take it to court, but the company may not want the publicity.

  • Charles

    Sounds like Honda reported the EPA MPG numbers. If I recall correctly, the only MPG numbers allowed to be advertised by a manufacture are the EPA numbers.

    It was common knowledge pre-2008 that the EPA numbers were way off for most cars, and not even in the park for hybrids (yes, even it the park is Yellowstone).

    I hope Honda appeals. There is no way this should stand. Just giving in, is only going to encourage others.

    On a personal note, I have only gotten as bad as 2004 EPA numbers on my car for about three fill ups in over 100,000 miles.

  • veek

    Good points, AP.

    Seems Honda is doing something right in admitting they may have made a mistake. Honda also seems to be doing something right by actually building cars which deliver better fuel mileage — something which has never been done by the Federal Government or by the legal occupations (I hesitate to say “legal profession,” which seems oxymoronic).

  • Robert Lord

    We have a 2005 Honda hybrid (manual 5 speed). We have little trouble getting 51 miles per gallon on the highway, but you have to go the speed limit. If you go 55 you can easily get 60mpg. We have averaged 45.7 mpg over 80,000 miles in mixed driving. Mileage went down about 4 mpg recently when we got Goodyear Assurance tires. Also, we have had no mechanical troubles with the hybrid features or any other aspect of the car.

  • Charles

    31 mpg on a Civic Hybrid? I get 32-34 mpg on my conventional Civic.

  • Samie

    Let’s be clear Honda’s mistake was in marketing the fuel mileage that indicated to many that the 51mpgs was a real estimator of fuel mileage. That has nothing to do with the EPA and if mileage ranged from 47 to 55mpgs. depending on the driver, the courts probably would have ruled in Honda’s favor. This could turnout to be a good thing if you think about it. This lawsuit may result in the EPA revising their testing through lobbying of the industry or car companies will be a bit more truthful in their marketing practices. I will not say what car company, but one that advertises on this site often stretches the facts on mpgs and often compares mpgs based on their own weird testing based on their vehicles (often a model that is sold in low numbers) and not the EPA’s fuel mileage estimator when comparing their vehicles to other car companies vehicles.

    Anyways we can say tort reform or this is an example of American laziness and greed but remember you can’t overstate what your product can or can not do or ignore major safety warnings to consumers. Innovation is usually squashed by those who want to control markets either in distribution or control of certain technologies. Government also can reward those who want to reduce innovation or over stretch product facts to help producers sell their products or help them meet regulations. As bad as it sounds lawsuits are one of the last major tools for consumers to fight deceptive practices. I agree we need some tweaking of the legal system but be careful for what you wish for……..

  • Lost Prius to wife

    I personally feel this whole issue has been caused by everyone not being prepared for the future.

    EPA had been only dealing with gas driven cars. And even if their methods were outdated, they were only comparing “apples to apples”. Now enters the hybrid. And testing under EPA shows high mileage. EPA tests were originally designed by what should closely represent “real world” driving by gas engines, not hybrids. Is that EPA’s fault? Not exactly. They just did not know their testing was not adequate for hybrids. Once they changed there testing methods to start accommodating hybrids, the Prius dropped from 55 mpg combined to 46 mpg combined. This is much closer to real world driving. Now EPA is going to have to compare vehicles that are gas, diesel, mild hybrid, full hybrid, mild and full hybrid plug-ins, natural gas, E85, electric, fuel cell, and probably some that have more combinations. EPA’s best bet is to compare total energy cost per mile with stipulations as to various energy costs. Anybody want to take this job away from EPA?

    Should Honda be faulted for using EPA numbers? Only if they knew that the real world numbers were going to be really that different from EPA’s. We have been able to achieve some average trip mileage at 55 mpg, especially during the summer, with our Prius. Our average mileage is 48 / 49 mpg overall. How do those mileages compare to EPA’s original 55 mpg combined and corrected 46 mpg combined? Definitely not enough for a law suit. But Honda’s mild hybrid is a different beast than Toyota’s full hybrid. EPA’s testing may not have done enough to represent real world driving of Honda’s hybrid. Did Honda really know that and is that why they are not questioning the EPA’s testing? Would you want to be Honda’s representative in court and have to answer, “We knew our mileage was going to be below EPA’s numbers, but we decided to use EPA’s numbers anyway”?

    And no matter whose fault it is, who takes it in the shorts? The consumer! I think there could have been better results for the consumers in this case from the sounds of it. Unfortunately, the United States is the most litigious society in the world and sometimes that causes what really matters to get lost in the lawsuit.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    The real problem here has nothing to do with the EPA or gas mileage. Advertising numbers accepted by the US Government’s regulatory arm should never be considered a crime.
    Honda deserves to lose only because their management was too wimpy to force their lawyers to fight the battle. Of course, this opens up 2 other issues:
    1) the Japanese culture of confrontation avoidance which I, personally don’t care about – that is their problem to deal with.
    2) the US culture of letting Lawyers run everything. To me, this is a problem. Remember that there are 4 winners and 13 losers in every court case. Both lawyers, the judge, and 1 parts win, 12 jurors and 1 party lose. Tort law cases are in the best interest of both lawyers and the judge so what motivation is there for change?
    We as a nation have to put our feet down and do what is right. We need to stop letting a greedy profession of bullies run roughshod over us. Until we do, we’re going to continue to be extorted by lawyers and it can only get worse.
    On the other hand, let’s not assume that Honda wanted to win. They didn’t use this to help their hybrid sales and they have never pushed their hybrid vehicles any more than they felt they had to. There are many indications that they’d much prefer to just keep selling ICE vehicles and skip the electric parts.

  • Samie

    Not sure I can agree with Lost Prius to wife and ex-EV1 driver on this. No it is not a crime that Honda lost this case but they are liable. So if government does not provide consumers with basic product knowledge and safety information does it make it right for big business to ignore the real world problems of a product, false advertising, or overstating what they know is not true? To say Honda may or may have not known that the EPA overestimates mpgs is silly they knew, so does everyone else. The car lobbying group for years has lobbied to keep mpgs inflated and everyone knows that most of the time the EPA ratings do not reflect real world results. The marketing department at Honda overstretched that is why they lost the case. Look I don’t like much of the litigation practices in America and we would be better off having independent third party arbitrators handle more disputes but without this case, the failure of government aided on by the car manufactures would go on forever as politicians don’t want to do the dirty work of going against their funders or the threat of losing more manufacturing jobs. Also it takes big bucks to sue someone in America and the everyday Joe does not have the resources to go up against someone like Honda or GM that is why to some degree class-action lawsuits are needed but the downside is the cost of products and services that are high due to increased insurance premiums. My point is that lawsuits are needed when government fails to provide accurate information to consumers Without being able to challenge businesses and hurt them in the pocket, much of our basic consumer safety protections would be eroded.

  • Rex_Snow

    I feel very, very strongly on this issue. I have 2005 HCH with over 80,000 miles on it. I have used it for commuting from San Antonio, TX to San Marcos, TX, Austin, Houston, and a twice to Florida. I have also used my HCH for city driving within San Antonio, not only for commuting, but for use as a delivery vehicle while working as a delivery man for Domino’s Pizza and Jason’s Deli. And I have this to say: my average has consistently been, since I acquired my vehicle in 2006, 45mpg. The worst I have ever gotten on a single tank was 42mpg, and that was on the rugged streets of San Marcos, TX. I have on rare occasion gotten the EPA listed 47-48mpg, and that was expectedly under the most favorable conditions. I love my car and it is the best vehicle I have ever driven! If you cannot and have not gotten mileage in the 40 mpg range, then that is on you. I absolutely hate that people have lead-foots and no understanding of how to properly operate a motor vehicle safely and efficiently and then blame the manufacturer for their own deficiencies! If you vehicle HCH cannot get 40+mpg, then there is something wrong with it and it is a mechanical or electrical problem. But if it can and does not, then that is on the driver or drivers. Operator error can easily lead to poor fuel economy. Learn to drive effectively, maintain your car, and enjoy the fuel you save with a hybrid!

  • veek

    Samie: I completely disagree with your assessments on justice. How can you infer Justice to a system which gives the trial lawyers nearly $3 million and the plaintiffs (who were allegedly the ones wronged) about one percent of that figure? And how can you imply that Honda is guilty because they seem to admit having made a technical mistake?? Oh, come now!

    Everyone loses in a system such as this, including our sense of justice and fairness.

  • MK

    AP states: “When I referred to the government making a mistake, I meant that the old EPA test method did a poor job of estimating real-world hybrid – even worse than for regular cars.”

    It’s funny…back when I bought my first two new vehicles in the 90’s (before the updated EPA testing methodology), I typically exceeded EPA mileage estimates by 5-10%. On my ’96 manual transmission Saturn SL1, I routinely exceeded 40 mpg even though the highway rating was “only” 36 mpg (Saturn…what did you do to your vehicles?!). Same thing for my wife’s ’93 Saturn SL. I always considered EPA estimates to be biased low and never understood the uproar from the masses.

    And I’m happy to report that exceeding EPA gas mileage estimates has been relatively easy in our 2010 Prius. Driver behavior is just so absolutely critical.

  • Samie

    What if the lawyers received only 75k from this case? Seems fair right? but if “payouts” are reduced, Honda would consider this as a business as usually fee and continue advertising misleading claims of mpgs. If there is little incentive to take on cases you can have greater abuses of power, which means if you are poor you may not be able to get anyone to hear your case.

    I don’t understand why when you have a lack of government protection for the people, you would want to strip the use of the legal system away the 3million seems unfair but actually acts as a balance to poor regulations/business interests and money does talk if it hurts businesses in their pockets. This is not a popular position but it is true and people often take a moral position to this but rationally there is a need for these type of lawyers and the cases they take on.

  • Civic hybrid

    As a 2003 and a 2006 Civic Hybrid owner, I can say that although the mileage most of the time is not what I would like (48-50 summer 40-44 winter is what I get) I am not getting the low mileage that the law suit is claiming. My 2003 was a standard trans. and I could get as much as 56-58 in the summer, but not all the time. I traded it because I like the 2006 body style. The 2006 I get abit lower mileage 48-50 in summer. This is mostly highway driving. If I was driving in the city all the time I am sure it would be lower. Yes I was expecting higher mileage, I like everything else on it. I will say that if I have the money right now I would think about buying the new Insight.

  • gmtx2652

    I have a 2003 HCHI with CVT. Agree with Robert Lord, mpg went down after purchasing Goodyear Assurance tires (Assurance Fuel Max tires weren’t available in the required size).

    I’ve consistently bettered 40 mpg (2.5 gals per 100 miles). Best was 56 mpg. Normally around 50 mpg in summer driving 55 mph, low 40’s driving 70 mph.

    Had a Cavalier Z24 that did 30 mpg (3.3 gals per 100 miles). Cobalt didn’t do any better, so I got the Civic Hybrid instead. Chevy Cruze and Volt will be interesting, along with next gen Civic. Like the look of the Camaro, but 29 mpg? At 30,000 plus miles per year….

  • Ron Johnson

    Honda has delivered on its promise to me regarding milrage for my 2006 Civic.

    After 46,000 miles my mileage for mostly city driving is 47.9 mpg.

    I love my Civic. Everything works just fine for me wiith no failings of any kind. Our second car is a diesel 2005 Mercedes that gets a consistent 32.5 mpg in city driving.

    I wish Honda would have fouight this case against them. They would have prevailed.

    I am simply appalled that any thinking person could be suppportive of lawyers and rationionlize their evil work aginst corporations with class action lawsuits. Theirs is a greed driven profession of taking from others.

    Honda’s loss will increase their costs of doing business which will impact prices to future purchasers of their cars.

    Lawyers winning cases against small airplane manufacturers a few decades back virtually wiped out this market. Most accidents occurred because of pilot error. Most of the current costs of a small airplane is insurance related.

    My hat is off to Honda and I have become a loyal owner.

  • Rick Nelson

    I have owned a 2003 Civic Hybrid since March 2003. It has given me 116,000 miles with not a single problem. In warm weather I get about 45 mpg, a little less in the winter. I have no idea how a person could get only 31 mpg. I have no plans to sell the car so the proposed settlement does nothing for me – especially if I can’t use the money for a new hybrid.

  • gavin hughes

    Our family has a 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid and love it. Fuel efficiency does seem to get better with time, got 4.8L/100km from Monbulk in Dandenong Ranges down to Chandler Hwy exit in Kew Melbourne. I want to check with Honda & tyre manufacturer why they don’t promote what I found out below from Bridgestone’s website so we can increase our tyre pressures a bit more too as they only give one setting and it seems to be for max comfort, not for max efficiency, load or hwy driving considerations. The tyres are low resistance rolling tyres anyway though. I have left roof racks on as they are aerodynamic but keep the roof carrier off unless we use it as it has well recommended quick clamp release system (otherwise I would be tempted to leave it on sometimes).
    I am probably getting more used to driving to maximise electric assist and regeneration (breaking early and gradually increasing pedal to floor to get to desired cruise speeds). Also looking far ahead to best guage when to break earlier, not to accelerate or in traffic, not to edge forward unless we are actually starting to all move or there is a big gap (as it puts the engine on soon as you take the foot off the brake!). Engine turns off when you slow enough so I can often coast slowly with no engine in traffic or coasting to lights. I obviously try not to upset other drivers too with all this and most don’t notice it or the fact I am in a hybrid.

    TIP: ensure you check with your state motor authority if you need to put a special sticker on your numberplate showing it is a hybrid (like LPG cars need to as emergency rescue staff need to know what precautions to take when attending accidents).

    Background: We bought it second hand at the car auctions in Melbourne for under $20K with 67,000kms on it. We had to pay for the roadworthy, rego and a new windscreen due to stone chips and a crack. We then got custom sheep skin covers fitted in the front and custom velour covers for the back that all look/work great for place in Preston for under $400. We got aerodynamic roof racks and luggage carrier that allow us to still go camping despite losing our stationwagon.

    Okay, here is the good oil (saved!) thanks for Bridgestone’s website which said:

    Contrary to popular belief, tyre pressure is not determined by the type of tyre or its size but upon your vehicle’s load and driving application i.e. speed

    Take the “cold” reading and check them against the recommended tyre pressures from your placard.

    Heavy loads or towing puts an extra strain on your tyres. So if your vehicle is fully loaded with passengers and luggage, the general rule is to add 28kpa (4PSI or 4lbs).

    At high speed, (defined as driving at 120km/h for over one hour), your tyres will wear out twice as fast as when you drive at 70-80 km/h. If your tyres are under-inflated by twenty per cent tyre life can be reduced by thirty per cent.
    The rule here is to add 28Kpa (4PSI) from your Minimum Compliance Plate Pressure. Don’t inflate your tyres above 40 psi or 280 kPa. When the tyres get hot from driving, the pressure will increase even more.

    Believe it or not, checking your tyre pressure can have a big impact on our environment. An under-inflated tyre creates more rolling resistance and therefore more fuel consumption. By keeping your tyres inflated to their proper levels, you can help maximise your car’s fuel economy and minimise its impact on our environment.