Some new vehicle owners are complaining their cars consistently use much more gas than they were led to believe they would.
"I had done my whole budget based on what this car was supposed to get in fuel economy," said Julie Fennell, of Langley, B.C.
"Now, it’s an extra 100 dollars in gas a month that I didn’t budget on. To me, that’s groceries for my kids."
Fennell said she bought her 2011 Kia Rondo in March, specifically because Kia’s dealership and published figures promised it would get more than 500 kilometres per tank.
"I sat there with the salesperson. He went through the brochure and the mileage and we calculated out how much this was going to save me," said Fennell.
Canada's fuel ratings out of sync with U.S.
Canadian fuel consumption ratings show that vehicles use about 20 per cent less gasoline than U.S. estimates indicate. CBC News and the Automobile Protection Association (APA) selected 13 popular 2012 models from seven vehicle classes and compared the Canadian and American fuel consumption ratings. For every vehicle, Canada's Fuel Consumption Guide has estimates showing significantly better fuel economy than the estimates from the U.S. government. Check out the differing ratings for popular vehicles such as the Toyota Yaris, the Honda Civic, the Ford Explorer and others.
Despite every effort to conserve fuel, she said she’s never been able to drive more than 425 kilometres before having to fill up again.
"I followed everything [the dealership] told me to try to conserve," said Fennell.
Kia Applewood's Surrey dealer principal said it tested her car by running through two gas tanks and found it didn’t use any more fuel than promised.
"We would like to find a fault with the car because if we can find a fault we get paid [to fix it]," said Darren Graham. "We spent quite a bit of time trying to find a fault and couldn’t find one."
"I’ve been complaining about it for almost the whole time I’ve had the car and I’ve just been told whatever they think they need to tell me to make me go away," said Fennell.
Relied on "government" figures
Vancouver resident David Montgomery bought a 2010 Toyota Yaris for fuel efficiency and said it uses at least 30 per cent more gas than he and his wife were promised.
"The price of gas is going up. We were looking at purely economy. Nothing else mattered," he said.
"I understand that there will be variables. One day if the weather’s not perfect you may lose up to 10 per cent [fuel efficiency] but not 30 to 50 per cent which is what we’ve shown to be happening."
Montgomery did a trial run for CBC News with his Yaris, which appeared to confirm that. He drove 519 kilometres on one tank until it was empty at 100 km per hour, on a flat highway in good weather. His fuel consumption worked out to 40 miles per imperial gallon.
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He said the salesman at Granville Toyota led him to believe he could count on the data, because it was from government.
"The dealer really pushes those figures," said Montgomery. "That it’s sanctioned by the government of Canada."
Toyota figures in Canada’s Fuel Consumption Guide say the car should get 50 miles per imperial gallon on the highway.
"We are achieving nowhere near what they are saying," said Montgomery.
He insisted he doesn’t speed, checks his tire pressure and doesn’t weigh down the car. The dealership said it checked the car and found no technical deficiencies.
"I’ve got an unhappy customer," acknowledged general manager Doug Shoreman. "I want to sit down with them and see if there’s a solution."
Govt-backed test not realistic
The Automobile Protection Association (APA) said one key problem is the vehicle-specific consumption rates the government puts out in its Fuel Consumption Guide are not based on reality.
George Iny said the numbers are generated by industry, from standardized lab tests not real life road conditions.
The government advises the numbers could be out by 15 per cent, but Iny said the actual discrepancies are often higher.
"[The guide] gives you not best case, but completely unattainable case scenarios."
CBC News went into Downtown Toyota in Vancouver and asked a salesperson about the Fuel Consumption Guide figures, which are posted on the window of every car.
He insisted the testing is done by the government, which it isn’t, and the industry isn’t involved.
Salesman gave wrong info
"The government does [the testing]. They do that with all the vehicles and all the manufacturers," the salesperson said, suggesting industry tests couldn’t be trusted.
"Well [the industry] would manipulate it more, you know, to work in their favour. You know what I mean? I get why they are not allowed to do it because they would probably put up better ratings."
After calls by CBC News to his manager, the salesman apologized for giving incorrect information.
"As mentioned, fuel consumption testing is conducted by vehicle manufacturers and the results are submitted to the Government of Canada. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts confirmatory testing on between 10 and 15 per cent of vehicle models each year to ensure that data submitted by manufacturers are accurate," read a government statement.
"Since the vehicle models offered in Canada are virtually identical to those offered in the U.S., this provides the Government of Canada with sufficient assurances that the results it receives are also accurate."
U.S. test more accurate: APA
The APA said another key problem is the U.S. government got rid of the test Canada's carmakers use, because the results weren’t accurate, but Canada hasn’t followed suit.
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Since 2008, American cars have been more rigorously tested for ‘real life’ conditions and the Environmental Protection Agency said some cars use 30 per cent more gas than the previous test showed.
"Canadian numbers are suspect numbers," said Iny of the APA. "The Americans revised their cycle to bring the fuel consumption published rate down because of customer complaints and it’s high time we did the same in Canada."
Iny said, as fuel prices have increased, the APA has heard more complaints about Canadian cars not delivering on fuel efficiency.
The federal minister responsible said changes to the U.S. model are in the works but will take several more months. He blamed the delay on Canadian weather.
"We’re looking at it," said Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
"We are probably going to move in the direction of the American approach but you know we have different weather conditions and so will adapt it to Canadian conditions."
The Canadian Vehicle Manufactures Association said the industry wants the tests harmonized with the U.S. but it said one of the hurdles is the government’s reluctance to alter its ‘green levy’ on gas-guzzlers.
"The levy is based on current values," said Nantias. "There would be more tax on consumers with the change [to U.S. testing standards]
The APA suggests, until Canada improves the test standards, consumers should consult the fuel consumption figures for American cars, then do the conversions, because those figures are more accurate.
Meantime, Fennell and Montgomery think their dealers should take back their cars.
"It’s about time they faced up to the fact this car does not do for me what I bought it to do," said Montgomery.
"There’s a lot of people in my situation, especially with the economy, people living paycheque to paycheque who just can’t afford to have false information," said Fennell.