Heather Peters has won her small claims suit — and now we all may lose.
Heather Peters (no relation to this writer) just won her lawsuit against Honda over what she argued were misleading claims about the gas mileage she’d get out of her then-new 2006 Civic hybrid. She was awarded $9,867 in compensation, the maximum amount she could have been awarded in small claims court.
Now comes the deluge.
Because while Peters’ $9k judgment is small potatoes, the fact that she succeeded could encourage a tsunami of similar court cases that might end up costing Honda (and potentially other hybrid car sellers and so, ultimately, consumers) a lot more than $9k.
As Peters (a lawyer) notes, there are at least 200,000 Honda Civic hybrid owners alone. That’s just one make/model of hybrid. There are at least a dozen different hybrid vehicles on the market — and theoretically, the same case could be made against them, too.
But is this Honda’s (and the other car companies’) fault? Or does the fault lie with the federal government?
For it is not Honda — or any other automaker — that puts the mileage numbers on the window sticker.
It is the federal government.
The government — in this case, the EPA — takes a new car, then runs it through its test loop. Mileage figures are posted on the window sticker based on these tests, which are by nature subjective. Hence the caveat, in plain standard English: Your mileage will vary. Note, not may.
The exact wording is as follows:
“Your actual mileage will vary depending on how you drive and maintain your vehicle [italics added].”
And just under the big “best case” mileage numbers, in smaller type, one finds a range of “expected mileage.” As an example, this week I am test-driving a new Fiat 500C. The “best case” number is 32 MPG highway. But underneath this is a range of “expected mileage” between a low of 26 MPG and an even higher high of 38 MPG.
In other words, your mileage will vary.
Unfortunately for Honda — and potentially every other seller of hybrid cars and perhaps cars, period — there are a lot of people out there who cannot read and comprehend the meaning of plain English and worse, assume everything the government tells them must be true, since it’s the government that’s telling it to them. Thus, they become angry when reality disabuses them — but unfortunately, they channel their anger toward the wrong party.
Here is the truth about the Civic hybrid — and all hybrids:
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