Civic misbehavior

When the Feds came up with fuel-economy ratings, they also came up with an all-purpose disclaimer: “Your mileage may vary.” And it will, unless your regular driving happens to coincide precisely with the EPA’s standard test cycle.

Or there simply could be something wrong with the car:

Heather Peters is an angry consumer who knows she has little chance of winning a war with Honda Motor Co. and its army of high-priced lawyers.

The Los Angeles resident is miffed that her 2006 Honda Civic hybrid doesn’t get its claimed fuel economy. And she isn’t satisfied with a proposed class-action lawsuit settlement that would give trial lawyers $8.5 million while Civic owners would get as little as $100 and rebate coupons for the purchase of a new vehicle.

With few exceptions, class-action lawsuits are conducted for the benefit of attorneys, but you already knew that, right?

On Jan. 3 she’ll take her case to Small Claims Court in Torrance, where California law prohibits Honda from bringing an attorney. She’s asking for the maximum of $10,000 to compensate her for spending much more on gasoline than expected. Honda said the Civic would get about 50 miles per gallon, but because of technical problems the car gets closer to 30 mpg.

Now the original sticker on an ’06 Civic Hybrid said 49 city/51 highway, which is indeed 50 combined. (The formula revision in ’08 says 40/42; owners reporting to say they’re getting about 45, with a range from 30 to 72.) In this case, Honda says there’s a technical issue:

Honda has acknowledged that the battery on 2006 through 2008 Civic hybrids “may deteriorate and eventually fail” earlier than expected. When the battery pack can’t be charged to full capacity, the car relies on the gas engine more and fuel economy suffers.

Apparently this was a problem on earlier models as well:

The hybrid battery in the Honda Civic Hybrid is covered by a 8 year/80,000 mile warranty, but many people are now exceeding that mileage. It is becoming obvious that all HCHs and Insights, will eventually develop battery problems. Batteries seem to be lasting an average of seven years.

Replacement battery packs run around $3000.

I am definitely torn on this matter. On one level, if there’s an acknowledged problem, and apparently there is, Honda should step up and replace the deteriorating battery packs. But I worry that some people are going to see this and think that their failure to get EPA numbers is always actionable.

Note: I have one reader who admits to owning an ’06 Civic Hybrid. She says she gets mid-50s on level roads between 55 and 60 mph. Doesn’t sound like her battery pack has gone to hell — yet.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

Update, 2 February: She won.

Further update, 9 May: Reversed on appeal.


  1. ck »

    29 December 2011 · 3:46 pm

    My 96 Geo Metro still gets around 35 mpg the way I drive(hard). It cost me 8100 bucks out the door, it has no huge poisonous battery and is made almost entirely of steel(one of the two recyclable materials, aluminum being the other one)

  2. McGehee »

    29 December 2011 · 4:04 pm

    With few exceptions, class-action lawsuits are conducted for the benefit of attorneys, but you already knew that, right?

    It’s just one more way law-school graduates plunder the legitimate economy.

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