There exists a Web site called, which is billed as "the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information." And pretty much anyone connected to the auto industry, whether in manufacturing, in sales, or in regulation, will happily refer any and all questions regarding fuel economy to that very site, perhaps emphasizing that word "official."

Where this becomes problematic, of course, is when Joe or Susan Sixpack reads more into that word "official" than is actually there. Take, for example, this nimrod:

"I recently bought a 2002 Lexus ES300 with 218,000 miles. The highway average MPG is said to be 27 mpg, but I am not even getting 20 mpg. What are some steps I can take for the car to get the gas mileage it is supposed to get? I tried pouring a bottle of Lucas's gas cleaner (not sure what the exact name is, i think it's fuel injection cleaner) but that didn't seem to do much. Any help is appreciated. Thank you"

Now there are about, oh, two hundred eighteen thousand reasons why he's not getting 27 mpg, but we may safely assume that (1) he has no idea what "highway" means, except to the extent that it's the opposite of "my way," and/or (2) he doesn't understand how these figures are calculated. The number he should be looking at is "combined city/highway," which is 21 mpg. (The original sticker actually said "24 mpg," but this was before the 2008 EPA fudge factors were developed.)

The problem is exacerbated by the mileage meters automakers have been throwing on dashboards in recent years. The instantaneous-MPG setting is the least useful, unless you're a diehard hypermiler, in which case God bless you and please be on your way. I tried this gizmo out in a late-model Infiniti G35, and managed to get readings of 6 and 60 mpg within three miles of each other on the Lake Hefner Parkway. It wasn't even rush hour. Switch it back to average. Now imagine Susan's pain as she reads off "31.6" and remembers that the sticker said 33, didn't it? "Can I get my money back? Clearly this car is a lemon."

There are cousins of Susan's out there who want to know: "Is running the AC wasting gas?" Look, dipwad, any gas that's used to transport your dumb ass anywhere is wasted by definition. Now tell me you'd rather get 22 mpg and be miserable than get 20 and be comfortable.

Surprisingly, some will actually say that.

Disclosures for record: My own ride was rated at 20 city/28 highway when it was new; the 2008 fudge factors dropped it to 17/25. Ninety percent of all tankfuls I've checked in the last ten years — which is just about all of them — came in between 20.5 and 21.5. Best ever: 31. Worst ever: 19. I have no reason to think that my driving technique is something special, so I conclude that this is within a reasonable margin of error.

The Vent

  25 February 2017

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