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Just How Frugal Is Your New Car?

When buying a new car, most motorists will be looking carefully at the economics of various models. This will include the insurance group of the car, purchase cost, servicing costs and road tax.

Fuel, however, is one of the major costs of owning a car, and for some drivers it is the single largest cost over the lifetime ownership of a car. This means that potential purchasers will look very closely at the fuel consumption figures of their chosen vehicle. Thankfully, the EU has a standard test that all new cars must go through, and this results in the official figures that are quoted by the manufacturers. So this ensures a level playing field and accurate figures, doesn’t it? Actually, according to a new study by Which? magazine, it doesn’t.
In fact, the study showed that 98.5% of new vehicles sold do not meet their stated fuel consumption figures, and some are a long way off those claimed figures. This means that UK motorists could be spending, on average, £133 per year more on fuel than they had budgeted for. This is due to the fact that car manufacturers appear to be using a variety of techniques to boost their fuel economy statistics and make their cars seem more frugal. 
The Which? report tested 200 new cars over two years between 2013 and 2014 and found that only three cars achieved the official fuel consumption figures as stated in their specification. The average shortfall across the 200 models was 13%. The three cars that measured up to their official figures were the Skoda Roomster, Mazda 3 Fastback and Skoda Yeti. At the other end of the scale, the Mitsubishi Outlander hybrid was the worst culprit, managing only 67mpg when its official figures claimed it could do 148mpg. That is real-world performance that is less than half of the stated mpg figures, and in cash terms it would mean the average UK Mitsubishi Outlander owner paying out around £841 more on fuel every year than they had budgeted for. This is clearly enough to make quite a dent in the average motorist’s finances. 
The reasons for these discrepancies are many and varied, but they centre on the fact that the EU fuel consumption test hasn’t been updated since 1997 and does not take into account new technologies such as stop-and-start fuel cut-off systems and hybrid drives. The rules are also very lax when it comes to how manufacturers present their cars for the test. Car-makers are allowed to turn off all sorts of equipment like air conditioning, lights and heated windows in order to boost the claimed efficiency. Turning off the air conditioning will lower fuel consumption, while turning off all the electrical equipment will boost the range of hybrids. 
If that wasn’t enough, car-makers go to even greater lengths to get better fuel consumption figures on the tests. They will inflate the tyres to ridiculous pressures to lessen rolling resistance and reduce fuel consumption, even though such tyre pressures would be dangerous on normal roads. They will also use slick tyres that could never be used on normal roads. They will remove items such as roof rails and even door mirrors in order to make the car lighter and more aerodynamic so that they consume less fuel. Manufacturers will even tape over the joints between body panels and door openings and cover over the grille - all to reduce fuel consumption in ways that no real driver ever would. 
The problem is that because all manufacturers seem to do this, no one manufacturer wants to put its cars at a disadvantage by putting the car through a more realistic test. This is why the EU has redesigned the test and the rules that go along with it, and the new test is due to come into force in just two years’ time. The trouble is that the car manufacturers are lobbying to have the changes postponed until 2020, so until then buyers should take those fuel consumption figures with a pinch of salt.

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