By Justin Reves, Marketing Manager
I can’t get the fuel economy that was on the window sticker of my vehicle. What gives?
This is major point of frustration for people. You buy a vehicle that’s rated at 40MPG or 7l/100km, but now that you’re driving it, you’re not getting anywhere close to that. What is going on?
First off, there’s likely nothing wrong with your vehicle and the manufacturers weren’t lying to you. They were just following the government-regulated tests. And there is the problem.
It’s actually not the manufacturers who decide how they rate their vehicles for fuel mileage. That is handled by Transport Canada.
They set the standards for how vehicles are rated for fuel economy and which tests and procedures manufacturers have to follow. The problem with their standards and tests is that they’re way off. Way, way, way off from normal driving conditions. Let me walk you through some highlights of the tests.
How are vehicles tested for the fuel consumption numbers? How do I get the same numbers when I’m driving?
Canada uses a two-cycle test which means it’s just two tests: City and Highway. These tests are done under very ideal conditions which don’t reflect typical Canadian driving. Here’s some steps on how to drive like the tests do so you can achieve your vehicle’s rated fuel consumption.
1. Move to a part of Canada where it’s summer every day of the year…but not TOO summer.
Both tests are done at a wonderful temperature of 20 to 30 degrees celsius or 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t know what part of Canada you live in, but those temperatures are in a very definitive minority. I’d say freezing is a more like the Canadian average temperature.
The problem here is that a cold engine burns fuel at a vastly different rate as compared to when it’s warm. Not only that, but every part of the vehicle is cold and hard. And when you’re cold, you don’t move nearly as easily. It takes a whole lot more effort to make the wheels turn at -40 as compared to a sunny plus 25 degrees.
On the other end of the spectrum, they don’t turn the AC on when they do this test. AC sucks up power and fuel while it’s running. If it’s 30 degrees out, I have the AC on. Being this is in a lab, they don’t have to sit in the vehicle in the sun and sweat so this isn’t taken into consideration either. Your AC is likely on when it’s warm and for a chunk when it’s cold because it helps defrost the windows.
2. When you’re on the highway, drive very slowly.
The highway test is done at average speed of 77km/h. Yeah, that sounds like the average speeds on our highways. Don’t worry, though, they do take it up to 97km/h for a short period of time to “simulate highway conditions”. That also means they have to spend a chunk of time well below 77km/h to get the average back down.
If you are driving a truck, which is basically a giant sail, driving an average of 77km/h is going to net you a VERY large difference than 110km/h (*cough* 130 *cough*) because of the amount of wind resistance and engine revving lower. Put your hand out the window when you’re driving 77km/h and compare that to when you’re driving 110km/h. Big difference.
Any vehicle that drove that slowly on the highway would see a HUGE improvement in fuel economy.
3. Never stop for more than 12 seconds at a time when you’re in the city
The city test is done with an average speed of 33km/h which is probably fair, but the issue is in the stop times. Over the course of the almost 23 minute test, there’s 18 stops. I could see myself having 18 stops in 23 minutes, but what I don’t get is that the total time they give for waiting during those 18 stops – 3 minutes and 40 seconds.
I swear I’ve waited at one light that long. Probably not, but it’s not abnormal to wait a minute or more at a light. They’re accounting for an average of 12 seconds a stop. This test is clearly aimed at a town full of 4-way stops with no additional traffic. Go for a 23 minute drive in-town during a reasonably busy time and I guarantee you that you’ll be sitting idling for more than 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Oh, and you can’t use AC. And it needs to be between 20 and 30 degrees out.
Idling is a killer for fuel consumption because you’re burning fuel whilst going nowhere. When you’re idling, your vehicle is getting zero miles per gallon or a million-billion litres per 100km.
Also, because of the amount of time given to do these tests, the vehicles are accelerating very slowly compared to how people drive in real life. Accelerating very, very slowly uses a lot less fuel, but it can lead a lot of honks and finger waving.
Is there a better way to test vehicles?
Transport Canada knows that this test is old and outdated. Thankfully, they are reviewing a new, updated 5-cycle testing that adds 3 more tests: a cold-temperature test, a high-speed/quick-acceleration test, and an air conditioning test. Let’s hope they put this in because it is FAR more accurate.
The US switched to it a few years back and the numbers are much more in line with real-world driving (still not quite there, though).
For example, a 2013 Ford Focus SE Hatch Automatic tested in Canada gets 5.2l/100km which is the equivalent of 45 US MPG (54 IMP MPG if you’re curious). That same car tested in the US on the 5-cycle test gets 36 US MPG or 6.5l/100km. That’s 9 less MPG or an extra 1.3l of fuel every 100kms! Just because they did the test a little more realistically.
So why don’t manufacturers just post more realistic results?
Marketing. Which is a result of competition. If Ford went ahead and advertised the Focus with the ratings from the 5-cycle test, suddenly their vehicle looks to get 8 or 9 MPG less than every other car in the segment because everyone else is using the 2-cycle test. That makes it much harder to sell a vehicle.
Yes, all of the manufacturers could get together and decide to all lower them, but inevitably, one manufacturer would “accidentally” start advertising the other number again and there’s no way to regulate it.
With the current setup, manufacturers are held accountable only to the 2-cycle test. Until that changes, you have to accept getting much lower ratings than what’s advertised unless you can simulate the same driving conditions.
However, the fuel mileage ratings at least give you a general sense of how a vehicle compares to another one, but also know that if you have a really heavy or light right foot, certain vehicles are going to give you back a better percentage of their rating compared to another vehicle depending on the engine and weight.
So what can we do to get a better idea of how much fuel we’re going to use?
My suggestion would be to read a few different reviews by 3rd party reviewers like Motor Trend, Car & Driver, Consumer Reports, etc…
They give their real-world fuel numbers when they test the vehicle. And don’t get mad when it’s way less than what it’s rated for. It’s going to happen because real-world driving is very different than lab tests.
You are now educated to know why a vehicle isn’t likely going to get the fuel economy it’s rated for. It’s simply a matter of an out-dated standard of measurement that everyone has to comply to. Hopefully it’s updated soon.
But don’t think you’re not part of the problem.
Driving style, vehicle maintenance, and other factors also play a huge role in how much fuel your car is drinking. We’ll talk about that soon and you can work on getting as close to that rating as possible.