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2012-02-02 07:30

CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION: Heather Peters stands with her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid that failed to give her the promised low fuel consumption..

Los Angeles, California - A California woman who challenged the legal status quo by filing a small-claims action against automaker Honda has won her case and that could mean big trouble for the industry.

A judge ruled that the automaker misled her about the potential fuel consumption of her Honda Civic hybrid car.

Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Heather Peters $9 867 (about R75 700) - much more than the couple of hundred dollars cash that a proposed class-action settlement was offering while lawyers made millions.

Carnahan wrote in the judgment: "At a bare minimum, Honda was aware... that by the time Peters bought her car there were problems with its living up to its advertised fuel consumption."


Peters, a former lawyer, said she was now renewing her legal licence after a 10-year lapse so she can represent other Honda owners who have the same problems she did.

"Wow! Fantastic. I am absolutely thrilled," she said when The Associated Press informed her of the judge's decision. "Sometimes big justice comes in small packages. This is a victory for Honda Civic owners everywhere."

Honda didn't know of the decision on Wednesay but did intend to issue a statement to the news media after it was reviewed, said spokesman Chris Martin, while the decision opens the way for thousands of other Honda owners to institute similar claims.

Carnahan included in his 26-page decision a long list of misleading representations by Honda that he said Peters had correctly identified. Among them were that the car would use "amazingly little fuel", "provides plenty of horsepower while still sipping fuel" and that it would "save plenty of money on fuel with up to 50mpg (4.7 litres/100km) during city driving".

"The actual performance of the plaintiff's vehicle did not live up to these standards," he said. He noted that when her car failed to achieve the claimed low fuel-consumption figures "she knew she had a problem

The commissioner noted that Honda had argued that how a car was driven would affect its fuel consumption but that that should have been explained in advertising and elsewhere.


A Honda technical expert testified that the company was required to post a sticker with the US Environmental Protection Agency's estimate of the best fuel economy the car might achieve but Carnahan said in his ruling that "this does not seem to be the case".

"Honda's own testing should be the guideline for how it advertises its vehicles' economy, not the generalised work... done by the EPA," he said. "Can a Honda hybrid, driven in careful and tested ways, achieve 50mpg? No doubt. Did it happen with Peters' car? No."

The ruling harshly criticised Honda on several points, including misrepresentations about a software update that was represented as a cure for the fuel consumption problems. Peters said it just made the situation worse and she could no longer get more than 30mpg (7.8 litres/100km) from the car, which she still owns.

Carnahan found that Honda did commit fraud but he could not find intentional fraud and thus did not award punitive damages. Most of the damages Peters was awarded were to recompense her for the extra money spent on fuel, both in the past and future, the cost of a car battery and the decrease in the car's value because of its problems.

Wheels24 says: Fuel-consumption figures advertised by South African auto dealers mostly reflect data from European testing done on a defined track at defined speeds in excellent weather. They rarely come close to or are achieved by ordinary drivers in normal traffic - sometimes by a wide margin. Tell us what you think in the Readers' Comments section below.

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