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'Hey! Where did all my petrol go?'

2014-09-29 08:35

WHERE DID MY FUEL GO? Automobile fuel consumption figures can never be bettered in real life motoring situations, and that’s a fact. Pictured above is a 1950s Jaguar XK 150. Image: DAVE FALL


It’s almost whimsical how every car manufacturer has the gall to claim the fuel consumption figures that they do. They even have the cheek these days to proudly place a rather large sticker on the windscreen of every new car in their showrooms proclaiming esoteric fuel-use figures that are in truth ludicrous.

According to a recent report by Italian consumer group Altroconsumo and reported in the English Daily Mail, they have grounds to believe the fuel-testing regime currently used by manufacturers dates back nearly 50 years and in no way reflects modern car use.

European consumer body BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) director and spokesperson Monique Goyens reckons: “People buying supposedly efficient cars are misled too often. If a car guzzles two litres of fuel more than advertised, consumers simply pay the price for what is essentially a company’s green marketing ploy.”


It gets worse for the poor South African driver who is already paying “way over the top” for his new imported* car – without even considering the running costs – because BEUC firmly believes CO2 emissions claims by the car manufacturer may also be decidedly dodgy.

If you’ve ever wondered (as I have) how car manufacturers are the only ones able to achieve such superb fuel consumption figures this is how, down the years, some of them have been caught cheating:

Over-inflating tyres (this can reduce fuel consumption by close to three percent); factory test drivers are experts at accelerating and braking, a fine art with which most of us are not endowed (this can also cut fuel burrn by up to three percent). It’s not unheard of to remove some of the fittings found in the cabin and surrounding areas in an attempt to reduce the overall weight of the test unit.

Then there’s the special lubricants used while undertaking fuel-consumption testing (which for some strange reason are not available to the general population but definitely an aid to improve engine efficiency). Those tests will always be conducted in warm conditions and, without doubt only first thing in the morning when the air is more rarefied.

It might seem incredible but some manufacturers hoping for the very best fuel test results have been known to disconnect the alternator to improve efficiency so only mechanical energy is used to move the car, rather than run electrical systems.


These days even the brakes on your family runabout are rather good – thank heavens. That’s due in the main to the increased friction set-up between the brake pads and the disc. Again, some manufacturers have been caught out backing off the brakes to achieve another two percent in fuel economy.

Those same manufacturers were simultaneously caught red-handed taping up panel gaps in the bodywork to minimise the effects of air resistance while falsifying increased mileage readouts.

Altroconsumo this week released results of independent tests commissioned by them and plans to sue at least two manufacturers (VW and Fiat) on behalf of consumers who feel they have been misled. Amazingly, the organisation believes drivers could be forking out an extra R7 250 a year because of misleading fuel consumption claims.

*Every imported new vehicle carries an ad valorem tax that represents ±38% of the sticker price. The dealer, no matter who the manufacturer might be, simply passes this on to the end user. Then there’s the CO2 tax to be factored in.”

Do Wheels24 readers feel car companies should be more transparent in their findings from now on? Would automakers like to have THEIR say in this?  Please let us know... Email usand we'll publish your thoughts or use the Readers' Comments section below...

Read more on:    dave fall  |  cape town  |  south africa  |  column

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