Owner wins Honda fuel ads case

2012-02-02 07:30

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.


  • jacques.koorts - 2012-02-02 08:22

    I'm with this lady. What value is the advertised fuel consumption figure, if in real life it differs by as much as 50%? One car will differ 30% and another 50%, but how do we know until we bought and drive it? I propose they add another figure indicating the 'expected fuel consumption' based on a very bew requirements (flat road, constant speed, minimal acceleration, correct octane fuel, tire pressure, etc)

      John - 2012-02-02 08:34

      YMMV = your mileage may vary, a common suffix to some american advertising blurb.

  • northsgn - 2012-02-02 08:33

    sue the basteds

      Ebon - 2012-02-03 16:21

      Basted? Honestly, this is one of the problems with American law. American law basically states that you have to disclose absolutely everything about your product, and that if anyone ever falsely assumes something, and acts upon that assumption, and comes up short, you are in trouble. They have in their legal system no such concept as "the reasonable man". The assumption is that every person is a moron and needs to be instructed as such to prevent people from ever doing something stupid. The result is a nation of people who have very little concept of personal accountability: "Oh look, I did something idiotic, but the BASTARDS who sold me the product never told me that it might happen, so I will sue them. Yay. Free money!" To put it into perspective of just how stupid this principle is, I once bought a DVD player that had a warning on the instruction manual "do not use as a projectile for a catapult". WTF?!? Obviously some idiot in the US did this, and someone got hurt. So the company had to put a warning on their product. You just have to look at the "Stella awards" made every year in the US to see that this sort of crap happens every day in the US. People should note however that SA law makes specific provision for the concept of "the reasonable man". So you would not be able to win a case like this one here. Basically the judge would throw the case out on the premise that: "Carnahan ... could not find intentional fraud".

  • sas.kloppers - 2012-02-02 08:43

    I personally think she's done the right thing. Whilst us normal citizens are (mostly) all concerned about the present state of the earth, global warming, depleted energy sources, etc, etc. large corporations are ripping the ass right out of everyone with fancy marketing and misleading claims whilst all they do is chase money. Then, when an individual like this woman stands up for her rights these corporations hire the best pin-striped legal brains to fight the challenge and mostly get away with murder. Sanity prevailed. A solid warning for the lying big players in the automotive industry!

  • Ig - 2012-02-02 08:43

    This goes for all car manufacturers, all their test for anything are done and tested in ideal conditions, and when you buy the car (or what ever goods)...... surprise, surprise.... We should all take them to court

  • miquette.caalsen - 2012-02-02 08:43

    You know what? I don't agree with this. If I drive carefully and with maximum attention paid to fuel consumption, my little car can achieve amazing consumption - and it's an old one. If I drive normally, to get to work on time through morning traffic, then I get less fuel consumptions, and if I drive like a maniac when I'm having a really bad day (or encounter several snails on the road) well ... there goes the fuel consumption. So really driving style has more to do with it than how the engine is set up. Classic example: my dad, heaven knows how, gets about half the consumption out of my car that I do, and he drives slower than I do on average and much less aggressively. (Yes I am one of those drivers that gets really excited when someone pops out in peak traffic doing 40 k's an hour)And while we're at it, how many people REALLY know what affects fuel consuption and how to compensate for it?

  • Chrono - 2012-02-02 08:51

    Both the 0-100km/h etc times and fuel consumption figures are seldom or ever achieved by normal everyday users of motor cars. This creates grounds for users to assume that they are being misled. Helen and John Taylor, a Aussie husband and wife team have achieved less than 5 liters/100kms in a normal aspirated 2 liter Golf and have set numerous fule consumption records. In the 70's a pair of South African drivers used only one tank of fuel to drive from Jhb to Cape Town in a Renault 5 and those cars had really small tanks. A careless driver can use twice or even three times as much fuel than that. I think this woman was probably very fortunate to have won this case.

  • Michael - 2012-02-02 08:53

    Absoulutly pathetic! They chose a standard way to define a car's fuel economy and that is what is used industry wide.They are trying to sell cars so yes they chose favorable conditions. Every single persons car will give a different figure. We all drive differently in different traffic conditions at different altitudes with different fuels with different loads in the car and believe it or not every single car is slightly different. This is another case of stupid people trying to screw over the world for being practical. Next thing she'll take one Red Bull because it didn't actually give her wings...

  • dean.m.w.za - 2012-02-02 09:05

    Only the ol US of A...

  • Hermann - 2012-02-02 09:06

    Once again proof the USA is ruled by litigation and not governance.

      Juan - 2012-02-02 09:20

      Well their governance may be far from perfect but it still beats the hell out of ours

  • Anton - 2012-02-02 11:39

    My wife had a Honda Jazz that has a reported consumtion of 8.6L/100km. We very rarely got near that. Strangly enough we battle to get it above 8l/100km in peak hour traffic which is quite a bit better than Honda advertises. We've just recenly replaced the Jazz with a Polo Gti. VW advertise 5.9l/100km. We haven't been able to get it under 11L/100km so far.

  • Malcolm - 2012-02-02 12:12

    Its time they where held responsible for false advertising . That only take part in perfect conditions and surface, why mislead. Get them to give it to you in writeing when buying the car .They wont

  • Gerrit - 2012-02-02 12:45

    Don't complain about the advertised fuel consumption of new cars. This is directly related to the amount of CO2 produced. The lower the claimed figures the less CO2 tax you have to pay when buying the car.

  • Lourens - 2012-02-02 14:29

    Maybe manufacturers should rather publish the maximum fuel consumption the car is possible to achieve. Don't know how this would be done but if possible it might be cool guideline. so for example - Polo 1.4 - 18 l/100km Range rover 5.0 Supercharger - 45 l/100km (4 pints of oil as well)

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