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Fuel-economy gauges are often inaccurate

If you really want to know what kind of mileage your chariot is getting, calculate it the old-fashioned way.

By MSN Money Partner May 23, 2011 2:28PM

This post comes from Mark Huffman at partner site


Almost any car manufactured in the last couple of years has a gauge that measures the vehicle's fuel economy, showing you how many miles to the gallon you're getting.

But you might not be getting nearly the fuel efficiency it says you are.


The editors at conducted a total of 14 tests in seven vehicles and found that the miles-per-gallon gauges were 5.5% off, on average.


Double-digit discrepancies

In the case of the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, the mpg claims were overstated by as much as 19%, and for the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI, the gauge was off by 16%.

"A 5.5% error in a car's estimated fuel usage might not seem like a big deal over a single tank of gas, but it adds up over the typical five-year period of car ownership," said Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at "If a driver uses the fuel economy meter as the basis for budgeting a 25 mpg car, he would plan for five-year fuel costs of $12,000, assuming fuel stays at $4 per gallon. In reality, the figure would be $12,660. The discrepancy is even larger for vehicles that have worse average fuel economy."

The Edmunds experts said they did not get much help from most car companies when they inquired about the discrepancy. However, they said General Motors did respond,

suggesting that varying levels of ethanol mixed in gasoline may have an adverse impact on a car's fuel economy, since the substance provides less energy. Post continues after video.

Not a precise measurement

A Honda spokesman said that drivers should use fuel economy gauges as "a driving-efficiency tool, not a precise measurement of fuel economy."


The Edmunds experts say there are several iPhone apps that can help you log and monitor your car's fuel economy.


And, of course, drivers can measure mileage the old-fashioned, tried-and-true way: Simply log the miles between each fill-up, dividing the miles by the number of gallons it takes to fill the tank. You can improve your gas mileage by keeping your tires inflated with the proper pressure and your engine tuned up.


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