Honda Wins Reversal Of Small-Claims Judgment Over Hybrid Mileage

Remember that story of the Honda owner who won nearly $10,000 in small claims court after she opted out of the $100-200 settlement from the class-action lawsuit alleging that the car maker made misleading claims about the gas mileage of its Civic hybrid vehicles? Well, her glory didn’t last long. A judge in California has overturned that judgment.

The small claims court had originally sided with the plaintiff, saying that Honda’s statements of 50 mpg for the Civic hybrid were misleading to people who said they were only getting around 30 mpg out of their vehicles.

However, yesterday a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Honda’s appeal, stating that the car company was following federal fuel economy regulations with the estimates posted on vehicles and in ads.

The AP reports that the judge said Honda’s advertising slogans do not translate into “specific promises of anything”:

In addition, the judge said EPA miles per gallon ratings are for comparison among vehicles and don’t account for various factors such as the condition of the car or the length of the trip, that can affect mileage.

“Despite these many variables, most of the owners of the subject vehicle achieve fuel economy very close to the EPA estimate,” wrote the judge in his ruling.

The plaintiff in the small claims case is also the creator of DontSettleWithHonda.org, which contains details of her suit (but which, as of the time we’re posting this, have mention of the reversal).

Following her small claims victory, the AP reports that around 1,700 other people followed suit and filed their own grievances in small claims court. Yesterday’s ruling does not have a direct effect on any of those suits, though we can’t imagine it helps those plaintiffs.

UPDATE: Honda has issued the following statement to Consumerist:

Honda is pleased with the Court’s decision which affirms that Honda was truthful in its advertising of the fuel economy potential of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. We are thankful for the support we received from the many satisfied Civic Hybrid owners who expressed their support throughout the legal process.

We are never satisfied when a customer is anything less than satisfied with one of our products, and the company does not relish the necessity to defend the truth in opposition to any of our customers. However, it is important to note that, since January of this year, seventeen similar small claims cases involving Civic Hybrid owners have been heard in courts across the country and Honda has now prevailed in sixteen, based on facts and the law.

Honda welcomes any customer who has questions about fuel economy to contact the company directly through our dealer network or our Automobile Customer Service office.

Honda also takes issue with the AP’s claim that 1,700 small claims court complaints have been filed, saying that while approximately 1,700 members of the related class-action settlement did elect to opt out of that settlement, very few have thus far pursued separate legal action The car maker says to date it has received notice of only 36 small claims complaints.

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  1. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    See, this is why we shouldn’t have judges.

    • offtopic says:

      Or just come to Philly – some of our judges do not even need a law degree – they just need to be politically connected.

      • JJFIII says:

        I must have missed the part of the constitution where it mentions needing a law degree to be a judge. It certainly is not required of the justices on the Supreme Court.

        • LanMan04 says:

          No kidding. Pass the bar (law degree or not), and you can become a lawyer or judge. As it should be.

    • Jawaka says:

      If that were the case then she wouldn’t have been able to argue her case in the first place.

  2. Captain Spock says:

    i was always under the impression that Mileages was calculated either on a test track under ideal conditions, or in a testing bay with the roller thingies.

    • Robert Nagel says:

      They are determined through the use of a formula. In addition they get additional MPG’s for such politically correct additions such as being a hybrid. You get extra for having a light that indicates your up shift point on a stick. I watch mine as I bury the pedal in my 400hp Mustang. You can expect additional add-ons as the government tailors the auto industry to its idea of a proper automobile.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “In addition, the judge said EPA miles per gallon ratings are for comparison among vehicles and don’t account for various factors such as the condition of the car or the length of the trip, that can affect mileage”

    Uh, yes they do, judge. That is exactly what the changes to the MPG regulations were meant to do – to list the MPG in real-world regular person conditions.

    • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

      +1

    • dwtomek says:

      Bah! He’s a judge. Clearly this entitles him to make judgements based on assumptions. I also liked this one: “Despite these many variables, most of the owners of the subject vehicle achieve fuel economy very close to the EPA estimate.” Care to back that claim up Mr. Judgey?

    • kc2idf says:

      Uh, no they don’t, Loias. If they did, then the car companies would have to re-issue MPG ratings, on a car-by-car, driver-by-driver and trip-by-trip basis in order to account for the condition of the car (which the manufacturer doesn’t control), and the length of the trip (which the manufacturer doesn’t control).

      If you take good care of your car, and drive trips of long-enough distance to get the engine properly warmed up, while maintaining a steady speed, you can easily blow way past the posted fuel economy. That’s how I do it.

      If you beat your car to a pulp, let the alignment go go shit, don’t change the oil or the air filter, have crappy tires, have brakes that drag and use it to drive two miles at a time, your fuel economy will suck

      …and this is exactly what the judge is saying is out of the manufacturer’s control.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Nope. Several years ago MPG was based on unrealistic factory conditions that no customer could ever replicate. That is no longer the case. MPG is based on real-world conditions. Federal law changed the specific methodology for MPG determination, at the same time they dramatically changed how MPG can be displayed on new vehicles.

        I’m surprised you weren’t aware of that change, it was very public. Cars that once were rated at 50 mpg dropped to 35 mpg for the same make, model and year, due to the change in testing standards.

        True, it does not accurately factor in a person that drives all highway or all city, or has issues with the car causing diminished fuel economy. But the MPG reflects what an average person is going to get, whereas it used to be what a factory setting in ideal conditions would get.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:
      • tomm says:

        I agree somewhat, I am very concience of how I drive (I drive slightly above the speed limit) and average around 58 mpg in my 05 Prius when it is advertised at 45mpg highway, 48mpg city. It can be done.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        What if the prosecutoring OP shows records they kept the car up to date, would you change your tune then?

        Most of the things you described actually don’t drop fuel economy THAT much unless you get it to the point you’re damaging other components in the process. The air filter and tires are your big points, but after that it’s hard to make your car function 20 MPG less than stated.

        Realize they aren’t suing because Honda says 50 and they get 46. They are getting a 40% loss on a newer vehicle.

        • kc2idf says:

          We still haven’t gotten to driving habits. Hybrids mitigate the effects of accelerate/brake cycles, but they don’t remove them.

    • nugatory says:

      “EPA miles per gallon ratings are for comparison among vehicles” and Honda followed Federal rules on how to calculate it. How is it Honda’s fault for following federal regulations used for vehicle comparison?

      my old 2000 Camry has 20/28 for the EPA estimates. I regularly get 35 mpg on the highway.

  4. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    Same thing with my Camry… They advertise 25-35mpg but I never get more than 21, no matter how much stuff I take out of the car or how I change my driving style. I’ve been attempting to get 25mpg since January when I bought it.

    • GinChevyChase says:

      My last car said 20 city 30 highway mpg. I got an average of 16-17 mpg. Why? Cause I drive like a jerk who thinks the gas pedal is an on off switch.

    • ktetch says:

      However, I have a 91 lumina, with a 17city/28hwy (20combined) EPA rating. I’ve been recording the mileage and fuel for the last year.

      Over 25,969 miles, my average mpg has been 28.859.

      This is for a 20yo car with over 200k on it now, driven in rural Georgia (including on my rough unpaved driveway) often with a trunk full of crap. It *REALLY* is all about driving style (especially as I broke one of the vacuum hoses last year when I replaced a busted fuel injector, and haven’t replaced it – since it means rebuilding the intake system again – said hose is for the cruise control)

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      With my Fiat (J-Lo car), my particular model was given a rating of 38 MPG and I got 39 instead. I get about 36/37 in the city.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    “The AP reports that the judge said Honda’s advertising
    slogans do not translate into “specific promises of anything”

    So when I read the sign at the gas station saying NO
    SMOKING because gas is flammable, it really might not be?

    • RickN says:

      You consider the “No Smoking” sign at your local gas station to be a Honda advertising slogan?

      • Blueskylaw says:

        The judge basically said that signs/advertisements don’t have to be
        true/believed whether it be a Honda mileage sign or a gas is flammable sign.

  6. kc2idf says:

    I would expect a hybrid to exceed the efficiency of a conventional vehicle. Failure to do so indicates that the hybrid isn’t performing the task for which the customer paid so much extra dosh.

    My car, a fully conventional 2005 Nissan Sentra, usually exceeds 30 MPG very easily and frequently gets as high as 37.

    Of course, I also don’t know if these Honda owners drive like maniacs. If so, then they brought it on themselves.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      If I remember correctly, the crux of her argument was that the Civic stopped delivering the advertised fuel economy after Honda re-flashed her computer as part of a recall. I think until that point, the car was performing as advertised.

      So Honda sold a car that did what it was supposed to, but then had all the owners bring them in so they could ruin that performance.

  7. unpolloloco says:

    Given the fact that the EPA defines the test conditions for MPG calculations and then audits the findings by retesting cars at their own facility, how is this at all a manufacturer issue (and not an EPA issue?)

    http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/420f06009.htm#proposedmethods

  8. deathbecomesme says:

    “The AP reports that the judge said Honda’s advertising
    slogans do not translate into “specific promises of anything”

    This bugs me because they are making a statement of fact in their advertising. It’s not like they are saying “In our opinion you will get xmiles/gallon. they are saying the mpg are X.

    • bhr says:

      No, they are saying the EPA MPG is X, which is still is. The EPA certifies those results and companies are allowed to advertise those numbers (and only those numbers, as I understand it).

      • jimbo831 says:

        To go even a step further, they say specifically these are the EPA estimated miles per gallon.

  9. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    So there is no reason Honda ended up paying all class action plaintiffs. Perhaps they need to appeal to this judge about all those, too. Make those people pay back their money to Honda. Either she has a valid claim, OR none of the claims are valid.

    YMMV

  10. Marlin says:

    Problem is Honda gave the MPG numbers not the EPA. That and the milage issue did not pop up until honda “upgraded” the computer on the car.

  11. Jack T Ripper says:

    Since small claims isn’t a court of record, judgements whether for or against someone, can’t be used as precedent in other cases. However, since the decisions rests in the hands of the “judge” (often just an attorney who is a sometimes judge) and being able to lean on another court’s research just makes their job easier. If these 1700 people really wanted to be effective then they would just form a class action suit against Honda. Oh, wait… That is what happened originally and they all won like $200 bucks. I guess they are screwed either way, eh?

  12. tiredofit says:

    I get 38 mpg on my 1994 Civic hybrid.

  13. maxamus2 says:

    I do agree that so long as they test every single car make identically, the MPG shown is just used to compare one car to another.

    That said, the test itself needs to be “real world” average driving.

  14. Dragon Tiger says:

    The EPA MPG estimates are just that: estimates. Looks like the judge looked at this site:

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/why_differ.shtml

    The relevant part:

    …[T]he EPA ratings are a useful tool for comparing the fuel economies of different vehicles but may not accurately predict the average MPG you will get.

  15. Keep talking...I'm listening says:

    I chimed in the last time this came up…

    Former ’08 Civic Hybrid owner here. I was exceeding both the city and highway MPG until Honda did a software update at the first oil change. The software configuration that the cars were leaving the factory with (the one that gave the EPA MPGs) were causing the hybrid batteries to die prematurely. Mine died shortly after the car turned a year old and was replaced under warranty. Evidently this was one of those updates that you couldn’t back out, and Honda was advising dealerships to perform the update without the customer’s knowledge or permission.

    While I don’t agree with some of the points the plaintiff made in her lawsuit — Honda certainly owes us owners more than the $200 I’m getting in the class action settlement.

    As an aside, I had a lot of other problems with the Civic Hybrid – broken sunvisors, broken hybrid brake pump, broken window regulators, out-of-spec rear control arms that chewed up the rear tires. All replaced under warranty, but the dealership service department was somewhat hard to deal with.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Making a change without the owner’s permission should be violating laws to protect customers from bad auto mechanics.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      This is enough to convince me to never buy another Honda for as long as I live. Up til now, I considered Honda a close second to Toyota; No longer. Submitting overclocked cars for government testing and then reprogramming them to get half the mileage once in customers’ hands reeks of either FRAUD or INCOMPETENCE. Neither option is acceptable to me. Our current fleet are all Toyotas and will remain so.

  16. Marlin says:

    This is not about the gas milage when new as the car DID meet its milage claims for the most part when new. It was not until AFTER they upgraded the batterys to protect Honda, not the owner, and the milage dropped.

    As others have said I guess GM/Ford/Toyota can make wild “advertising slogans” now and not have to back them up.

    “The new chevy 1/2ton truck can pull 1 bajillion tons of rock.” *

  17. and_another_thing says:

    My long-term average with my 1.9L VW TDI is 42.7 MPG. My best-ever highway MPG was 54 (without trying hard).

    Gas-electric hybrids are a gimmick. Give me diesel.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      You have a nice car and I have looked at those VW TDI. They’re not like the old-school diesels of yesteryear but the newbies are sweet and very fuel efficient.

  18. cyberpenguin says:

    Same problem with my Pontiac Solstice. They advertised 19-26, but I never get that. It’s usually around 28 on the highway but as high as 42 depending on road grade and speed.

    I’d sue Pontiac for lying if they were still in business.

    • njack says:

      I’m surprised your Pontiac is still on the road, that’s why they are out of business.

    • kobresia says:

      The only reason you’re getting such high mileage is because the engine isn’t consuming fuel when the car is being dragged behind a tow truck.

  19. Conformist138 says:

    wait… small claims cases can be overturned? That must be a CA thing, cuz in OR small claims decisions are final. Judges specifically state that people had better be prepared because they have exactly 1 chance and cannot appeal.

  20. TuxMan says:

    Gasoline w/10% Ethanol blend = 3.2% less energy per gallon = less MPG

  21. LHH says:

    Gee, color me surprised.

  22. IThinkThereforeIAm says:

    Did this judge just acknowledged (and pretty much legalized) that companies can lie in an advertisement without ever being held accountable for it?