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MONDAY, JANUARY 9, 2006
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EDITORIAL

EPA’s mileage ratings ought to reflect reality

The government gas mileage ratings for cars and trucks often seem too good to be true, and they are.

Ratings by Consumer Reports and AAA paint a less rosy picture than those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in part because EPA's standards are out of date and in part because EPA doesn't test under real-world conditions. That's about to change.

This month, EPA expects to propose new methods for calculating and estimating gasoline mileage. It wants to put them into practice in time for the 2007 model vehicles.

"We think we will have to adjust the current estimates downward," EPA spokesman John Millett said, as quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We as motorists now spend a lot more time in congestion than we did 20 years ago. The type of vehicles that we drive are different. Twenty years ago, air conditioning and power windows were options. Today, they are standard and ... have a detrimental effect on fuel economy."

EPA has been testing hand-built prototype vehicles supplied by manufacturers and has been making certain assumptions, such as that drivers won't go over 56 mph in the city and 60 mph on the highway. Consumer Reports tested a cross section of 2000 to 2006 cars and trucks, finding some of them achieved only half of EPA's predicted mileage.

Realistic EPA mileage standards would be good for consumers, helping them to gauge the actual cost of operating a vehicle before buying it. More than likely, people will pay closer attention to fuel economy and buy more-efficient vehicles, not only saving them money but also saving fuel and polluting the air less.

Consumers will also be able to make informed choices between traditional vehicles and hybrids. Buyers are learning that hybrids don't save as much gas as they might have expected, and hybrids' higher initial cost often means that they don't really save money although they're better for the environment.

We Americans waste gasoline. Many of us think about conserving only when fuel gets expensive, as it is now. Knowing the truth about gas mileage will give us another incentive to buy and drive sensibly.

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