Hybrid car owners wonder: Where's the mileage? USA Today | 2/3/2004 | David Kiley Some owners of gas-electric hybrid vehicles complain that they aren't getting the sky-high mileage promised on the window sticker. To blame are a mix of factors, from unrealistic expectations to poor driving to bad weather. In November, Andrew Bartell, a San Anselmo, Calif., information technology project manager, bought a 2004 Honda Civic hybrid with an Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating of 47 mpg in city driving, 48 on the highway. But Bartell says he actually is getting between 34 and 36 mpg. He says Honda told him the EPA rating is based on a test of "ideal" driving conditions. "The stated mileage is a complete lie. ... I do not know of a single road in the U.S. that would qualify as ideal," Bartell says. Honda spokesman Andy Boyd says Bartell isn't the only Civic hybrid buyer complaining. In fact, Boyd says he gets between 39 mpg and 41 mpg in his Civic hybrid. "The EPA test is an ideal for any vehicle, but it especially favors hybrids and probably sets up too high an expectation," Boyd says. The EPA test is about 40 years old, and automakers say it is out of date with today's driving habits. The city-driving test simulates an 11-mile, stop-and-go trip with an average speed of 20 miles an hour and a maximum speed of 56 mph. The test has 23 stops and includes time for the vehicle to idle at a standstill. The highway test simulates a 10-mile trip and averages 48 mph with a maximum of 60 mph. Testers subtract 10% in the city test and 22% in the highway test to account for real-world driving. Toyota has been racking up complaints from owners beefing about not hitting the 51 mph highway/60 mpg city mileage advertised for its Prius hybrid. Low- to mid-40s is closer to reality. Prius uses the electric battery more than the gasoline engine in city driving. That's why, "The best place to maximize the gas mileage of the Prius is in stop-and-go city driving and California commuting where cars rock back and forth between 25 mph and 45 mph," Toyota spokesman John Hanson says. Drivers who lead-foot the accelerator or brake hurt mileage in any vehicle but are apt to regularly undershoot the optimal fuel economy of hybrids by as much as 10 to 15 miles per gallon. Hybrids draw some power for the electric battery from braking. But if a driver punches the gas pedal between lights and weaves in and out of traffic, necessitating hard braking, energy that would go to the battery is wasted on the brakes. That means more gas is needed to recharge the battery. "Traditional driving tips for better fuel economy help maximize hybrid fuel economy even more," says Tom Watson, head of hybrid and electric-vehicle powertrains for Ford, which plans to sell a hybrid Escape sport-utility vehicle this summer. "That means mild acceleration and mild braking." Beyond drivers' control, extreme weather can play havoc with hybrid gas mileage. Batteries work less efficiently in temperatures below 32 degrees, and if a driver takes a lot of short trips during a cold week, mileage will suffer. In hot weather, running the air conditioning in a car costs 10% to 20% of fuel economy. Exacerbating the complaints: Hybrids show running gas mileage results on the dashboard, so drivers are constantly reminded of fuel efficiency. "Prius owners who don't know each other pull up beside one another, roll down our windows and shout out what mileage we are getting," says Prius owner John Fragnant of Apple Valley, Minn., who has a Web site for Prius buyers. "That happens all the time."