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Official fuel economy v real-life fuel economy: what happens when you threaten to challenge the car manufacturer in court

Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion real-life economyAre you disappointed with the real-life fuel economy of your car compared to the official figure? Many people are, and here’s why. The official combined miles per gallon figure for new cars is calculated in a way that is totally unrepresentative of most people’s driving, and therefore virtually all drivers will find it extremely hard to achieve the official figures.

The NEDC figure is calculated by a test of 2.5 urban miles at an average of 12mph, plus 4.3 extra-urban miles at an average of 39mph. This combined figure is therefore based on just 6.8 miles of driving at an average of 29.1mph.

You won’t get anywhere near the official economy figure for your car if you don’t drive exactly as the cycle above. But what if you DO drive exactly as the cycle above? Will you be able to achieve the same economy figure?

A visitor to Green Car Guide, Karin Haverson, bought a new Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion, having read our review of the Golf. After just a few days with the car Karin was disappointed with the real-life fuel economy, and she told Volkswagen. She felt that the response from Volkswagen didn’t acknowledge that the car’s economy was significantly lower than the advertised NEDC combined figure, and so she took matters into her own hands and carried out her own tests, including driving the car on the same cycle as the NEDC test, and even doing this with an on-board fuel economy recording device. Karin achieved 62.2 mpg, compared to the official combined NEDC figure of 88.3 mpg – in other words just 70% of the official NEDC figure for the vehicle. What was the response from Volkswagen? Here’s Karin’s full fascinating story, including the threat of taking Volkswagen to court due to the vehicle not providing the advertised miles per gallon…

Diary of my dealings with Volkswagen about the problem of poor fuel economy with new Golf BlueMotion, by Karin Haverson

General comment: I am an almost obsessively ‘green’ driver and see it as a challenge to get the absolute best mpg from my vehicle. I think ahead, brake as little as possible, rolling to a halt at stops and accelerating gently.

I bought a new Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion in 2008, which had a combined cycle fuel economy of 73.6 mpg according to the Volkswagen brochure, and I was more than satisfied with it. During one long journey to Germany, I managed to get more than 90 mpg, and on my regular runs at home, I always got between 71 and 75 mpg, depending on the season and the exact type of trips.

30/11/13

Took delivery of my brand new Golf BlueMotion from VW Inchcape, Swindon. As I was going to drive to Austria in a week’s time, I had to have winter tyres fitted. It was meant to be better than my Polo (88.3 mpg compared to 73.6 mpg) according to the VW brochure, so I drove it home with great expectations. Imagine my disappointment, when the 110 mile motorway trip home, using my ‘normal’ green driving style, resulted in around 65 mpg, in spite of my best efforts.

2/12/13

Returned with vehicle to Inchcape, with letter rejecting it, as it did not match its description (Consumer Protection Act 1979). Had an interview with dealership staff. Was told that fuel economy would improve markedly with use and that in order to assess performance, the car needed to be driven for at least 3,000 miles. I was also asked to compare fuel consumption by recording amount of fuel purchased, and to record mileage covered for each tankful. However, it was not made clear that this should be done with the distance recorded on the trip meter and not with the distance read from the consumption/distance etc computer display. First delay! I agreed to do this, explaining that my planned trip to Austria would probably take me to about 3,000 miles.

3/12/13

E-mail from the dealership acknowledging my complaint and giving Volkswagen problem reference number. I was promised that if I still had problems after 3,000 miles, Inchcape would investigate further. A few days later, I called the dealership to arrange to bring the car in after my trip to Austria, if it was still giving unsatisfactory fuel consumption. It was arranged in great detail that I would come in with the car on my return journey on the 14/1/14 and collect a courtesy car. If the car had improved, I would ring and cancel the appointment.

15/12/13-14/1/14

Trip to Austria. No improvement in economy! A lot of motorway driving with cruise control set for maximum of 65 mph. One 220 mile section for this trip was a motorway drive through Northern France and Belgium, cruise control on 65 mph, just one short stop and level countryside, driving conditions as close to perfect as possible. This trip gave me the best mpg, 69.8 mpg. In comparison, I had done the same trip with my Polo and had achieved more than 80 mpg. On return to the UK, I had driven 2,986 miles, the overall long-term fuel consumption for this distance was 64.9 mpg. During this trip, I had also compared the amount of fuel put into the tank with the display: both values agreed. These readings were based on computer display readings, not on the trip meter display, as this had not been requested by the dealership. However, I did not keep the receipts for fuel.

14/1/14

As there had been no improvement in fuel economy, I wanted to have the car checked as arranged. However, being sceptical, I made a phone call first thing in the morning to check if the appointment had been kept as arranged. Unsurprisingly, no! No appointment had been made in spite of the long-standing arrangement that had been made. I was now told that the garage needed the summer tyres for the vehicle to assess fuel consumption properly, so could I please return with summer tyres. Second delay! I was told that an appointment would be arranged for me to do this. Another appointment, the date for this was now set for 28/1/14.

20/1/14

In order to possibly avoid the long trip to Swindon, I took car to my local Volkswagen garage Heritage in Weston-super-Mare, for them to test it. They found no problems with any of the engine systems, but agreed that the fuel consumption was quite high. They only commented that the tyre pressure was 0.3 psi too low. They adjusted this.

27/1/14

Phone call from the technical manager from Inchcape, one day before the arranged appointment! He was asking about the load I had carried, how many passengers, how much luggage. I could confirm that most of the journey was just me and a small dog, with two suitcases. The dealership now declared that no assessment could be made until I had the fuel consumption records, measured by trip meter, of two tankfuls. Third delay!

I agreed to do this asap. Now it was also stated that it was not necessary to change to summer tyres, in contrast to what I had been told before. I stated that I would contact Inchcape again as soon as I had the fuel consumption records, estimating that this would be at least two months. I pointed out that as I had rejected the car within three days of purchasing it and as Inchcape was the cause of all these delays, I would not accept later that the car was now too old to be returned.

27/1/14 to date

Long-term fuel consumption is now worse, as my main drives are evening trips of around 20 miles (home to Burnham-on-Sea, home to Weston-super-Mare, home to Mark in Somerset). These are mainly flat country roads at night, with just one set of traffic lights and little traffic, so almost ideal driving conditions. Currently, long-term consumption for 3,275 miles is 63.8 mpg, consumption since refuelling is 57 mpg. For comparison, these journeys with my Polo BlueMotion always gave around 72-75 mpg!

What will be the next delay, I wonder?

5/2/14

Phone call from Volkswagen UK customer services; the dealership had forwarded my complaint to them. I went through the previous history as described and stated that I had rejected the car after three days, but that Inchcape kept moving the milestones, asking for new evidence. I explained my concern that after all these delays, Inchcape would say that vehicle was too old to be rejected. Volkswagen customer services stated that this would be completely unfair and agreed that the consumption seemed high. However, they stated that ultimately my dealings had to be with Inchcape Swindon, as I was aware. I asked for their support in my dealings with Inchcape. They promised to get in touch with them, asking for the name of the technical manager. They suggested that the fairest way to deal with me would be for Inchcape to collect the car from me and test it themselves, which I was more than happy with. I explained that due to an operation on my hand tomorrow, I would not be able to drive for about two weeks, so that period would be ideal for me to be without a car. Volkswagen customer services promised a phone call with update for 7/2/14.

7/2/14

Volkswagen customer services rang as promised and related that Inchcape had suggested that I drive the car myself, getting the use of my car and fuel! I was going to record the mileage when filling up, driving the car until nearly empty and keeping a record of the fuel used to fill up the next time. I asked for this to be done just once instead of the two tankfuls as originally arranged and this was agreed.

25/2/14

Volkswagen customer services had left a message on my answer phone yesterday to ring back. I rang back today and reported that fuel consumption since refuelling was currently 60.1 mpg (mostly country roads and distances around 10 miles per trip). I had used about two-thirds of a tank now. Customer services suggested that as I approached the point when I needed to refuel, I should contact Inchcape and discuss it further. As I have to go to London on 12th of March, I want to use that opportunity to call at the garage then. Sent e-mail to Inchcape with that suggestion.

3/3/2014

I had to refuel, the display gave 60.1 mpg. It took 43.47 litres to fill up and I had done 543.5 miles according to the trip meter. Calculating this actually shows that the display is slightly wrong, the calculation results in 57.5 mpg, even less! I have kept the receipt.

6/3/14

I called Inchcape, summarised my dealings with Volkswagen customer services and reported the latest fuel consumption details. They want to discuss the problem with Volkswagen customer services and will ring me back tomorrow. They didn’t!

A few days later, I had a phone call from someone else at Volkswagen customer services. They were very pleasant but totally non-committal, just said that a lot of different factors would influence consumption.

15/3/14

I took the car to Inchcape, driving 50 miles from Wokingham to Swindon gave fuel consumption of 65.1 mpg. I was given a Jetta SE BlueMotion Technology TDI as a courtesy car, which according to the Volkswagen website should give 66 mpg. I drove 60 miles home and obtained 64.3 mpg, so this car was very satisfactory. I called Inchcape and reported this.

22/3/14

Returned the Jetta SE BlueMotion Technology TDI. Consumption for trip of 9 miles country road and 50 miles motorway (66mph cruise control) was 68.8 mpg. Inchcape had fitted my original summer tyres, which was meant to improve consumption. Trip with my Golf BlueMotion Wokingham to home of 20 miles country road and 90 miles motorway (66mph cruise control) was 66.5 mpg. This was an improvement of about 2 mpg with the summer tyres.

24/3/14

Talked to Inchcape, reporting the above consumption data. I re-iterated that I had rejected the car and that I had now fulfilled all requests by Inchcape, in an attempt to remedy the problem. I stated that I wanted either a replacement car or a refund. I was promised that this would be forwarded to the general manager of Inchcape, who should phone me within two days. However, Inchcape rang back the same day, offering a replacement car but wanting to charge for the four months of use I had with the previous vehicle. They also said they were going to take advice from Volkswagen customer service. They rang back again, saying that after taking advice from Volkswagen customer service, they were now no longer prepared to compensate me in any way.

26/3/14

Letter from Inchcape, not accepting my request for an exchange or my money back. However, they offered ‘as a gesture of goodwill and without prejudice’ to exchange the vehicle at cost price. Later on, this turned out to be £5000 less than what I paid! They added: ‘However you may not consider this option as a like-for-like vehicle would probably not return the mileage that you expect. If you wish to sell the vehicle back to us, we would look at this’.

29/3/14

Letter from me to Inchcape:

‘Thank you for your letter dated citing the reasons why you are rejecting my request to refund my VW Golf or to replace it. I appreciate that you are offering to exchange the vehicle at cost price. However, I am not quite clear what you are offering. As you know, I paid £20,383 for it, so what exactly does ‘at cost price’ mean? Your alternative offer of selling the vehicle back to you, presumably at its current value, is not acceptable, unless its current value is £20,383, this would then just be a refund!

Your remark that you fear a like-for-like vehicle would give me similar problems with poor fuel economy is worrying, do you really think that all Golf BlueMotions are as poor as mine? As you know, I have experienced a Polo BlueMotion, which performed to my total satisfaction over the five years I had it and returned the fuel economy as advertised by the manufacturer. Even the Jetta you kindly let me have as a courtesy car performed exactly as advertised by VW. Presumably, all VW vehicles are tested in the same manner, so why is this Golf so different from the other models? As you know, I was originally giving you the option of a replacement vehicle or a refund. However, in view of your scepticism that a replacement car would not be any better than this one, I am now just asking for a refund.

If we cannot come to an amicable agreement, I will pursue this in court. However, if I have to go down this route, I will also claim for consequential losses, which include the cost of the winter tyres of £312. I would forego a claim for consequential losses and ‘put them down to experience’ otherwise.

For your information: I have consulted Citizens Advice Consumer service, who have given me the following answer:

‘Thank you for your enquiry to Citizens Advice consumer service.

I am sorry to hear of the problems you have experienced.

Based on the information you have provided, the key legal points in response to your enquiry are as follows:

Your claim against the seller will be for a breach of the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Under this legislation, goods sold, whether by a trader or a private seller, should correspond with the description provided by the seller.

If the goods sold are not as described by the seller, they may be held in breach of contract. To make a claim, you would need to produce evidence to show that the goods are not as described.

In this case you may argue that the vehicle you purchased does not provide the advertised miles per gallon fuel consumption.

Your remedy would be for the seller to provide a refund of the money you have paid for the vehicle. You may also look to claim for consequential costs resulting directly from the breach of contract.’

Other points: I had asked your garage several times to actually drive my car when I initially returned it and when you looked at it last week, rather than just perform the engine tests etc. I notice you did not do this or if you did, you did not inform me of the results. However, I thank you for the information produced by the VCA you kindly provided, with reference to the test conditions used to calculate the fuel consumption. I have already booked a car engineer who will accompany me next week, when I will carry out a test drive under conditions as close to those described as possible. I will use this, together with my own records of fuel consumption (photos of display) as evidence.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am with this car, especially as in all other aspects, I like it very much. I have had six VWs during my lifetime as a driver, I had total confidence in VW’s promised fuel economy based on my previous experience with this manufacturer.’

31/3/14

I did a test trip on the Somerset levels (no hills!), following the VCA guidelines as closely as possible: 3 miles urban cycle, average 12 mph, 5 miles extra-urban cycle, average 25 mph. 25 mph is slower than the 39 mph specified in VCA guidelines, but impossible for me to do more in this location. Outside temperature was 16 0C. I took photos of the display at the end of each cycle.

Note that I calculated the combined cycle for the VW Golf BlueMotion performance data as 86.9 mpg (weighted average based on the two individual cycles, AVC website). This does not agree exactly with the 88.3 mpg given by the VW brochure! For my own trip, I had to calculate the extra-urban cycle, as the display just shows cumulative values. The tables below compare the claimed performance data with the real ones I achieved.

volkswagen golf bluemotion real life mpg

So the overall performance of the combined cycles in my Golf was just 71% of the one given in the VW brochure, 70% if you use the 88.3 mpg in the VW brochure.

1/4/2014

Letter from legal department of Inchcape, saying ‘ …The fuel consumption figures that you are relying on as the basis of your rejection are the only figures that a car manufacturer is allowed to publicise under EU law and have been measured by an independent body. As you will have seen from the paperwork provided by Inchcape, these figures can be affected by many variables and as such cannot be guaranteed… we do not accept that the fuel consumption figures form part of the contract. These figures are provided for comparison purposes only, as stated in the information regarding the tests on the government’s VCA website…’

5/4/2014

As Inchcape claims that the figures are ‘for comparison purposes only’, I did exactly such a comparison with my old Polo BlueMotion, as I had passed it to a relative. We drove the two vehicles ‘in tandem’, i.e. following each other over the same route and at the same speed.

We recorded the fuel consumption and other data at three time points: after 3 miles, after a further 5 miles and after another 9 miles, a total trip of 17 miles. Therefore, the first two cycles were very close to the test conditions specified by the VCA website. I took photos of the display of both cars at the end of each cycle. We drove in my normal ‘green style’, trying to achieve the best fuel efficiency. The sections we drove were as follows: an urban cycle from cold – in the very busy town centre of Hertford for the first 3 miles, then on the A10 heading East for another 5 miles (extra-urban cycle 1) and finally over the A10 again and then over slower and empty country roads for the remainder of the journey (extra-urban cycle 2), at speeds normal and appropriate for those roads. We did not exceed 70 mph. The countryside is gently rolling. Again, I calculated the individual consumption for each cycle from the weighted average of the cumulative data.

The table below summarises the results we achieved.

While the Polo performed very close (71 mpg) to the figures given by the VW brochure (combined 73.6 mpg) after the first two cycles and even better over the country roads (extra-urban cycle 2), the Golf had a significantly poorer fuel economy, 63.2 mpg after the first two cycles and was not much better over the country roads.

volkswagen golf bluemotion real life mpg

So the Golf, which is meant to give a much better fuel consumption than the Polo, was considerable worse and during this trip the 2013 Golf BlueMotion only gave an overall performance of 76% of that of the 2008 Polo BlueMotion! This is exactly what I have been telling Inchcape from the very beginning!

7/4/2014

Another test trip on the Somerset levels, this time accompanied by a car engineer, who attached a Launch C-recorder, classified as an on-board diagnostic (OBD) data recorder. Again I followed the VCA guidelines as closely as possible: 3 miles urban cycle, average 11 mph; 5 miles extra-urban cycle, average 27 mph. Outside temperature was 15 0C. I took photos of the display at the end of each cycle.

volkswagen golf bluemotion real life mpg

It is not acceptable that a car performs so much below the published figures, both in an absolute sense and relative to another car. If this car is driven by an ‘ordinary’ driver, I would be surprised to see it returning more than 60 mpg. If I, an obsessively green driver, cannot get a better fuel economy, than either my car is particularly bad or the test practiced by the industry is totally unrepresentative of real life driving conditions. However, what puzzles me is that my old Polo and the Jetta performed much better.

I feel this industry-wide practice needs to be challenged. I have now contacted a solicitor and instructed her to act on my behalf, given her all my evidence. She has written a letter before action to Inchcape, asking for a full refund or for compensation. Inchcape have two weeks to answer, if they reject either option, we will take court action.

To be continued…

 

Have you had a similar experience with your car falling well short of the official NEDC fuel economy figure? Email us at info@green-car-guide.com with your experiences.

How does the NEDC fuel economy test work?