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My car’s fuel economy is horrendous. What gives?

A Kia Sportage owner is upset that his compact crossover is not getting anywhere near the stated fuel ratings touted by Kia. What's going on?

Published February 28, 2012
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels

Q: I own a 2011 Kia Sportage SX. I bought the car because of its low fuel consumption ratings of 7.2 L/100 km (highway) and 9.5 L/100 km (city), with a combined average just below 9 L/100 km.

After 2,200 km my car consumed 268.7 litres of gasoline, which is about 11.7 L/100km. In essence, that’s 30 per cent more than advertised and communicated by Kia.

What are my options?

More: Woman wins big after suing Honda over Civic’s poor fuel economy

More: Here’s why Canada, U.S. fuel numbers are so different

A: Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency publishes the EnerGuide fuel consumption ratings posted on motor vehicles, which are based on standardized testing procedures. As for real-world fuel consumption, the federal government agency provides the following caution.

“While the Fuel Consumption Guide allows for reliable comparison of the fuel consumption of different vehicles using the same testing methods, your own vehicle’s results may vary from what is indicated on the Guide. The published ratings are for typically equipped vehicles and are adjusted to reflect average real-world driving conditions in Canada.

“The fuel consumption of your vehicle may vary from its published rating, depending on factors such as your driving style and behaviours, vehicle acceleration and driving speed, the overall age and operating condition of your vehicle, temperature, weather, traffic and road conditions. In addition, power-driven accessories (e.g. air conditioning) and other options that are installed in your vehicle will also affect your fuel use.”

Fuel consumption may also be greater during the break-in period (first 1,000-1,500 km) for a new vehicle. Improper break-in of a new engine by driving above the highway speed limit, continuously driving at a constant speed, no highway usage, jackrabbit starts etc., may also permanently decrease fuel efficiency. See your owner’s manual for recommended engine break-in procedures.

Winter driving, short trips, stop-and-go city driving, waiting in drive-thru lines, extended idling, use of power accessories (air conditioning, electric rear defogger, DVD player, music systems, cellphone, GPS, etc.) will also increase fuel consumption — often substantially.

Keep in mind that whenever your engine is on but you’re not moving, you’re essentially getting zero miles per gallon (or zero km/L).

If your vehicle appears to be operating properly and no trouble codes appear, there may not be any problem to fix. If you’re still concerned, a Drive Clean test — though not yet necessary for plate renewal — may be an inexpensive way (as opposed to shop time at $100/hr. plus diagnostics) to verify that the engine is operating properly.

Q: I often see rear licence plates that look as if they’ve been smudged out so they cannot be read by 407 ETR (toll highway) cameras or anyone else? Should they be reported?

A: You can report such occurrences to 407 ETR or police if you wish. But there really isn’t much that can be done as police must catch offenders “red-handed” as it were, in order to issue a ticket.

It’s also possible that the vehicle in question has a 407 transponder, so toll evasion may not be at issue.

Steve Spencer, a 407 ETR spokesperson, confirms the above and adds that “407 ETR does everything in their power to ensure that all drivers on the 407 are charged for their usage.”

For the record, in addition to toll evasion charges on the 407, drivers on any public roadway with a “dirty plate” (that is unreadable) may be ticketed under S. 13(2) HTA.