How the EPA Tests Fuel Economy

March 7th, 2016 by

Gas PricesNot many people know how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actually produces their mileage ratings, but if you’ve ever been curious, we’re here to fill you in! It’s an interesting process, one which does a good job of providing an estimate of fuel economy, but you’ll see that the testing process definitely leaves room for discrepancies between ratings and real world fuel economy. Find out how the EPA does it below.

The EPA Fuel Economy Tests

First of all, the “highway” and “city” tests in the EPA rating are not conducted by driving a vehicle on the highway or around the city. They’re all conducted in the controlled conditions of a laboratory using a standardized testing procedure that’s actually mandated by federal law.

You might be surprised to learn that the EPA doesn’t even conduct all of the tests that produce the fuel economy ratings. Manufacturers actually conduct the tests, and the EPA reviews the data. Generally, based on detailed analysis of the data, the EPA simply confirms the results, but in some instances – the EPA says 10 to 15 percent – the EPA will do its own tests on a vehicle.

Either way, whether the EPA is doing the testing or the manufacturer is, the procedure is the same. It works like this:

  • A vehicle is placed on a dynamometer that simulates a driving environment – it’s sort of like an exercise bike for a car!
  • That dynamometer lets the car stay in one place while “driving” – a professional driver runs it through a driving routine or schedule that includes both city and highway “trips”.
  • Every test specifies at what speed the vehicle must travel during each test, so that it’s consistent from vehicle to vehicle.
  • For vehicles with an exhaust pipe (e.g., any vehicle that burns gas, diesel, or natural gas), a hose is connected to collect carbon emission. This is an accurate way of measuring how much fuel is burned during the test.

That’s how the test is conducted! In the end, the EPA publishes the fuel economy rating for each vehicle based on this information.

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