Latest Reader Question (October 26, 2017)

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Here’s the latest reader Question, along with my reply!

Austin asks: Often on here, you talk about real world driving producing worse gas mileage in vehicles (that aren’t VW diesels) than their EPA rating. Recently, my family and I experienced this on a trip from Nashville to camp Lejeune. We rented a brand new 2018 RAV4, which is EPA rated for 23 city, 30 highway. Driving mostly interstate, the RAV4 only managed around 22-23 MPG.  It was running out of gas before our 2015 town and country minivan was!  Now I’m sure that our having the back loaded with luggage and three adults and a kid weighed the thing down, but enough to drop its average mileage by like 4 mpg?!  This gives me the impression that EPA test conditions are far from real-world driving, which is annoying.

I guess that leads me to three questions:  If the RAV4 had a V6, instead of a V4, would it have experienced the same drop in mileage when loaded?  What would you say the average drop-off in real-world mileage is for most cars (for a suburbanite)? What vehicles, outside of the VW diesels, actually deliver/ exceed their EPA rated mileage?

My reply: You’ve discovered the truth – which is that your mileage will vary. And in EPA’s defense, driving is a highly individualized activity; the way you accelerate/shift (if manual) and brake will always be different than the way I do – or someone else does.

That said, the car companies “build to the test.” In other words, they set up their drivetrains to achieve the best possible numbers on the EPA’s test loop. But out in the real world…

And, you’re right (again). There is an even more noticeable disparity between the mileage advertised by the latest crop of “efficient” small/turbocharged engines and their actual efficiency out in the real world. The main reason for this being that while it’s true these engines are “efficient” under light load conditions and when not under boost, in real world driving, they are often worked harder than a “less efficient” larger/not-turbocharged engine would be and so their mileage decreases accordingly.

I personally would rather have the less taxed V6 over the working-harder turbo four. The real-world mileage difference is negligible while the potential (and often, actual) maintenance/repair costs for the harder-working/more complex turbocharged engine can be much greater.

The only vehicles I have ever test driven over the course of the past 20-plus years that always exceed the advertised EPA mileage figures are diesel-powered VWs.

But I suspect the “fixed” versions of these vehicles will not do as well.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I’ve recently found a YT channel by a Ford mechanic. He’s saying(he owns a turbo 4 Ford)that the Dearborn people are saying the only fix for the fouled valves is a new head. An on car head cleaning such as Sea Foam and various other products commonly leads to early turbo failure. It all makes sense as he explains it from purely a technical view and real world experience Ford has in trying to mitigate the problem.

    One thing he points out is scoping the head and finding no fouling on #1, some fouling on #2, more fouling on #3 and none on #4 which has led them to realize it’s the EGR fumes that are doing the valve fouling. Ford says heads are reliable for 20,000 miles so the vehicle he has will ostensibly have 4 head changes in it’s warranted life, not a very good solution. Now he’s working with catch cans and sees this solving the carbon problem. This is typical bs caused by stringent EPA fatwas and also poor engine design….turbo wise. These tiny turbos as made onto the cast iron exhaust header so they operate at very high temps, good for initial “boost” but not for longevity. It’s the crap like this I fear with car companies. For the most part you don’t have to worry about this with work trucks since turbo’s can go the million miles the engine goes and mostly do.

    Of course owner/operators of these vehicle from light trucks to Class 8 normally get better service because they take better care since it come out of their pocket. I don’t think my view that car companies would sell whatever works fine… the short run and have that c’est la vie attitude toward longevity. They want you to trade as often as possible so problems can be(from their point of view and what they’ll tell customers who know little about cars)chalked up to being a used car and not some flaw engineered into it.

    So finding another early 90’s GM pickup is becoming more difficult every day as they’re snatched up and those in very good shape go for 4-5 times as much as they did a few years ago. I’m still looking.

    Go give you an example of vehicles worth fixing: I know a guy with a Duramax 2500 crewcab 4WD of 2005 flavor. The transmission needs to be replaced, $3,000 exchange. He doesn’t like the idea of spending that much money for a 13 year old pickup with over 300K on the engine and the rest of the truck that was abused by a young hand. Truck still looks great….but it’s got those shitty seats, plastic everything and the undeniable 300+K mileage. I’d fix it if it were mine simply because I would only be out the $3000 and then again, everything else has that much mileage so ball joints, maybe the entire brake system, shocks, probably entire front suspension is going to happen soon too… this guy is so tight you can hear Lincoln screaming when he leaves pocket change for a tip. And here’s another thing about those trucks.

    You need new bearings on the front being 4WD. No big deal I’d have said before replacing them in that Z I have. The bearings are “dry” in the hub, no inner and outer with seals and the new hubs are expensive with a life expectancy of 100,000 miles GM estimate and 50,000 miles expectancy realistic driving under the conditions I drive.

    Need A frame bushings? If you supply the labor, no big deal, everything up there is pretty cheap. Well, it was on previous models but now you buy new arms with new ball joints and all the mounting parts.

    Back to 90’s pickups before they started doing this. I know several mechanics and they all have 90’s GM pickups for their shop and a couple for home too with one having a ’98 Dodge gas and true 4WD(from factory).

    • Oh, and another thing you can’t forget about these days is tires. I recently installed a new set of tires for a cool $1050. Say it fast, maybe it won’t hurt so bad. And BTW, these are 16″ old school, 265 x 75 16’s. Don’t want to consider the price of all those larger wheel sizes.


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