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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Shrinking MPG blues

LOOKS like your fill-up the other day is delivering less gas mileage than you thought.

That's the word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which recently announced changes in its method for estimating the miles-per-gallon fuel economy of automobiles.

This may come as a surprise to the general public, but it is well known to auto aficionados, who have recognized for years that the EPA's formula was woefully outdated.

It turns out that its measurements didn't factor in many real-road conditions like the continuous use of air conditioning, more high-speed driving, aggressive acceleration, and motoring in cold weather. Hitting the road these days is nothing like driving Miss Daisy.

That's why we're glad the EPA will change its method for calculating new-car mpg in time for the 2008 models. The bad news is it will result in lower, though more accurate, fuel economy estimates displayed by those new-model window stickers - a 12 percent drop for city driving and 8 percent on the highway.

That will be hard to swallow for drivers who want to see higher, not lower, mpg given today's gasoline prices. But until Washington puts real pressure on auto makers to deliver greater fuel economy, markedly better gas mileage will be just one more dream on the open road.

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