New Fuel Economy Labels: What You Need to Know

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New Fuel Economy Labels: What You Need to Know

The new design of fuel economy labels can help you easily understand vehicles’ emissions, gas mileage and annual fuel costs, and how those metrics compare to the averages among the competition.


By Shelley Stonebrook

Car shopping involves many important decisions — but now you can see at a glance how efficient a given car is and how much you’ll save (or burn) on fuel. Thanks to a redesign of vehicle fuel efficiency labels by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, you can now more easily than ever compare efficiency numbers among vehicles. Amidst a fleet of new green car options and at a crucial time (economic concerns, global warming concerns), the new labels provide a no-nonsense view of what a prospective car will mean to you in terms of energy used and money spent.

Starting with 2013 models, the fuel economy labels will be required on all new passenger cars and trucks. Some automakers have voluntarily adopted the new labels for 2012 models. The labels for different types of cars — such as conventional gasoline-powered cars, diesel cars, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles — will vary slightly in their designs to better convey the unique information about each type. For instance, the label for electric vehicles includes the time it takes to fully charge the car’s batteries.

Quite a bit of info is packed onto these stickers. To help you get the most out of the new fuel economy labels, here are the nitty-gritty details you’ll find on those for three types of cars: gas-only, plug-in hybrid and electric. Note that for the purposes of the fuel economy labels, hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles that do not have plug-in capability — such as a standard Toyota Prius — are classified as gasoline vehicles.

Fuel Economy Label for a Gasoline Vehicle

A: Find the vehicle’s miles per gallon (mpg) estimates here. The combined city/highway estimate is the most prominent to allow for quick and easy comparison among vehicles.

B: The estimated rate of fuel consumption, in gallons per 100 miles, for combined city/highway driving.

C: The estimated annual fuel cost of the vehicle. This number is based on certain assumptions, such as gas prices and miles driven per year, which are all listed at the bottom of the label.

D: Look here to compare the fuel efficiency of this vehicle to other vehicles in the same category and to find out the highest fuel economy among all vehicles.

E: A 1 to 10 rating based on fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, where a rating of 10 is best. The pointer shows where this vehicle is within the range.

F: Information on how estimates and ratings were calculated, such as the assumptions used to determine estimated annual fuel cost (15,000 miles per year and $3.70 per gallon for this example).

G: Lists tailpipe CO2 emissions in grams per mile for combined city/highway driving.

H: A 1 to 10 rating, where a rating of 10 is best, based on exhaust emissions that contribute to air pollution. You’ll notice that this number is for “tailpipe only,” meaning upstream emissions related to vehicle manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction and processing aren’t included.

Fuel Economy Label for a Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle

A: This indicates how long it takes to fully charge an empty battery using a 240-volt electrical outlet.

B: Fuel efficiency for combined city/highway driving is shown for both modes of operation: electricity-plus-gasoline and gasoline only. Electric fuel efficiency is shown in miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). MPGe is a metric based on energy content that can be used for comparisons across different vehicle technologies and fuels.

C: Shows the estimated range on a fully charged battery for both electricity-plus-gasoline and gas-only modes. Note that this label is for a “blended” plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, such as a plug-in Toyota Prius, which uses combined gasoline/electric power. There is a slightly different label design for “series” plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt, which use all-electric power and then switch over to gas-only mode when needed. The blended hybrid label shows the “Electricity + Gasoline” and adds on “Gasoline Only” range, whereas the series hybrid label shows the “All Electric Range” and adds on the “Gasoline Only” range.

D: The assumptions used to determine the estimated annual fuel cost for a plug-in hybrid vehicle are different from gas-only cars. Here, the electricity cost to charge the vehicle is noted (the assumption is $0.12 per kilowatt-hour, the national average).

E: Shows the type of fuel or fuels the vehicle can use. Other types you will commonly see are “Gasoline Vehicle,” “Flexible Fuel Vehicle: Gasoline-Ethanol” and “Diesel Vehicle.”

F: This is an estimate of how much this vehicle will cost to fuel over five years relative to the average new vehicle (across all vehicle types). This number will help you gauge whether it’s worth it to spend more on a car upfront, because you’ll know how much you can save over time.

Fuel Economy Label for an Electric Vehicle

A: Electric vehicle labels express the city, highway and combined fuel efficiency values in miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).

B: Shows the estimated distance that an electric vehicle can travel on a fully charged battery.

C: This indicates how long it takes to fully charge an empty battery using a 240-volt electrical outlet.

D: Consumer information and tools associated with the new labels are available at

E: The estimated rate of fuel consumption, in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, for combined city/highway driving.

F: Electric vehicles have the highest possible greenhouse gas and smog ratings because they have zero tailpipe emissions.

G: Download a free bar code app to your smartphone and scan this QR Code (Quick Response Code) for more information about this vehicle.

Shelley Stonebrook is MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine’s main gardening editor. She’s passionate about growing healthy, sustainable food and taking care of our environment. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterestand .

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