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Calif. Woman Takes Honda To Small Claims Court Over Hybrid Mileage

A California woman is taking Honda to small claims court, claiming her Civic hybrid never gave her the 50 miles per gallon advertised.

All Things Considered's Melissa Block spoke to Andrea Chang, a Los Angeles Times business reporter who was in court on Tuesday as Heather Peters made her case.

Essentially, Chang explained, Peters decided to opt out of a class-action settlement that would have given her as little as $100 and awarded the attorneys $8.5 million.

The 46-year-old Los Angeles resident, who is also a lawyer, decided to even the playing field by filing her suit in a small claims court, which doesn't allow the parties to retain lawyers.

Chang says Peters showed up in court with advertisements that claimed her car would give her 50 miles to the gallon. She came armed with hundreds of pictures of her dashboard showing that she got at best 42 miles per gallon and after a software update that number dropped to fewer than 30 miles per gallon.

Honda, said Chang, sent a technical specialist to the trial. He made two arguments: first, that the EPA comes up with the miles-per-gallon number and Honda is required to use it; and second, that the amount of mileage a person gets out of a car depends on how he drives it or even the pressure in the tires.

Chang told Melissa the commissioner listening to the case seemed sympathetic toward Peters. "He listened and didn't scoff at anything," said Chang.

The big story here, though, is the kind of fallout the case may have if the judge rules in Peters' favor. She's asking for $10,000 and advocating for others not to settle with Honda and to "sue for more." Peters has even started a website.

Chang said we'll know the result of the suit next week at the latest. But if it doesn't go Honda's way, the company can appeal to a superior court and there it will represented by high-priced lawyers. Plus, Chang said, how many Honda owners have the time and will to fight a case in small claims court?

Much more of Melissa's conversation with Chang on tonight's All Things Considered. Tune in to your local NPR member station to listen. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview here, a bit later on.

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