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EU Car Makers Manipulating Fuel Efficiency Figures 431

Posted by timothy
from the both-sides-of-the-pond dept.
pev writes with a report in The Guardian that "European car manufacturers are rigging fuel efficiency tests by stripping down car interiors, over inflating tyres, taping over panel gaps and generally cheating. This overestimates the figures by 25% to 50%. One would have thought that a simple clause stating that cars have to be tested in the conditions that they are sold in would have been obvious?"
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EU Car Makers Manipulating Fuel Efficiency Figures

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  • I'm shocked - I had always taken it as read that the figures were very optimistic and now this is considered news.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I always thought they did it on a rolling road where none of that would make any difference.

    • Re:Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

      by UltraZelda64 (2309504) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:57PM (#43172735)

      Optimistic? I think the word you meant was 'bullshit'. There is a difference between something that may be possible under 100% perfect conditions (yet nearly 100% unlikely in real-world conditions)... and something that has been completely rigged in such ways that even in perfect theoretical conditions it is impossible for the car, unmodified and straight from the factory, to ever come close to such manipulated stats.

      This is worse than controlled, theoretical lab tests... this is downright crooked. There is absolutely nothing 'optimistic' about it. This is fraud.

  • Slow news day? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Quakeulf (2650167) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:02PM (#43171921)
    Haven't we all been taught to take all of these "tests" with a grain of salt?
    • Re:Slow news day? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:29PM (#43172305) Homepage Journal

      Most of the cars I've driven could meet or exceed the MPG specs.

      My '98 Saab 900 SET Convertible did 25-28MPG on my mostly highway commute right up to 208K miles. That's winning.

      My '95 Explorer was hitting 17-19MPG on the same commute, at 318k miles. Winning.

      My 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally is hitting 27-31MPG, same commute, 212K miles. Winning.

      My wife is driving the 2000 Explorer V8 at 143K miles, and is getting 16-18MPG. Not so winning, but not bad.

      Her commute and mine are similar; relatively quick in the morning, stop and go in the afternoon.

      Other cars I have driven that met their MPG estimates include various versions of the Taurus, Focus, Malibu Maxx, and a collection of forgettable crap. The older ones, pre-1990, were disappointing.

      MPG results are highly influenced by the driver, the traffic, and vehicle condition, but the driver I think counts a lot.

      • by meerling (1487879)
        I'm probably going to regret this question, but why do you drive so many different cars?
      • Modern cars have to meet much more stringent emissions requirements than older cars did. It was a lot easier to get good gas mileage when the car could exhaust more crap. Cars are also getting heavier bigger, heavier, and more powerful.

        • Re:Slow news day? (Score:4, Informative)

          by realityimpaired (1668397) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @02:20PM (#43174163)

          Modern cars have to meet much more stringent emissions requirements than older cars did. It was a lot easier to get good gas mileage when the car could exhaust more crap. Cars are also getting heavier bigger, heavier, and more powerful.

          Exhausting unburned hydrocarbons is *bad* for efficiency, not good for it.

          It's the weight that the emissions control and safety systems add which is affecting mileage on modern cars. If you have the same BHP in your car and weigh 200kg more, then your efficiency and performance characteristics are going to suffer. Fitting a bigger engine will actually improve efficiency, if it's being driven sanely, because most engines also lose efficiency when they are running closer to their limits.

          But it's also the car manufacturers' faults... how Chev managed to only get 103HP out of the 2007 Aveo's 1.6L engine is a mystery, for example... You see significantly more than that out of 1.6L engines in European cars and it makes an enormous difference to the overall efficiency (let alone adding a turbo or two, or going to diesel). And they are still doing the same thing today on many of their models.

          The Europeans may be fudging the numbers a bit, but take everything an auto manufacturer says with a grain of salt anyway. The European cars are still better on the efficiency front, because they're designed for a market where gas costs 3x as much.

        • Re:Slow news day? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Tuidjy (321055) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @06:45PM (#43177061)

          You got it all wrong. Exhausting more crap reduces your fuel efficiency.

          I have replaced every car I've owned with a newer, more powerful one. Every single one has been more fuel efficient.

          My current car is a heavily modified S60-R Volvo. Yes, it is heavier than my old Supra, and it has 460hps at the wheel (with the AWD fuse pulled) But it is also a Ultra Low Emission vehicle, and the first time I had it smog checked, the guy did it twice, because all but one of the categories on the California Smog check form were 0 (Zero point Zero)

          The guy could not believe him eyes nor his machine. I have a bigger (than original) turbo, a dual intercooler, and a modified exhaust. After every single one of these modifications, the power AND the fuel efficiency went up.

          So right now, I have a car that gets 31.1mpg on my daily commute, which is 12 miles highway and 5 miles streets.

      • Your post makes me wonder if you drive slowly and deliberately and that your wife... doesn't. :-)
  • Relativity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:04PM (#43171941) Journal

    Fuel efficiency tests are for comparison purposes. If all makers cheat equally, comparisons are still meaningful. When legislators set an standard, they'll probably take that into account and make the standard a bit tighter.

    • Re:Relativity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:11PM (#43172059)

      The problem is that automakers start designing cars to the unrealistic test, and not to get real-world gains. Even if this only accounts for 1 MPG, that is a huge amount of fuel for the entire fleet.

    • by bws111 (1216812)

      The comparisons are only meaningful if equal cheating produces equal effect. I would think that things like taping panel gaps would have a significantly different effect depending on body shape, size and number of gaps, etc. Same with removing interior components - if model 'A' uses lightweight components and model 'B' uses cheaper but heavier components the effect of removing them will be significantly different.

  • Duh ! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:04PM (#43171945)

    If all we have to do is over inflate your tires, tape over the panel gaps, and keep your car empty ( find somewhere else to park your junk ), to get 25% - 50 % better gas milage, why don't we all do it ?

    • by Endo13 (1000782)

      You forgot that you have to disconnect the alternator as well. You'll also need a plug-in charger to keep recharging your battery.

    • Re:Duh ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:39PM (#43172447) Homepage

      The single biggest difference to fuel consumption is between the seat and the steering wheel.

      • Re:Duh ! (Score:5, Funny)

        by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:54PM (#43172691)

        The single biggest difference to fuel consumption is between the seat and the steering wheel.

        I can confirm that this is true. When you remove that element for good, your monthly fuel consumption will drop to zero.

        • When you remove that element for good, your monthly fuel consumption will drop to zero.

          But then the MPG is terrible.

          If you let a car sit and you lose X ml of gasoline to evaporation while traveling 0 miles your MPG is 0. Even a leadfoot can beat 0mpg.

          • by dkf (304284)

            But then the MPG is terrible.

            If you let a car sit and you lose X ml of gasoline to evaporation while traveling 0 miles your MPG is 0. Even a leadfoot can beat 0mpg.

            Keep the tank completely empty and your MPG will go all the way up to NaN! Beat that!

    • Also I bet they were removing the various interior panels, carpeting, passenger seats, sound deadening material etc. Hell it wouldn't surprise me if they also pulled out all sorts of safety equipment to get the weight down as well since they were running on a test track.
    • I actually do over-inflate my tires. Well-made tires will handle their rating and keep shape without the load--i.e. a car that specifies 35PSI on a cheap tire inflated to 50PSI will have excess tire wear in the middle; but with a stiffer, better-made tire, the tire retains shape and the extra inflation pressure actually gets you better acceleration, traction, and stopping power. So I do about 5PSI below rated on really good tires.
      • Re:Duh ! (Score:4, Informative)

        by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @01:09PM (#43172923) Homepage
        As far as traction proper inflation and even over inflation works well on roads that are dry or covered with water but it actually makes things worse on ice. One of the tricks I learned early on was to let a few PSI out of your tires when the roads are icy as that will help with traction there.
      • extra inflation pressure actually gets you better acceleration, traction, and stopping power.

        The extra inflation should make the tire harder resulting in lower friction. Hence the better acceleration so long as you control the torque. However, this means that you have less rubber touching the road (note the lower friction) so, in most circumstances, you have lower traction. Lower traction often means less stopping power.

        A harder and narrower tyre on the front can increase the precision and response of your steering but this is a potentially lethal error if your vehicle is front-wheel drive as all t

        • You have a lower contact area, but higher *pressure*. If you have 4 tires with a 3 x 3 inch contact area at 30PSI, that's 9 x 4 = 36 square inches of contact. This happens if you have a 1080 pound car. If you have a 3000 pound car, your total contact area will be (surprise...) 3 times bigger, think 5 x 5 inches per tire. Raising the PSI to 50PSI gets you 15 square inches per tire instead of 25, for a 3000 pound car. The normal force increases and the total force of friction stays roughly the same; but

  • Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s4ltyd0g (452701) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:05PM (#43171963)

    This is no different from dot matrix printer specifications from long ago. Sure your printer would do 250cps as long as all the characters were the number 1.

  • European Magic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:07PM (#43171983)

    This topic comes up every time we discuss fuel efficiency on here. Someone inevitably complains that the high-efficiency European cars are not available in the US, and then someone else points out that the Euro cars would not do very well on the EPA test. Hijinks ensue.

    • Re:European Magic (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:15PM (#43172115)

      It's made even more hilarious by the nonlinearity of the "miles per gallon" metric vs. the "liters per 100km" metric and by the fact that a British gallon and an American gallon are two different sizes.

      • by Phrogman (80473)

        Up here in Canada we use the Litres per 100 Km metric too. My assumption was that it was intended to obscure just how much gas you are going through, and thus obscure the price you are paying for it as well. Its much harder to compare miles per gallon to litres per 100km that it would be if it was a straight translation of kilometers per litre.
        Since the price of gas seems to fluctuate by as much as 25% on a seemingly random basis, I think its in the interests of the Oil companies to keep us as confused as p

        • Re:European Magic (Score:5, Insightful)

          by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @01:01PM (#43172781) Journal

          It's actually the opposite. Gaining 10mpg over 40mpg is pathetically little, while gaining 5mpg over 20mpg is HUGE. Dropping 0.5L per 100km is the same amount of saved fuel regardless of if you have a 7L/100km or 3.5L/100km car. Thus it's easy to hype your 30, 35mpg cars and tell people they need to upgrade their 28mpg car, when really that's a huge fucking waste.

          The real world effect is that Americans think what we need is shiny new expensive 40mpg hybrids, when the best thing we could do is get the existing 15mpg old-ass broken down shitheaps off the road in exchange for newer 22mpg used cars that exist already. The environmental savings would be bigger than if we just replaced the natural new flow of new cars with a natural new flow of new cars with slightly better mileage. i.e. what's important is the flow of average-mileage used cars into the hands of people who aren't going to buy a new car!

    • Re:European Magic (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JDG1980 (2438906) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:22PM (#43172195)

      The EPA tests aren't exactly a paragon of realism, either. There is at least as much fudging there. And to complicate things, the MPG figure you see on the window sticker is not the same figure used to calculate aggregate fuel efficiency for CAFE requirements.

      Incidentally, one US-specific cause of MPG shortfalls is the use of ethanol. The cars are tested with pure gas, but regulations require a certain amount of ethanol to be blended into the real-world gasoline supply (up to 10% and the lobby wants to raise it higher), and this drastically hurts efficiency.

      • but regulations require a certain amount of ethanol to be blended into the real-world gasoline supply ... and this drastically hurts efficiency.

        Except it doesn't have to. My car manufacturer, Hyundai, says I should get 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway. I get between 30 -33 city and on my last long drive I got 40.77 mpg.

        Part of it is how you drive. If you're always on the gas, trying to get one car ahead, then slam on the brakes to squeeze into the barely there gap between cars, of course your mileage will be l

        • Re:European Magic (Score:4, Informative)

          by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:49PM (#43172625) Homepage
          but regulations require a certain amount of ethanol to be blended into the real-world gasoline supply ... and this drastically hurts efficiency. Except it doesn't have to.
          Yes, yes it does. Gasoline ~34.2 MJ/L; E10~33.18(~3% less); E85~26.5. Ethanol has less energy per liter, so if you have to add it to your fuel, you will get fewer MPGs.
        • Buy better tires and they won't highspot.
        • by Richy_T (111409)

          Coasting can be detrimental to fuel consumption if your car is one that cuts fuel supply under deceleration (during coasting, fuel is needed to keep the engine turning).

      • Re:European Magic (Score:4, Informative)

        by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:55PM (#43172701)

        There is at least as much fudging there.

        Fudging is hard, but not impossible (see Kia [cnn.com]). The EPA spot-checks 15% of all vehicles sold in the US in its own lab, each year. 2/3 of those are randomly selected. So you, as cheating Joe Automaker, have a 1/10 chance that your model will get selected at random. Even if you only have one model that you cheat on, this can't be a long-term strategy or you will get caught, on average, once every 10 years.

        And to complicate things, the MPG figure you see on the window sticker is not the same figure used to calculate aggregate fuel efficiency for CAFE requirements.

        That was sort-of true until this year. It is true that automakers could use the older methods to calculate fuel economy. But they then had to run the results through a set of equations that estimated the results if the more modern tesst were used instead. Starting this year, everyone has to use the more modern tests.

        The cars are tested with pure gas

        That isn't true, though I'm not sure what you mean by "pure gas", which itself is a cocktail. They have a standard fuel that they test with, which is 93-octane. For CA-rated cars, they use 91-octane. To get to 93-octane, you need to have ethanol, or some other anti-knock agent "watering" down the gas. The differences you get tank-to-tank are going to account for far more than the variation you'll see between a bit more ethanol added here or there compared to the EPA test.

        Anyway, there will never be a "paragon" for predicting how consumers will drive a yet-to-be-sold car - all we can do is try to guess. The EPA test does a fair job, though I think people see the highway number as a bit optimistic unless you really restrain yourself. The city number is pretty realistic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bkaul01 (619795)

        The cars are tested with pure gas, but regulations require a certain amount of ethanol to be blended into the real-world gasoline supply (up to 10% and the lobby wants to raise it higher), and this drastically hurts efficiency.

        Well, "drastically" might be a bit of an overstatement ... on a volumetric basis, ethanol has 36% less energy than gasoline, so E10 (10% ethanol by volume) has 3.6% less energy. In real-world terms, this means getting 29 mpg instead of 30. It's measurable, but not, perhaps, "drastic."

        You are correct on certifications being performed using E0 fuel, while E10 is the norm almost everywhere in the US. There is some desire to allow certifications using higher ethanol blends for flex-fuel vehicles, which would le

        • I doubt running the tests with higher ethanol blends for flex fuel vehicles would ever amount to them being able to increase fuel economy, but would allow them to highlight where alcohol fuels shine which is in producing power. To fully utilize the useful properties of ethanol you need to ignore other parts of the environmental regulations. Its very high octane raiting means you can run much higher compression ratios or much higher boost but doing so increases your NOx emissions. Another of its useful prope
          • by bkaul01 (619795)

            If you design an engine to take advantage of the high octane number of a high-ethanol blend (i.e., E20+), with a high compression ratio, etc., there is a lot to be gained. A higher compression ratio inherently makes the thermodynamic cycle more efficient, and the high octane number avoids the losses due to retarded combustion phasing that are necessary to avoid knock with gasoline.

            Running certification tests on a high-ethanol blend doesn't, in and of itself, bring about those design changes. What it does is

    • by Albanach (527650)

      It is the case that, until very recently, there were many very efficient cars available in Europe that are/were not available in the US. Especially diesel models.

      For example I rented a very nice Audi A3 Tdi in the UK, and drove over 1,100 miles on 30 US gallons of gas. At the time it wasn't available in the US, but you can buy it here now. Still, there aren't many nice US cars that get 36+ mpg in real world use.

  • by Lorens (597774) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:07PM (#43171999) Journal

    Over inflating tires maybe not, but taping over panel gaps for -10% in fuel would interest a lot of people.

    • by JDevers (83155)

      How convenient would it be to have someone tape you into the car every time you went somewhere? Not to mention all the wasted tape...

      • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:43PM (#43172517)

        Yeah, but what about...

        * Panel gaps that aren't on doors (or on doors that you don't use)

        You don't crack the bonnet every day. There will be panel gaps on the bumpers, etc. If you don't habitually have passengers in the rear seats, tape the door seals up. Three door models probably do much better than 5 doors models - but don't sell well in the American market because you have to be agile enough to climb into the back seat...

    • by tompaulco (629533)

      Over inflating tires maybe not, but taping over panel gaps for -10% in fuel would interest a lot of people.

      Then why don't they just seal the panel gaps when they build the car?

    • So something like weatherstripping so when the door closes it overlaps the panel behind it slightly. while that won't do much as there is a giant gap in the front of the vehicle that needs to be sealed up it may help some. The grill to let air flow through the radiator is a bitch to work around and the best solution seem to be to make them as small as possible. Air flowing through the vehicle makes for some real poor aerodynamics.
    • As you requested. 95 mpg Honda Civic http://www.aerocivic.com/ [aerocivic.com] With instructions.
    • by pev (2186)

      Especially people like the ecomodder folk :
      http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/aerocivic-how-drop-your-cd-0-31-0-a-290.html#post2111

  • by puddingebola (2036796) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:09PM (#43172015) Journal
    The EPA standards that were implemented in 2008 supposedly imposed tougher standards on manufacturers, taking into account colder temperatures, faster driving, and AC use. I found in my own car I get much better mileage than what the window sticker advertised. A little surprised the US seems better regulated on this one small issue.
  • by tompaulco (629533) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:09PM (#43172031) Homepage Journal
    Another way to cheat is they use diesel, which is more energy dense.
    For the sarcasm-impaired, I am very much in favor of diesel and have been complaining for at least a decade that we don't get a good selection of diesels in the U.S. All I want is a diesel sports sedan with manual transmission. My only choice right now is the Jetta. No thanks.
    • It's also more expensive, which goes some way to offset the (monetary) savings of using more energy dense fuel.

      Here [virtualcar...tore.co.uk] is a basic calculator to see if you'd save money. It's in Sterling, but ignore the currency symbol and the math is the same.
    • by Cenan (1892902) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:24PM (#43172233)

      Diesel causes cancer [cancer.org]. Diesel particles could raise heart attack risks [bbc.co.uk]. And I'm sure there are tons of other stuff Diesel is good for, by all means let's have some more.

    • So then it appears that is not actually ALL you want: you want something else that precludes the Jetta.
      • by tompaulco (629533)

        So then it appears that is not actually ALL you want: you want something else that precludes the Jetta.

        Well, yes. I guess I am looking more towards cars like the Audi A6 or some of the BMWs they sell in Europe. I am aware that the Audi TDI engines are the same engine as the VW. It's not so much the engine that is my issue with the Jetta. I just don't like the styling, and I have known several people that had them and were plagued with issues, mostly not engine related. Also, we only have one local choice for VW dealer, and they make other car dealers look like Sunday School teachers.

    • I prefer a manual drive; however I will accept the CVT in the Tesla Model S because it performs. Slushboxes I can't drive, they simply don't work for me. I can't control the car and it behaves unexpectedly. The CVT is a solid clutched transmission that gives maximum performance when accelerating, without hanging around in a high gear for ~1 second and switching up to a high gear if you don't keep the car WOT (fucking stupid Chevy Cobalt auto-tranny shit), so no worries about being crippled on the highway

  • Maybe some of these 'tricks' can actually be used to improve fuel efficiency.

    Can we make tires that are safe at higher pressures? Or improve the aerodynamics?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The reason overinflating tires reduces fuel consumption is that it reduces the contact patch between the car and the road. Unless designed for that smaller contact patch it means worse braking distance and handling.

    • by pev (2186)

      Of course they can - however, people buy cars for looks in general not efficiency. For example spoilers that boy racers wet their pants over generally do nothing much to aid downforce and add a lot of efficiency reducing drag...

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:11PM (#43172053)

    Why do they let the automakers run the test? Instead the regulatory bodies should ask for 3 production samples and an application fee and then the regulatory body should do the tests themselves.

    • by fermion (181285)
      Because, as in the case of Tesla, when independent reviewers test they do not follow instructions to the letter and the car does not perform as well. Of course most drivers don't follow the instructions to the letter, don't keep the tires inflated properly, drive inefficiently, have to drive in stop and go traffic, etc.

      So the question becomes which is better. A standard set of tests in which values between models can be compared, or non standard tests in which more relevant values for the real world are

    • I think you know damn well why they let the automakers run the test rather than spending government money to test the things themselves.

      Hmm... it might be interesting to require testing to be done by the competitors. Probably woudn't solve much even if you required they not actually be part of the same Volkswagon or other corporate superfamily, but interesting.
    • Even better: Randomly sample the MPG of cars that have been sold to consumers. That way we get the actual "real world" average MPG. Many modern cars already have the mileage information in their on-board computer, so the data could be collected when they are brought in for service.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:16PM (#43172127)

    When Consumer Reports wants to test a product (including cars), they don't go to the manufacturer, much less let the manufacturer run the testing process! They buy the product anonymously at normal retail, and then test it in their own labs. Why can't regulatory agencies like the EPA and its European Union equivalent do the same thing?

    • by necro81 (917438)
      One simple reason: all that EPA and other regulatory testing needs to be done before the car hits the market.
    • by meerling (1487879)
      How about the little fact that companies need it's economy ratings BEFORE they market the vehicle. That pretty much makes purchasing one on the market and then testing it to set it's ratings rather difficult unless you have a TARDIS.
    • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125)

      When Consumer Reports wants to test a product (including cars), they don't go to the manufacturer, much less let the manufacturer run the testing process! They buy the product anonymously at normal retail, and then test it in their own labs. Why can't regulatory agencies like the EPA and its European Union equivalent do the same thing?

      I might be wrong, but doesn't the EPA/EU have to run the tests before the car is released to the public? Kind of like how you need FDA approval before you can sell a drug on the market? And so if the manufacturer knows that they are giving it to the regulators, there will be some cheating (though much less than stripping the internals out to reduce weight).

  • by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @12:40PM (#43172455) Homepage
    A few years back I remembered reading an article from car and driver about them winning a MGP competition put on for the original Honda Insight. The games they played make the cheating going on here seem like the work of petty amateurs. Of course that was for fun and bragging rights for the magazines that participated so excessive bending of the rules was to be expected. If interested I suggest reading the article "How We Won the Insight Fuel-Economy Challenge. Without Cheating. Much" [caranddriver.com]. I am surprised that the car manufactures in the EU also don't try lowering the oil level so that it barely covers the oil pickup tube when running thus keeping the crank from hitting the oil in the sump or have most vehicles gone over to a dry sump setup. Also if they are going to disconnect the alternator why not also disconnect the water pump and replace it with an electric one like the drag racers do? Granted it won't work for an extended period of time (the electric racing ones are fairly low volume) but I would imagine the vehicle would survive the test track with it.
  • by Skapare (16644) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @01:02PM (#43172809) Homepage

    ... always use independent measuring. Corporations, even in EU, have people at the helm that are fundamental liars.

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