The AP is reporting that Hyundai and Kia overstated the gas mileage on most of their models from the past three years in an embarrassing blunder that could bring sanctions from the U.S. government and millions of dollars in payments to car owners.

To be perfectly candid, I'm one of those car owners who've been duped. When my wife & I saw highway mileage at "40 mpg" that's one of the key reasons why we bought our Hyundai Elantra.

Because of the inflated mileage, discovered during an audit by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Korean automakers must retrofit the window stickers on the cars, reducing their fuel economy figures by one-to-six miles per gallon depending on the model, the agency said.

The EPA said its inquiry into the errors is continuing, and the agency would not comment when asked if the companies will be fined or if a criminal investigation is under way. But the EPA said it's the first case in which erroneous test results were uncovered in a large number of vehicles from the same manufacturer.

According to the Associated Press, Hyundai and Kia executives apologized for the errors, said they were unintentional, and promised to pay the owners of 900,000 cars and SUVs for the difference in mileage. The payments, which will be made annually for as long as people own their cars, are likely to cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

After receiving complaints from consumers about mileage discrepancies, The EPA's audit turned up discrepancies between agency test results and data turned in by Hyundai and Kia, the EPA said. As a result, the automakers will have to knock one or two miles per gallon off the mileage posted on most of the models' window stickers. Some models will lose three or four miles per gallon, and the Kia Soul, a funky-looking boxy small SUV, will lose six mpg from the highway mileage on its stickers.

The companies will find out how many miles the cars have been driven, find the mileage difference and calculate how much more fuel the customer used based on average regional fuel prices and combined city-highway mileage. Customers also would get a 15% premium for the inconvenience, and the payments would be made with debit cards, Sprague said. The owner of a car in Florida with a one mpg difference who drove 15,000 miles would get would get a debit card for $88.03 that can be refreshed every year as long as the person owns the car, Sprague said.

If all 900,000 owners get cards for $88.03, it would cost the automakers more than $79 million a year.

Hyundai and Kia owners may obtain more information at
www.hyundaimpginfo.com or www.kiampginfo.com.