I bought a used Chevy Volt - and you probably should too!

Some while back, I tossed in a (little noticed) comment at the end of a post that we’d obtained a Chevy Volt.  We picked up a used 2012 Volt with under 30k miles, and have been using it quite a bit, because, well, it’s our car.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.sevarg.net/2019/07/07/i-bought-used-chevy-volt-and-you-should-too/

(Comments from Blogger)

2019-07-07 by Unknown

I am a big supporter of pure BEVs. I drive a 30kWh Leaf (using about 25% of the battery on most days…).

Your article is really compelling. I already thought it was a good compromise or stepping stone while battery supply and technology continues to improve and/or become less expensive. The way you put it, I think makes a really convincing case to choose a PHEV over an ICE car, and not only for those who are the natural market for BEVs.

My understanding is that 2019 is the last model year for Volt production. That’s a big disappointment!

Thank you very much for writing so thoughtfully on this topic.

2019-07-08 by Ubiquiti101

The mileage you get in your volt is terrible. While I do live in Florida, so I don’t have to deal with cold, I average 3.5 to 4.5 mi/kwh in my gen 1 volt, and between 38 and 45 mpg when on gas. You must be a very aggressive driver to get numbers so low.

2019-07-08 by Russell Graves

I’m not particularly aggressive. We typically are running at 55mph for most of the driving on country roads, 35mph in town. The highway mpg is from a 75mph run on the interstate.

What’s your fuel? We put E10 in, which doesn’t help fuel burn numbers anyway.

I can get somewhat higher on the battery, if I’m very careful, but normal driving with the climate control on settles in where those come from.

I expect the tires on it aren’t high efficiency tires, though. The place we bought it from had replaced them, and I think they’re just regular tires.

2019-07-08 by Russell Graves

As long as you have anywhere to charge regularly and aren’t doing a ton of highway miles, I think the Volt is a good option for just about anyone.

2019-07-08 by David

Excellent article. I’ve had my '13 for over 3 years, they are a bargain if purchased used. The only problem I’ve had is the heat control module, which was replaced under extended warranty, and the “axle nut click,” not a big deal. (Dealer tightened them for free.) Tires are crucial for good range. LRR (low rolling resistance tires) a must. I recently replaced the balding original Goodyears with Bridgestone Quiettrack tires, range took a slight hit (2-3 miles per charge) but worth it for the quieter, better-handling shoes. I keep my tires at 44-45 psi (51 psi max rated). I routinely average over 40 miles per charge in nice weather, and as your piece points out there is no need for an L2 charging system. I get a full charge in about 8 hours, so I leave for work each morning with full E range for my 26 mile commute and any errand-running. It’s an amazing car, lots of fun to drive. It’s also the perfect car for folks who are concerned about range limits but want to drive electric. I go weeks without burning a drop of gas, but have made several cross-country trips in my Volt. It shines as a highway cruiser: quiet and rock-steady. I average 36 to 40 mpg, depending on speed and conditions. If you live in a very cold climate, range takes a big hit when you run the heater. Engine will fire below 15 degrees fahrenheit. I’ve seen range as low as 25 miles in subzero weather, but payback comes in spring. (My personal best is 52 miles on a charge, many have bested this.) This is a very misunderstood car, and your article does a great job explaining that for many, myself included, this is the perfect car.

2019-07-08 by Russell Graves

I’m not actually sure what’s on the car - I’ll have to look. In any case, replacing low mileage tires isn’t worth it for the car - I’ll look at options when they wear out.

Salespeople sure didn’t do the Volt any favors. The attitude I got, multiple times, was “Why should I bother to learn anything about the Volt? The people who come in looking for one know more about it than I will and won’t consider anything else, and nobody else wants to bother learning about it.”

2019-07-08 by Unknown

If you are going to take a lot of cross country trips, then you should consider a Gen 2 Volt with 40% more range and much better MPG on gas. I just took a 3400 mile road trip and averaged 49.5 MPG with charging at night and driving 73 to 78 mph. But last year when I was not taking long trips, I went 6 months on 2.6 gallons of gas… That is the value of the Gen 2 Volt. Gen 1’s range was too little and it required premium gas or suffer a 10% MPG hit on so-so mpg. I drive to my sisters (140 miles) on less than 2 gallons of gas in my Gen 2 if I hypermile a little and I get to mooch electrons from my brother-in-law while there. The reason the Gen 1 took such a depreciation hit was the announcement of the Gen 2 and its improved performance. When I purchased my Gen 1 Volt, I kept my 2006 Prius and used the Prius for cross country trips. Traded both cars in on a 2017 Volt with ACC and I am very happy.

2019-07-08 by Russell Graves

The Gen 2 is definitely nicer - but the cost delta between a Gen 1 and a Gen 2 is still quite significant.

2019-07-09 by Val

I’m wondering, Russell, if you’ve considered using the Volt battery pack as your backup bank, ala PriUPS: The Correct Answer

If you just did grid-tied solar and kept your Volt charged and reasonably gassed up, you could run your house off the car for the 1-7 days it takes the utility to restore service. I kind of feel like you are (consciously?) designing the Tesla Model S of grid-tied, battery backed-up solar systems, when a Chevy Volt-level solution is available. But maybe I don’t understand your motivations for your PV system fully.

2019-07-09 by Russell Graves

Oh, you’re mostly correct about my designs for a Tesla-grade solar power system. Unfortunately, the Tesla-pricing of that system has run me into a corner where I’ve had to go back and rethink things rather significantly.

For years, I’ve told people who want backup power that the right answer is a generator - that doing hybrid solar with battery backup is painfully expensive. I, perhaps arrogantly, figured that I could make such a luxury system work. And I can - except that I can’t make it meet NEC 2017, as interpreted by the one particular individual in my state who does plans reviews for RE installations. I run into things like, “Is my house a standby panel or not? If it is, then I need to provide power to the biggest single consumer - which is the backup coils for my heat pump, even though they never run.” And if it’s not a standby panel, then I need 150A of inverter output to meet the mains requirements, which… hah. I’m not willing to spend unlimited money on the project, and it was heading that way in a hurry.

The fundamental problem is that my house just isn’t designed for backup power. I care about my furnace blower - but that’s in the same physical unit as the backup coils (it’s an “electric furnace” - I added a heat pump and that’s the backup coils now, but still provides the furnace blower). There are two circuits feeding it. Can you run a single appliance from multiple panel boards? Well… that depends on who you ask - and there’s no clear answer. If I could, then I can rewire most of my house and make things work. If not, maybe I could replace the interior panel and use remotely actuated breakers to load shed… but this is off in heavy R&D territory, and the cost of doing all that gets non-trivial in an awful big hurry.

My desire was, initially, seamless backup power with load shifting capability to deal with future changes to net metering. My budget, however, tapped out as we went sailing past $40k for that sort of solution, with no actual permitted solution in sight.

For far, far less money, I can build a grid tie system with emergency power outlets, and put a big generator outlet and manual transfer switch on the house. What plugs into that generator, then, is a bit more of an option, and the device isn’t (as) subject to the same regulations and requirements as a permanently wired system. I’m pretty sure I can do that, build myself a rather convenient “generator” type device, and still come out ahead of where things were heading. Large generators aren’t cheap, and there are better options.

The Volt-UPS systems are interesting, but I’m not convinced they’ll actually run my house. All those systems run off the 12V system, and are limited to ~1.5kW sustained. That won’t run my well pump or anything else. I can get big, powerful inverters that will run my house, but they’re 48V inverters (for very valid reasons - the 36kW peak on it is either 750A @ 48V, or 3000W @ 12V - either way, it’s a ton of current that’s not trivial to handle).

Unfortunately, this is all still under flux. What I can actually build is dependent on what I can get through the plans review process. I’m working on revised plans, though may have someone else draw them up at this point.

I haven’t given up - but I’ve given up on one particular brick wall I’ve spent half the year trying to beat down, and I’m not even sure the system will be finished this year at this point.

2019-07-10 by Matthew Shapiro

How does maintenance factor in for a plug-in hybrid? I’m assuming it’s harder to keep track of when an oil or transmission fluid change is required, as that’s normally distance traveled based, but that seems muddled since your total mileage is probably mostly EV mileage and not ICE mileage.

2019-07-10 by Russell Graves

There’s an oil counter, just like there are on most other modern cars. On the first couple years of the Gen 1, it doesn’t factor time in, though - so you might want to just replace the oil every year or so. Recommended is two years, some people have done oil analysis and, eh… it’s cheap enough to do every year.

The rest is no different from any other car. The transmission fluid is under use regardless of the propulsion method, coolants, etc… just follow the maintenance schedule.

However, you’re unlikely to have to replace the brakes - unless you never use the friction brakes. If they get used rarely enough, they can seize in place.

2019-07-10 by Val

Well the PriUPS guy isn’t using the 12V bus, but tying directly to the traction battery. It gives him ~200V DC to work with. He got a free UPS with worn out FLA cells, recycled them and used the NiMH pack instead, since the voltages mostly matched. He claims dummy testing of 5-6 kW, and 3kW in practice, which is probably limited by the free UPS electronics he got. A bigger UPS may extend that to 10-15kW.

I looked into doing this for my own prius when I got married. The wedding was in a campground without power, and I had to provide power for the band’s amps, and oxygen pumping for an elderly guest staying in an RV. The prius is much quieter than a generator, even when the ICE is running. I ended up just doing the ~$150 12V inverter thing, and it worked flawlessly. I think it burned 1 or 2 gallons of gas over two nights, affecting the tank’s mileage from 50 to 40mpg.

My guess is the Volt’s higher voltage will make a matching UPS harder to find…

2019-12-14 by ToddG


I’ve started looking into purchasing a used Volt. The concern I have is the battery. When purchasing, how can you tell what state the battery is in? I’ve been looking in the Seattle area, and noticed one comparatively inexpensive low mileage volt at a dealership. Looking at the carfax, I could see that the battery had been replaced within the first 15K miles. But the carfax did not state whether the battery replacement was (new? reconditioned? used and not reconditioned?). No idea what the warranty would be in that case either. So…
* What are the key things that prospective buyers need to look at when purchasing a used Volt? (specific to the Volt/Battery/Charging etc.)
* Is it worth purchasing through a dealer?
* Is the ‘certified used’ worth the extra cost?
* Are these going to be long-term maintainable and/or upgradable vehicles now that they are not manufactured anymore?


2019-12-14 by Russell Graves

The battery pack is pretty robust on the Volts. There aren’t common failure points, and there are rarely any signs that something is going to fail beforehand. If you charge it fully, drive till the pack is drained, and have roughly the expected kWh capacity for that year, that’s about as good as you can do. On our 2012, that means 10.5kWh or so. Later 1st gens up that a bit, and 2nd gens are far higher. I wouldn’t worry about 10.4kWh, I would ask hard questions if the gas engine kicked on at 8kWh. But they don’t use the full pack capacity, so the degradation from time just doesn’t matter much - they’re not sitting full or empty much. Even if the pack is “empty” per the dashboard, there’s still plenty of capacity in the chemistry.

If the dealer knows what they’re doing, they might add some value, but you can safely assume that most dealerships (at least the sales side) has no knowledge of the Volt, and offers nothing of value. You’ll educate the salesperson on the car, most likely.

No idea about “certified used.” I personally tend to think that’s a dealer gimmick, but maybe they do something other than make sure the engine runs and it isn’t pissing fluids.

As far as long term maintenance/repair, at least for the first gens, you can find the service manual (or most of it), you can get the dealer software to interface with the car, and there’s a pretty solid user community around them. Upgrading probably won’t happen (the Volt is certainly the least-modded vehicle type I’ve ever owned, talking about the broad community of users), but I expect people to continue working out details. Consider that most of them are still under the Voltec warranty (8 years/100k miles, or 150k in CA), so the 2012s are just starting to fall out of that warranty window now. Not too many people hack on a car still in warranty.

I’ve done the analysis and I’m (obviously) comfortable enough with the balance to own one. There’s a risk of an expensive failure at some point, but in a reasonable lifespan, I’ll have saved so much in fuel that even with a $5k repair, I’d still come out as a wash with a gas car - and there’s no guarantee a gas car won’t have a weird failure either. A casting fault in a connecting rod could take quite a few miles to manifest. So, probably not Toyota reliable, but quite a few Volts have an awful lot of trouble free miles.

The only real weak point in the 1st gens is the stator bearing which, depending on driving, will usually start making racket around 100k miles and need replacement, but that’s a $1000-$1500 dealer service, less if you do it yourself.

I’d just verify that the car you’re looking at is still under the Voltec warranty, and if it is, you should be fine.

2019-12-15 by ToddG

Thank you Russel, the Voltec warranty is something I had not thought of. Cool, now off to find one!