Chevy Volt: An Owner’s 2 Year Review

5 years ago by Eric Cote 10

My Chevrolet Volt Makes A Trip To Mt. Washington

Two years ago, on the day before Christmas Eve, I took delivery of a brand new Chevrolet Volt, number 186 off the line.  At the time, I had followed the Volt for nearly 4 years, as Chevrolet detailed all of the engineering and testing that had gone into their “moonshot” electric vehicle with a gasoline range extender.  Because of following the Volt’s progress, I felt relatively confident in its reliability and design integrity, despite being a brand new platform.  What I was less certain about, was how much fuel efficiency I would be able to get with my driving patterns.

In this article, I hope to put forth my experiences in reliability, performance, and fuel efficiency, for any would-be buyers of plug-in electric vehicles.  But first, I’d like to start out by summarizing some of the interesting milestones in my own life that have been a direct consequence of owning a Chevrolet Volt:

  • First Chevrolet Volt owner to experience the pains of dealer inexperience (in their limited defense, it was the first Volt they had delivered).

Completely Dead Stack

  • First electric drive passenger vehicle to ever climb Mount Washington (Round trip gasoline fuel efficiency? A very impressive 116 mpg.)  Starting down the mountain with a completely empty battery, I was also very pleased to make it to the bottom having regenerated enough energy to fill my battery up to over 60%
  • Invited to and participated in a “Volt owner’s panel”, which really ended up being the Chevrolet Volt Owners ad campaign (they didn’t tell us until we got there).

  • Started a small business to make emergency back-up power wiring kits for the Volt and other EV’s, as well as low cost Level 1 charging stations for commercial locations.

  • And, my personal favorite: Averaging well over 100 miles of driving for every 1 gallon of gasoline used.

 

Major Volt-related personal achievements aside, the two biggest questions most people probably have are related to reliability, and fuel efficiency.

Reliability
The Volt has been an extremely reliable car, in my opinion.  I did have a few major issues, but they can be easily attributed to how early my vehicle was in the production line, and some bad quality control on the dealer’s part.  The first major issue was no fault of GM’s: the dealer damaged the driver’s side of the vehicle before I could take delivery, requiring a paint job.  This negligent mishap caused two other unexpected failures to occur: my center screen wasn’t working on delivery, and hours later, the high voltage battery had a sensor reading that was out of spec. These resulting failures were likely due to the  dealer not following the correct procedure for repainting the car, namely that the paint booth shouldn’t be at as high of a temperature.  (Much more can be read about this experience here.)

Unrelated to the dealer’s mishandling of the Volt, I did have a transmission solenoid that stopped functioning and needed replacement.  However, this was a known problem in the first few hundred vehicles to come off the assembly line, and has long been fixed in all other 2011-2013 models produced.

Aside from these issues (that can thankfully be traced back to known causes that will prevent them from happening for others), the only other issue I’ve had is a rear shock that failed prematurely.  Had it not been for the Volt’s quiet ride and no engine noise, I probably would have never heard it.  In my total 24 months of ownership, the last 23 months have been trouble-free, something I can’t say for the other vehicles I’ve owned.

There’s really not much else to say here, except that the Volt has otherwise performed flawlessly, during my gas-free commuting days, as well as during the occasional 750 mile round trip that I take about twice a year.  The ride continues to be as silent as the day I bought it, and the Volt, unlike any other vehicle I’ve owned, continues to put a smile on my face every day I drive it.  The smooth acceleration, no transmission shifts, quiet interior, and instant torque, are all great perks that electric vehicles inherently come with.  Two years later, all of that inherent quality persists.

Efficiency
Here’s how my mileage and gasoline usage currently stack up:

  • 23,750 miles total
  • 16,607 miles on electricity, or roughly 70% of my total mileage
  • 135 miles traveled for every gallon of gasoline used

Chevrolet’s tag line says it all: “Electric when you want it, gas when you need it.”  My driving pattern makes the Volt a great choice.  To me, the Volt is a great car for people if they drive 10-80 miles daily (or more with workplace charging), and need to take an occasional trip involving triple digit mileage.  My driving pattern, for example, involves a 12 mile round trip commute to work, and a few 750 mile round trips each year.  When adding in my other driving (errands, recreation, etc.) I often find that I travel between 15 and 50 miles on any given day.  A screenshot of my daily mileage, %EV, and MPG in December is shown below from Chevrolet’s VoltDC phone app.  I’ve set my daily goal at 90% EV, and each day is colored to show whether or not I met that goal.

 

% Miles EV, MPG, and EV Miles for December 2012 as of This Writing (click to enlarge)

As for refueling cost, electricity is about 66% cheaper than gasoline mile for mile.  Many people can actually recoup the steeper cost of a Volt over the life of the car because of this.  My particular case is a even better: with a solar panel array, all of my Volt’s electricity is free, and green at the same time! (Sorry, OPEC)

I have easily come to the conclusion that I have a fun AND fuel efficient vehicle.  The Volt is the only vehicle on the market that can allow me to make a few 750 mile trips a year, and still average 135 miles for every gallon of gasoline I use.  To top it off, the acceleration, handling, and quiet ride is simply amazing.  It’s no wonder the Volt was ranked highest in customer satisfaction for the second year in row!

Interested in an electric vehicle?  Well, if your driving patterns don’t allow you to get a pure electric vehicle like the Leaf (and even if they do), you should seriously consider a Chevrolet Volt.

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10 responses to "Chevy Volt: An Owner’s 2 Year Review"

  1. scottf200 says:

    Great 2 year summary. Our numbers are pretty close to being the same (23.K, 18.7K, 188 MPGUsed). Nice use of the VoltDC calendar screens. [The only thing in that app that keeps it on my phone. Hopefully they do something with the leadership board since it is more or less worthless since you cannot pick your various criteria (or combos)].

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      Thanks Scott. I feel like most people fit this usage profile, so I’m hoping that would-be buyers will consider this efficiency summary if they’re on the fence. I’m at about 70% EV miles on my vehicle, and that correlates rather nicely with the breakout of the miles counter on the Volt webpage for the whole “fleet”.

  2. Mark H says:

    Thanks for sharing all of this Eric. I did not realize you had such an early Volt. Like yourself, I followed the Volt for some time but was forced to wait until they were available in NC which pushed us out to the 4th quarter of 2011. I too have totally enjoyed this vehicle. I liked your last input about choosing the Volt vs a pure BEV. I am sure I would choose the Volt again as well but do see the ideal scenario as one BEV and one EREV in my future. Give it a few more years and will add a 40kW Tesla Model S sedan. A 40-50 mile EREV and a true 100 mile BEV fits our driving habits perfectly.

    I do wish my 2012 had the “Hold” mode found in the 2013 models simply for heat production in winter months. I also recommend the backup camera/sensor option to new buyers. I opted not to get this initially thinking I could add it later. It turns out that GM does not offer as a later option due to the sensors.

    Very much enjoyed your EV Extend company info. What type of inverter are you running with your solar array? I chose the Enphase (now Siemens) micro inverters for ease of use and flexibility. Are you energizing your inverter/s on your array to keep up production in an outage? Your prices are very reasonable.

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      Thanks Mark, glad you liked the article and the company info.

      For my solar array, I have Enphase micro inverters as well. I find they work very well, especially when some of my panels have snow on them, and the others can still produce electricity without limitation. Very glad I didn’t go with a traditional whole house inverter from an efficiency and operating lifetime standpoints.

      Regarding the EV Extend inverter, I use and advertise that solution as a back-up power option for critical appliances. I do not use it to keep my micro inverters running during an outage, as that is a bit more complicated and expensive to do.

      The micro inverters are intentionally designed to stop functioning during a power outage, as part of their design for linecrew safety. There is one person that has successfully had them working during an outage, but it’s costly… They had to purchase a whole house inverter as well, and a battery bank to charge up. The whole house inverter successfully sheds the load from the microinverters when the batteries were fully charged, at least in this individual’s test. That being said, any advertising anywhere says microinverters require grid power, so for the time being I’m sticking to that usage scenario. 🙂

      1. Mark H says:

        Thanks, that is my current usage and understanding. I totally accept the logic for the linecrew safety. I did not know if you were using your Volt as that “big battery bank” and had adapted a disconnect from the meter for emergency usage to make it function as a stand alone vs a grid tie. As you mentioned, I don’t think the Enphase micro inverters are designed to work as a stand alone anyway which works just fine for me and the majority of the public.

        I enjoyed an earlier article that Jay posted earlier this year (primarily on California Leaf users) showing 1-3 California EV owners were producing their energy via a PV solar array. I really would love to know how that number is progressing nationally and globally as it relates to EVs. Again, very nice article Eric. I go for anything that educates the masses and gets us closer to the first million. I hope the “Cole report” finds a method to report “all” EVs in the closing year numbers.

        1. ClarksonCote says:

          It would sure be great to be able to use the Volt’s battery bank directly for storing PV energy! 🙂 My understanding is that is not possible due to the variable nature of the solar panels power generation. You’d need DC voltage off the panels, and a DC connection to the Volt.

          There is someone on GM-Volt.com that uses his vehicle’s battery as a buffer, but he has a whole house inverter and separate battery bank, which allows him to accommodate the constant power that the car’s charger requires.

          Always great chatting with other EV and PV owners 🙂

          PS – I’m sure Jay will have a great year-end report, along with just the right mix of facts, sarcasm, and humor. 🙂

        2. Bonaire says:

          There will be a grid tie inverter from SMA and others, I presume, in 2013, that will provide some AC power when the grid is down. Not the full array power but something usable. Has been mentioned a few times on solarpaneltalk.com

  3. MrEnergyCzar says:

    Well done… thanks for being an early innovator for us late Volt owners…

    MrEnergyCzar

  4. Schmeltz says:

    Thanks for paving the way Eric! Here’s to hoping for (literally) bigger and better Volts in the years to come!

  5. GeorgeS says:

    Thanks Eric. I remember the battery bake incident. Good luck on your inverter harness business.