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Clay HalfDork
11/20/19 12:07 p.m.

Well, I don’t post much these days, but the recent EV threads (Tuna’s Bolt and Keith’s Model 3 thread) have pulled me in. I figured I would post a build thread to document how my experience of moving to a (mostly) EV has been. I bought mine 2 years ago so I may play catch up some. I’ll document my ownership experience and share any information I can.


For some background, I was anti-EV until a few years ago based on my limited calculations comparing a new 40k EV to my $2500 Jetta TDI or something similar. Obviously, they aren’t really comparable, but that was what I used to confirm my beliefs. When things really changed for me was when we got solar on the house and I realized it’s just a minor increase in up front charge to add enough capacity to charge  a car or two. I put in the extra capacity in preparation for an EV. It is a 5.9kW system of 20 295W panels and produces about 10-11 MWH per year and cost about $12k after the tax rebate.  Shortly after getting the solar system and seeing the high production it was making, I began a search for cheap (under $10k) full electric vehicles for my 40 mile round trip commute. I was going to keep $2500 for a second ICE car for longer weekend trips if needed. I had a few options: 1. Leaf with battery life concerns 2. Fiat 500E with Italian reliability 3. Smart EV (but I need a back seat for kids).


The Leaf battery degradation issues worried me, but some with replaced batteries were available in the $6-7k range. I liked the Fiat 500E and test drove one, but the curved windshield really gave me some vertigo issues. Like wearing a bad pair of prescription glasses. I never did test-drive a second one to be sure it wasn’t a one-car issue, but I’m guessing they all have that issue. I quickly realized that first gen Volts were available right at $10k and would remove the need for a second $2500 ICE car. With this, I started looking at Volts and bought the first one I test drove for $7900. It was in perfect shape and the guy (who owned two Volts) was replacing his with the new Chrysler Pacifica EV/hybrid. He had just dropped the price from $10k as he needed the parking space and I was the first person to come get it.

Once I owned the Volt I quickly realized 120V charging was SLOW so I started researching installing a Level 2 charger. Luckily I realized the included Volt Level 1 charger cable will work as a Level 2. It just needs a 240V wire soldered in. I soldered in a dryer plug I had handy ($0). This might be a good option for anyone wanting a cheap Level 2 Charger as you can get Volt chargers for cheap used and mod them. There is a youtube video if you are interested. All I had to do was wire the dryer plug. I bought the stuff from Home Depot and wired right into my dryer breakers (not needed as we use gas). Total cost $45. I ran the plug near the garage door and the charger wire out into the driveway and I charge outside every night.


The Volt works very well for my 40 mi commute and I routinely get 38 mi of range electric and use .2 or so gallons a day. As a result a I fill up my 6 gallon tank at most once a month. Here are a few of my observations having switched to mostly EV driving. I hate getting gas now that I’ve gotten used to charging at home. I only have to change the oil every 2 years or so and that’s more than often enough for me.


 This is my commuter car so I never really need it for road trips, but I did drive it on a 200 mi trip once and it averaged around 40mpg. I am very interested in moving up a Bolt as 200mi of range would handle just about 100% of my needs. My family already rents cars for long trips since our minivan is getting a little worn out at 230k miles. I rented a van for $250 for a 1200mi roadtrip through Utah and the Grand Canyon.


To sum up my thoughts, I think EVs are the future. I’m not an early adopter by any stretch, so I wanted to show that there are some affordable ways of going to an EV. Sure I have solar and the electricity is pretty much free, but there are some serious cost savings even if you buy your electricity. I am trying to convince my mother in Georgia to get a Bolt. I think it would fit her needs really well and she is only paying 13c/kwH which is much cheaper than the costs here in SoCal. Especially as more and more people move to solar and the electricity costs are mostly free/mitigated, EVs are going to become much more the norm. That’s already very obvious when you see how many people here in SoCal have solar and EVs in combination. I see myself owning at least one EV from now on even if I'm paying for electricity. I can't wait until the Bolts get down in my price range!


I’ll keep posting more tidbits of ownership as I can.




mr2s2000elise Dork
11/20/19 12:11 p.m.

Thank you for sharing. Since you are also in So Cal, what was your monthly electric bill prior to solar? My bill is $130 a month averaged for the year. People tell me unless my bill is over $300, going solar doesn't make sense. Would appreciate your input

FuzzWuzzy HalfDork
11/20/19 12:12 p.m.

Ayyyy finally an 'EV' that I can afford that looks good. A 38-mile range would honestly be plenty for me since my commute is pretty short usually.

Gonna have to keep attention on this thread as I a used Volt will likely be my first one, too.

Now only if there was a way to mod them...

Clay HalfDork
11/20/19 12:40 p.m.

mr2s200elise, It's hard to say exactly what my bill would have been prior to solar as we got it after just a few months in my new home. I will say I averaged 7500kwH per year at my previous house which had coastal breezes. We moved inland where the AC usage is more common and I estimated it would be 9000kwH or so. I padded the system size up to allow for unrestricted AC use and future electric car charging. It was estimated to produce 9500kwH, but it's producing closer to 10,000-11,000. We actually have a hard time using it all. It was estimated by the solar company to save us the equivalent of $250/month ($3000/yr), but I know for a fact that my highest usage month bill (1600kwH) would have been over $700 if I had to pay it. I'm estimating my savings at closer to $4k per year with an ROI of 3 years. I was surprised at how cheap the systems have become.


FuzzWuzzy, there is a guy modding these on his own to combine engine and battery for higher output. Not sure what came of that though...



fusion66 New Reader
11/20/19 12:49 p.m.

I test drove a (2013) Volt last week as my first experience with any sort of EV. I walked away impressed and will pull the trigger on one to replace my current DD if/when I find the right deal. With a 28 mile round trip daily work commute and a 50 mile round trip for recreation on Saturdays, I can see burning a minimal amount of gas on a monthly basis.

The extended warranty on the electrical portion of the powertrain is appealing as well as it would provide some level of comfort on technology that could be more challenging to work on should any issues arise.

Thanks for sharing your experience and I look forward to future updates.

mr2s2000elise Dork
11/20/19 1:06 p.m.

In reply to Clay :

Thank you for the info. I will check my kWh use 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
11/20/19 1:13 p.m.

Cool, thanks for posting! Lots of interesting stuff to unpack here. And I have to say that I've always liked the looks of the early Volt.

Clay, how was the Volt on the highway trip? Is the ICE strong enough on its own to make it reasonably competent, or does it feel undersized? 84 hp pulling 3800 lbs is not quite what we've come to expect even from bargain basement economy cars. Does it act like a Prius-type hybrid and use the electric drivetrain to help, or is it pure ICE once you've exhausted the initial EV range?

I've actually moved the opposite direction from you. I've become more interested in solar since getting the EV. Not because I'm worried about the increase in electric bills - 9.9 cents per kWh is a whole lot cheaper than $2.90/gallon - but also for the cool and geek factor. I love the solar I have on my Westfalia, it seems like cheating. Are you tapped into the grid for "storage" and for night use, or do you have a battery bank? Any chance of a picture of how big a 9500 kWh array is?

ebelements Reader
11/20/19 2:35 p.m.

Psyched to follow your journey with the Volt. I leased a 2014 for three years. Like you, I was a die hard used-car guy with no intention of EVER getting into a new vehicle, much less leasing one.

At the time I had just secured a new job with a substantial income boost, but was not planning on changing anything automotively—I liked the Del Sol, I liked the DR650, I liked the lifted Liberty (even though it was VERY broken). The morning after I'd put my two weeks in, the Del Sol had a catastrophic failure and I was down to a motorcycle.  Normally not a big deal but it turns out "grocery shopping" wasn't one of the two sports that gave dualsport bikes their namesake.  Maybe it was time to be a grownup?  The lease rates for the Volt were pretty damn good at the time, every dealer had a surplus of the damn things, and the car with the color/options I desired was nearby (White with black leather, the gloss white center stack, Ampera wheels). 

I like weird things, and the first gen Volt was(is) supremely weird. It's the 1990s version of the future. For anyone besides Clay (or Mazdeuce?) that hasn't owned one but maybe wondered about it, here are some takes/facts:

—Charging on 120 was fine for me, but then again my commute was about 25mi round trip, and once it was home, it was home. 
—By far one of the most quiet cars I've been in. Like a bank vault.
—Having a CVT with no faux gears is an unsettling experience. Surprisingly peppy, just pulls evenly until the top speed of 101.
—All the buttons on the center stack might as well have been a touchscreen, you HAVE to look when pressing any of them.
—The low CG makes it feel ridiculously stable, and it was actually great in winter.
—Regen is awesome, there's a hill on my commute and more than once I'd get to work with more range than when I'd left home (summer).
—The "pedestrian warning" horn on the end of the left stalk was amazing and useful in many situations.
—The power up/power down sounds when you turn it on/off are both stupid and awesome.
—It needed one oil change in the 36k miles I had it.

Also, I just realized I still have a set of weather tech mats for the car. Not sure if you're interested, being in Cali and all, but they're yours for the cost of shipping if so.

Clay HalfDork
11/20/19 3:12 p.m.

Keith,  the Volt is weird hybrid in that it is 100% electric until the battery is used up (35-40 mi) then it uses the ICE generator to charge the battery as you drive. It's only in a few rare circumstances (load/speed) that the engine actually is synced up to the wheels. So when the engine is needed it first starts up and warms up for 30 seconds or so before any load is applied. Also, the load is more uniformly applied than revving up and down, but it does go up and stay up if needed. I honestly don't like driving it as much with the ICE generator on, but it's tolerable. It seems much less powerful to me, but it's fine on a freeway trip. You just don't have the punch you want to accelerate you are used to with the electric motor. You can tweak some of this by running it in mountain mode, which stores up extra battery for a possible hill climb assistance, or HOLD mode which retains the current battery % and uses the ICE in the meantime. HOLD is useful for my commute home which is freeway uphill so I can retain some battery for scooting around the city when I get  back home. Basically you can choose what part of a trip to use the ICE. I am nearly 100% battery usage except for weekends. If I had a newer Volt with the slightly longer electric range I wouldn't use any gas except weekends. My 20.0 trip to work is downhill and I typically show 24-25 miles remaining when I get to work (starting with 37 or so). The 20.0 miles back will eat all that 24mi estimate up by the time I get to 18.0 miles since it's uphill. The last 2 is usually on the ICE.


I think I have a sketch of my solar array somewhere. You can't see it from the street so I have no pictures. When I got my system I paid roughly $2/W for the system (after the federal tax credit). I remembered wrong. I planned for the system to produce 9000kWH, not 9500, but it's overproduced for sure. They sandbag a bit on the production since they pay a production guarantee if it doesn't produce the estimate. Here is a plan view of our roof from the permit package. We get slightly decreased production around the chimney. I can watch the real time production and see the effects of the chimney shadow as it sweeps over the nearby panels:




and here is a satellite view of my house. The one in the center:

Clay HalfDork
11/20/19 3:16 p.m.

ebelements, the 120V charger would have been fine for me too with the 40.0 mile commute. The real benefit of the Lvl 2 was I could charge when I get home at 3 or so and use the car later for errands.

I agree with all of your points. I enjoy driving the Volt so much that I will choose it over the 99 Miata. It's just so quiet and comfortable.

I will also add that the Volt also has the remote start to get the car warmed up while plugged in before I leave which is really cool. I love that feature.


Thanks for the offer on the floormats. I don't have need for them at this time, but I really appreciate the offer!

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
11/20/19 3:44 p.m.

Thanks for the driving description. I get that you'd be in EV mode for most of your use, I was wondering about what the experience was like on long trips. I seem to remember that the Volt was originally supposed to have the ICE as a generator only and the addition of direct ICE drive came later in the product development, but I hadn't realized that it still maintained a generator mode. Cool.

Thanks for the details on the solar array. We have a big one on the top of our shop but I keep forgetting what it's rated for :) I've actually considered solar for my shop at home in part because it will held shade the roof - I'd rather have the sun making power than trying to heat my workspace in the middle of summer!

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
11/20/19 7:55 p.m.

My wife drove our Volt from Texas to Michigan and back this summer. She said it was great as a highway car. It feels a little weird that the rpms don't match acceleration,  but once you get used to that it's quiet, comfortable, stereo is good, AC is good. She enjoyed it. 

We're still putting 1-3k miles a month on ours depending on who's driving. The car charges fully overnight on the level 1 charger. 

MrChaos SuperDork
11/20/19 8:10 p.m.

I drove a different departments Volt here at work and the dead pedal was way too intrusive for me to sit comfortably but it didnt drive bad, much better than the prius' i have driven.

Nitroracer UltraDork
11/20/19 9:11 p.m.

It's interesting how with all the EV and hybrid talk lately, vehicles like the Volt are still misunderstood.  I regularly get questions about our car and how it operates.  Most people think anything that plugs in is a full battery electric car. I love the 2013 we have, I stole it from the wife for a few months after I fixed up a different car she liked driving better.  I can charge for free at work so my commute in both directions was fully electric.  It was perfect for the task at hand.  I do wish the extent of modifications available went beyond stealing the batteries from wrecked cars for EV projects, but I do understand that isn't the point of the car.  As the prices drop there might be more Volt hackers starting to play around with turning up the performance.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
11/20/19 10:03 p.m.

I suspect the problem with developing performance parts for car like older Volts is newer Volts. Plus - it’s hard. Not like putting a cheap boost controller on a Subaru. 

The Volt sounds like it’s a pretty technically interesting little buggy. 

Clay HalfDork
11/21/19 12:07 a.m.

I don’t think I ever answered all the Solar questions. We are on net metering so SDGE stores our extra production and gives it back as needed. That ends after 5 yrs so we will have to look at battery options then. We pay one bill per year when the yearly usage/production is settled up. This year I produced 11,000kwh and used 11,050 so I had it dialed in perfectly.   Their rates are high and seem to go up every year (which helps reduce my ROI). Typically tier 1 rates start at about 23c per kilowatt and tier 3 (above 1100ish/month) the rates can be 50c/kWh. The 1 hot month we used 1600kwh would have been around $700 if we had to pay it. 

Nofive_0 New Reader
11/21/19 9:47 a.m.

I'll add in my experience. 

I have a 2015 that I've owned for about 2 years now. Mine now has somewhere around 97k miles. Since then I've used approximately 110 gallons of gas, and completed 1 oil change. That's it. I commute about 34 miles round trip every day and rarely ever use the ICE engine. I charge it level 1 overnight and it's usually ready to go at 6 am.

I bought the car when we we're temporarily relocated to an apartment and I had to cull the heard. As an engineer I always thought they were interesting and drove much better than any other comparable boring commuter car. I crossed shopped it with a prius and the driving experience is night and day. 

Compared to other cars the Volt is built like a tank. It was GM's HALO car and they didn't want anyone complaining about the usual EV stuff when it first came out. It's incredibly quiet inside and has made me sensitive to NVH. Going to and from my other ICE cars is kind of a shock to the system. Especially into my wife's TDi wagon. The batteries are also liquid cooled and oversized for their application. GM says they have never replaced a battery due to degradation and that they have test cars with over 300k miles that still do the EPA estimated range. 

Power: On battery mode these things are actually quite peppy and torquey. 0-60 is around 8 sec, but it feels like less because of the linearity of power delivery and the amount of torque. It's kind of fun to just stomp it going into corners and burn the inside tire. On the highway you have "enough" power. It certainly doesn't hold me back or make me feel like I can't shoot a gap or anything. Certainly better than a prius or a lot of other 4 cyl economy cars. 

Quirks: The 1.4 only wants premium. It has a tiny 9 gallon tank. It will run the ICE motor if it gets below freezing outside. The disconnect between the accelerator and engine revs is disconcerting and feels more like driving a boat than a normal car. The infotainment and controls are horrible, the literal worst. They are all capacitive buttons that aren't quite responsive enough and there are a million of them. I still have to search for the unlock button to let someone in the passenger seat. 2011 and 2012's have a slightly smaller battery and thus slightly less range. 

Using the heat too much drains the battery pretty quickly but, as someone else mentioned, you can preheat it while still plugged in, and it helps mitigate that. It also has the best AC of any car I've ever been in. 

I paid right at $10k for my 2015 in Feb of 2018. My car stickered for ~ $47k new and was originally a corporate lease that racked up 70k miles in 2.5 years. Needless to say, they are pretty good values for a great commuter car.

elhartspeedshop New Reader
11/21/19 10:20 a.m.

This thread has me looking at Volt's on Copart... I don't know who I am anymore.   

Clay HalfDork
11/21/19 10:22 a.m.

Nofive we have very similar stories and experiences. I bought my 2013 in Dec 2017 with 106k and have put 24k on it using 180 gallons of gas. In that time I’ve done 1 oil change and replaced one axle to get rid of some CV joint clicking. It cost $75 from GM. That’s the extent of my maintenance. Here is a screenshot of my usage since purchase. 

camaroz1985 HalfDork
11/21/19 11:06 a.m.

I have a 2014, bought new (first, and most likely last new car I ever bought), and have just over 99k miles on it.  Mine was a base car, sticker was $35k.  With dealer discounts, federal and state credits, it was $20k out the door.  Definitely a much nicer car than I would get for $20k elsewhere, and operating costs have been next to nothing.  I have a 60 mile round trip commute.  For the first several years I charged at home only, and would get 40-50 miles on the charge (mostly highway 55-70 mph).  We also used it for weekend trips to visit family with very little charging available.  During those first 2 years I averaged 107 mpg.  Then they installed chargers at my work, we had kids so we needed bigger vehicles for trips, and now I rarely use gas at all.  My average mpg has gone up to 181, and climbs about 1 mpg each week.  We still use it on weekends and will use some gas, but I only have to fill up once every 2-5k miles.

It has been the most reliable car I have owned for sure.  I do the recommended maintenance (tire rotations, oil changes every 2 years, air filter changes, though that seems completely unnecessary).  Recently I did a bigger service, transmission fluid change, spark plugs (again seems unnecessary given there are less than 25k miles on the gas engine) and coolant flush (this is a pretty complicated process).  The only thing outside regular maintenance was ironically related to the gas engine, a bad throttle body (TPS was bad), but that was replaced under warranty.  Also just saw there is a tear in the CV boot, so I will be replacing that.  Still on original brakes (look new), and tires were replaced at 72k, but probably could have gotten 80k on them.

At current values these are hard to beat to enter the EV realm without dreaded range anxiety.

Agent98 Reader
11/21/19 1:34 p.m.

Now the Volt is an EV I could be very interested in. Question do all Bolts have plug in capability?



ebelements Reader
11/21/19 2:29 p.m.
Nofive_0 said:

I paid right at $10k for my 2015 in Feb of 2018. My car stickered for ~ $47k new and was originally a corporate lease that racked up 70k miles in 2.5 years. Needless to say, they are pretty good values for a great commuter car.

You did the right thing. That's a steal.

I would have bought mine off lease except the buyout was 28k. For 10-12 you can find a pristine 1st gen. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
11/21/19 2:36 p.m.
Agent98 said:

Now the Volt is an EV I could be very interested in. Question do all Bolts have plug in capability?

That's all they have - the Bolt is a pure EV like a Tesla or a Mustang wink

Vigo MegaDork
11/21/19 3:42 p.m.

It's interesting how with all the EV and hybrid talk lately, vehicles like the Volt are still misunderstood. 

Right? It launched in 2011! When I talk to my students about hybrids i always mention the fact that they've already been on the market for 20 years, and that for them who might stay in this industry for 20 or 30 more years, they don't really have the option to avoid learning about this stuff.  

klipless Reader
11/21/19 4:39 p.m.

I throw my pair of pennies worth of experience in as well. Full disclosure, I work for GM, but I had nothing to do with the Volt, I’m just a fan.

We’re currently on our second gen1 Volt. I leased a 2014 for three years and loved it. I drove around my wife’s crappy Edge for a couple years before picking up a 2013 last July ($12,700, 46k miles). Depending on your commute, these things make a lot of sense.

Things I like

  • Right amount of electric range to cover 95% of our driving. With our first Volt, I drove about 25 mile a day, which was easily covered by the battery, even in winter. The gas tank is something like 9.3 gallons, and I had four or five tanks where I was able to cover over 3000 miles.
  • The range extender. Yes you’re hauling around an engine and extra fuel around when you don’t need it, but it beats having to buy another car to use for road trips. With the current fast charging networks out there, I don’t think this is a big of an issue today. Arguably, it’s cheaper to pay for an engine and fuel system that you rarely use than paying for an extra 60 kWh’s worth of battery that you also rarely use.
  • The ‘Hold’ mode. This is where you force the car to run off the range extender and save the battery for later. If I had to do a 100 mile trip, I’d run off the battery for the first six miles to get me to the interstate, use the engine for highway cruising where it’s fairly efficient, then switch back to the battery when I get closer to where I’m going. I also liked the idea of having a little battery reserve to tap in to if I needed the extra shove to pull off a passing maneuver. Granted most customers aren’t looking for that much control, but I like being able to play the optimization game.
  • Low gear. In a conventional vehicle, if you drive around in low, you’re mileage will suffer, but in the Volt, it just adds more regen when you lift of the pedal. Managing your speed becomes second nature quickly. In either Keith or Tuna’s thread, there was mention of brake lights not coming on when driving in this mode. It’s my understanding that NHTSA requires you to illuminate the brake lights above a certain deccel level. I think the Volt was intentionally calibrated to stay below that level…I think.
  • The handling won’t blow you away, but I’ve driven my share of other hybrids with their crazy low rolling resistance tires, and this is easily a step or two above. The best complement I can say is that it handles like a normal car.
  • If you thought a Miata was easy on consumables, it has nothing on this. In 18 months of ownership and 30k miles, I’m still at 30% oil life remaining. Assuming you’re not hammering the brakes for every stop, these will easily last you 100k miles.
  • The battery was built to last. Between the liquid cooling and conservative battery management software, this thing will go the distance. I’m still getting 42 miles of indicated range in warmer weather, which is just one mile shy of what our leased Volt achieved. If you check the energy page, you can see how much energy you used for a full charge. Mine’s still getting 10.5 kWh, which is almost identical to new.


Now things I don’t care for.

  • Maybe it’s because I drive around in low, but the handoff between regen and the friction brakes could be little better. For the last few mph, I get less decel for the amount of pedal force. In drive, it feels better since the regen isn’t as strong.
  • Along those same lines, ABS is a little clunky. If you hit a patch of ice while using regen only, the brake controller has to tell the powertrain to get out of the way, so it can use the traditional hydraulics to sort out the stop.
  • The engine in the gen1 cars is a little to agricultural for my tastes. At highway speeds, you hardly notice it, but when it fires up at low speed, it sounds more like a lawn tractor. It’s definitely not the most refined engine out there.
  • I never get to drive it any more. My wife stole our current Volt from me. She drives 35 miles each way three times a week for work, so it fits her commute better than mine. But the real reason she stole it is because if she drove our conventional car, then it’s a five minute walk from the parking lot to the building. But there are several electric charging spots right up front. Therefore, it’s now ‘her’ car, not mine.


I’ve heard someone compare the Volt to a VHS/DVD combo player from twenty years ago. They’re not wrong, it’s definitely a transition platform. In twenty more years it’ll seem antiquated. What kills me is that I would have love to have seen us put this powertrain in to something like an Equinox. I think the appeal would have been much larger.

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