One Month With Bolt

June 20, 2017   //  Posted in: Garage, Helping The Economy   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment
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For a little story on how the sale of this car is linked to the sale of our home, check out this Instagram post.

We traded in my 2008 Jeep Patriot for a 2017 Chevy Bolt EV one month ago, all the while sing-songing TMBG day-in and day-out. Electric Car was always one of our favorite songs on that kid’s album, and even though the idea of owning an electric vehicle seemed too futuristic even for us earlier adopters, here we are, three kids squished in the backseat shouting Hey Siri and trying to hijack the Apple Carplay.

The Bolt EV runs all-electric. No gas at all like its hybrid/plug-in counterpart, the Volt. I’m not going to get into the specs and details because there are plenty of reviews that compare the Bolt to other electric models, and I’m also not “a car guru” looking to hit all of the PR-approved talking points about the vehicle. I hope this overview, an effort to share our experience to-date, helps give you peace of mind in your buying process, or helps you think differently about your next auto investment.

Chevy Bolt EV, a family-friendly user review from Rochester, NY

We’ve received a lot of questions both from friends and strangers since we made the switch. Right from the start we were thrilled with the vehicle, but wanted to wait a bit to answer all of the why/how/what questions that have piqued your curiosity. We needed to learn more about the Bolt, and also live with it before suggesting that anyone else to go buy what might just be the most expensive car they’ve ever purchased (raises hand). We are officially one month in and have made adjustments to our budget, our home, and our routine to accommodate this change in lifestyle. But it’s real good, you guys.

First things first. New car? Why did you go Electric?

The Jeep was definitely not my favorite car because it seemed like it was always ready for another thousand dollar repair. I’d really been fostering that whole “it’s paid off and we hardly drive it, so let’s see if we can keep it running for another 8 years” mentality, but compounding issues made it less and less reliable.

Two years ago, Toyota offered me the opportunity to drive its Prius PHV for a few weeks. It was a hybrid/plug-in (the Prime is its newer iteration) and even though it only had a 10-12 mile electric range before kicking over to hybrid, I thought so highly of it that I’ve planned ever since to try and upgrade to a hybrid or hybrid/electric car when the time was right. 

We put in a lot of hours becoming well-versed in the options when it was apparent that the Jeep was on its way out. To be honest, an electric car didn’t seem entirely feasible from the get-go. I had a very natural battery-range terror at the thought of choosing a vehicle that had no reliance on gasoline, but the 240+ range on the Bolt is so much better than the Prius Plug-in had been in 2015, that it was hard to justify terror when really, we’re only zipping 10, 25, 75 mile distances between charging opportunities.

Make and model aside, we felt that if an electric car would work for our family, it was just one more good thing we could be doing to be environmentally-mindful. Federal and state tax incentives were certainly leaning in our favor too ($7,500 fed, $2,000 NY State) but I’ll get into that in the next section.

We’ll continue to cross our fingers and hope that electric will become increasingly normalized; technology must continue to improve – accessibility and affordability too. And while it’s not necessary since we can charge at home, it’s nice to see *free* charging stations popping up all over town (Rochester, NY folks: Public Market, Charlotte Beach, Downtown, College Town, Fairport Village, I-Square).

The budget.

Yeah, Bolt is the most expensive car I’ve ever purchased, but that’s relative. The pre-tax sticker price was ~$43,000 and with time-of-sale incentives (which doesn’t include the Federal $7,500) we were able to get our monthly payments down to about $600. I’m upfront about money stuff, and I’m the friend who’s always asking “but how much did it cost?” because I firmly believe that knowledge is power and:

The incentives were enticing. There was a modest dealer incentive, topped by a $2,000 New York State Electric Car Rebate, and a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit too. I like to hope that both credits will be available for a long time, but truthfully I’m worried the Federal credit will be phased-out or cut (administration aside, it has been in effect for many years already). We figured it would be better to act while the opportunity still existed.

We also did some quick math on what we should expect as far as cost to charge the Bolt, and tried to calculate that against what we might save in gas by using it as our commuter, as well as our primary weekend vehicle. Based on recent gas prices and our electric company charges by kWh, I’m guessing that we’ll be netting a $200/month savings for our family (and that $600 monthly car payment suddenly looks a little easier). Additionally, EV vehicles have fewer moving parts resulting in less overall maintenance – no oil changes! We are cautiously skeptical about what other maintenance might be required over time, including how well the battery holds charge after a year or two of use, but the 8-year battery warranty takes away some of those concerns. We have not yet fiddled with changing our electricity rate structure; we figure that after 3 or 6-months we can compare our statements and adjust how the electricity is billed if we feel we can optimize it to our advantage.

I really hate buying cars, and never will I feel like I got “the best!” deal but I do enjoy being in that power position, so I asked-and-asked-and-asked for all of the discounts under the sun including but not limited to a better trade-in value for my Jeep, small business owner incentives offered by the dealer (show your schedule C), some kickback for being related to a GM employee, and I even negotiated a way to put a large(r than normally allowed) portion of my downpayment on my credit card instead of writing a check so I could earn myself some cash-back points. Plus, when you ask for the all-weather mats to be free, sometimes they just throw that in. Cha-ching! Hello-goodbye, money.

Level up. Electrical improvements.

In all those hours spent researching electric cars, we probably should have paid more attention to what all of those charge cord upgrades meant, because when we got home and realized that the garage plug in the wall was only going to add about 30 miles of range to our vehicle every night we were… not ready. Learn from us. Our basic electric outlet is considered Level 1. Most public charge points are Level 2 (adds about 30 miles/hour in our experience). We paid about $750 extra for a CHAdeMO fast charge port on the Bolt to enable DC Fast Charging for access to Level 3 charge points–positioned to us as “wave of the future” to enable +/- 100 miles of charge in an hour– but come to realize the closest public Level 3 is in Toronto (we couldn’t even drive all the way there to try it) and we probably won’t ever have a need to quick-charge the battery in less than an hour, unless there came a day when Level 3s were literally at every gas station or mall across the country. So, if you’re living in the middle of nowhere or only going to use this car as a basic commuter, save your money, you probably won’t need the DC Fast Charging port. I still encourage you to check out where your local charge points are at because we definitely spot Level 3s on the ChargePoint app map in larger cities.

To convert our own Level 1 outlet into a faster Level 2 charging port, we purchased this Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge 30-Amp Electric Vehicle Charger for $500 (affiliate link) and had our electrician come to install a special 240V outlet to support the higher voltage (another $330). It’ll take awhile to recoup those costs, but it’s already worth it to be able to charge faster. Spending money to save money sucks, but it definitely encourages us to make the most of EV technology (and maybe in the next few years we can upgrade the van into an electric-hybrid SUV, and reserve gasoline for when we take longer car trips).

Charging an electric car at home with a 240v/30 amp unit.

At night, it looks like this while charging:

The green dream? Maybe this is just the incentive we needed to add some solar panels to our roof – charge our electric car, in our own garage, via the power of the sun. Do I hear a TMBG remix?

Fitting the family.

The Bolt is not a vehicle for a family with only one car, but to make the most of electric driving, we’ve found that we’ve adopted somewhat of a one-car family mindset. Having it as a more efficient option forced us to rebalance our priorities so that we were putting more miles on the Bolt, and making an effort to reserve our Dodge Caravan for those days we need to have both cars away from home, or for longer distance travel.

Like most small cars, it’s good for 2 passengers in the back, tougher with 3. Our 3 kids are small, but 2/3 are in car seats, and car seats are huge. We’re gradually upgrading to Diono seats, which are a bit narrower and significantly less bulky, and planning on using the Bolt to drive all 3 kids together until a time that they can’t stand each other. That’s also to say, your co-workers might not like squishing their thighs together to sit 3-across in the backseat on your way to lunch, but I do think they’ll find they have plenty of foot space.

I will say that the trunk space is in the Bolt is great, so traveling with our 3 kids and their “stuff” hasn’t been an issue yet. The “floor” of the trunk lifts up and drops down another foot, where you might ordinarily find a spare tire, and it’s enough room for strollers/pack ‘n’ play/backpacks/trumpets/baseball bats/folding camp chairs all at the same time.

If you’re upgrading your only car and you want a more efficient option, you should totally look at the Volt or Prius Prime as comparable hybrid/electrics, because they both have a pretty good electric range, and you too might find that you don’t need much gasoline.

Things I really like:

Smooth ride. The engine doesn’t have gears, which means it doesn’t need to turn over the same way a conventional car does. I don’t even know if that’s the right terminology, but simply put, its acceleration is smooth and seamless because there’s no engine activity requiring gears to adjust with speed. It’s the complete opposite of driving a jerky stick shift.

We appreciate the one-pedal driving, and all reviews point to it being a more charge-efficient way of city driving, but it feels a bit like driving with the e-brake on. The regen hand paddle located on the back of the steering wheel is more favorable in my opinion. We use the regeneration function diligently, and on short sprints to and from the store, can usually regain the charge for whatever road mileage we’ve used. Acceleration-wise, we drive so much more efficiently than ever before, because the dashboard metrics fluctuate with every movement. And honestly, what that means is that we drive like Grandmas, going exactly the speed limit to avoid inefficiencies, and coasting to a stop so-so-so slowly when no one’s behind just to win a little extra charge.

Cameras everywhere. On all sides of the car. Pete previewed Surround Vision technology at a Volkswagen event a few months ago, and as someone who upgraded from a bare-bones Jeep to a car that I can parallel park without even needing to look out a window, it’s pretty incredible. The cameras work together to create an accurate overhead simulation of your car’s positioning, and there you can see front, back, and wide-angle views in all directions. I’m sharing this photo specifically though, because I can’t figure out why Cody was standing on the back left, but in the overhead it looks like he’s on my back right? It’s cool, but maybe someone more savvy in camera technology can tell me why that happened. (P.S. Pete’s in the front of the car in the aerial view, so you can see how he is distorted.)

Surround vision technology on the Chevy Bolt EV.

It took us a few weeks to even notice this feature: Rear Camera Mirror. It’s a bit disorienting, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never use it except as novelty, but if you can get used to it, it’s nice to have a view out the back without blind spots.

The digital connectedness of it all is very cool, even if it does leave no doubt in my mind that Big Brother could be listening to and watching my every single movement. Please let it be used for good, like to tell Dunkin’ Donuts to give me more freebies because I’ve already Bolted through the drive-thru 4 times this week. Hi, big business and government. :)

With connectivity, comes the MyChevrolet app and OnStar and wi-fi capabilities. I’m not likely to sign up for any additional monthly charges once our freebies run out, but I like what I see already. In my first-month diagnostic recap, which was emailed to me by OnStar, the reporting shared that we had saved the equivalent of 68 gallons of gasoline, and avoided 1,317 pounds of CO2.

Things I don’t like:

Given all the bells and whistles and lights and safety alarms and technologies, it’s really weird that the front seats are manually adjusted. Not a big deal, but curious.

We’ve already jammed our skulls against this pointy tail light, which is directly at 5′-8″ head-level when the trunk is open. Watch yo’ self.

Poorly designed tail lights on the Chevy Bolt EV; a real head smasher.

When driving, if you tap the regen paddle on the steering wheel to slow the vehicle and generate battery power, the brake lights do appear for a moment, but do not remain on the whole time you engage with the paddle. Seems like a potential safety concern if the vehicle continues to slow down but from behind there’s no indication of braking (it slows faster than just coasting, too). And for what it’s worth, we do use the foot brake in conjunction with the hand brake, but it slows the car so startlingly fast that it’s more fluid to use one or the other instead of both in tandem.

A parent thing – I wish there were book holders on the back of the driver and passenger seats. Our toddler reads non-stop in the car.

TL;DR

There’s really not a lot of bad to say about this vehicle after driving it (and putting 1,600 miles on it in its first month at our home). I really encourage you to go take a test drive and experience how nice it is to drive any electric car. Let me know what you think!

Chevy Bolt EV, a family-friendly user review from Rochester, NY

*This post was not sponsored*


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