COAL: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt – Chapter 20, My First BEV

Blue 2017 Bolt2017 Bolt

By the time Hurricane Harvey flooded our 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan we had decided that our minivan days were over.  Our youngest daughter was in a boarding school and our other two kids were getting themselves to school.  My wife has a 15 mile round trip commute which makes her an excellent candidate for a BEV.  We’d already decided that we would be selling the minivan and had been contemplating a BEV.  I was getting tired of having her say right after I took my shoes off that her car needed gas.  A colleague’s husband worked for the local electric utility and had the first Nissan Leaf in Houston back in 2011 as a company car so I was aware of the battery degradation issues with the Leaf and the range issues with it and several of the other early BEVs.

By November our lives were starting to get back to normal and our house repair was nearly complete.  The settlement offer from the flood insurance was within a few dollars of our contractors estimate and I had some idea what our budget was for a new car.

Among the affordable BEV’s that were starting to come on the market was the Chevrolet Bolt.  The Bolt offered decent range at an affordable price and by the fall of 2017 was available for purchase from dealer inventory. TESLA was taking orders for the Model 3 which was not yet in production and already had a long waiting list.  The Bolt (especially in the LT trim) was half the price of the Model S.  I have a neighbor who used her VW DieselGate payout to buy two Bolt LT’s.  One in Black and the other in White.

For 2017 the Bolt was offered in 2 trim levels, the LT and the Premier.  Neither came standard with Level 3 DC fast-charging capability.  At the time there were only 2 CCS Level 3 DC fast chargers in Texas.  They were in Georgetown, TX about 180 miles from my house so I was okay with not having that option.  For my wife’s commute Level 1, 120 volt charging (3.5 – 5 miles of added range per hour at 8 or 12 amps respectively) in our driveway was more than adequate.  The Bolt’s nominal 238 mile range (twice that of any closely priced competitors then on the market) would cover her commute for the entire week with range to spare.  Since she plugs it in every evening when she comes home she starts every day with a full battery.  When our son ended up attending UT Austin in the fall of 2020 we had enough range to get to Austin and no difficulty finding hotels that offered Level 2, 240 volt chargers on PlugShare.

The website has details on the two trim levels. The Premier offered more standard features and had a better package of driver assistance technologies.  I was particularly interested in the Driver Confidence II Package which was only offered on the Premier trim.  While I’d moved away from my (and my parents) history of buying base trim vehicles I’d never bought the top trim level.

The dealership near our house only had the LT in stock, but from the perspective of fit (my wife & I have different heights and, critically, inseams and have in the past passed on vehicles that we couldn’t both comfortably drive) the LT and Premier have identical seats (wrt to size, position and adjustability) so we went and test drove that car. The dealership near my work had a Black Premier in stock and was offering it for $5oo below supplier price.  A dealership about 30 miles from my house (and 60 miles from my work) had a Premier in Kinetic Blue (a premium color) and was willing to match the price on the Black Bolt.  They also alerted me to an additional rebate that was being offered by Costco. It was close to the end of November and they’d had the Bolt on the lot since early September.  Early on each dealership was allocated one Bolt.  All of the other vehicles that they had in inventory were Pickup Trucks, SUVs, Corvettes, and Camaros.  We reached a deal the morning of the 28th and said that we’d be up there after dinner.  They clearly plugged the car into a 120 volt outlet at that point because when we took delivery the car was showing an estimated range of 39 miles.  With that little range margin, I stayed off the highway on my drive home.

2017 Bolt Front View

2017 Bolt Rear View

So how slow is level 1 charging at 8 amps?  We bought the car on Tuesday night and plugged it in as soon as we got home.  My wife drove it to work each day (Wednesday – Friday) and plugged it in as soon as she got home. We did not drive it on Saturday nor on Sunday.  It was mid-afternoon on Sunday before the 60 kWh (nominal) battery indicated that it was fully charged.  By the end of the weekend I’d read through the manual and figured out how to set up location based charging so that the car would always charge at 12 amps when plugged in at home.  I also learned about a setting called Hilltop Reserve.  With this setting my Bolt only charges to 90%.  With this setting you have the ability to use regenerative braking every time you drive (in L the Bolt will come to a full stop without touching the brake pedal) and by not charging to 100% you minimize the potential for battery degradation. As a general rule I only charge to 100% when I’m going to take a long trip (such as visiting my son in Austin).

In June 2019 the boarding school that our younger daughter attended closed down and we enrolled her in a local school for her senior year of high school.  In January 2020 she got her license and we needed a third car.  For her 4 mile round trip commute I purchased a 2011 Nissan Leaf.  I’ll cover that car next week in Chapter 21.  The plan was that when she went off to college in the fall of 2020 my wife would start driving the Leaf and I’d start commuting to NASA JSC in the Bolt.  Level 1 charging would not support my roughly 75 mile roundtrip commute so we decided to install a Level 2 EVSE (Electric Vehicle Servicing Equipment) in our garage.

Chargepoint EVSEChargePoint @ Home EVSE

My distribution panel is outside on the diagonally opposite corner of the house.  My laundry room is upstairs and my garage did not have a 240 amp circuit.  The ChargePoint @ Home EVSE will support a 50 amp charge rate if hardwired or a 40 amp charge rate if plugged into a NEMA 14-50 outlet.  My Bolt will only accept AC power at a maximum of 32 amps so I went with the plug in configuration.  I also decided that in the interest of future proofing I wanted a 100 amp sub panel in my garage.  While the Leaf wouldn’t benefit from a Level 2 charger my next BEV probably would.  Ford had already announced the F150 Lightning that was capable of drawing 80 amps from a Level 2 charger.

By the time we decided to install the Level 2 charger we were several months into COVID and I couldn’t find an electrician to do the job.  Only one submitted a bid and when I asked for details he ghosted me.  My city in their building code says that a homeowner who can convince the city inspector that they can do the job to code can pull a permit and do the install themself.  After seeking an electrician for several months I drew up a plan and bill of materials and ran them by a colleague at work who is an electrician.  I submitted the plan and a statement of my qualifications to the city.  Within a couple of days they approved the permit.  The hardest part of this job was digging a trench around the perimeter of the house to bury the supply cable for the sub-panel.  I paid a landscaper to dig the trench.  As a postscript since COVID hit I haven’t made the commute more then 3 days in any week. The Level 1 charger would have supported that.

With the exception of the battery fire recall the car has been drama free.  I’ve rotated the tires and checked the alignment on a regular basis and have replaced the cabin air filter.  I’ve had this car just over 5 ½ years and as I type we’ve driven it 30,149 miles.  Many reviews of the Bolt say love the car hate the company.  I love the car but I’m ambivalent about the company.  This is not only the first GM product I’ve owned it’s the first I even test drove. Some of the design choices they made to hit their price point didn’t save them that much money.  In 2019 they changed the sun visor and the seat foam and increased the battery capacity.  For 2023 they introduced a power seat.  GM recently announced that starting with the new BEVs sold in 2024 they will no longer be supporting Apple Car Play and Android auto.  At this point in time my next BEV will not be a GM product.  By the time we decided that we needed a BEV equipped with Level 3 DC fast-charging capability that was capable of taking an extended multi-day road trip, we bought another 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.  That car which will be Chapter 22 is now my daily driver (and it’s not blue (:).

With respect to the battery fire recall that issue was overblown.  According to news reports 19 Chevrolet Bolts caught fire before GM decided to replace the batteries on all Bolts delivered with batteries from LG Chem of South Korea.  From forum posts and NTSB reports the cars that cars that caught fire for the most part shared three characteristics.  They were equipped with Level 3 DC fast-charging capability; they were frequently charged from low charge states (typically less then 10%) to high charge states (typically greater then 90%); and they had a high number of miles.  There were a few that appeared to not be equipped with Level 3 DC fast-charging capability, but they too had a high number of miles.  Several had exceeded 100,000 miles in 3 years of ownership.  My low-mileage Bolt was probably never at risk.  I’m very happy to have the larger 66 kWh battery and the reset of the battery warranty.  I got my new battery in May 2022 at 24,506 miles.  At that point in time I’d seen no degradation in the battery.