By Ben |

On January 16, while stopped at a traffic light on my way back from picking up groceries, I was in the middle of a 3-car accident. The roads were icy in patches, the oncoming car was going less than 5 mph, and the bump was quite gentle, but our poor 2012 Chevy Volt sustained damage to both bumpers, the rear hatch, and one of the 3 cooling systems. The insurance agent took one look at the age of the car and declared it a total loss. Jessie and I counted our blessings that no one was injured, and I was not at fault this time. (When I totaled our Ford C-Max in 2022, it was entirely my fault.)

Now, the Volt is a car that has always inspired great loyalty from its owners, and I was no exception. I tried to consider some other options, but the 2017 Volt I found up in Blair (20 minutes northwest of Omaha) floated to the top of the list. Jessie and I ventured up there the following Saturday in our Leaf, despite the viciously cold weather cutting our estimated range from 120 miles down to about 50. As you can guess from the photo below, we wound up buying it today. But there were some good stories along the way.

To begin with, the CarFax on this car seemed almost too good to be true. It had had one owner who put 53k miles on it, so the battery is still under the original warranty. That was not the case when we bought the 2012 Volt - it had over 100k miles. But also, this 2017 is the Premier package, which means it has all of the optional bells and whistles. It may not look special from the outside, but the interior takes your breath away.

Now, I'd like to think that the interior of a car doesn't matter that much to me, but the truth is when we first shopped for a plug-in hybrid back in 2014 (and bought the C-Max), a solid white, glossy plastic dashboard was what put me off of the 2012 Volt we test drove then, and the subtler gray dash of the one we bought in 2022 was part of what made it acceptable. But the 2017 interior is just better in every way. All the controls are where I expect them to be, and the buttons actually press when you press them. There are modern safety features like lane-departure warnings and cruise control that matches the speed of the car ahead. The steering wheel and seats are heated... the only feature on our wish list it doesn't have is an HD radio tuner to pick up the extra channels like BBC World Service.

The back seats are heated as well, and unlike the 2012, there's a middle seat, after a fashion. Provided the middle passenger sits with their legs spread wide. The back seat headroom is the same as in the 2012: a 6' person like me can sit there provided I lean my head back against the headrest. Anyone taller would have to slump.

So anyway, we were impressed by this car when we test drove it, but we didn't want to rush into a decision. The next dealer over had a 2018 Bolt (all electric) for a similar price. It suffered by comparison. The suspension felt too tight, like someone was kicking the seat from behind whenever going over a bump; the cargo compartment was too small for a bicycle, etc. We drove back to town, and Jessie helped me find some other options to test drive during the week while she was working. Aside from the Chevy Bolt, the other used cars we considered were the Toyota Prius and the Hyundai Ioniq.

Both the Prius and the Ioniq get more than 50mpg, which is better than the Volt can do under gas power, so if that were the only criterion we should prefer them. But I wasn't able to test drive either of the Ioniqs I found because the dealerships they were at were really sketchy — one tried to sign me up for a loan before I'd even scheduled a test drive, and the other disclosed that the car had been water damaged and the odometer was reset. So we didn't get to find out whether the Ioniq would have been a good fit for us.

Of the Priuses available, one was a Prius Prime, which is also a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, though it is air cooled and so doesn't have the same reputation for battery life. I went to see it, and one of the co-owners of the little dealership rode along with me. He said all the cars on his lot had been totaled for minor damage like my car had been, bought from scrapyards, and rebuilt good as new. Yet he was surprised to find out from me that the Prime plugs in. I had to show him where the cord was and where it went, and I asked him to charge it and show me the estimated range. He did not follow through. In any case, I wasn't impressed by the Prius: it had less rear headroom than the Volt, a wider turning radius, and it just didn't feel special. It felt like a rental car - just OK.

So it happened that when the Volt's salesmen followed up with me, I talked it over with Jessie, and we decided to buy it. They referred me over to their finance guy, and we had the following conversation:

Finance Guy: ... Oh, this is the Premier package. That means it has all of the optional features.

Me: I know!

FG: And with less than 100k miles, the battery is still under warranty.

Me: I know!

FG: And with the instant tax rebate, you're paying only $13,000 with no money down.

Me: I know!

FG: ... I think maybe we made a mistake.

But he honored the price. The bumper-to-bumper warranty made up most of what we saved with the tax rebate, but it means that, provided we can avoid another accident, we could still have a good-as-new car in 5 years. The driver who delivered the car this morning from Blair was bubbling over with excitement:

Driver: Have you seen the inside of this car?? It is so nice!

Me: I know!

D: And I saw the price - you really got a steal!

Me: I know!

D: What's the deal with the battery? Does it lose a lot of life over time?

Me: No, the Volt is famous for protecting its battery. The car cools or heats it and only uses it when it's in the optimal temperature range. Our last one was 12 years old and still had more than 80% of its range.

D: You had one of these before?! You are so lucky!!

We're feeling pretty lucky. Here's hoping for continued luck!