By on September 3, 2021

Chevrolet/GM

You have to feel for the people in charge of marketing the Chevy Bolt. After months of news stories about the company’s first mainstream EV bursting into flames in customers’ garages and various statements blaming everyone from the battery manufacturer to the charging stations to the owners themselves for failing to stick to the NHTSA safety recommendations, General Motors launched a massive recall.

The short version is this: Every single Chevy Bolt and Bolt EUV ever made – that’s 110,000 electric cars – will be getting a brand-spanking-new LG battery, free of charge. What’s more, this one won’t burst into flames. (Pinky swear!)

Now, call me crazy, but when I read about fires burning down homes and massive safety recalls like this, I have to ask myself: Is now the best time ever to buy a used Chevy Bolt?

THE CASE FOR THE CHEVY BOLT

Before we get too deep in the weeds here, let’s take a minute to reflect on the Chevy Bolt, itself. First launched in 2017, the Bolt was GM’s first mainstream EV. It was decently quick, offered 200+ miles of range if it was driven sensibly, and even qualified for the biggest, $7,500 tax incentive for a while. Upon reviewing the car back in 2018, our own Tim Healey wrote, “Forget the EV powertrain or the nearly 240 miles of range for a second. The Bolt is a well-packaged small car with interesting design and infotainment tech. That alone may make it worthy of a look.”

I feel like that’s high praise around these parts. Other people I know in the industry spent their own money to buy an actual, new Bolt, even – which, if you’ve ever actually met anyone in this industry, is almost unheard of.

Finally, let’s look at what brought us here (that’d be the fires – natch). Sure, it looks bad when your product catches fire suddenly and violently and burns down some poor bastard’s house while his wife and kids and impossibly photogenic golden retriever are sleeping snugly in their beds, but for all the ink that’s been spilled on this story, there’s surprisingly little meat to it. According to Sam Abuelsamid, lead auto analyst for Guidehouse Insights, only seven Chevy Bolts have caught fire, or about 0.006 percent of those on the road. By comparison, the National Fire Protection Association said 212,000 gas and diesel vehicles caught fire in 2018, or about 0.07 percent of those on US roads.

I’m no mathematographer, but 0.07 looks like it might be more than 0.006. It makes sense, though, when you consider that the average parked car is usually filled with a highly flammable liquid and moves because of … well, combustion.

So, the Chevy Bolt is a decent car. It’s highly unlikely to burn you and your family to death, too – and, unlike just about every used car on the patently bonkers market right now, you just might be able to get a deal on a used one, thanks to all that ink I mentioned earlier.

SHOULD YOU BUY A CHEVY BOLT RIGHT NOW?

If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m an EV guy. I like the tech. I like feeling like we’re moving on to the next thing. Heck, I’ll even admit to feeling ever-so-slightly morally superior to the guys that are still rollin’ coal in 2021. That said, I’m no preacher – and one thing I am absolutely not here to do is try to convince you to buy an EV.

I’d rather meet people where they are. And, if where you are is in an EV-curious/might want to buy something soon phase of your car-buying journey, I think a 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt is definitely worthy of your consideration because if you buy one now, you are going to get a 100 percent brand-new LG battery pack absolutely free of charge. And, if you’re buying an EV, you want one with a new battery.

THE BATTERY IS THE WEAK LINK IN THE EV CHAIN

Depending on who you ask, the weak link in the EV chain is the availability of chargers. That’s nonsense, for a number of reasons. The actual weak link in the EV chain – and the tin-foil hat reason that almost every manufacturer has jumped all over EVs as opposed to, say, alternative or synthetic fuels that could take advantage of the existing infrastructure – is the battery. Specifically, the degradation of said battery.

All batteries degrade over time as they’re charged and discharged, and won’t hold the same capacity as when they’re new. That’s why older laptops and cell phones don’t hold a charge like they used to, and it’s also why many used EVs don’t have the same range as their fresh-off-the-truck counterparts.

Some carmakers’ batteries fare better than others, of course, but it’s been hard to pull reliable figures from the deluge of anecdotal evidence out there. That’s why, when Geotab did a major study on the subject, analyzing the battery health of 6,300 EVs and 1.8 million days of data, it’s worth paying attention to what they found.

“From the telematics data processed,” reads the Geotab website, “we have gained insight into how real-world conditions influence the battery health of electric vehicles, providing aggregated average degradation data for 21 distinct vehicle models, representing 64 makes, models and years.”

In their data, Chevy’s LG batteries were the absolute best in terms of degradation, losing 0 (zero) capacity after a year of use. That’s better than Tesla, better than BMW, and worlds ahead of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (the worst of the bunch, losing 4.1 percent of battery capacity after just one year).

That kind of performance is, in a word, expensive. That’s why this recall is such a big deal, in the end: Because it is costing someone billions of dollars, and all to solve a problem that seems like it might be imaginary, assuming the percentages are to be believed.

But people don’t believe things they don’t understand, do they? And people – especially Americansdo not understand fractions. As such, when you tell someone that 0.07 percent of gas cars vs. 0.006 of Chevy Bolts are catching on fire? Jesus. Look at all those zeroes! That must be bad news for EVs!

Not you, though. You’re the Best and Brightest, and some of you might just be thinking about getting an EV. If you are, you’d be insane not to waltz into your nearest dealership with your phone open to an article about the Bolt fires and drive down the price to something acceptable. The older the better, in this case, because you don’t care about what your range is today. After all, you’ll be getting a brand new, super-expensive battery in just a few months’ time – and your Bolt will literally be good as new after that. That’s my take, anyway. I invite you to scroll on down to the comments section and let us know yours.

Disclaimer – This is not advice. In fact, this is a Wendy’s Drive-thru, and if you buy a Chevy Bolt based on anything written here and it happens to burn your house down that is fully on you.

[Image: Chevrolet/GM]

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50 Comments on “Opinion: Now is the Time to Buy a Used Chevrolet Bolt...”


  • avatar
    dal20402

    I own a Bolt (a 2019 that was not included in the original recall batch but is obviously included in the latest recall). I track its KBB value as part of my personal financial management process. It’s gained almost $4k in value during 2021 and, so far, the recall has had no effect on that. So I’d say that, no, right now is not the time to buy any used car unless you have absolutely no other choice, and the Bolt is no exception to that.

    • 0 avatar
      Halftruth

      Good point.

      Thankfully, as stated in the disclaimer, this is not advice. So as misguided as it is, just don’t take it as advice! :)

    • 0 avatar

      This is great insight. I wonder how KBB does their valuations– I know they include auction prices and average retail listings, but I’d be curious to see transaction prices. Anecdotally, I’ve seen $17K Bolts drop to $15K in negotiations recently, while the same dealer (a Volvo store) held firm on other models.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I know they use transaction history so I think it’s still possible I”ll see a drop in the next month or two. But then again there are no more cheap new Bolts on the market to depress values. It was definitely not great for used Bolt values when there were brand-new ones going out the door for $22k after tax credits.

        • 0 avatar

          My dude, you are full of good points today! Do the transaction prices include that tax credit, or do they take that off afterwards? I genuinely don’t know.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I expect they don’t include it, but I don’t know.

            My neighbor was going to buy a leftover 2020 Bolt at a rock-bottom price, but then was foiled by the recall and stop-sale. So I’ve been hearing a lot about the market.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      I have friend that bought a 2017 Bolt in March for $14k. Same car at the same dealer today is $20k.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ve driven a Bolt. It’s fine and if you like it then go for it. It was like a slightly cheaper feeling Soul Turbo.
    However, it looks dorky (IMO), the seats are uncomfortable, and its “fast” recharging ability isn’t that fast.

    Assuming your budget is under $90K, the best BEV right now is still a Tesla and IMO it isn’t particularly close. I could buy a Model 3 LR and suffer minimal lifestyle trouble beyond complaining about getting a home charger installed. However, I’m not a big fan of the vehicle parts of the Model 3. If you could take the EVs bits from the Model 3 and the everything else from a Genesis G70, then that would be a very compelling car.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “If you could take the EVs bits from the Model 3 and the everything else from a Genesis G70, then that would be a very compelling car.”

      You hit on a point I keep making – as Tesla competitors begin to emerge, buyers will start to become less tolerant of the brand’s flaws, which include 1) build quality that is, to be polite, meh; 2) weird styling; 3) silly ergonomics; 4) less-than-posh interiors.

      None of those flaws apply to Genesis – or most other mainstream brands, for that matter.

      Sooner or later, someone’s going to come out with a high-quality EV that looks and works like a regular car, without the silly Tesla gee-whiz-bang-fake-Starfleet stuff, and it’s going to steal sales from Elon and Company. And I think Genesis could do it. Hyundai has the EV know how, and Genesis knows how to do great styling, good chassis dynamics, and premium-looking interiors that function with a minimum of BS.

      • 0 avatar

        Do you think that’s true? I don’t feel like the most rabid Tesla fans really know or care to know much about other brands. Like, they’re not buy a Tesla because of x feature or y feature, they’re buying it because it’s a Tesla, and they’ve chosen that brand the same way my stepfather decided he was a Cadillac man back in ’88.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Not everyone buying a Tesla is a rabid fan of the brand and there are many people not buying Teslas right now due to some of their design choices.

          And 1988 is a weird year to become a Cadillac Man.

          • 0 avatar

            I think he read in “Iacocca” that Chevy was for everyman, Buick was for the aspiring to be rich, and Cadillac was for the rich, and he decided he was rich or something. I dunno. I haven’t seen any money– LOL!

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m hopeful for the Genesis EVs but the G80 electric, which isn’t even out until next year, will apparently start at $60K with a 260 mile range. So it seems like they still have some catching up to do. I also expect the specs on a 2025 Tesla will be improved, although with all of their whimsical side projects who knows.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Budget under 90k? Um, wot?

      I may be a one eyed cat on this, but I’m pretty sure there are MANY different budgets beyond “under 90k”. No one is cross shopping a Bolt with a 90k Tesla. No one.

      They may be shopping Leafs (leaves?), Ioniq, Nero and probably a used i3. At least you’re in the ballpark price for those BEVs.

      An under 90k budget for a BEV could get you a Polestar 2 or an Audi eTron sportback, 2 cars that are bolted together correctly with great interiors – attributes Tesla is still struggling with for reasons no one seems to be able to explain. And Volvo’s plug in XC40 is available now, too. All 3 quite a bit less than 90k.

      Tesla had the run of the market and proved there’s demand for good looking BEV’s, but now with carmakers producing really good alternatives, unless you’re hooked by the badge, why put up with the Tesla’s iffy build quality/construction or interiors that just aren’t up to the price tag?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “An under 90k budget for a BEV could get you a Polestar 2 or an Audi eTron sportback… And Volvo’s plug in XC40 is available now, too.”

        I’m aware of those vehicles. I think the Tesla offerings are better BEVs despite Tesla’s build quality issues and lame interior design.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Tesla’s EV tech is definitely better – for now.

          • 0 avatar
            springer

            What? Musk/Tesla tech is better? In what world?
            Fastest accelerating production EV – Rimac Nevera
            Most powerful production EV – Rimac nevera
            Quickest charging EV – Hyundai Ioniq 5/Kia Ev6
            Longest range EV king – Lucid Air.

            Sorry, Musk has been surpassed in all EV technology categories. Before you brush off Rimac nevera as “just a hypercar”, consider that Rimac’s huge business is in supplying leading edge EV tech to partner companies like Porsche and Hyundai/Kia. Meanwhile take it from Rich Rebuild – Teslas don’t age well. When you own a car, think not 2 or 3 years, but about 10 or 20 years down the line, and prospect for Tesla cars lasting that long pretty dim thanks to Big brother Musk who is the real owner of all Tesla cars out there. LOL

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @springer: To add to what you said:

            Best drive tech; Bugatti-Rimac independent wheel drive.

            Best battery tech: CATL Hybrid Lithium Ion/ Sodium Ion pack technology. Followed closely by Teslas new 4680 Cells.

            Best Motor Tech: Telsa’s 20k rpm motor

            The problem with the any of the Bugatti-Rimac cars or technology is that it is available mainly in limited production cars. It should trickle down to Porsche and Genesis/Hyundai/VW/KIA at some point, but right now isn’t available on higher-volume vehicles.

            Would love to see Tesla work with CATL to get their hybrid lithium/sodium-Ion tech and build hybrid Lithium/Sodium 4680 packs. The higher-density higher-cost lithium cells are combined with lower-cost and lower-density sodium-ion cells in a single pack.

            Reportedly there have been breakthroughs in Sodium tech via janus graphene so maybe pure sodium-ion packs aren’t far off if, and a big if, they could get the janus graphene technology into mass production. Lab is one thing, mass production is much tougher.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        You don’t need a 90k budget to do some asymmetrical cross-shopping. When I bought my Bolt I cross-shopped it against the Kona EV, which was close to the same price, and a Long Range Model 3, which at the time was about $15k more expensive. The Bolt is hardly a W126 bank vault but its build quality was notably superior to the Model 3s I test drove and sat in at the time. (To be fair, my friend recently got a mid 2021 build Model 3 Performance and it is better put together than the ones I looked at in 2019.)

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      This is the dilemma I’m faced with as well: want to buy an EV crossover (we always have one larger vehicle to schlep sailing stuff, so can’t get rid of an SUV and replace it with a Bolt), the only alternatives to the Tesla right now are pretty inferior, and I can’t get past the non-battery issues with Teslas. I’m hoping the Kia EV6 will be a viable alternative when it’s available in the new year; I’ve had a reservation for a launch edition since they went live back in the spring.

      Mustang Mach-Es are asking between $1k-10k over sticker in my area. It’s insane.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Your argument makes a lot of sense . . . for those who are interested in an EV. Your offhand disparagement of those who are “still rollin’ coal” is unintentionally ironic since, in many parts of the US — especially the midwest — coal is the principal fuel source for electricity generation. In size and performance, the Bolt is the perfect second car. Great as a suburban runabout/commuter, especially if you live in a detached house that can be equipped with a level 2 charger. Under that use, there’s no need for range anxiety and the efficiency difference between that and a similar ICE-powered car is the greatest.

    It would have been good if the article had some quick and dirty research into prices for used Bolts. As a new car, the price difference between it and a similarly-sized/configured new ICE-powered commuter runabout is pretty large. In my neck of the woods, used prices on Bolts seem to range from $30K for a ’21 Premier with 4,000 miles down to $17K for a ’17 LT model with 24,000 miles.

  • avatar

    Took a look at my local inventory. All very similarly priced (17-21k). All had pretty low miles and they had all been on the dealer lot 2 months or more, they all also seemed to have had minor price reductions in the pasty month (500-1500. Interesting but not a deal I would jump on.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Second Bolt owner checking in. Mine’s a 2017 Premiere which currently has 38,000 miles on it. Bought it in January (with 32,000 on the clock), and have been completely happy with the car. I normally charge to the 90% level unless I know I’m going to be stretching the range in the next day or two, and have been doing so since I first got the car so as to prolong battery life. None of the GM warnings bothered me in the slightest. If I’m that lucky, I better start buying lottery tickets.

    I’m normally getting 215-220 miles out of a full charge, worst I was doing was when I first bought the car (dead of winter) when I was getting 180-190. These figures are at the 90% level. So far, although I’ve got accounts with the three major charging firms in the Richmond area, I have yet to use anything more than Level 2 charging. And on most of my usual runnings around, I’ve got free Level 2 chargers earmarked should I want to top off while parked.

    For my needs, the range has been perfect. I no longer take a motel room in Williamsburg when I have a weekend at Jamestown Settlement (I live in Ashland, VA), as I just commute daily and still have about 70-80 miles range left over at the end of the day. Plug in overnight (the wife has the garage, she’s got the newer, more expensive car), and head back out in the morning.

    If this is he future, bring it on. While we’ll keep something ICE in the driveway (long trips invariably mean a far away re-enactment which means I’m hauling lots of gear, therefore van or pickup is absolutely necessary), the wife and I are seriously considering trading in her Kicks for a second EV in the next year or two. They work too well, not to consider them.

    And now I’m going to get a new battery pack for free?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Interesting thesis, but if I owned a Bolt that I was planning on selling, the “brand new free battery” bit would definitely be priced into my ask.

  • avatar
    Roader

    The author does not understand proportional statistics:

    “According to Sam Abuelsamid, lead auto analyst for Guidehouse Insights, only seven Chevy Bolts have caught fire, or about 0.006 percent of those on the road. By comparison, the National Fire Protection Association said 212,000 gas and diesel vehicles caught fire in 2018, or about 0.07 percent of those on US roads.”

    The Bolt’s only been made since 2017, so they’re only counting the two model years of the Bolt in those fire stat’s, 2017 and 2018. The only accurate comparison would be to 2017 and 2018 model year ICE vehicles fires, not every ICE vehicle “on the road”.

    But people believe things they don’t understand, don’t they?

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Wouldn’t matter. The stat is “how many of a particular population burned against how many total are in that population.”

    In any case the problem with EV fires isn’t their frequency, it’s that they tend to happen when the EV is parked, not when it’s being driven.

    • 0 avatar
      Roader

      It matters a great deal. The Bolts were at most two years old. The ICE vehicles were on average twelve years old. Old ICE cars almost certainly catch on fire more than new ICE cars: fuel lines can rust, gas tanks can be damaged, FI o-rings can deteriorate and leak.

      A statistically relevant comparison would have been 2017 & 2018 Bolt fires to 2017 & 2018 ICE vehicle fires.

      The author’s smug “people – especially Americans – do not understand fractions.” comment is ironic in that he cluelessly doesn’t take into account age related vehicle degredation. Let’s see how many ten year old EV batteries catch on fire after owners, desperate for range and stuck with 75% degraded batteries, charge the hell out of them.

  • avatar
    blockmachining

    My 2018 Bolt dropped $1580 last month. Biggest drop since I bought it new. Ouch. This is per Kelly blue book private party value. Credit Karma said it dropped $1630!

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “I’m no mathematographer, but 0.07 looks like it might be more than 0.006.”

    If it were merely a numbers thing, GM wouldn’t be recalling all the Bolts.

    The difference is, ICE cars that catch fire, I would assume, are old and poorly maintained (like with an oil leak for example) and they catch fire out on the open road. Big difference between that situation and a NEW Bolt that incinerates itself just sitting in your garage.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Been watching these for about a year. Any price drop post recall hasn’t made up for the current used car valuation run-up. I could charge at work (free electrons!!) not under a roof, so if the recall ever actually drives valuations down it will be a beneficial asymmetry for me

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Under normal market conditions this would be a good choice but used vehicle prices are insane. I know someone who sold a 6 year old F350 with 80k miles back to the dealer for a little more than what they paid for it new. With the chip shortages and other shortages it might be until 2023 when production is back to pre Covid. Ordered a new hybrid Maverick on July 22 and was told by the dealer to expect delivery next Spring and possibly later.

  • avatar
    dwford

    What is GM doing to compensate those owners whose Bolts did catch fire? Are they providing a replacement Bolt, or at least the value of one? What about any property damage? Are you going to buy a used Bolt if GM is going to tell you you pound sand and call your insurance if your Bolt catches fire?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Typically GM’s insurer would be on the hook for all the damage, including both the value of the car and any associated damage. GM may be big enough to self-insure against this sort of loss, in which case it will pay the losses. Given the PR dimension of this I can’t imagine that GM is going to make life difficult for the owners. They may try to recoup the losses from LG but that would be after the owner is already paid.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would park it outside until the battery is replaced. There should be no problem once the battery is replaced.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would park it outside until the battery is replaced. There should be no problem once the battery is replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Wouldn’t that necessitate a long electric cable to be installed since this thing -unlike the Volt- is a big laptop and can’t refuel any other way than to be plugged in?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I park mine outside (the inside of the garage has been taken over by bicycles). The cable from my EVSE is easily long enough to reach it and is rated by the manufacturer for outdoor use.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’d have to crunch the numbers but Mr. Borras may be on to something here. All of these things pretty much retail at about +/- 20K, and this during the “chip shortage”. Since mileage isn’t as much of an issue, the wear related problems you endure are typical disposables, the brake system, and the body itself. Find a clean body with higher miles and pay cash, could be a deal there if you’re willing to deal with continued EV experimentation.

  • avatar
    watersketch

    I am in the market for a new or used EV and had a call into my Chevy dealer about a new Bolt EUV. She said they have them on the lot, I can take a look at it and even sit in it, but that they will not allow anyone to take it for a test drive and don’t know when they can sell them.

  • avatar
    DAC17

    I agree completely with the writer. Our country has so lost touch with reality, at the expense of overblown 24/7 ridiculous “news” headlines. I’ve had my 2020 for 19 months now, and it’s been flawless. I get 290 miles of range in the summer months and about 210 in the winter. It’s quick, fun, easy to handle, park, and drive in traffic that I take it for most of my trips (and I have a Fiat 124 Spider and BMW X3M to choose from). This is the one car I own that is a keeper. And, with the new battery pack in the next year or two, an even better choice!

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    As a proud male, I will never be seen driving or riding in a Bolt. I don’t care if they are being sold for $5,000. That car feminine.

  • avatar
    frank skog

    It does not matter how often gas powered cars catch fire in total. What matters for comparison purposes is how often they catch fire in the garage at night.

  • avatar
    Socrates77

    Hell no, If can’t afford a used model 3 then I get a used rav4 hybrid. Bolts are cheap made won’t last 100k miles. If it doesn’t catch fire first.

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