Opinion: Now is the Time to Buy a Used Chevrolet Bolt
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 Americans – do 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.
I've been in and around the auto industry since 1997, and have written for a number of well-known outlets like Cleantechnica, the Truth About Cars, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can also find me talking EVs with Matt Teske and Chris DeMorro on the Electrify Expo Podcast, writing about Swedish cars on my Volvo fan site, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.
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