Couple Learns the Hard Way How the Future of Motoring is Paved With Discontinued Batteries

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
couple learns the hard way how the future of motoring is paved with discontinued

A couple’s recent experience in Florida highlighted an issue that’s bound to become more prevalent as the motoring world leans into its EV future. After experiencing some issues they took their Chevrolet Volt to a dealer in Cape Coral, Florida. It turned out the Volt had a battery issue, and it could be fixed for $29,842. Welcome to the future.

The Chevy Volt in question was a 2012 model, with 70,000 miles on the odometer. Even with low mileage, the battery was on its last legs at 10 years old. In case you’ve forgotten the first Volt, the plug-in hybrid was on sale from 2011 to 2015, and shared the Delta II platform with the likes of the Buick Verano and Chevy Cruze. 

Its second generation was on sale from 2016 through 2019, on the revised D2XX version of the Delta platform. D2XX is still in use by the current Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. The official replacement for the Volt was the fully-electric Bolt. Presently on sale, the Bolt comes in standard hatchback and EUV crossover flavors.

Though the Volt was on sale as recently as 2019, the battery from its earliest days was discontinued long ago. The first-generation Volt used a 16 kWh battery in conjunction with its 1.4-liter inline-four EcoFLEX engine, but only for 2011 and 2012 models. In 2013 the battery increased to a 16.5 kWh version, in use through 2014. For the Volt’s final year in its first generation, it used a 17.1 kWh battery. Volt came with a powertrain warranty of eight years and 100,000 miles. 

The second generation Volt was consistent in its battery usage, and all years had the same 18.4kWh battery pack. The evolution presents an interesting thought for the future: As battery technology is consistently in a state of advancement, OEMs have little incentive to support the old tech. Especially when it’s a car that’s outside the factory warranty. 

Hence the issue that arose when the old Volt was brought to the service center at Roger Dean Chevrolet. The official diagnosis for the Volt was that it needed a new battery, and some coolant for the engine. Though it could handle some antifreeze, the dealer was forced to turn to a third-party supplier that specialized in discontinued batteries for a replacement. 

Unlike a typical internal combustion engine, battery packs have a shelf life. The battery lifespan in a Volt is typically 10 years, per the dealer. But the battery’s life can be shorter or longer, depending upon how the car in question was used. 

Batteries lose their capacity and age over time, even if they’re not being used. Just like in a smartphone, batteries will eventually need replacement. In the case of the Volt, a theoretical owner has approximately two years of usability post factory warranty before their daily commuter surprises them and turns into a useless lawn ornament. 

The dealership also cited that servicing the Volt’s battery was not an option. Parts within the battery can fail, and while the battery may technically still have some life left in its cells its parts are integral. That means the entire battery must be replaced. In the case of the Volt, age and rarity led to a very high third-party battery price, at $26,853. And it wasn’t a case of “Just take it to an independent shop instead,” as the dealer didn’t pad the battery figure. $26,853 was what the battery cost from the third-party supplier. After labor and the small charge for engine coolant, the total estimate was $29,842.

USA Today reached out to the dealership to verify the repair quote after the story picked up steam via a Facebook post, and the dealer verified the information as accurate. According to Bloomberg, the Volt was an outlier with regard to its battery costs, as typical EV battery replacements are $6,300. Even a battery replacement in a Ford Mustang Mach-E is only $20,000. 

But that figure is $20,000 while the Mach-E is a new car, still in production, with new battery packs widely available. It’s argued that like other technologies, as battery-powered vehicles become more common prices will go down. While that’s likely true in a general sense, battery costs are also dependent upon the cost of the rare, expensive raw materials required for battery production that must be mined from exotic locales.

It brings up an interesting point about the future pitfalls of EV motoring. Shared batteries among various models will help with availability down the road, but only while the model is still in production. And that will only apply to vehicles sold in large numbers by large manufacturers. Ten years on, it’s not economically feasible to spend $30,000 to repair a Volt worth $16,000. 

The cost of battery replacements and each EV’s expected battery life will be of utmost importance when considering an EV for long-term ownership or as a used-car proposition. How often it's charged (via what charging type), how it's driven, and how old the car is all play a part in the battery’s useful remaining life. The used-car consumer will likely have only the car’s age at hand.

According to a recent test, a 2019 Tesla Model 3 lost between 10 and 11 percent of its battery life after 100,000 miles. Tesla presently warranties the Model 3 battery to 100,000 miles for the standard version, and 120,000 miles for long range, with a guaranteed minimum retention of 70 percent over that period. Tesla says the Model 3’s battery will last between 300,000 and 500,000 miles, at which point replacement battery modules (but not the pack) will cost $5,000 to $7,000.

Other manufacturers attempt to assuage battery degradation concerns via their warranties. Chevy offers a 60 percent capacity guarantee over eight years or 100,000 miles. The now discontinued Leaf had a 66 percent guarantee over the same time and miles span. 

For the couple in Florida who declined the $30,000 service on their Volt, they’re living on borrowed time. See, even though it has a gas engine, the Volt cannot operate with a dead battery. Wonder if they’ll buy another Chevrolet.

[Images: GM, Nissan]

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2 of 176 comments
  • Haywire Haywire on Sep 21, 2022

    "Wonder if they’ll buy another Chevrolet."

    I love the way you took a shot at Chevy without considering the stellar reliability of Volt batteries in general. And a used battery wasn't even mentioned...what crap.

  • FifaCup FifaCup 5 days ago

    smooth and short, Yeah, that is best for a small family!

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.