How to Buy a Pre-Owned Chevrolet Volt

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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Buying a pre-owned Chevrolet Volt is a great way to test the waters if you want to try living with an electric car, but you simply want to dip your toes into the EV pool first in order to see if making the switch to an EV is right for you.

Why is that? The Chevy Volt offers you a safety net, eliminating a phenomenon known as range anxiety by using a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine as an onboard generator so that you’ll never need to worry about recharging the battery in unfamiliar surroundings.

Sure, the Volt’s drivetrain is similar to a plug-in hybrid car’s, but it’s not exactly the same. The gas engine’s power is converted into electricity to move the car. Only under extreme situations, like when driving up a mountain grade, will the engine directly power the Volt’s wheels.

Granted, electric driving range, depending on the model year and the used Volt’s battery health, is anywhere from 35 miles to 53 miles. That’s not much. But most Americans don’t commute much farther than that.

Ready to give an electric car a try? The Volt is perfect for people who aren’t sure an EV is right for them, and you can often find big bargains on pre-owned examples.

Certified Pre-Owned or Private Party

Red 2011 Chevrolet Volt
Whether you choose to buy a used Volt from a dealership or a private owner, know that Volt values are all over the map. Shopping around is certain to turn up a good deal. (Chevrolet)

 

Search for used Volts on Autotrader, and you’ll find a big disparity in prices. Some clearly reflect opportunists who took the new-Volt $7,500 federal tax credit and, depending on the state, up to $2,500 in rebates and are now trying to unload nearly new versions of the car at a profit. Others are priced at common sense levels, and high-mileage first-generation Volts are a genuine bargain.

As is always true, research used Volt prices on Kelley Blue Book before you go shopping.

Choosing a certified pre-owned (CPO) Volt is one way to get a pre-owned Volt. Chevrolet’s CPO program applies to vehicles that are less than six years old, have fewer than 75,000 miles, and carry a clean title and a clear vehicle history report. Chevy reconditions the cars, extends a limited warranty and roadside assistance, and offers other perks in exchange for what are frequently higher prices.

For example, a search for first-generation examples in my area of Los Angeles turned up a CPO 2015 Volt with Premium trim and 34,000 miles for nearly $22,000. Just two ads down the page, another 2015 Volt Premium with 36,000 miles was available at a Buick/GMC dealer for about $13,000. But it wasn’t a CPO car.

Gee, I wonder which one I’d get?

Buying a Volt from a private owner is another way to go. These people are frequently eager to get a car out of their driveway for more money than they’ve been offered as a trade-in. Prices are lower than dealerships, and you can easily negotiate an even deeper discount.

Battery Degradation Not a Major Issue for Volt

Blue 2016 Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet over-engineered the Volt to ensure reliability, and thanks to preventative measures battery degradation is not much of an issue. Shown here, the redesigned 2016 Volt. (Chevrolet)

 

Erick Belmer is a General Motors engineer who owns a 2012 Volt. By the end of 2017, he’d put 400,000 miles on his car, and it still offered the same electric driving range it did when the car was new.

Officially, GM’s stance is that the Volt’s battery will suffer a 10% degradation in range after 5,000 full charging cycles, and while the battery carries an 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty it is expected to deliver 10 years and 150,000 miles of flawless service.

An extensively documented explanation on Wikipedia claims that the original Volt’s 16 kWh battery only uses 65% of its total “state of charge” capacity, never completely discharging before the gasoline engine fires up. Apparently satisfied with the battery’s performance, GM expanded the state of charge in 2013, increasing the car’s electric range from 35 miles to 38 miles.

Furthermore, the Volt’s battery has an expensive and sophisticated liquid-cooling system rather than an air-cooling system. Nissan used the latter in the first-generation Leaf and owners complained loudly about battery performance problems.

Even if the Volt’s battery suffers the expected 10% loss of capacity, you don’t need to worry because the car includes that range-extending gasoline engine to ensure that you’re never stranded (unless you forget to fuel up, of course).

Check Recalls and Get a Vehicle History Report

Red 2014 Chevrolet Volt Rear View
Never recalled, still under warranty, equipped with an over-engineered battery pack, providing enough electric range for a typical commute, and wrapped in the Volt’s distinctive first-generation packaging, the 2014 example offers a great blend of capability and value in a used EV. (Chevrolet)

 

As is true whenever you buy a used car, you need to research a Volt’s recall history and get a vehicle history report for the vehicle (included with a CPO purchase). To do this, use the recall finder on the NHTSA.gov website or, if you have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), you can look the car up on the GM Recall Center.

As this article is written, only the 2014 Volt and 2017 Volt haven’t been recalled. Of all Volt recalls, the most serious of them pertain to the 2015 Volt (steering gear not tightened to specification), 2016 Volt (improper airbag inflation), and 2018 and 2019 Volt (rear seatbelt retractor may not lock in a crash).

The Bottom Line

Buying a used Chevrolet Volt is a good way to take a baby step into the world of electric vehicle ownership. For the average daily drive, it works as an electric car. Then, when life doesn’t carry on as regularly scheduled, it delivers extra range to ensure that you get to your destination, whether that’s across town or across the country.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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