GM is developing anti driver distraction tech.

Estranged Siblings: Why Servicing the Chevy Volt is Tough in Europe

Pull off the very different bumpers, grille and badges from the Chevrolet Volt and Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the two cars apart.  Made on the same Detroit production line, the Volt and Ampera are essentially the same car wearing different clothes.

European buyers beware: only Chevy dealers can service the Volt -- not Opel Ampera ones.

European buyers beware: only Chevy dealers can service the Volt — not Opel Ampera ones.

In North America, only the Chevy Volt is available to buy, while in Europe, the Opel(Vauxhall) Ampera is the vehicle of choice for most buyers. But in some European countries, it’s possible to buy either a Volt or an Ampera. Given both car’s identical innards, you’d be forgiven for assuming that in countries where both vehicles are sold, dealers would be capable of working on either variant of GM’s plug-in.

But as Transport Evolved discovered earlier today, each marque has its own dedicated service approval process. The result is that Chevrolet dealers can’t service Amperas, and Opel dealers can’t service Volts — unless each has specific certification to do so.

Limited dealer network

We made the shocking discovery this morning while trying to make a first service booking for our own Transport Evolved Chevrolet Volt: a six-month old car with just over 9,000 miles on the clock. After recent flooding here in the U.K., the Volt’s service light had come on following a commute on waterlogged roads.

We decided it needed to be given a checkup.

Before we go any further, we should note that the UK has literally only a handful of Chevrolet dealers who are certified to sell and work on a Chevrolet Volt. But given its similarity to the Ampera, we also made the foolish assumption that in an emergency, we could head to any authorised Ampera dealer for help.

So, since we preferred the Volt’s looks to its European cousin — and because it was slightly cheaper — we travelled the 200 or so miles to pick up our car.  Having confirmed the presence of an Ampera dealer in a nearby town, we didn’t worry too much about what would happen when a dealer visit was needed.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

“We’d love to, but…”

“We’re really sorry,” said the first Vauxhall dealer we called. “We’d love to service your Volt, but we’re not certified by Chevrolet to do so. We’d get in trouble — and possibly void your Volt’s warranty — if we did.”

The dealer’s service assistant was more than apologetic. “We know it’s the same car inside, but we just can’t help you,” she said. “But if you like, we’ll contact Chevrolet on your behalf and find a local dealer.”

Similarly, Volt dealers can't -- or won't -- service the European-market  Ampera

Similarly, Volt dealers can’t — or won’t — service the European-market Ampera

Every other Ampera dealer we tried said the same thing: only Ampera branded cars could be officially serviced.  When we finally found a Volt dealer who would service the car — a new one having opened up just 65 miles away — we were told that they had the same policy for Amperas.

“It’s madness,” we were told. “But we just aren’t allowed to work on Amperas. We’ve had quite a few frustrated potential customers as a result.”

Specific certification

While Chevrolet, Vauxhall and Opel are all part of the same General Motors family, each brand has its own set of engineering requirements for its vehicles. When a new vehicle is launched, each franchised dealer must have its service staff certified by its chosen automaker as having successfully completed the required service course needed to earn the essential ‘official service centre’ title.

At some point in the past, marque-specific service qualifications were less of an issue. But in the world of plug-in cars, dealers who don’t have specific training can risk all manner of problems if they work on a car they’re not certified to service.

This can mean anything from struggling to find replacement parts and workshop diagnostics equipment to potentially voiding the warranty on a customer’s car.  In short, the risk is perceived as being too great.

A sage warning

At the end of last year, Chevrolet announced its decision to pull out of the European market for good, selling just the plug-in Ampera in European countries. Existing service centres, we were told, would continue to provide repair and aftersales service to existing customers. But for those without an existing relationship with the few authorised service providers, we envisage a future where existing Volt owners will struggle to find a place for service.

For our own vehicle, we’ve been lucky: a booking has been made at a Volt-qualified dealer for Saturday. But if you’re in Europe and thinking of buying a Volt, make sure you’re near somewhere that’s happy to service it before you agree on the sale.

Otherwise, you may find those trips to the dealer more than a little tedious. You have been warned.


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  • Michael Thwaite

    That’s not cool. It doesn’t bode well either for people in the US exporting cars from CA & hoping to get them serviced in other states.

  • That kind of policy will only serve to suppress sales.nnnAsk them if they are willing to change the tires. Brake Pads? At what point do they baulk?

  • Duncan Booth

    Interesting, and quite worrying though for now I’m ok with a Volt dealer just a few miles from me. Some of the early reviews stated clearly that you would be able to interchange dealers. e.g. wrote “Interestingly, a Vauxhall spokesperson said you can service a Chevrolet at a Vauxhall dealer and vice versa, without voiding the warranty, which is a big plus if you run a Chevy. The Volt driver won’t get the white-glove, door-to-door treatment, of course.” Perhaps you could track down the unnamed spokesman and get them to give Vauxhall a kick.nnnnI would also note that when my Volt was being worked on by Chevrolet’s own service centre recently, the (very rare) phone calls I got directly from them (converted automatically by Android into Google’s idea of the business’s name) were identified as Vauxhall Headquarters.

  • So much for the dealer model argument that they are there to support a vehicle after a manufacture discontinues production of a model. ;)nnNot only is this a poor message for existing Chevy owners, it raises flags for future Ampera, Vauxhall buyers. Did Chevy not notify owners how to get on-goning warrenty & service work? nnOne (half joking) solution is a trip to a junk yard to find a slightly used Ampera bumper & grill.

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  • Duncan Booth

    Nikki, you might be interested to know, I dropped my Volt off at the dealer in Grove (which I believe was the source of your ‘madness’ quote) this morning so they can replace the passive door lock switches on the driver side. I noticed an Ampera sitting outside the showroom (it was a bit hard to miss as it had Ampera written in big letters down the side). I asked them and they confirmed they can now service both Volts and Amperas.nnThis doesn’t necessarily indicate a shift in GM’s policy, but at least it should ensure that as dealers they continue to show an interest after the Chevrolet pull-out. I should ask them whether the Volt engineer had to go on another training course or if they let his Volt training do for the Ampera too.

    • Duncan. You too? nnWe had our door switches replaced too. A common problem perhaps?

      • Duncan Booth

        I think it must be a common problem as there are various online threads discussing it.nI’m having both front and rear driver side replaced: the rear one has always been a bit iffy; it still works sometimes and went completely unusable in the middle of winter but then started working again when the weather dried up. The front one died altogether around January and hasn’t recovered at all. I suspect there’s have a problem with moisture getting in.

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