When the Gordon-Bloomfield family decided on purchasing a plug-in hybrid as a replacement for our 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid and a companion to our 2011 Nissan LEAF last summer, we settled on the 2013 Chevrolet Volt.
Since then, we’ve covered just shy of 20,000 miles in the Volt, with a lifetime fuel economy hovering around 118 mpg. Save for an untimely collision with a motorcycle — in which an oncoming cornering motorcycle lost control and took out both front tires, charger and bumper — the Volt had spent very little time in the shop.
But shortly after posting our first year staff car report, a fault with the Volt’s charging system reminded us that owning a Chevrolet Volt in the UK — and Europe in general — is becoming a challenge when things go wrong.
In fact, every time our Volt needs service or repair work, we’re forced to make a 140 mile round trip to the only dealership in the UK currently trained to work on the car.
You see, although the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera — the Volt’s mechanically identical but trendier European sibling — was more readily available in the UK than the Volt, we opted for the Volt due to its lower sticker price and more conservative styling. We drove it home from one of three UK dealerships to stock the Volt in July last year, having struck a good deal on financing and trade in price for our old car.
At the time, we were under the impression that while there were only three official Volt dealerships in the UK, Vauxhall/Opel dealerships who sold the Ampera would be able to work on the Volt, too, especially if they happened to stock other Chevy vehicles.
Despite stocking other non-Volt Chevy models, all the local dealerships who offer Amperas for sale are either unwilling or unable to service the Volt. To make matters worse, neither the Volt nor the Ampera will be sold in Europe as of the end of this year, meaning there’s no point in dealerships spending money training their mechanics on either car.
It’s a point illustrated very clearly when our Volt stopped charging — and started tripping our household electronics every time we plugged it in to charge.
We rang our local Volt dealer, located about 70 miles away, to book the car in. While not the dealership we purchased the car from, we’ve had prior warranty work carried out there and decided that as the nearest dealership it made the logical point of call in terms of repair work.
As a small family-owned business in a rural location however, the dealership didn’t have a courtesy car available for two weeks. So we called the dealership we’d purchased the car from, located 180 miles away in Cambridgeshire.
At this point, Volt ownership took on a rather surreal quality, as the dealership we’d purchased the car from calmly told us they could no-longer service the car: its two trained Volt mechanics had left and no-one else had been trained yet.
It became a Hobson’s choice between our more local dealership and the only other approved Volt dealership in the UK — which was located some 400 miles north in Scotland.
A quick telephone call to Chevrolet customer support managed to secure us a complementary Hyundai i40 automatic hire car as a courtesy car, enabling a more expeditious repair. But with parts in short supply, the repair took the best part of a week.
Back, repaired and on the road again, our Chevy Volt is back to its daily duties as school run and commuter car. But with the nearest dealership more than an hour and a half away and local Ampera dealerships refusing to work on the car — even though the Ampera and Volt are mechanically identical — we’re dreading the next time something goes wrong. Even dropping in for an official recall is a day-long activity.
In just over a year, the Chevrolet Volt — and perhaps soon the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera — has gone from a viable, usable modern plug-in car to one which is becoming increasingly difficult to service and maintain. Aside from the massive drop in price prompted by the departure of both models from the market, those who own Detroit’s famous plug-in will soon have to become more resourceful if they want to continue owning their range-extended EV.
But don’t think that means we no-longer enjoy the Volt. We love its power, its ease of driving, and its range-extended capabilities. When things are working as they should, the Volt is a great car. But when things go wrong, it’s a challenge getting repair arranged.
It’s taught us a valuable lesson in electric car ownership: don’t buy a limited-production or low-volume plug-in unless you’re willing to put in the extra work to keep it serviced according to manufacturer’s suggestions and happen to have a dealership nearby willing to support it long after it ceases production.
Either that, or be prepared to take entire days off every time you need to have it worked on.
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