Staff Car Report: 2013 Chevrolet Volt Reliability Takes a Dive, Becomes Haunted for Halloween

Back in 2013, the Gordon-Bloomfield family made a decision to purchase a brand-new 2013 Chevrolet Volt as their second car, replacing a 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid and 2012 Renault Twizy quadricycle. Since then, it has been used to carry out a variety of duties alongside the family’s other car, a 2011 Nissan LEAF, ranging from daily commutes to school runs, shopping trips and the occasional longer-distance trip.

Like the 2011 Nissan LEAF, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt has become one of the official Transport Evolved staff cars, alongside Mark’s 2011 Nissan LEAF; Michael’s 2010 Tesla Roadster, 2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev and 2014 BMW i3; and Kate’s 2009 Mitsubishi i-Miev and 2005 Toyota Prius.

Our staff Chevrolet Volt (left) and a local sibling, a Vauxhall Ampera (right)

Our staff Chevrolet Volt (left) and a local sibling, a Vauxhall Ampera (right)

When we last talked about the Chevrolet Volt in September, we reported that reliability had, for the most part, remained pretty good since the car first came to us back in August 2013, with only two trips to the dealers for warranty repair. But since then, our Chevrolet Volt has taken a downhill dive, developing a plethora of problems which challenge its previous reliability record.

Aside from the resurfacing of a problem with the car’s keyless entry system that we first had repaired under warranty earlier this year, our Chevrolet Volt, with just over 22,000 miles on the clock, has taken on a bit of a dual personality. Problems have included a misbehaving pre-heating system, broken thermostat, lost charge port cover, stuck entertainment system, interior rust and most annoyingly, an intermittent alarm problem.

It’s almost as if the car has become possessed, or perhaps decided to enter into the Halloween spirit a few weeks early. Either way, we were faced with a two-week wait for the car to be looked at, and a wait of ten days while the car was fixed under warranty.

Heating first. Shortly after picking up our Volt from its last trip to the dealer in September, a round-trip of 140 miles, we noted that the car’s pre-conditioning system — activated only by remote control in Europe due to an absence of OnStar — would not always let the car heat itself in the morning. In fact, on occasion, activating the pre-condition system seemed to cause the car to trip out whichever charging point it was connected to, be it a dedicated J1772 charging station or a portable EVSE ‘brick.’ Most noticeable if there was significant moisture in the air, the pre-conditioning system has yet again been examined by Chevrolet for problems.

Our car's touch-screen display has failed to operate properly, locking us out of key infotainment functions.

Our car’s touch-screen display has failed to operate properly, locking us out of key infotainment functions.

When driving, the Volt also developed a disconnect between the cabin temperature when powered by electricity versus gasoline. In electric mode, the car failed to heat the cabin adequately, requiring the driver to either force the thermostat to the highest setting or turn on the gasoline engine.

Both problems appear to now have been traced to a faulty water pump, which Chevrolet has replaced under warranty.

Next comes the most bizarre problem, one which hasn’t affected the functioning of the vehicle but has affected it cosmetically. The charge port door — colored the same as the car itself, mysteriously vanished one day, leaving behind the plastic charge port door mechanism. We’re not sure if this was the result of someone trying to force the charge port door open or just a part falling off, but we note that the charge port door was replaced back in September under warranty after the car failed to charge correctly from any power source.

At the start of October, we also experienced for the first time a common problem for Volts: a crashed infotainment system. One morning, during a family school run, the car’s touch-screen display and infotainment buttons stopped responding to button presses. Beeping in acknowledgement of each press but refusing to do anything, even a shut-down of the car’s ignition did not turn the system off. Even after exiting the powered-down vehicle, the system remained operational and only reset itself on a chance opening of the rear hatch.

Our Staff car has just received a replacement water pump under warranty.

Our Staff car has just received a replacement water pump under warranty.

It was during this particular fault that we discovered something else that made us question the Volt’s build quality: rust on the interior subframe on which the dashboard is bolted to the car body.

On opening up the fuse-box cover on the right-hand side of the dash, we were faced with surface rust liberally spread along the interior dashboard frame. Inside rather than outside the car, we flagged this with Chevrolet service and were told that some surface rust is perfectly normal for an 18-month old car, especially since the interior frame itself is comprised of bare, untreated metal. On its latest service-call, the Volt’s rust has been treated and repaired.

Interior rust was an unexpected discovery.

Interior rust was an unexpected discovery.

Now we come to the most frustrating quirk our staff Volt has developed — and one which we’ve yet to get to the bottom of. The Volt, despite having a well-charged 12-volt battery and two fully-charged key fobs, started to ignore any remote control functionality for two weeks at the start of October.

The attacks — intermittent in nature — ranged from not being able to remotely turn on climate control or unlock the car to being unable to turn off the car alarm on entering the vehicle. Even the Volt’s ‘secret’ keyfob slot — reserved for use when the keyfob battery pack has died — failed on occasion to silence the alarm, and only a power cycle of the car itself would quieten the system.

On other occasions, the Volt’s alarm would suddenly activate, with no warning or just cause, usually early in the morning when no-one was near the car.

As mysteriously as this particular problem started however it has since gone away again, leaving both ourselves and Chevrolet’s service team a little stuck as to its cause.

Since this list of problems started to amass, the Transport Evolved editorial team has joked that our staff Chevrolet Volt must have been a “Friday car:” a car made at the end of a shift when staff and quality control might not have been up to par. But with our local dealer still 70 miles away — and still only three dealerships in the entire UK trained to work on the Volt despite many more approved to work on its identical European sibling, the Vauxhall Ampera — owning the Chevrolet Volt has become something of a chore rather than a pleasure.

 

Earlier this year, the Volt's remote climate control stopped working. It was repaired under warranty, but has since required further attention.

Earlier this year, the Volt’s remote climate control stopped working. It was repaired under warranty, but has since required further attention.

Every car has its problems, and we’re aware that every make and model of car will have one particular vehicle with more faults than others that reflects the brand badly. But with so many challenges to ownership, we’re falling out of love with the Chevrolet Volt a little too quickly. And with other, more capable range-extended electric cars on the market in the UK with better dealer support, we’re reaching the verdict that Volt ownership — like any car no-longer sold or well-supported — isn’t’ for the faint of heart.

Do you have a Chevrolet Volt? Have you suffered some of the same problems we have had with our staff car? Or has your car operated perfectly in every way? Do you think the problems experience by the Transport Evolved Chevy Volt are down to bad luck, unusual flaws, bad design or unfortunate service?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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