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Chevy Volt: A Car Before Its Time?

When my daughter turned 16 there were many conversations revolving around buying a new car. She would watch the commercials and read all the promotions. “This one gets great gas mileage. This one is cute. This one has side air bags. We should buy a …” You name it; she was full of recommendations and would point out her favorites as we drove to school. Finally, I told her we needed to sit down and do the math.

At the time the Prius was a hot car and we even test drove one.  We all agreed it was a nice car. But then we did some calculating. Comparing the cost of the car and cost to drive versus our two year old Chevrolet my daughter discovered it would take nearly five years for the better gas mileage to pay off. That’s a long investment.

Today, with the rising cost of gas it occurred to me that many will be like my daughter, wondering if they should update to a new, better gas mileage car. For fun I checked into the cost of several new popular cars, including a couple hybrids (I consider the new Volt a hybrid as it uses a gas engine after the battery runs down.)  For the purposes of this article I used the Edmunds website as a source for pricing and estimated mpg and electric costs. Warning: Math Involved.

So what does this graph tell me? A two year old Prius might be the best deal. We are always told that a car loses a large amount of value the first year. The cost of the Volt, even figuring in the current tax credit is most costly to operate.  An interesting note: Toyota is now making a ‘plug-in’ version of the Prius which is listed at $32,000 and may be eligible for a $2,500 tax credit. It gets 50mpg in the hybrid mode.

Personally, I really like the idea of an electric car. It’s quiet and should be easier on the environment.  I do wonder about the inconvenience of plugging the car in each night. Many areas, like mine, offer very reduced electricity rates after 7 or 9pm. Will I remember to charge my car each night? Will it become bothersome to take the charge cord out of the trunk each trip? Will I have to install a new super electric panel? Living in the sprawling Phoenix area will I find that I am always using gas just to drive across town, especially because I refuse to drive without air conditioning thus increasing my costs? Can I plug it in while shopping? Or is it a car before its time?

It is remarkable that the average income of a Volt buyer is $170,000; wages well above the working class ($30-100K) who more often are living paycheck to paycheck.  Personal experience of acquaintances has shown that many prefer buying a used car due to the lower cost. Due to the Cash-for-Clunkers many have said that the used car market is a lot tighter than before. Unfortunately, friends who drove “clunkers” were not financially able to buy a new car and participate in the program. Like the tax credit rebate on the Volt, the Cash-for -Clunkers program seemed to help those already with better finances.

The decision to buy new or upgrade is not one to be taken lightly. For many the cost of a new or even slightly used car is still significant and a major portion of our budget, especially during these challenging economic times. With groceries up over 9% and the job market still unstable many are making the decision to wait a while longer before buying a new car. From my friends there is a strong feeling to wait, that while my car does become another year older at least I am not taking on more debt. A stronger economy would help. Still, should you buy a Volt? Do the math.

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Teresa Wendt

A stay at home mom who runs a household, manages the finances, cares for a young adult autistic son, and cooks from scratch. Traveling from Arizona to Alaska summer of 2013. Visit my blog at and follow along.

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One Comment

  1. Teresa has certainly done her homework here,resulting in some pretty realistic numbers on the cost of the Volt and comparisons to other “hybrids.” 2 observations: The Volt cost is for 12k a year driving- that may be at the low end of the working class Americans yearly mileage driven. Also I find it difficult to believe the yearly total cost for electricity to charge it. It takes a 10 hour charge, all night long, and charging those huge batteries takes a lot of juice.
    Of course under “ideal conditions” it may squeak out that kind of mileage per charge- but ( as noted below graph) AC, heat, defrost,wipers, headlights, radio etc reduce mileage. Pretty miserable driving without using those battery-draining things on the list there.

    Personally, while it is aways best IMO, to buy American, the Volt is at the bottom of my preferences on the list. I agree that the 2 yr old Prius would be the best bang for your buck.

    *Note: I hear that relacing the batteries on a Volt is real wallet-busting experience, yet my neighbor just replaced the batteries on his 4 yr old Prius for less than $300 bucks. ( his is still under the 10 year warranty period) The Prius batteries are about $2500-

    The Volt’s batteries warranty are 8 year/ 100,000 miles.

    1. Thank you for your comments and observations. I agree that 12,000 miles is low. The government shows that the average for working age is about 15,000. Still, just thinking of my immediate family in the Phoenix area, more than half drive 20-30 miles each way to work. As a commuter car, the Volt appears aimed at the professional who drives 10-20 miles or less each day.

      I also found an interesting comparison between the Volt and the Cruze where they calculate it would take 200,000 miles before the Volt is cost effective.

      The battery replacement cost is also an interesting issue. Because both Chevrolet and Toyota offer warranties of 8 years/100,000 miles I did not include these costs. I did see, as you listed, the price for the Prius and though I couldn’t find resources, many hope Chevy will be in that range. Initially the Volt battery was $8,000.

      The charging cost estimates came from the website. Cost of electricity varies widely across the country. In our area many of us also have rates based on time of day usage.

      I also share your ideal of buying American and come from a long line of GM car owners. In our family a mixed marriage is if one marries a Ford owner. 🙂

      1. Thanks for the reply Terese. :o) Long line of Chevy-owners here in this family too. Make that EX-Chevy-lovers. Never thought I,d see the day when we would end up rooting for Ford Motor Company (our nemesis for decades) When the government stole long term investors shares in GM, (for pennies on the dollar) only to give them to the UAW, and then GM not paying a penny in taxes in 2011 while falsely claiming to have made record profits, I had to say no more GM support from me, sadly enough. Let any company in America avoid $3 billion in taxes in 2011, and they would show record profits too, regardless of their performance.

        1. Ha ha! Yes, the old “Fix Or Repair Daily” acronym. We do admire Ford for not taking the bailouts. Had a friend who worked for the company and saw the restructuring they went through two years before GM issues became public.

  2. It’s too bad the Volt is so much more…. also. Some have recommended that I watch this documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” to judge whether it is the technology that is costly, or the idea itself.

    1. The technology has been around since the 19th century. It is just that electric cars can not compete with good, comfortable, affordable fuel-burning cars. I,m in Florida, and nobody down here spending a good amount of time in their car goes without AC. To run a car AC really takes some juice, even more than running a heater for half the year up North. The main problem with the Volt is that very few owners of one ( if you can find one) will be honest about the drawbacks and just what kind of mileage they can get from one charge while driving around comfortably, IMO. They started out with a lie to market the Volt also. It was deemed an “electric car” yet comes with a 9 gallon gas tank. That makes it a hybrid, period. Manufacture a good solid, comfortable car at an affordable price and they will sell like hotcakes without millions of dollars of fake advertising.

      1. My husband had a friend who argued that the Volt was not a hybrid as I used for my example. I don’t know what you should call a car that uses a gas back-up other than a hybrid. No doubt, there are some who will find the limited electric range of the Volt within their travel desires. My guess, not too many here in the Phoenix area, especially as we, like you in FL run the A/C most of the time.

  3. Check this tidbit out about EV charging stations:

    I researched 15 articles about them, and not one single thing is EVER mentioned about who pick up the tab after all these tax dollars are used to push this garbage onto the public, nor do they ever state just what the “fee” will be to charge them. Oh but that one above does mention that businesses will be able to share in the “profits” from the user fees.

    1. Thanks for that website! That is a whole ‘nother issue… I thought about it when I took the picture of the charging station. Actually, I was wondering if any of the stations at this particular store had ever been used.

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