Like many families here in the Capital Region with two kids, we do a lot of driving back and forth. Auto expense is significant. And we also realize the impact all this driving has on the environment. When the Humvee came out it just galled me to think of how inefficient such a car was to drive and how unnecessarily it impacted the environment. At the time I remembered wishing there was a car on the other end of the spectrum – one that was efficient and had little impact on the environment. Later, I looked at the Prius but it didn’t make the forward leap I wanted, if I was going to change from my very useful and fairly efficient 4-cylinder Toyota RAV-4.
I took a job at Darrow School where sustainability is such a constant message that an environmentally responsible car moved higher on my list of priorities. I read about both the Leaf and Volt and I really started thinking about making the change. The main thing that appealed to me about both of these cars is that they both use just electric, so it was possible to drive without using gasoline. The Leaf has a longer range on just electric but the Volt is not limited to its electric range. I felt that with two kids I didn’t want to be in the position of not being able to use my car in an emergency. With the Volt, I can just fill up and drive, then I can recharge later. Also, what happens if the power goes out for two or three days – you then have no car.
I did a lot of research. I had heard about Volts catching on fire. Well I found out the fire happened as part of the NHSTA crash testing – three weeks after the crash, a Volt caught on fire due to fluid that had leaked out over that time period. The Volt got a 5-star rating and I think that most people will get out of the car before it sat around for three weeks. Also there was another case where it was reported a Volt was involved in a house fire – yes, but the car had nothing to do with the cause of the fire. Politics as usual…
Then I began shopping around. I learned that the car had a lot of features I typically wouldn’t have gotten but they come standard with the Volt. For example the heated seats come with the leather interior, which is really good because on those in between days you can save heating the whole cabin with electric by just heating the seat. Still I kept investigating and learning. I probably visited ten area dealers by phone, in person or on-line. What I found was that I knew more about the car than most of the salespeople did. Most of them haven’t gotten enough training to answer specific questions. But also a lot of the answers weren’t going to be known until the car was on the road for a few years. Or until I had experience driving it in various conditions myself; for example, “How would it handle in the snow? And would the battery work in the cold weather?” By November last year, I felt all the material questions had been answered and I was ready to buy.
By looking on-line I was able to see what cars were sitting on the lot and for how long. This helped me in getting a better deal. I found exactly the car I wanted for a price below invoice. I bought the car in December 2011 and have been driving it ever since!
The first thing I noticed on my daily commute was the quiet. It really is very quiet both because it doesn’t have a gas exploding engine and also because it is well insulated. Also you need to be more careful in parking lots because the car doesn’t make any noise. The car has plenty of power though I use it sparingly. And, yes it handles well in the snow, in part because it is pretty heavy and also the technology in delivering power to the appropriate wheel. Also there is less maintenance – a lot longer between oil changes, because I’m using mainly the electric motor. I have had it serviced but only because I received a service notice from the manufacturer. I had the work done at DePaula Chevrolet because they are working with a lot of Volts and the technician now has quite a bit of experience. One of the perceived risks is the durability of the battery, but with an eight year warranty it isn’t something I worry about. Plus, Chevrolet continues to make proactive improvements as they learn more about the car and battery. So after nearly 3,000 miles I’ve used very little gasoline, with just one fill up of gasoline in February (209 Miles per Gallon). I totally love the car. Perhaps one of the best points I can make is that I sometimes forget it is an electric car – I have no range anxiety and it handles more like you’d expect a sports car to handle than what most think of as an electric car.
Bottom line: I heartily recommend buying a Volt, but first figure out exactly what you want in a car. Not only does an electric car save money on the gas you don’t buy but also you are doing something for the environment and you are helping promote a far better transportation technology!
Lawrence Klein is the Associate Director of Advancement and General Counsel at Darrow School. He can be reached for questions by commenting on this blog or through Member email.