An electric car charging at Washington Square

Choosing an Electric Car

In January 2020 I started shopping for an electric car, and decided to buy a Chevy Bolt. This post is a summary of the resources and methods I used to choose that car among the – happily – several likely electric cars on the market.

Years ago when I bought my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, I wanted an electric car, but it wasn’t quite their time yet. Happily, today there are several affordable, long-range electric cars and loads of charging stations around the USA – it’s time!

Our Lifestyle

  • We have two cars: a road trip car and a commuter car, currently a Honda Odsyssey and a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid. We want to replace the Hybrid with a fully-electric car.
  • We think of our cars as – mostly – functional things. We tend to drive a car until it gives up rather than trading it in after a couple years.
  • We prefer car models that have been around for one or two years so the initial manufacturing kinks have been worked out .
  • We want an electric car to reduce our carbon footprint, rather than specifically to save money over a gas car (although it will likely do that).

I started by looking at how I drive: I use my Civic for shopping, etc., around town. Before I retired I used it as my commuter car. Linda is a novelist, with her office at home. For family trips we (Linda, our dog Pippa, and I) pile into our traditional road trip car.

To get an idea of what driving range I need, for the past couple years I’ve been noting my short trip mileage: the distance I traveled each day. I found I often do 40 miles in a day, with a maximum of about 80 miles in a day. There are other days when both of us stay home.

Finding a Match to Our Lifestyle

Armed with those numbers, I went to the Sierra Club Electric Vehicle Guide, which has a quick survey that let me narrow the quite large field of electric cars down to something like 11 car models that fit our lifestyle (passenger and cargo space, at home charging, miles of range).

Of that initial set of cars, I eliminated ones that weren’t nationally available (a test of the maturity of the car model), and eliminated those from manufacturers I’d never heard of (manufacturers that might disappear in 5 years). Doing that narrowed the field to just 3 cars: Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt, and Kia Soul EV.

At the time, the Tesla Model 3 was listed as having “Limited Nationwide” availability. Tesla also lacks experience with the automobile long-term ecosystem and regulatory environment. Those two minuses took Tesla off my list.

Since safety is very important to us, I then visited the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) car crash ratings site. The IIHS is the main USA crash testing organization. After looking at the ratings of the 3 cars, I chose the Nissan Leaf (but that wasn’t my final choice; read on). The Leaf had the best crash ratings, the Bolt had a slightly lower rating for the front passenger leg safety, and the Kia Soul had a bad mark for the Intellibeam headlights on curves.

Learning About the Nissan Leaf

I then dug into the Nissan Leaf, reading reviews, the Nissan sales site, YouTube, and pretty much anything online I could get my hands on. I found a serious problem: currently, Nissan doesn’t offer any way to replace a worn out battery that’s outside of warranty, and I saw lots of comments about the Leaf battery losing capacity (like any Lithium battery) to the point that after 10 years the car was basically unusable. So no repair option; no resale value took the Leaf off my list.

Learning about the Chevy Bolt

I then backed up and looked at that Chevy Bolt crash test rating. It turns out the Institute description of the problem is a bit vague, something like “while the dummy wasn’t injured….” So we decided that slight passenger risk wasn’t a problem for us.

I then researched the battery on the Chevy Bolt. They offer (expensive) battery replacement outside warranty – about $16,000 USD, but at least it’s available. Meanwhile, I’ve read that the initial battery wear for the Bolt looks really good: for example, under 10% loss of capacity after 100,000 miles. Also, unlike the Leaf, the Bolt has a modular battery system so a service department can replace a failed module (1 of 10 modules) rather than the whole battery. That lowers the price for battery repairs.

By the way, Nissan and Chevy both provide an 8 year or 100,000 mile battery warranty, which seems the industry standard.

I then checked the Consumer Reports Car Reviews on the Chevy Bolt. They complained – as some YouTubers have – that the seats are narrow, and that in getting into and out of the car, your leg bangs on the seat adjustment lever. Those are things I’ll need to check during the test drive.

Concerned about the seat width, I dug into the specs of the Bolt to see how it compares to my current car: happily, the seat width, headroom, legroom, etc. specs of the interior, exterior, and drive train are all either a little better than or the same as my Civic. So I expect the interior will feel perfectly comfy to me (vs. to the car review folks who probably drive cars with wide seats).

Oh, and the Bolt does zero to sixty mph in 6.5 seconds; almost half the time of my Civic Hybrid… wheeeeeee! (I did say our cars are “mostly” functional objects, didn’t I?)

Setting Up a Test Drive… in a Month

Next I went through the Costco Car Broker to set up a test drive. Unfortunately, the participating dealer has sold out of any test drive Bolts, so I need to wait about a month for a test drive Bolt to come in to that dealership. That delay happens to coincide nicely with our lives: Linda’s on a novel deadline, and we’re remodeling the upstairs flooring. Both of those stresses should be gone by the time the test drive car is in.

While I waited for the test drive, I researched charging: I checked charger network sites, road trip videos, and drove around the Hillsboro area to look at chargers and their rates. I found several – mainly happy – surprises; See the details in my post about charging a Bolt.

I’ve also – for fun – watched a pile of videos that Bolt owners have made of their experiences on road trips. Thanks especially to Plug and Play EV, EV Plug LIfe, and B_Energized for giving me an idea of what living with the Bolt feels like!

The Test Drive

In late February I finally had the chance to test drive a Bolt. I loved it! I was curious how the One Pedal Driving (regenerative braking) felt. It was exactly like the salesperson described it: like downshifting, and very easy to get used to.

I also wanted to try out the Electric Vehicle peppiness so many people had mentioned. It’s impressive how the car picks up and moves!

…and I learned about the seat width non-issue: the seats fit me fine, and I’m not petit. Visually, they do appear narrower, but the cushion of the seat is actually a touch wider than the seat in my Honda Civic hybrid. They look narrower because the base of the seat is narrower – but that doesn’t make any difference to what you’re sitting on.

Buying the Bolt

Once we’d decided to buy the Bolt I found out they are a little hard to find. If you think about it, there were about 16,400 Bolts sold in the USA in 2019 – that’s an average of only about 1,400 per month. California got almost half of the EVs sold that year. Spread the remainder across the rest of the states and it’s down to under 50 per state per month (a totally back of the envelope calculation).

We’re in the process of buying a 2020 Bolt. I’ll add more here when that happens.

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