Bolt EV Mysteriously Loses Half its Range

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Still looks like new.

By Steve Schaefer

Since I got my Chevrolet Bolt EV on January 8, 2017, I’ve been a big fan. It’s been totally reliable, delivering 200+ miles of range and handling all kinds of loads, all while being fun to drive. And, I love the way it looks, including the Kinetic Blue paint on the outside and the white-and-gray interior. I appreciate the regeneration setting that enables one-pedal driving. I enjoy not visiting gas stations. I’ve spent time and energy promoting the car on my business cards and in many posts to this blog.

But over the last few months, my Bolt let me down. Nothing broke and it drove fine, but when I charged it, it said it was full at about 100 miles.

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It all started after I took my car in for its first service. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs, need very little attention, so my car had never been back to the dealership in more than two years. The only required service was a tire rotation. However, I accepted a new job that would move me away from the Chevy dealer in Redwood City, CA where I leased the car, so I decided to take it in for a checkup while I had the chance.

There was nothing to fix, of course, and they performed the tire rotation for free. I let them replace the cabin air filter (they did charge me for that),  They also ran a couple of hybrid battery system updates. Notably, they fixed one tiny annoyance—my bird’s eye camera had always shown the left side at an angle—and I appreciated the effort they made, including ordering a new part.

I then started my new job in late February, which cut my daily driving from 36 miles to about 4. I also tested some new EVs from the fleet, so the Bolt sat a bit. When I started driving it regularly again, I discovered that when I charged up the battery, it topped out at around 100 miles, instead of the normal 200+ it had been doing since I brought it home the first time. After a couple of instances of this, I decided to take it back to the dealer to get it looked at.

They reported there was nothing wrong, and said they had reset something and told me that if I didn’t use my heater it would improve the range. This struck me, frankly, as silly. I had ALWAYS used the climate system, summer and winter, for more than two years, and had never seen 100 miles of total range. Running the climate system reduces the range by only about 8 miles. I drove the car some more, gamely trying to go without the climate system just to test it, but the battery still topped out at 100 miles.

I contacted the media people at GM/Chevrolet with my plight and decided to try the dealership nearest to my home–F.H. Dailey in San Leandro, CA–to see if they could up with something. The short answer—nope. Same recommendation—and don’t use the heat. The suggested that I run it through a couple of charging cycles to reset the range.

But the story doesn’t end there. The next day—about 24 hours after I picked up my car—I got a call from the dealership. After consulting with GM’s tech experts, they decided that it was probably a bad cell in the battery, and asked me to bring my car in again to do more tests.

So, the following Monday, I drove my car to F.H Dailey, arriving around 7:35 a.m. I checked it in with the same person, Service Advisor Fatima Rios, and then waited around a half hour for a shuttle ride home. This time, with GM’s tech people in the loop, they came up with a different diagnosis: Replace the battery! So, they ordered it—and I felt vindicated.

The dealers’ service departments were missing something, and the first one telling me to put a band aid on it felt disrespectful. The second dealer’s conclusion, when I knew there was a real problem, meant I had to push back, and they listened.

Through this experience, I was reminded that a 100-mile range is actually enough for most people. I learned this from my three-month test of my cute little blue Fiat 500e, which had only 80 to 90 miles. The few times I’ve actually needed the range to visit my granddaughters has been handy, but mainly it means you don’t have to charge as often, and you don’t have to worry about range. There were only two times last year when I knew that the Bolt wouldn’t be able to handle a long trip, so I used another vehicle in one case and flew in the other.

So, last Thursday morning, I drove my Bolt EV down to the dealership to receive its new battery. It turned out it had to spend an extra few days away from home—the battery was delayed and didn’t arrive until Friday. On Friday they did most of the work, and today, I got a call from Fatima  in mid afternoon saying that the surgery was a success, it was all charged up, and that I could pick it up.

I drove the white Chevrolet Cruze they rented me (at no charge) down to the dealership. I was greeted by Fatima, who by now was my friend. She, and F. H. Dailey in general, took good care of me, and I now recommend visiting them if you’re shopping for a new Chevy. They have dozens of Bolt EVs in a rainbow of colors there lined up and waiting for your test drive.

Battery replacement isn’t cheap, but as a warranty repair, it didn’t cost me a dime. Neither did the rental car.

I got into my Bolt, adjusted the seat that they had moved, and pushed the start button. And there it was—260 miles of range. My car was restored.

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National Drive Electric Week 2018

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Since 2011, a national electric car event has been held every year. Originally called National Plug In Day, it later expanded to become National Drive Electric Week. It’s actually nine days long, as it includes weekends on both ends.

This year, I participated in two events. First, I hosted one at work for fellow employees, and later, I attended another, larger event, where I let people drive my 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV to experience electric motoring firsthand.

Marketo Event, San Mateo, CA

Marketo hosted its second annual National Drive Electric Week event on Thursday, September 13th. The weather cooperated, and the event went off without a hitch, although attendance was lower than anticipated. It’s understandable, though—people are working!

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Me with my Chevrolet Bolt EV–now an NDEW show veteran.

Display cars included three Tesla Model 3s, a Tesla Model X, my freshly washed Chevrolet Bolt EV, a Nissan LEAF, a Volkswagen e-Golf, a BMW i3, and a Chevrolet Volt. One of the Model 3s was available for rides.

Allyson Gaarder from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project showed attendees how they could receive California rebates for buying a variety of electric cars.

Vehicle owners gave attendees a tour of their cars and enjoyed talking with each other about the pleasures of electric motoring.

Nissan supplied some swag, including water bottles, mini backbacks, pens, and tiny fans that attach to your phone. Attendees received a red token good for a $5 discount at the adjacent food trucks.

Acterra Event, Palo Alto, CA

On the last Sunday of Summer, Acterra, the Palo Alto environmental nonprofit, hosted its third annual National Drive Electric Week event. Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet, and they always put on a great show.

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Nissan brought a fleet of LEAFs for show and driving.

EV enthusiasts shared their favorite electric rides with eager attendees. Booths provided information about rebates, vehicle charging, and a solar energy vendor presented solar options. Allyson was there with her booth and California rebate information. Event sponsor Nissan brought a small fleet of new LEAFs for show and drives.

I watched the parking lot fill with Chevrolet Bolt EVs, BMW i3s, Nissan LEAFs, Tesla Model 3s, and even a low, sleek Fisker Karma. One guy brought his now rare Honda Fit Electric, and there was at least one tiny Chevy Spark EV and a cute little Fiat 500e.

This was a popular event. Altogether there were 70 vehicles, representing 15 makes and models. More than 260 people registered and vehicle owners and fleets conducted more than 520 rides or drives!

The beauty of these events, which Acterra hosts year-round, is the chance to learn about and sample multiple EVs in the same location, away from aggressive salespeople. With EVs, the owners are often more knowledgeable about the cars than a typical dealership employee, and they can certainly talk about day-to-day life with a plug-in vehicle.

This event is both a car show and a ride-and-drive. Although it’s a little annoying to have to to readjust my seat and mirror settings when the day’s over, and having strangers drive your car can be a little nerve wracking, I like to let attendees get a personal feel for what driving an electric car is like.

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Luckily, all the people who took the wheel of my car were competent, responsible motorists, so I didn’t have any worry the entire afternoon. With high demand, I was busy non-stop.

In most cases, I took the people for a ride around the short test loop, and then had them drive it. I felt it would make them more comfortable, and it let me explain the features first. Luckily, the Bolt itself is pretty straightforward and controls are where you expect them.

People were surprised at the Bolt’s spacious interior, especially the generous headroom. One 6-4 gentleman pulled the seat all the way back and then forward a little! My drivers were also impressed with the video camera rear-view mirror, which gives a wider, clearer view than a regular mirror.

When driving, my guests were fascinated by the low or high brake regeneration. If the transmission lever is in “D,” when you lift your foot off the accelerator, you keep rolling along, like with a normal automatic. In “L” mode, as you lift up your foot, the electricity flow is reduced, slowing the car. This lets you do “one-pedal driving.” It’s a wonderful way to maintain extra control of your car while generating extra battery power and saving your brake pads.

At 4 p.m., we assembled inside the Acterra offices for the official launch of the newly renamed Karl Knapp Go EV program. Knapp, a beloved Stanford science professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, promoted electrified cars and motorcycles for many years, and has been an inspiration to many. We had some food and drinks and watched a short video about Karl. Sadly, Professor Knapp is ill and was unable to attend.

After the reception, I gave three more people rides, so I was one of the last to leave. It’s fun to share your EV, and I hope all of my drivers will go out and get their own! Electric cars are the future, and soon there will be many more choices.

National Drive Electric Week is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. Sponsors include the Nissan LEAF (Platinum), Clipper Creek (Silver), and eMotorWerks (California Regional).