One Year On With My Chevy Volt: I Want a Bigger Battery For No Good Reason

Long time readers may recall back when I bought the Steem Mobile, a used 2011 pearl white Chevy Volt. It was a big step up from Scooty Puff Jr, a horribly unreliable chinese electric road scooter I used to get around prior to that.

I insisted on my car being electric, but I also needed to be able to reach landmarks around Oregon for camping and exploration during the Summer. That narrowed my options considerably. I couldn’t afford a Bolt or Model 3, nor obviously could I afford a Model S or X.

So, electric cars with ranges of 200 miles or greater were simply out of reach. A problem, since that’s the kind of range I would need to do 100% of my driving on electric, long Summer trips included. I could probably get by 90% of the time with a Spark EV, with its range of 80–100 miles.

But I would be unable to reach many sites in this state I wanted to, which as of yet have no chargers at the destination or even along the way. So I needed something that was affordable, would go the distance when needed, and was electric. I compromised.

Volt will do all my daily driving, which consists entirely of short trips, on electric. For this purpose, even the paltry range of 35 miles is excessive. In the photo you can see how much I have left after a grocery run. It was a cold, rainy day so the range meter began at 33 miles, dropping 5 miles after a 2.4 mile trip because I used the heater.

Still, that’s just one bar of battery. For local trips, very little battery is actually needed. Even many errands in a day won’t deplete it. I literally only ever use gas on long trips out to some far flung location. I was even able to drive out to where I filmed myself and a friend playing with that flamethrower without using a drop of gas.

This convinces me that I was overly worried about range when I bought it. Consumers, if I am any measure, need far less battery than they imagine for daily driving. However, the battery is totally inadequate for long trips on the highway. That’s kind of a given, I know.

It’s a fucking conundrum, isn’t it? If not for those long trips, I could get by on a range of even 20 miles or so per charge. Electrics make so much sense for use in town/cities for this reason. I could drive from one end of Portland to the other, back and forth all day before running the battery down to zero.

But those long trips! Damn them. And the price jump is so severe between an electric car suitable for city use, and one capable of cross-country road trips. We’re talking a factor of 8, 9 or 10 price difference. It’s this comically huge, absurd gap that stands in the way of electric cars totally replacing gas ones.

You just need so damn much battery to cover those rare long trips that it makes a car you typically only put 10 to 15 miles on per day vastly more expensive than it needs to be for 90% of its driving. You could rent a gas car for those rare long trips, or just build it into your electric car, which is what the Volt is.

I really, really, really wanted to go all-electric. I guess compromising on that was one of the first difficult responsible decisions I’ve had to make. Felt weird. It’s the best of both worlds though. I get the long range and quick fillup ability of gas when I absolutely need it, but the rest of the time it operates as an electric car.

The amount of missing gas you see in the picture is from the last time I took a long trip. Months ago. I basically only have to fill the tank for those trips. It’s a compromise that works beautifully, yet I find myself wishing I could do all of it purely on electric power.

How has the car held up so far? Besides the coolant pump I had to replace when I bought it, and needing a new set of wipers soon, everything’s chugging along fine. I should probably rotate the tires soon but my oil is 70% fresh (as I rarely use the engine) and there have been zero problems with the drivetrain.

It’s just a fantastically overbuilt, famously reliable car. A very pragmatic, responsible choice. Why does that sentence feel dirty to say? Before I bought this car I was gonna spend that money on a Zero DSR electric motorcycle. I only didn’t because some small voice in me said it was a reckless, impractical thing to buy as my main mode of transport in such a rainy state.

It’s creeping up on me. All my decisions now are made from a position of pragmatism. When did this happen? When did I turn into my dad? Are my days of wild, youthful recklessness over for good? Then again, I’m reaping the rewards of choosing this car.

I spend nothing at all in gas except for long trips. So 99% less than I would otherwise have to spend just to get around. It was a decision that was costly upfront but which has made it much, much easier for me to get by now that times are comparatively lean.

I have made a habit out of doing stuff that’s difficult, but will pay off in the long run and it always feels good when the benefits begin to manifest. Now that SBD is soul crushingly low, can you imagine if I had to buy gas all the time? Instead my transport costs are nearly zero.

That’s why I put all my money into a nice ebike the last time I was flush. Then there was a long dry spell on Steemit for months after that. But I had nearly-free transport, guaranteed, for the 5 or so years the battery will last. The Volt battery is liquid cooled and still does the original full range in Summer, so I expect it to last the lifetime of the car.

However I wish for more battery, I can’t explain why I need it, even to myself. I have as much as I need for 90% of the time. I would need 6 times as much to cover the other 10%, and charging infrastructure just isn’t widespread enough right now to go all-electric with any less range than that.

Any way I look at it, it was the right call. I just tend to agonize over decisions like this for years on end. Over-thinking things, usually fruitlessly, is my defining quality.

Would I have liked a Spark better? Should I have waited and tried to get a Volt in black? The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But sometimes that’s because it’s astroturf.

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