My colleague Jennifer Sensiba wrote an article this week about why Chevrolet is offering 0% financing on used Volts and Bolts. There are lots of reasons but basically it comes down to market economics — too many cars and too few buyers. One has to wonder why Chevrolet has done such a lousy job of marketing the Volt and the Bolt. Tesla gets free publicity every time Elon Musk blows his nose but do you ever hear anything about the Volt/Bolt twins? It’s almost as if Chevrolet is embarrassed to talk about them.
Oddly enough, just as Jennifer was writing her story, my wife and I were beginning to talk about replacing our 2015 Nissan LEAF with a used Bolt. We drove a Bolt a few years ago in Dubai during the Global EV Road Trip and both of us agreed we actually preferred it to the Teslas in the caravan (this was before the Model 3 came out). The Bolt was peppy and quiet, had decent range, and was more similar in size to the Civics we both drove as our personal cars. The Model S and Model X were lovely but felt like more car than we needed. I also had a Volt as a loaner from Chevy a few years ago and we absolutely loved driving it.
The LEAF has been great. It has enough range for us to get where we need to go and back without charging along the way. We had a 240 volt outlet added to our parking space, which makes charging the car very convenient. But if we want to travel beyond the local area, the LEAF, with no fast charging capability, just doesn’t cut it. Our plan has always been to rent a car for a few days if we need to. That will cost a lot less than buying a car with more range.
There is another factor. We return to New England every summer to spend time with friends and family, which means our car in Florida sits for 3 months or so. Much as we would love a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, the idea of spending all that money on a car that will sit idle for months doesn’t seem right.
Then there is the “Walmart” issue. Every car needs to go to Walmart or Home Depot or the Piggly Wiggly once in a while. Every car gets door dings and curb rash. It’s inevitable. If we had a Tesla, we would want to wrap it in a layer of pillows every time we parked it at one of those stores. The beauty of a used car is that it is used, ya know? If it picks up a dent or a scratch, no big deal.
So a used Bolt seemed like a good option. Almost triple the range of the LEAF and the Premier models have fast charging and a suite of electronic driver aids like lane centering and blind spot detection we both want as we glide serenely into our senior years. And so the search began via CarGurus, Cars.com, Kelly Blue Book and a few other online resources.
The first thing I discovered is that electric cars other than Teslas are almost nonexistent in Florida. I can find all I want in New England but down here in the Sunshine State, EVs are as rare as honest reporting at Fox News. I kept expanding my searches out to 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles. With the changes in the industry brought on by the pandemic, lots of dealers are prepared to ship cars to your door but do you really want to do business with Joe’s Spiffy Used Car Emporium or buy a car online that you have never seen or driven? The whole idea makes me a little queasy.
My wife decided the Volt was out. No car with a gasoline engine would ever park in our carport again. So the search was narrowed to the Chevy Bolt. I do a lot of mooshing around online every day looking for interesting things to write about for CleanTechnica. One of the places I visit regularly is the Reddit electric car thread, where I found a posting by someone who owns a 2018 Bolt. He was pretty unhappy when he found its value had plummeted after the recall was announced.
Then I read Jennifer’s story, especially the part about the battery recall. So I did a little research and found NHTSA and GM both have online recall databases. Plug in the VIN, hit enter, and a half second later you know every open recall that pertains to that car. The good news is that most online used car portals list the VIN these days, so I started entering that information for a list of cars that fit my search criteria. And found that ALL of them — every single one — was affected by the battery recall except one 125 miles away. It didn’t mention the battery issue but was the subject of another recall involving a fuse in the powertrain that needed to be replaced.
Eventually I found a 2019 Certified Pre Owned car at a Chevy dealer in South Carolina almost 250 miles away. This is petty, I know, but the car was gray. I don’t do gray. I want red, or white, or dark blue. Stupid to dismiss a perfectly good choice for such a shallow reason but there you are. Guess I am just a shallow kinda guy. Plus the 2019 was several thousand dollars more than I want to pay.
What disturbs me about all this is that no one is talking about the recall. None of the ads for used Bolts say anything about it. Some of the cars I found were at authorized Chevy dealers, who don’t mention the issue. As far as I can glean from the internet, as of yet there is no agreed way forward on the recall. GM and LG Chem are partners in a battery manufacturing factory in Michigan and LG Chem was intimately involved in developing the Bolt. Neither wants a public spat about who is to blame. But customers, unless they self advocate and do their due diligence, could easily find themselves owning a used car that is worth considerably less than they paid for it as soon as they sign on the bottom line.
I did find an article by the Center for Public Integrity that delves deeply into the used cars and open recalls issue. Apparently it is illegal for a dealer to sell a new car that is the subject of a recall campaign but it’s perfectly OK to sell a used car that is the subject of such a recall notice with two exceptions — instances in which “do-not-drive” or “stop-sale orders” are in place.
These types of recalls are rare. For all others, it is perfectly legal, thanks in large measure to intense lobbying campaigns by auto dealers at the state and federal level, to sell a used car that is subject to an open, unresolved recall so long as the customer signs a form acknowledging the existence of the recall was disclosed by the dealer.
How easy is it for a dealer to slip a disclosure form into the mountain of paperwork you sign in the finance office? In other words, if you are buying a used car, it is up to you to discover any outstanding recalls. Dealers claim that preventing them from selling cars subject to a recall is a financial hardship on them because it can take years to resolve some issues. For instance, the Takata air bag recall has been going on for many years now and there are still many cars on the road that haven’t been fixed.
The bottom line is that consumers have to protect themselves. The dealer isn’t going to do it for you no matter how much they insist the car they are selling you has passed a rigorous 1,367 point safety check by their ace mechanics. One thing I noticed when checking VIN numbers in the online databases was that several of the numbers I submitted came back as inaccurate. That only means one of the 17 letters and digits in the number was incorrect, which could easily be explained as a clerical error.
But after the fifth time, I began to get a little suspicious. Could this be more than a mistake? Could this be deliberate to keep prospective customers in the dark about the status of a particular car? I have no idea but as the old expression goes, “Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern.” Caveat emptor.