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Chevy Volt Basics

What is the Chevrolet Volt?

When people ask me – What so special about the Chevrolet Volt?  I typically answer that The Chevy Volt is a series electric – gasoline plug-in hybrid vehicle, also known as an extended range – electric vehicle (ER-EV).

Of course, the most common response I get to that answer is a blank stare – so I’ve decided to describe it in plain English.

The Chevrolet Volt is a battery powered electric car with an on board gasoline generator.  You can plug it into your home outlet to charge it.  The Volt will drive roughly 40 miles on a charge  (updated 1/12/2011: I have been getting between 28 worse case to 43 best case miles per charge).  Once you run low on batteries, the on board gasoline generator will automatically turn on (much like a generator at home does when your power is out).  The on board generator has enough power to keep your car running just like it was running straight off the battery.

What this means is that if you drive less than 40 miles a day, you can drive completely electrically without using a drop of gasoline!  If however you need to go on a longer trip – there are no range limitations to the Chevy Volt as it can run indefinitely on the gasoline generator (though you would not be taking full advantage of the car’s unique technology if you never plug it in!

How is the Volt different from other Hybrid Cars like the Prius?

In technical terms, the Chevy Volt is a Series Gasoline Electric Hybrid while other modern hybrids like the Prius, Insight, and Fusion are Parallel Gasoline Electric Hybrids.  While they are all hybrids (using a combination or electric and gasoline power) A Parallel Hybrid works by supplementing the gasoline engine’s power with an electric motor, while in a series hybrid – all of the torque used to turn the wheels is created by the electric motor only.  Parallel hybrids for the most part cannot drive solely on electric power (though with the newest parallel hybrids you can do so if you accelerate very gradually)

For more information on the differences between a car like the Volt and the Prius, I encourage you to check out HowStuffWorks How Hybrids Work for a very cool animated representation of this concept!

(updated 1/12/2011:  Actually the Voltec System is a very cool Planetary Gearset Transmission with clutches!  Check out Motor Trend’s excellent description here)

I’ve heard the term “Range Anxiety”  What does it mean?

Range Anxiety is what you think it might be – concern that you won’t have enough batteries to drive all the way home.  This is a problem on many pure electric cars today as their maximum range varies between 60-120 miles typically depending on model.  (Excluding the $100,000 Telsa Roadster).  Since there is not a fast and easy way to charge your car on the road right now, if you were to run out of batteries, essentially you would need to be towed.  What’s worse is that during very cold weather, batteries are less efficient, giving them less range – and if you use the battery power to warm the car – you can be easily cutting your electric range in half.  One comment that was dropped by a Volt Engineer was that during a below freezing day “It takes as much energy to heat the car as it does to drive it”.  The Volt model solves the problem by having an on board “backup” generator essentially so that you can drive as far as you would like on gasoline, but take advantage of the battery recharge most days.

20 Responses to “Chevy Volt Basics”

  1. how long does it take to full charge the volt?

    • LeBlue James says:

      I go from empty to full charge in roughly 13 hours on 110V or about 4 hours on 240V. I typically can drive about 1.5 hours on electric alone – more or less depending on city vs highway, weather and aggressive acceleration.

  2. Robin Wilson says:

    Question: I live in rural West Virginia with gravel roads. What is the Volt clearance with and without the skirts?

  3. Yan says:

    How would like to know if I can run with the Volt for more then 1 full gaz tank on the generator? I’m explaining myself or reprasing my question. If I have to do more then 700 miles in one day can I do it with the volt? I know that the max range with the battery and a full tank of gaz is around 600 miles. So can I do it?

    • PatrickZWang says:

      You could drive the Volt and never plug it in (only use gas if you wanted) but that would defeat the purpose of it.

      So yes, you can continually fill up on gas with no problems.


  4. Mike says:

    Thanks for the info. This is the first place where it was clear that Volt has unlimited range in gasoline. Thus, if I were to take a drive from east coast to west coast, I might not get the advantage of electric power, but would have no problem doing so. Is that correct?

  5. Matt says:

    You say that driving the car on pure gasoline would “defeat the purpose” of the car, but I disagree as you would still get the benefit of regenerative braking which can be substantial for those living in hilly areas.

  6. AJ says:

    Another point to consider to driving occasionally on the pure gasoline option is that gasoline engines tend to run most efficiently at a specific RPM. In a traditional non-hybrid car, or even a hybrid where the gasoline engine is still connected to the wheels the engine’s RPM is dependant on the speed you are driving at, thus not always at the most efficient point. With the Volt the engine purely drives a generator meaning it can operate at it’s most efficient RPM constantly and thus get the maximum energy out of each gallon of fuel. So even running in this state you may be getting significantly better mileage than a non-hybrid. You also skip the power losses of a transmission and traditional power train, however you do have some losses in the generator itself… nothing is 100% efficient.

  7. Taylor says:

    Does the Volt NEED to be plugged in to use electric power or can you go without it by using the engine to charge the vehicle like a Prius?

    • Fred Nohr says:

      The gas generator engine provides power to the electric motor while driving, but does not charge the battery pack. You have to plug in in order to charge the batteries.

      • Bill says:

        That’s not exactly correct. I drive mine in Mountain Mode when it gets down to 5 miles left on the batteries and while driving the generator does power the wheels and has enough juice to charge the battery. If you have a Volt with the Hold mode it will drive on the engine/generator only and will also charge the battery.

        • LeBlue James says:

          I have never seen my electricity regenerate in HOLD mode. It does not decrease materially, so I presume some of the gas engine is being used for normal electrical functions other than driving the wheels, but just running it on gas will not ultimately “fill up” the battery again. For that, you need to plug it in.

  8. tom link says:

    i live where its quite cold. The gas engine seems to run almost all the time
    even when I have a full charge. I drive short diatances and sometimes it
    shows more charge at the destination than when I leave the garage fully charged. Is this normal?
    Why can’t I drive on the batteries and have the gas engine come on only when
    the charge is gone? I asked the dealership if I can simply drive with no gas
    to prevent the engine from running all the time? They said I could do this. They claim the gas engine is running to keep it warm. If I don’t need it why does it need to be warm? They claim this is normal. They claim I can run with’
    no gas in tank to prevent the engine frm runing all the time.
    I could carry can of gas for emergencies.

    • Bill says:

      For cold weather at 25 degrees the factory configuration will allow the engine to start automatically no matter how charged your batteries are. If you go to configuration, climate and air settings, there are 2 options. Cold and very cold. Select very cold and the engine wont come on until about 15 degrees I believe. Another way to help is to remote start the car with temp settings set really warm while the car is plugged in.

      • LeBlue James says:

        Bill is correct. Best thing you can do is to warm it up while its still plugged in (particularly if you are on someone else’s charging station :-) ).

  9. Dieter says:

    IF something would go wrong with the batteries on my volt 2017 while
    I am driving . In an emergency could I continue driving and switch to the gasoline mode.

  10. Spencer says:

    Hi All!

    I am strongly considering a 2013 Volt. I have a few reservations, however. I live in apartments at the moment with no access to an outside power outlet to charge a Volt at home, I would basically need to exclusively charge it at charging stations.

    I’ve read a lot of comments here about how it would take 13 hours on 120v and 4-6 hours on 240v. Is that same time-frame also true for using charging stations, or do the stations charge your EV faster?

    Unfortunately if a charging station takes 4 hours to fully charge a Volt, I will probably not pull the trigger as sitting around at a charging station a few miles away from my house isn’t exactly a viable or attractive notion.

    Thank you in advance!

    • PatrickZWang says:

      It will take a full 4 hours even at a public charging station. So probably not the best bet if you can’t charge at home.

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