Charging up our Chevy Volt is as easy as plugging in your iPhone!

December 9th, 2012 Posted in About Chevy Volt, Getting Started with Volt, The Volt Experience

When we first got the Volt, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be plugging the car in every time we returned home. Would it be a hassle or a nuisance? Would we sometimes forget or would it be in any way difficult? I also wondered if I needed to do anything special in my home to accommodate plugging in a car as opposed to any other device we have around the house. After living with this for a few months now I have to say it’s been a very easy and seamless process no more inconvenient than plugging in my cell phone (which happens every time I get home).

Before taking delivery of the car I did a little legwork to be sure we’d be ready when it arrived. Specifically I wanted to know if I had to do anything special to prepare our home for charging the car on a daily basis. I was happy to learn that I really had nothing to do at all. The car can easily be charged from a standard 120V household electric outlet. I’ve got eight of those in my garage so no problem. One recommendation was to check the outlet you expect to use for charging to be sure it is in good condition. If it looks old or in any way damaged it’s a good idea to replace it with a new commercial quality receptacle available from any home improvement store for less than $5. Another recommendation was to check the existing outlet to see if the electrician that installed it used the push-in style connections or the screw-down style. Apparently the screw-down style connection will give a more reliable connection for the best possible transfer of power. It all checked out for me and no changes were needed.

Charging the car is simple and only takes a moment to take care of each time we return home.(GM recommends charging the car at any reasonable opportunity and keeping the car plugged in even when it has a full charge) With every Chevy Volt GM provides a Voltec EVSE which controls the flow of electricity from the wall outlet to the car. The Voltec EVSE has a bit more than 20′ of cord which allows you to reach pretty much any outlet available in a typical garage. Incidentally, the EVSE is also safe to use outside if your situation dictates. Although I would still try to shelter it from rain or snow if it were me.

The Volts EVSE is normally stored under the deck in the rear hatch. When you lift up the carpet there’s a space designated specifically for the EVSE similar to how many cars store their spare tire under the carpet in the rear trunk area. For the first couple of months with the car we used the Voltec EVSE as our primary charging system and kept it in the garage pretty much all the time. Only exceptions to that was if we knew we were going to take a trip where we planned to charge somewhere along the way. In any case, the Voltec has an open slot on the back designed for easily hanging the EVSE on a wall close to your electric outlet similar to how I am holding it in this photo. This is very convenient and also limits any stress that would be imparted on the cord and receptacle if you were to just let it hang from your electric outlet freely.

Charging the car each time you get home takes only a few seconds to manage. Once the car is parked and shut off it’s just a matter of pressing a button under the armrest of the drivers side door. That button opens up the charging port door on the outside of the car as you can see here. What you see inside the port is a standard charging connector used by most EVs and common to public charging stations. Next you get out of the car, get the charging plug from the EVSE and insert it straight into the cars charging port until you hear an audible click which confirms that the plug is properly inserted. You cannot put the plug into the car incorrectly and no power will flow through the cord to the car until the “click” is heard. At that point you’re done and don’t have to do anything else to charge your car. Just that simple. Now you can go inside the house and plug in your cell phone!

After the car is plugged in the charging process begins. The car has an indicator light on top of the dash which you can easily see from outside the car. Initially it turns orange which indicates the car is properly connected and the charge process is beginning. After a few seconds the light will turn green and the car will chirp the horn once. Both of these are indications that the car has begun charging.

Depending on how your car settings are configured, you can receive a text alert when the charging process is complete. That’s very handy if you’re charging at a public charging station or perhaps at work. While the car is charging the indicator light on the dash will glow a solid green color. Once the charging is completed that light will glow green but will blink off and on. You can also get realtime details on the exact status of your vehicle (charging info and much more) using the OnStar RemoteLink app, available for both iPhone and Android devices.

For those who are interested, here’s a photo showing the business end of the Voltec EVSE charging plug. It’s a serious connection designed to handle the load of charging the car as described above but also able to handle a heavier power load when you’re plugged into a 240V charging station, referred to as “L2″ charging. The Chevy Volt is intelligent enough to handle the different loads from either of these charging inputs automatically for you. The Volt is also intelligent enough to disable the drive functions of the car if you’re still plugged in for charging. The car simply will not go into a drive mode until the charge cord is disconnected. You can drive around with the charging port door hanging open (whoops…) but not with a charge cord connected.

Speaking of different charging source power levels, this brings to mind one really irritating “safety feature” GM was thoughtful enough to program into the 2013 Chevy Volt (but NOT in earlier 2011 & 2012 versions). When you are plugging in to charge with the 120V Voltec EVSE there are two options you can choose from regarding the charge level and required charge time. The Voltec EVSE can work at either 8AMP or 12AMP levels. When charging a fully depleted Volt battery at these different levels the time required to complete the charge is quite different. If you’re charging at the 8AMP level it can easily take as much as 16 hours to complete the charge. If you’re charging at the 12AMP level that same full charge will take more like 9-10 hours (closer to 9 in our experience).

The problem with this situation is that GM (I imagine directed by their lawyers or over protective engineers) in their great wisdom setup the 2013 Chevy Volt software to charge at the slower 8AMP level by default! This means that EVERY single time you charge using the Voltec 120V EVSE you must take the time to change this setting (BEFORE shutting the car off) to the faster 12AMP setting if that is what you wish to use and I would think most people would want the faster charge time. 2013 Chevy Volt owners suspect, and some GM sources suggest (although not officially) this “safety feature” is in place to protect the Volt from overloading what could in some cases be less than ideal wiring in the electrical systems powering the whole deal. Any way you look at it though, it is a big pain in the rear if you are using this method of charging every day.

In our case we have added an L2 charging station to our home and there are no concerns of selecting charging levels anymore. With the L2 charging station in place we can get a full battery charge from a completely depleted state in less than 4 hours time. If the car arrives home with some charge still in the battery that time is a lot shorter.

In the end, charging the Chevy Volt is a simple task that becomes a matter of mindless routine very quickly. We barely give it a thought as we take a moment each time we return home to grab the charger and plug the car in. If my kids are with me there’s usually someone calling “dibs” to claim the fun of plugging in the car. Like I said earlier, no more hassle than plugging in your cell phone. In contrast, what I’ve noticed is that gassing up our other (gasoline powered) car now feels like a real inconvenience every time I have to do it. It always seems to come at a time when I just need to get somewhere and don’t need the delay, not to mention the expense. With the Chevy Volt, every time we leave the house we’re on a “full tank”.



7 Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Great website, I enjoy my Volt very much too. I only has one small concern about the “full tank” charge comment. The charged battery is only a gallon of gas in comparison to people with ice vehicles. You may start your day with your first gallon of fuel costing $0.50 in electricity, but not 300 miles of battery in one day. Please know I only mention as I am forced to defend this great car often and people pick at anything that they find fault with. Have a great day and keep up an awesome Volt site.

    • Chris V says:

      While true, the “full tank” is only worth a gallon of fuel, most of us drive less than 40 miles a day, so there’s no need to carry around more than that gallon of fuel. ICE cars carry so much because you can’t refuel them at home every day, the way an EV can. And in the Volt’s case, you do have the added gasoline range to back you up if you have to make an emergency trip to grandma’s house 6 states away…

      40 miles a day equals over 15k miles a year, and most of us who lease have to stay under 12k miles a year (which is only 30 miles a day). So yeah, for our purposes, it is a full tank every day. In defending the Volt, we need to let people know it’s a fundamental change in mentality about what is and isn’t practical, or what can and can’t meet people’s needs.

    • Gary says:

      Hi Bill and thank you for your comments. My reference to always leaving the house with a “full tank” was really aimed at what we’ve found to be a different frame of mind after owning the Volt for a while. Or as Chris V referred to, a “change in mentality”. We realized it was a bit liberating to have that feeling that any time we leave the house we can just go, unencumbered. It’s funny how much of an imposition it comes to be to make the necessary fuel stops with our other vehicle, once we got used to gas station visits being so infrequent with the Chevy Volt. But you know what I’m talking about since you own a Volt too. It’s easy to adjust to fewer detours for the sake of pumping expensive gasoline into the tank!

  2. Chuck Eiwen says:

    We have installed a 240V SPX charger and have nothing but trouble. If we use it the check engine light comes on and when we take it to the dealer they say nothing is wrong. We contacted SPX whose response was to send us another unit which we installed but still we find the check engine light coming on
    We are at our wits end having spent all that money for something that doesnt work. t
    The dealer, SPX and OnStar have no idea how to fix this problem….do you have any suggestions??

    • Gary says:

      Hello Chuck, I am so sorry to hear about your troubles. A properly working 240V EVSE can make things so much better for you so that has got to be very frustrating.

      I would have two suggestions for you in case you have not tried either yet. First I would immediately get your Chevy Volt Advisor involved. If you don’t have a Volt Advisor yet you can get connected with one by calling (877) 486-5846. The Volt Advisor is a free service to Volt owners from GM and they will act as your advocate with GM and your dealer. I explained more about Volt Advisors in this post. They can really be helpful and you should have been contacted by one at a some point soon after you purchased your Volt.

      My second suggestion would be to post the details of your issue in the forums over at http://GM-Volt.com/. There are many very knowledgeable Volt owners (and engineers) in that community who would be able to point you in the right direction. Some of them have been tuned in to the Volt even before it was coming off the GM production lines. They also have loads of experience with the SPX systems.

      If I were to guess, your problem most likely lies in the SPX unit rather than the vehicle itself. It could be something wrong in the installation. I saw another Volt owner who had the charger installed but it was incorrectly programmed for the circuit rating. A small change in the charger programming solved the issue.

      I would think the two resources I mentioned above should be able to get your SPX charger working properly and your Volt charging quickly and smoothly. It is a wonderful thing when that is working well.

      Let me know how this works out for you!

  3. Rex Cauldwell says:

    Need better quality photos of what you have here as to put in my book. Do you have any? You will get photo credit.

    • Gary says:

      Hello Rex,

      I have many photos of the Chevy Volt and related information as I am a photographer and my enthusiasm for the Volt translates into a lot of photo taking. Please provide a little more detail on the book you’re referring to and let’s see if we can work something out. All my photos are in high resolution.

      Thanks, Gary

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