Here on this very occasionally updated website, I have written a few times about my journey into the future of cars. We still own our 2012 Chevy Volt, a species soon to be extinct [wired.com] as GM is closing its factory and killing most of its sedans. In January 2017, I took delivery of one of the first ever Bolt EV’s, and wrote about my first impressions, which still hold true. But alas, I now write of the Bolt in the past tense, because it is no more. This is the story of how 2018 became my post-car future of cars.
On the morning of May 21, 2018, I was heading southbound on I-680 on a clear day, in the usual morning traffic, and otherwise unremarkable conditions.
I was hit from behind, hard. Time expanded. What just happened? I have definitely been hit. This is not good. I’m going to be late to the study in San Carlos. They’ll have to get started without me. Hope someone else brought a camera. I have to try to stop my car. There’s a Prius in front of me. I really don’t want to hit that Prius, because that would make this situation much more complicated. Oh, good, I’m already jamming on the brake. What the hell hit me, anyway? No time to check now, must continue jamming on brake. What is that clicking noise? It’s that sound that you hear if you engage the parking brake while the car is still moving. Oh, it must be the car trying to help. Thank you car, we are working on this problem together. Will we be able to stop before hitting that Prius? No. I guess not. But it’s just a little bump, though, not too bad. Thanks for sticking with me on this, Bolt EV. We are now stopped. On the highway. In the HOV lane. Today, the daily fiasco on 680 is: ME. Maybe we should move to the shoulder. All attempts to re-energize the car fail, as a series of dire messages pass across the dashboard screen. We have entered post-apocalypse failsafe mode. I exit the car, look around, and guy that hit me is wandering about with a bloody face, apologizing. His car is a disaster, mine doesn’t look too bad. Mostly unscathed Prius has pulled over to join in the festivities. I call 911.
What follows is an ordeal of several months duration, which is hopelessly boring. Let’s just address the important points. First: PHILIP WAYNE GARZA of WEST ZEERING ROAD in Turlock, CA. According to the police report, which I obtained later, he had been driving erratically in the moments before hitting me, and his license was suspended at the time. He was going 65 mph or so, and I was slowing to about 30 mph. When I was taking pictures at the scene, he asked that I not take his picture, so I will not post it here. You’re welcome Philip Wayne Garza.
Fortunately, while I was both shaken and stirred, I was not seriously injured. No airbag deployments, and the damage to Bolt EV seemed to be mainly cosmetic, limited to the rear fender and quarter panels below the lift gate. As this car was leased, I had to follow the protocols prescribed by GM Financial and the insurance company. After a couple of weeks, here were the numbers:
- $12,230.74: preliminary repair estimate, provided by the dealer recommended and insurance company approved body shop. May 25, T=+4 days.
- $32,020.84: settlement value, the valuation of the car determined by my insurance company. May 30, T=+9 days.
- $33,369.90: lease payoff value, determined by GM Financial. June 4, T=+13 days.
- ($1,349.06): the difference between the settlement value and payoff value. Surprise, not in my favor.
So at this point, it would seem that the next step should be to repair the car and move on. But no, this car was leased, so the decision was not mine to make. Instead, the car was declared a Total Loss. Presumably this is because the car had a high salvage value relative to the cost of repairs, but this was never made clear to me. The settlement value would go to GM Financial, and I would be left to wonder about how the remaining $1,349.06 gets settled, and nobody could give me a straight answer on that topic. I was told that GM Financial would open a “GAP Claim”, which “would take some time to process”, during which time I should continue making my lease payments “if I wanted to protect my credit rating” (be a real shame if something happened to your credit rating, buddy). I was later told that this was not true, and I could stop making payments after the settlement check was received. With conflicting verbal advice, I asked GM Financial multiple times to give me a statement in writing, or connect me with a manager. I received nothing but unanswered or dropped calls. So I continued making payments, until I eventually received a check (with no explanation) from GM Financial that seemed to indicate the matter was closed. Here was the final score at the end:
- $2,006.12: Total sum of lease payments made in June, July, August, and September for a car that didn’t exist.
- ($501.53): Mysterious check received from GM Financial on October 29, in the exact amount of one lease payment, presumably because they decided they had enough of my money already.
- ($268.27): Mysterious check received from GM Financial on November 7, presumably because the “GAP claim” was resolved. T=+170 days.
- ($250.00): Refund of the deductible from my insurance company, presumably because (?) I don’t know why.
Subtract those three numbers from the first, and $986.32 is the punitive amount I ended up paying GM Financial after 170 days of opaque and conflicting non-communication, accounting for insurance and GAP payments. Thanks, GM Financial, for this reminder of why you are a horrible person.
I was in Europe for two weeks shortly after The Incident, and tried to buy a replacement car from afar during that time. An exact replacement. Unfortunately my reliable sales guy had vanished. And let’s just say that Chevy dealers are not equipped to handle the circumstance of a customer who wants to purchase a specific car, in exchange for actual money, via email. By the time I returned from the EU, having spent two weeks traveling by train, metro, and bus with the greatest of ease, I decided that I didn’t want a car. Instead, I set out to see just how terrible the Bay Area public transit system really is.
In summary, it is bad. However, its competition is the infuriating hellscape of a daily commute on I-680 between Pleasanton and Fremont. For a few years, I’ve been using LifeCycle [apple.com], an iPhone app that magically tracks time spent on various activities, including my commute. I exported and analyzed the data, and found that it agrees with my intuition: my transit commute takes about 50% longer on average, but the highs and lows are not too much different.
While my transit commute takes longer, those minutes are far less stressful and much more productive. For several weeks, I enjoyed biking to and from the BART station on one or both ends of my commute, which subtracted minutes while adding exercise. Then I broke my shoulder, which is another story, which I might write about some other time…
By the end of 2018, my average transit expense was about $220/month, less than half my monthly lease payment. This average benefits from some zeros, because (unlike my lease payment) my transit expenses are much lower when I’m traveling for work.
Six months into this experiment, my desire to have a car is less than ever. I have outsourced my transportation needs to BART (a.k.a. “The Tetanus Train”), ACE, Wheels, AC Transit, and Lyft, and I don’t want my driving job back. I shall continue collecting data in 2019, and maybe I’ll report back in another year or so!