Motor Oil Longevity - 2011 Chevrolet Volt Long-Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Volt: Motor Oil Longevity

June 14, 2011


How long does the oil last in a 2011 Chevrolet Volt? Turns out it's difficult to say.

After 6,489 miles, the original factory-installed oil in our Chevy Volt's engine retains 78 percent of its life. Put another way, only 22 percent of its life is currently used up. A bit of quick math reveals that our Volt isn't likely to need its first oil change until the odometer reads 29,495 miles.

Huh? Doc Brown explains: "This sucker's electrical."

Well, sometimes it is, anyway.

So far our Volt has an average Utility Factor of 42 percent. If the UF stays at that level, 12,388 of those miles will have been pure battery-electric miles with the engine dormant and its oil on hiatus.

However, this also means the other miles, 17,107 of them, will have been gasoline-derived ones with the engine and its oil at work. At first glance that seems like a long oil change interval indeed, even considering that the recommended oil is Dexos-1 certified 5W-30, a blended synthetic.

But we must not forget that the Volt's engine isn't revving up and down nearly as much as that of a normal car. Operating mostly as a generator, its load is relatively constant and it never revs terribly fast. Perhaps that magnitude of oil change interval isn't such a stretch after all.

In reality we have no real basis for comparison. As a plug-in hybrid, the Volt's engine has a unique duty cycle that makes it hard to know if 17,000 miles is worthy of a dual eyebrow-raising or not -- maybe just the one.

It's probably best to key off the oil life monitor because the Volt doesn't have a dedicated odometer that keeps track of engine-powered miles and we're guessing most Volt owners aren't geekily parsing electric miles and gasoline miles like we are.

At the end of the day, none of this hand wringing really matters because the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is also programmed to ask for new oil and a new filter when the clock strikes two years, at which point the oil life monitor will march down to zero no matter what the odometer says.

It's quite possible that our Volt will turn two years old before its engine oil accumulates a fatal number of miles, and that will be even more likely for Volt owners that achieve a greater overall percentage of electric miles, a higher Utility Factor, than we have to this point.

Ultimately, wear and tear won't force our Volt's first oil change, time will. Going back to our original question, the most likely answer seems to be "Two years."

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 6,489 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt Research