Tesla Model 3 vs. Chevy Bolt? What You Need to Know Before Buying an Electric Car

, Senior policy and legal analyst | July 7, 2017, 12:20 pm EDT
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It’s 90 degrees here in our nation’s capital but it might feel like the winter holiday season to those who reserved a Tesla Model 3. Expected to have a 215-mile range and sticker price of $35,000 (or $27,500 after the federal tax credit), the Model 3 will compete with the similar spec’d Chevy Bolt for the prize of cornering the early majority of electric vehicle owners.

Not many details have been released on the Model 3, but here is a snapshot of how the Model 3 compares to the Chevy Bolt.

Tesla Model 3

Chevy Bolt

Vehicle type Sedan Crossover SUV
MSRP (before any incentives) $35,000 $37,495
Range 215 miles 238 miles
Seating Capacity 5 adults 5 adults
Battery Size TBD 60 kWh
DC Fast Charging Yes Yes
0-60 mph Under 6 seconds Under 7 seconds
Autopilot Yes No


No other automaker has a relatively affordable, 200 mile-plus range electric vehicle on the market, yet (the nextgen Nissan Leaf will compete too), and one or both of these vehicles may be a pivotal point in the modern shift to electrics. Assuming you’re already sold on the benefits of driving on electricity, here are a couple tips for you to consider if you’re prepping for an electric vehicle.

#1 Prepare your home charging

There are two main options for charging an electric vehicle at home: (1) 120V charging from an ordinary home outlet and (2) 240V charging from either an upgraded home circuit or existing circuit for a heavy electric appliance like a drying machine.

There is also DC fast charging, but that is only applicable to charging on-the-go and described in more detail below. Before deciding on how to charge, talk with a couple licensed electricians to better understand your home’s electrical capacity. Mr. Electric appears to win the Google SEO for “electrician for electric vehicle,” so maybe head there for a start.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 1 (120 volts) – about 4-6 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Uses an ordinary wall outlet just like a toaster.
  • Typically won’t require modifications to electric panels or home wiring.
  • Confirm that your home’s electrical circuits are at least 15 or 20-amp, single pole by consulting with a licensed electrician.
  • Slow, but can get the job done if you don’t drive that much on a daily basis. If you only need 20 miles of range, for example, only getting 20 miles of charge each night is not a problem. For road trips, most EVs are equipped to handle the faster charging options that can make charging pit stops on road trips pretty quick.

Electric Vehicle ChargingLevel 2 (240 volts) – about 10-25 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Installation costs vary, but here’s a 30-amp charger from Amazon that is highly rated and costs around $900, including installation, and here’s one that includes an algorithm to minimize charging emissions and costs.
  • Will likely require a new dedicated circuit from the electric panel to a wall location near the EV parking spot.
  • Consult with a licensed electrician to verify that your home has a two-pole 30 to 50-amp electrical circuit breaker panel.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 3 (aka DC fast charging) (400 volts) – Not for home use, but can charge battery up to 80 percent in about 30 minutes

  • The fastest charging method available, but prohibitively expensive for home use.
  • Some vehicles can get an 80 percent full charge in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the electric vehicle type.

#2 File your tax credit(s)

Purchasing an electric vehicle should qualify you for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Here is all the information and form to fill out when you file taxes. You better file quick because the federal tax credit is capped at 200,000 credits per manufacturer. Some manufacturers, including Nissan and Chevrolet, are forecast to hit the 200,000 cap as early as 2018. If Tesla delivers on its 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders, not every Model 3 owner will be able to take advantage of the full $7,500 savings, so act fast!

Also check this map to see what additional state incentives you may qualify for.

#3 Locate public charging stations

Tesla has a network of fast charging stations exclusively for Tesla owners, but there are thousands of public charging stations that any electric vehicle driver can use on the go too. You may be surprised to find chargers near your workplace, school, or other frequent destination. Check out this Department of Energy station locator, or this map from PlugShare. The Department of Transportation has also designated several charging corridors that should be getting even more EV chargers.

#4 Contact your utility

Give your utility a heads up that you are getting an electric vehicle, and inquire about any promotional plans for vehicle charging. Some utilities have flexible “time-of-use” rates, meaning that they will charge you less when you plug a vehicle in during off-peak times (typically overnight). Your utility might also have its own electric vehicle incentives, like a rebate on installation or charger costs, or even a pilot project on smart charging where you can get paid to plug in your vehicle.

#5 Say goodbye to internal combustion engines, forever!

Driving on electricity is not only cheaper and cleaner than driving on gasoline, it’s also a total blast. Prepare to never want to go back to gasoline-powered vehicles as you cruise on the smooth, silent power of electricity.


[Update, Wednesday, July 12, 1:49pm]: We’ve included a table comparing specific features between the Tesla Model 3, and the Chevy Bolt as per requested by our readers.  

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  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAJWo9zYO3E Nissan e-power is the kind of thing I’ve been talking to UCS about for almost a decade… Check it out!

  • Re Point #3 Locate public charging stations, the information on the map from PlugShare is also available via apps on Google Play for Android and the App Store for iPhone.

  • Denise

    Where is the advice to install solar panels on your roof to charge your electric car? Otherwise, you’re still using fossil fuels to drive.

    • Joshua A. Goldman

      Hey Denise. Did you know that the average EV is responsible for about 1/2 the emissions of a comparable gasoline-powered car? Electricity in the U.S. comes from a mix of fossil fuels and renewables, that varies depends on where you live. So, the emissions from plugging in an EV varies depending on where it is plugged in too. Check out how an EV stacks up where you live with our handy EV emissions calculator – http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/ev-emissions-tool#.WWTluoTytEY

  • David Grudin

    Where is the promised comparison.? Just another article that doesn’t deliver what the headline promises.

    • Joshua A. Goldman

      We got ya. See above.

      • David Grudin

        Thanks .for some reason that comparison did not show up on the article I read.

  • MisterEman

    Tesla Superchargers allow cross country travel comparable to a gas car at much less expense (currently free for most Model S and X owners). That’s the difference between the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt… no compromises. Additional benefits that the Chevy Bolt doesn’t offer include free software updates and autopilot capabilities. And finally, the Model 3 looks sporty, while the Bolt looks like something you’d haul dry-cleaning in. I still applaud GM for making it. Too bad they crushed all of their EV1’s back in the 1990’s, though. There would be no Tesla today if GM had continued to develop EV technology.
    The Chevy Volt, BTW, is an excellent car, too. EV range is about 53 miles, while combined EV and Gas range is about 400 miles. I owned a 2012 Volt, but switched to a Tesla Model S.

    • pseudosentient

      I have a Bolt EV and it does include the OTA software updates, so I just wanted to correct you on that point. I’ve not had any yet, but then I’ve just owned the car for a couple months.

      I myself prefer the functionality of the Bolt. I’ve got a son who is 6′ 6″ and he has trouble fitting into most cars, but no problem on this one. Tried driving a Volt, but he didn’t fit in that one, let alone the rest of the family.

      I agree that the Tesla Superchargers make it much easier to travel long distances. I drove the Bolt from upstate NY to Saint Louis without too much difficulty, but I did have to plan my route carefully. Even then, I had to depend on level 2 chargers in a few places to add some range, adding many hours to the trip. This situation will improve, eventually, but I fear that it will get worse first, as more Bolts, Leafs, and even M3s arrive in this area and start using the few chargers there are around.

      • MisterEman

        Thanks for the correction. One clarification I would ask of you: are those “free” OTA software updates from Chevy? My experience with GM (and all the majors) is that they like to nickel and dime you to death if you want an update, say, to your Nav system ($150). Not so, Tesla – although, granted, the price of admission is pretty steep (at least until Model 3). Also, did you have to pay for charging at the Level 2 chargers from NY to StL? Like at a Chargepoint or Blink? Not trying to nitpick, and I congratulate you on your willingness to put up with these inconveniences to drive the Bolt. But I don’t think most people would. Driving a Tesla is true freedom. The Tesla advisor I talked to actually tried to talk me OUT of buying an extended service plan when I bought my first Model S (bought it anyway as this was 2014 – turned out I didn’t need it!). Think of the normal car buying experience, with the high pressure for extras like paint protection, upholstery protection, extended warranty, etc. Not Tesla. No comparison.

      • pseudosentient

        I’ve not had any updates yet, but there is no mention of cost in the user manual — just the need for a WIFI connection and details about that — so I can’t state absolutely that there won’t be a “checkout” screen involved, but it is not mentioned and seems unlikely.

        The charging network for non-Tesla EVs is a pain, as I had briefly mentioned. I have subscriptions to Blink, ChargePoint, EvGO, and several others, and I used most of them on my trip home from upstate NY back to STL. Most were free, depending on who had them installed, but some charged up to $9.95 for 30 minutes. The speeds for the level 3 chargers were about a third of the what are reported for the Tesla superchargers, so more waiting there. A trip to KC is planned, but will be a pain as there is no level 3 charger between the two cities, except for a well planned Tesla supercharger at the halfway point.

        So, charging is a pain, and as I said, I feel that it will get worse before it gets better. However 95% of the time my car is just used in the STL area; I plug in at night at home and I’m ready to go anywhere in the metro area without worries.

        The dealer I bought my Bolt from was really good and didn’t try any high pressure sales tactics. Probably helped a lot that I had my financing already arranged, along with all the details of the car, options etc., so I was just able to show up, sign a few pieces of paper, and was gone. This is also a dealer that appears to be fully behind selling the Bolt, unlike a lot of others that I researched before buying.

        Tesla currently has a few weaknesses. First is that I really didn’t want to spend that kind of money for a car. It was something I had to think long and hard about before getting the Bolt at roughly half the costs.

        The other is that if a Tesla is in a wreck, it’s more difficult to get it repaired. I have niece who works in car insurance, and she said that currently Tesla repairs cause her the most pain, mainly related to getting the replacement parts.

        So, like all things, it was a trade off. If I could have waited for a model 3, or had to do a lot of interstate driving, then a Tesla would probably have been the choice. But given my current needs, and the functionality of the Bolt, I went in that direction.

      • MisterEman

        Interesting – thanks! Good luck with the Bolt. I’m sure it’ll be a great car if my experience with the Volt is any indication.

        BTW – I was lucky enough to invest in Tesla stock in early 2013 when it was about $35/sh. That’s how I could afford the Model S a year later. Also, you make a good point about the slowness of Tesla accident repairs. But Tesla is now beefing that up, per Elon. I’ve had no problems with the one non-accident repair I needed – a burned out charge-port ring light. A Tesla Ranger fixed it in my garage – after 5:00pm – at no charge (I live >100 miles from a Service Center). And I’ve had no trouble getting annual service – basically just tire rotation, wheel alignment, and checking the drive unit(s), battery coolant, and washer fluid.

        Should be a LOT of EV choices in the next few years! And it’s about time!

      • pseudosentient

        I agree — choice is good, and I definitely think that Tesla led the way in that, for which I’m grateful.