Thursday, November 10, 2011

Car stuff


Got my new vanity plates - "1K AMPS". Sorry no pictures yet.

Went to a local VW club gathering a couple weeks ago. The car was quite popular. Gave some rides and stuff.

I got invited to the Pierce College Automotive Department to show off the car to a class - college kids are extremely interested in this type of stuff. The school paper reporters were there and took some pictures and interviewed me. I'll probably get an article written about the car soon.

Sunday morning it was raining so I decided to test the car in the rain - it did not do well! After about a block the motor started to jerk and I couldn't get it to go over about 1000 RPM so I turned around and hobbled back home. At least the hazard flashers work. Later in the day after it stopped raining, the car ran fine after drying out. I suspect that the motor connections got wet and caused some leakage current to the motor case, which confused the Zilla. I should do some more testing and possibly protect the motor from direct moisture somehow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The car does come in handy...

Saturday night my wife was about to leave for a Halloween costume square dance. Shelley was away at her Marching Band competition (they won first place in their category and first place overall!). The Highlander had a dead battery and wouldn't start, and Debby had to leave right away. She asked me for the keys to my truck and I said "but I have to pick Shelley up later!" and Debby said "use the bug!" I thought, "duh, she's right, why didn't I think of that?"

At this point the biggest drawback to driving the bug is having to remove the car cover and putting it back on later. I'm such a lazybutt.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

LA County Fire Department Car Show

When I set up at the West Hills Fall Festival two weeks ago, the Fire Department had parked one of their rigs nearby for kids to gawk at. Sometime during the day a fireman walked over to me and gave me a flyer for the LAFD car show, and told me I should take my car there. So I did - the show was yesterday.

When I built the car I didn't really give much thought to taking it to car shows but as long as people tell me I should, and as long as I have the time free, I'm thinking what the heck. It does give me the chance to spread the word about how cool electric cars can be.

So yesterday I showed up and got placed in the parking lot along with a whole bunch of souped up and restored classic cars. It was pretty much:

blue '55 Chevy
green '55 Chevy
green '55 Chevy
brown '55 Chevy
red '55 Chevy
yellow '55 Chevy

You get the idea. Anyway as a car owner you get there, pitch up your EZ-up, unfold your lawn chair, and plop in it. The other guys to either side of you do the same, so after a while you end up having conversations with your neighbors. Later in the day the guy next to me (the one with the '55 Chevy) said that my car seemed to be getting the most attention. People would walk down the aisle saying "nice car, nice car, nice car, WHAT THE HECK?, nice car, nice car", etc.

Some pictures from yesterday:

Monday, October 3, 2011

West Hills Fall Festival

I took the car to the West Hills Fall Festival yesterday to show it off, what the heck, free booth! I wanted to see if the general public would be interested. The festival was in the parking lot of Field's Market. I got an awful lot of traffic. At an event llike this, you really meet all types, let me tell you. At one point Ed the grocer came along and was all surprised to see what his whacky customers are up to.

I made a little sign with a poster board on it and my daughter Shelley did the artwork. She's quite the artist. Nice poster, Shelley!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Recent stuff

Thursday was a school holiday for Rosh Hashanah so I could go to work without having to drop four kids off at two schools, so I drove the bug to work. I didn't really get a lot of work done since we are an engineering company and everybody wanted to see it.

(work needed to be done) / (bunch of nerds) + (homebuilt electric car) = not much work done

Yesterday I took the day off so that Debby and I could go to the Alternative Energy Vehicle Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. We drove the bug, of course. At first I had a little range anxiety so I brought the charging cord plus an extension cord. We left our house, went on the 101 to the 405 to the 10, and to the event. We ended up parking in the general parking area where there were no outlets. For some reason my range anxiety had fizzled out and we just attended the show. When we left we came home down the PCH and over Topanga into the valley. We got home with plenty of battery left! Total trip was over 60 miles. Someday I will find out what the maximum range is, but I'm in no hurry.

Tomorrow is the West Hills Fall Festival at Field's Market. Shelley has a Jazz Band performance there so I figured I'd ask the event coordinators if I could set my car up for exhibition, and they said yes. I don't even have to pay for a booth! Should be fun...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another week gone by

The car is a blast to drive. I scoot around now shifting all the time just like a normal stick shift car. It's pretty perky. Every time I get home I plug it in just to keep it topped off. This morning I went on another early Sunday morning drive on the freeway. I wanted to see what the top speed is but there were more cars today than before so I only got it up to 85.

Most recent pictures, taken when the car was charging this afternoon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An early morning drive

Sunday morning. 7:30am. Nice day - I decided to get in the car and drive on the freeway. Where to go? I went to work and back, kind of a test commute. Too bad I take 4 kids to school in the mornings on the way to work - even when I put the back seat in, I'll only have seat belts for 3 passengers. And bug back seats just aren't that roomy in these days of 60-pound fifteen cubic foot backpacks - what's with kids and their stuff these days? Worse yet, no radio. They would lynch me.

Anyway I went to work and back on the 101. There was hardly any traffic so I got it up to 80mph no problem. There was more GO pedal left but I decided that a) I just finished building this car and maybe I forgot to tighten something and I didn't want to find out the hard way and b) I didn't want to risk a ticket just yet. Who knows what kind of reaction a police officer would have to an all-electric VW bug. He might tip off the DMV or something. Don't want to open that can of worms just yet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shifting gears

I took the car to the softball field today to pick Amy up from practice. This meant that I had to drive down Fallbrook Avenue for a few miles, which is a local drag with a 45 MPH speed limit. Most of the time you can't get up to 45 what with all the people who apparently can't read speed limit signs - ah don't get me started. Anyway up to this point I've been using only two of the gears in the transmission - reverse, and second. In second gear it's pretty much like an automatic transmission. Press on the GO pedal and go, let up and step on the brake to come to a stop, step on the GO pedal again to go again, etc. To go backwards, come to a stop, move the shifter to reverse, back up and stop, move the shifter to second, and go. No clutch, ever.

Second gear pretty much tops out at 45 MPH, so I wanted to try third gear on Fallbrook. What the heck, I thought, how about trying starting out in first while I'm at it. So from a stop, start in first, shift to second, shift to third, and cruise just like a normal car with a stick shift. Use the clutch too, to avoid being too mean to the synchros.

It was fine. The acceleration from a stop is a heck of a lot faster than a normal bug, let me tell you. Of course, you may say, I'm using a Zilla controller for heaven's sake, which was designed for electric drag racers. Fallbrook was fairly empty so I took it up to 55 for a minute, tee hee.

Someday soon I think I'll try the freeway...

Monday, August 29, 2011

It just gets better

I've been busy doing some tweaks on the car, and getting familiar with the charging process. I've come to realize that a deep understanding of charging is the most important part of using an electric car. Driving it is easy - get in, turn the key, and drive around. Driving uses up the energy in the battery pack. The amount of energy in the pack determines your range. Accelerating faster and driving faster will reduce your range accordingly. This would all make total sense to anybody, but actually DOING it brings out all of the little details that you need to know to maximize the amount of energy stored in the car.

After a week or two of occasional use there is something that is really sinking in - the fact that this is just like a "normal" car, but it uses NO GASOLINE. The motor compartment just does not get dirty, other than dust from the weather and the occasional rodential intruder (which appears to be a thing of the past, BTW). Other than the lubricants in the transaxle (which is synthetic at the moment) and the grease in the wheel bearings, the closest thing to oil in the whole machine is my finger oils on the steering wheel.

I suppose that I should make an effort to eventually figure out what the cost is of the electricity that I use to drive around. The problem is that I just don't care that much. I know that it's costing me less money than using the equivalent amount of energy in gasoline, but just how much less I don't know yet. But why do I need to know that? I'm not looking for a return on investment. I'm doing this because I wanted to know what the fuss is all about, firsthand. Is electricity really a good solution for personal transportation?

I'm not about to go on an opinionated soap box tirade in this post - maybe later. Opinions are like - ah, never mind that metaphor... Opinions are what's left over when you've run out of facts. I'm still gathering the facts at the moment.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

No smoke? No problem.

It's rather like a normal car now. I had a social gathering to go to last night and I thought, "hey, I'll go there in the bug". I waffled a bit and decided not to be a chicken and just go for it, so I drove it. OMG it was great. Big hit with everybody. It was a combination of admiration, incredulity, confusion, and disbelief. I showed one girl the iPad setup and she said "that's not geeky, that's HOT!"

Drove home at night, headlights on and everything. Absolutely no problem. I think I'm already over the worry hump.

Observations of an electric car builder driving his electric car - I took one of my daughter's friends dad for a ride today, and  while we were driving I was thinking about what I could be worried about. How far would I have to walk home? What expensive part would I blow up and have to replace? What brush fire could I start? What body part would I loose? Answer - none of the above! Just charge it and drive, dummy!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A day of driving around...

Well OK more like an hour of driving around. I spent the early morning manually balancing the traction battery pack cells (I will save the gory details for the EVDL mail list). Mark came over and I put the license plate on the back of the car and said to him "get in". I drove up to the gate and when it opened, we were off into the wilds of West Hills.

We did this a couple of times, terrorizing the areas around Orcutt Ranch and the Chatsworth reservoir. I wonder if anybody noticed a Volkswagen Beetle that made no sound? The rides were uneventful. Which is a good thing. I mean there were good events, like everything was working fine. No bad events. No funny noises or funny smells or smoke or sparks, stuff like that. Mark was a lot more excited than I was - I was like "of course it works" trying desperately not to upset the smarmy-karma.

Once I get more charging cycles under my belt I can get a better idea of the car's range. Things are looking good at the moment.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The EV Grin

Yup, got the grin today, a few times.

The term is used by EV home builders to describe the involuntary smile you get when you drive your EV for the first time. It's like the scream you let out on a scary roller coaster - you can't stop it, it just happens.

I worked on the car again this morning before everybody else was up, but the whole time I was thinking "ya know, I could just get in and drive this right now". So I decided. I took Debby for a quick ride down and up our street, while she had her iPhone recording. Then I took Amy, then I took Shelley, and then Isabel showed up to work on her quilt and I gave her a ride too.

If Mr. Rat was hiding in the back somewhere, I hope he enjoyed the ride.

The car runs fine - how could it not? I've been pretty thorough in my testing. I found myself not being very surprised that it ran so well. Did I think I was going to yell and whoop and do cartwheels, like "hey, why is this thing running so well?" But just then fate stepped in. There was a brand new puddle of brake fluid under the master cylinder after the first run. The Universe was obviously trying to taunt me, like "oh so you think you're so smart, Mister Smartee Pants, here's a new twist for you". Ha, I said. Nice try. Leaky hose between reservoir and master cylinder. Not on the pressure side, so no danger of plowing through the street gates. Hose clamp temp fix. Quick trip to the VW store, new hose. Take that, Universe.

I spent the rest of the day doing charging experiments (it's charging right now, as I type this). The Manzanita fired right up and it appears to be doing exactly what it's supposed to. Since it's set at the factory to a volts trim setting that's lower than my traction pack final voltage, I need to run the charger, wait for it to hit the voltage limit, increase the voltage limit trim, and repeat until I see the charger go into timer mode when it reaches the right voltage for my batteries (about 201 volts).

There are some niggly things that I noticed, so I will type them here while they are fresh in my mind:

Niggle list:

The steering wheel makes a scraping noise when you turn it - the plastic trim collar is rubbing

 Somebody said the brake lights weren't working, easy fix if true

Digital motor amps meter isn't working - do I really need this, since the same data comes out on the iPad? Albeit, it's in hex.

Fix brake fluid hose

Need to install HV fuse in rear battery box

Need clear cover for rear battery box

Huh - is that all? Whatever, if's there's more I'll add it later. Back to charging now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

OK so the Zilla isn't crazy...

It was my error - I had accidentally reset the default settings in the Hairball console, probably by typing the wrong thing into the iPad. I set the Hall Effect pedal option back ON, and the Zilla controls the motor speed normally with no error codes. Duh.

The DC-DC cable problem and the missing HV fuse are easy to fix. The EMS display is going to be tougher - I disconnected the pack + input to the EMS computer, but LCD still goes blank when the GO pedal is pushed. At least it clears up when the pedal is released now. I tried a ferrite cube on the composite video cable, no change. I tried a 0.22uF cap on the 12v input to the computer, still no luck. Oh well, I can think about this since I've realized that I don't really need to know what the display has to say while I'm driving. It would be nice, but not essential. Just another distraction in fact.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All I have to do now is drive it (sort of).

It works. I put the car up on jackstands last night, put in all the fuses, and turned on the key. I moved the key to the Start position and the Hairball turned on the main contactor. All the good LEDs came on and none of the bad ones. I pushed on the GO pedal and the rear wheels spun up. Holy smokes.

Now I must say that if everything went perfectly, something would be wrong somewhere. The perfecter things seem, the wronger something would be. So there are some things that need to be fixed. Whew!

Not perfect thing #1: After the wheels spin for the first time after a power up, the Hairball is throwing a 1214 error code, the Hairball Error LED comes on, the serial port locks up, and the Check Engine LED in the dashboard comes on. Error code 1214 means "open pedal wire". I need to check the pedal cable.

Not perfect thing #2: The EMS battery display is just peachy all the time except when the Zilla is in motor control mode. I assume that this means there is high-frequency PWM noise messing with the composite video signal. Naturally this means that I am in for huge amounts of noise suppression experimenting, unless of course the first thing I try fixes it. That tends to happen with me a lot, for some reason. Either I'm way smart, or just lucky. Since I have plenty of evidence that shows that I am not very smart sometimes, I'm betting on the luck thing.

Not perfect thing #3: The DC-DC converter didn't power up. I discovered that the pack voltage input to the converter has a bad connection. Easy, but annoying.

Not perfect thing #4: I forgot to put the big HV fuse in the rear battery box cabling system. How did I miss that? A little too eager there Gene, Duh.

Not perfect thing #5: I don't know what this is yet, but it's out there somewhere...

Rat? What Rat?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just when you think you're done

I did it this morning - the last bolt. Up to this point I was thinking that as soon as I fastened the last bolt, I could just turn the key on and see if all the subsystems fired up OK and if they did, I would be ready for a test spin up and down the street. Ha! Silly me.

By the last bolt I mean the connection between the traction battery and the main contactor. But let's backtrack for a minute. Thursday night I added the cell terminal to 2/0 cable connections to the rear battery pack. Last night I put in the remaining umpteen-hundred screws in the traction battery cell terminal posts - that took a while. This morning I cut, crimped, heat shrunk, and installed the 2/0 cable in both the front and rear battery packs. At that point, I was done. Finished.

But wait. I was about to connect the last bolt on the cable between the positive end of the traction battery pack and the main contactor. This would complete the circuit and theoretically, if I put all the fuses into the fuse blocks to turn all the subsystems on, I could just get in and drive. I literally was holding the cable, about to mount it on the bolt, when I paused. I thought to myself, "hang on, this is the main traction pack voltage, if there is anything that I missed somewhere there could be some major flames". So instead I went and got the voltmeter to see if there was any potential between the cable and the bolt. There was, about 180 volts! Then I noticed that the voltage was slowly decaying towards zero, meaning that I was charging up some capacitance somewhere and this was not a dead short. Probably the controller main contactor precharge circuit.

I did want to have the main traction pack connected for at least a minute or two to make sure the EMS computer could see the whole thing. I got a small piece of very thin wire to touch the cable end to the last bolt - if there was any flame danger, this wire would turn bright red and melt harmlessly. As I touched the wire to the bolt, it did spark, but then the wire stayed cool. Good, I got rid of the charge difference. THEN I put the cable onto the last bolt. I went to the front of the car and flipped on the main breaker - this is like Dr. Frankenstein throwing the big switch on the wall to bring the monster to life. For that matter, the big breaker does look like something out of a Frankenstein movie. The EMS display showed the pack voltage properly. I managed to suppress an outburst of "ITS ALIVE!" not wanting to wake up the neighbors. Or my kids. Wait, nothing wakes them up before 11am anyway. Satisfied, I removed the cable from the last bolt.

Later in the day I filled the controller cooling system with antifreeze and saw that there was a big puddle of antifreeze under the car. See? Things do go wrong sometimes! I thought to myself "Gee, I hope there aren't any dogs around" (antifreeze is deadly poison and it smells and tastes like sugar water, so I hear, and dogs will go for it). I turned around and there was the neighbor's dog a couple feet from me, a little black and white boxer, eagerly looking at me. I am not frikken kidding. I took the stupid dog home and came back to continue my work. The drain plug at the bottom of the radiator had a busted O-ring and was the source of the leak. First I thought, "great, now I have to go out on an O-ring hunt" but then I realized that I could probably make one from a sheet of rubber. Do I have rubber sheet? Of course I do, I'm me. Problem solved.

No test drive yet. I need to do this right. I need to check the DC-DC converter operation, to make sure the inrush limiters I added to it don't get too hot. I need to make sure the controller lights up the motor accessory relay board and spits out good status to the iPad. I need to make sure the charger lights up and feeds current into the traction pack. I need to adjust the charger end-of-charge voltage setting. I need to design and build an adapter between the EMS computer and the charger so that the charger shuts off if the traction pack starts to get over-charged. Lithium Ion batteries are quite safe, except if you over-charge them they tend to catch on fire. YouTube it.

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture there are a few deep and profound things I've discovered about doing a project like this - both about the project itself, and about me myself. It's kind of like a Hemingway novel - me versus the metaphorical fish:

1. The final design bears little resemblance to the original design, other than in the crudest block diagram format.

2. For a first-time EV conversion, there is no way that you can have the final design be the same as the original design - to be at the top of the mountain, you have to take every individual step on the way. There are no shortcuts.

3. Because of this, you can't just buy everything you will need in one trip to Lowes or Fry's or Pep Boys or Harbor Freight, despite what your wife says :) You end up making hundreds of trips, like it or not. So much for my green contribution to the Earth by building an electric car...

4. You learn to balance eagerness with contemplation. You need to keep a keen awareness of the consequences of just going for it.

Do these metaphysical concepts have an application in my life adventures on this Earth? Or have I just had too much coffee?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cell Monitor Boards are in...

Got home from work today and found I had a couple hours to spare, so I decided to go for the cell monitor board install. I knew that I only had a limited amount of daylight and lots of screws to screw in, and I had to watch what I was doing so that everything ended up oriented in the right direction, plus I had to solder a few cables which means dragging the extension cord out of the garage blah blah blah...

I tend to get a lot done when I'm under a time crunch so I got them all installed before dark. I then decided to fire up the EMS computer to see if it could see all the cells, and sure enough, it did. I scrolled through all the screens to see all of the individual cell voltages and temperatures. This is all extremely exciting but I'm trying to be cool about it so yeah, it all works, big deal huh. I was so unimpressed that I ran (nonchalantly of course) into the house to get the camera. The monitor boards each have green LEDs on them so it was quite the light show. By then it was getting dark, so the flash came on, which of course drowned out the LEDs. The picture of the EMS LCD was likewise quite boring, so no pics today, folks.

And I'm not even going to talk about that other thing, that you-know-what thing.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chipping away at the remaining tasks

Yesterday and today I fiddled around some more and as a result got some stuff done...

I found a spot for the EMS computer by the front battery box and installed it and wired it up. I figured out how to get the hazard switch to flash all the lights and wired that up, and reinstalled the dashboard. I recently got an iPad mount from Amazon - it's actually a back seat headrest mount but it was cheap and for that price I figured I'd hack it up to make a dashboard mount. I got it mounted on the dash but it was pretty floppy, so I drilled a couple holes and bent up some sheet metal and made it all stable. Good enough for now.

I stuck the fuse for the EMS in and sure enough, the little LCD came to life. Everything that I do seems to work right the first time - this project just may actually be surprisingly amazing... Gosh, I hope I didn't just jinx the whole thing...

There is not a whole lot left to do:

Fill Zilla coolant system

Build rear battery pack 2/0 cables and connect to front pack and Zilla

Install seat belts

Install cell monitoring boards and connect to EMS computer

That last one looks good on paper but I know that it will take some planning and at least a full day without interruption. It's something that I need to finish once I start, since a partial job will cause uneven discharge of the cells. Perhaps I will take a day off of work.

Once I get the battery pack and EMS system done, I can fire up the PFC-20 for the first time. There's a lot of energy involved so it should be interesting. In a good way I hope.

Still no sign of Mr. Rat.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My first Plasma Event...

There has to be one. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Kinda like learning to ride a bike - you always get a scrape at some point.

I was in the back seat area of the car last night, removing screws from the battery terminals in preparation for installing the cell monitors later. While I was in there I decided to add the cell pack interconnect straps that I just got on Monday. Since the rear batteries are on their sides, gravity is not my friend. There is a trick to sitting awkwardly scrunched up against the seats whilst grappling with little screws and their washers, trying to hold a screwdriver and the interconnect straps as well.

I got one screw into an interconnect strap and was fumbling with the next one, when good ol' F=gmm over R squared decided to step in. Sparks! I discovered that in a situation like that, my mouth lets something out. I don't even remember what it was, at least it wasn't a bunch of punctuation marks. Something like "GAAAK!!" or "BLEAHHH!!" or some such. I know I must have unscrewed the existing screw and then tossed the partially melted strap out of the open door, but I don't really remember doing it.

Darn it, I said to myself, I know better, I'm a friggin' electronics engineer. I've blown plenty of stuff up in my life. I must have gotten complacent. I hate it when I get complacent.

Anyway, out of curiosity, I got the DVM out and measured the cells involved to see if they were affected at all by this. Nope, both still at 3.305 volts, just like when I got them. So infinite amperage for a second or two doesn't seem to harm them. Good.

What about the rat, you may be thinking... he's still gone. Maybe I should go to the pet store and get another?