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Kind of a lite week here at EVTV as we are spending a bit of time trying to get some future projects together and work the EVCCON details and administrivia off. I’ve got a pretty good team put together this year. And a new shop rat – Jesse Hale who is just tearing up a patch. I can hardly keep up with him.

His uncle and I started the first grade together. That’s how Cape Girardeau is. And his dad is Larry’s older brother and has done my electrical work on some kind of run down rental properties for years. It’s a small town and the same people live here for centuries apparently. The guy who makes my battery boxes, Dan Todt, was also in my first grade class. His dad, Cletus, always did the sheet metal for my dad, going back to when they were quite young as well. George Davis does all my glass. Same first grade class. His father, Joe, just passed away a few months ago. Always did the glass for my father as well.

We must look strange to most of America. I know most of America looks strange to us.

I returned to Cape after 28 years away, and stopped into a local meat shop where a guy who used to date my sister worked. “Hey, Jack. Have you been out of town?” Had I been out of town? Yeah, for like 28 years. He made it sound like two weeks. I must have left quite a hole when I left Cape at age 18.

Recently toured the largest freezer between Cape and Memphis. It’s owned by a guy I used to be on a swimming team with at age 13-15. We had a marvelous afternoon catching up.

We did get the John Deere lawnmower working. But while it’s always better to be lucky than good, even when you’re good you’re not always lucky. Little miscalculation. I was picturing this very quiet lawn mower. The hydrauilc motors are so loud and the blades are so loud that I don’t think the motor is really any quieter than when it had a gasoline engine. Starts more reliably. But no quieter. My picture of an idyllic Sunday morning mow in near silence was destroyed. Indeed, we’ve probably created the world’s loudest electric vehicle.

But we kind of nailed a guess on the RPM with 13 cells. The electric motor is almost a dead match for the gasoline motor rpm. It is not of infinite power at that. We don’t even use a controller. Just switch on a contactor and connect 43 volts to the motor. It works surprisingly well and the vehicle remains quite maneuverable. IT’s not really heavy. And it mows.

We also kept it simply by omitting a charger. I did put in a little voltmeter so I can tell how I’m doing charge wise. And it has relays in it that can be configured. So we also installed a charge contactor. I can hook up any voltage source DC above 50v and charge the cells to 46 volts at which point the voltmeter disables the contactor, removing charge from the cells. This works surprisingly well and brings up the concept of a watchdog for any car and its charger. You could use a contactor and this voltmeter, set the voltage a volt or two higher than your normal charge termination, and have it disconnect the charger if something fails and it continues to charge. We’ll put these little voltmeters up in the store as soon as I can do a book on how to configure them.

I’ve been working for months with a group in China on yet another meter. It is a little more expensive than the very nicely selling JLD404. But it displays kWh, volts, and amperes all simultaneously on one display. It also has an RS-232 output. I was very excited about this meter after going back and forth with the manufacturer for some six months. The things you DON’T think of are the ones that get you. It measures current and power great while you are driving. But it won’t measure current AT ALL in the reverse direction. I’m not sure how to engineer such a thing if you wanted to it is so bizarre. But not only will it measure only in one direction, they have no idea how to fix it. We are just stopped. A dead end. Hard to believe. But you run into things like that with the Chinese. I’m sure the sales guy is just terrified to notify the design engineer that he screwed up. It’s much easier to tell me that it can’t be done and give up the sale. And so we are stopped. It’s another one of those cultural things.

Jesse meanwhile took apart the Ford Edge which had a shot transmission in it. The shot transmission is a bit frightening, even from an Esclalade perspective. Basically we received this very bad build to start with and it had a miserable range of about 20 miles. We doubled the number of batteries, but also the weight. ANd the little transaxle front wheel drive transmission has now given up the ghost. Probably my own fault for doubling the battery weight. Fixing other people’s bad builds is not a path to success. You almost have to start over with a different car.

But we’ve bought another transmission on eBay for $800. And Jesse completely unassembled the front of the vehicle, which was buried in batteries. We found an original RED Soliton1 inside and a motor that had clearly spewed a LOT of black stuff. Taking IT apart we found a handful of gravel and a couple of pounds of black carbon. The brushes were worn, but not terribly so and no massive chunks missing, implying they had been changed in situ before. We cleaned up the motor, bead blasted the end pieces, painted the case, and put it all back together with a new set of Helwig H60 brushes. I’m kind of hoping this motor situation was where the very poor range came from in the first place. Although 74 100Ah cells is not the way to power a 4500 lb vehicle in the first place.

So we will need to find a place for the engine compartment cells. Hopefully underneath the car. Bringing us back to the problem that killed the transmission in the first place – too much weight.

The Escalade too is very heavy. The 6L80E is a bit better transmission. But we are carrying a lot of weight. However, if I had to, there are some very heavy duty buildups of 6L80E’s out there. There really aren’t for the Ford Edge.

We ran into another little deal. The transmission we received from eBay of course has seals where the axles insert and also one where the power shaft is. It would be goofy to install this thing without new seals. So we went to NAPA to get one. As a 2008 vehicle, they don’t have them. They sent us to Ford. Ford, incredibly, wanted a VIN number to even look them up in the computer. And then of course they didn’t stock them and had to order them in.

The increasing efforts of the OEM’s to make their vehicle maintenance “proprietary” has just reached comical levels. You need a VIN number to buy a filter from Ford – or a seal. This is preposterous. And it will lead to no end of difficulties for the OEM’s in the future, never mind their near death experience of a year or two ago. Cars have become very expensive. And this concept of disposable cars starts to fail at $50,000 for a car.

I bought my wife a brand new Lexus LS400 for her birthday – in 1998. This vehicle is now 14 years old. It has 60,000 miles on it and runs perfectly. She’s taken care of it and the interior is perfect. But the shiny black clear coat paint, designed to look absolutely wet on the showroom floor, is also actually designed to look like shit after the first 100 miles as the soft clear coat takes on a haze from the very dust in the air scouring it at 70 mph. In 14 years the chrome on the hubcaps has started to flake off the plastic. And the front bumper, also plastic, has started flaking paint as well. For her birthday this year, I’m going to have it painted. It will undoubtedly be $6000. That’s about the sales tax and the first year’s property tax on a new one.

In fact when I start looking at that way, what would an entirely new interior actually cost? Or a new drive train? Engine and transmission both? They’re not in the range of the taxes on a new car. We are rapidly approaching a state where the purchase of a new car brands you as a sucker in public. The government, the insurance companies, and the dealers all jump in.

Meanwhile, here in Missouri, to register a vehicle over 25 years old is $25 and you only have to do it ONCE – it is good for life. So we may be onto something here quite beyond even electric conversions. Just renovating old cars, adding modern iPhone electronics and GPS is not hard to do, new interiors and paint can be had, and the total investment doesn’t amount to the taxes and depreciation on a new car. This electric conversion thing may well be the most economical way to an electric car in many more ways than one.

If I continue my purchase of the Tesla Model S, I’ll owe the state of Missouri another $7500 in sales taxes and no doubt a couple of grand the first year in property taxes. As they cannot deliver it for EVCCON, this is looking increasingly dubious. I’m sure it’s the best car ever built, but how badly do I need that, particularly now that I can wheel around on my own electrically powered John Deere Zero turn?

Jack Rickard