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Flummoxed by Racks

So the weather has been really nice recently, but I have not been able to make any progress on the car because I need battery racks, and I don’t weld.  Sigh.

I found two independant mobile welders on Denver Craigslist last night, and I sent them both emails about the project to see if they are interested and how much they think it would cost to build these things, but I haven’t heard anything back yet.  I’m really hoping to soon.

I really want to get this thing moving again, because this summer I think my excuse will be that it’s too damn hot.

If I can’t get any local independent welders interested in it, I may have to draw up specs and take it to a shop.

If anyone is reading this blog and has any advice on this next step, please let me know.

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I hit a bit of a wall there… between it being too cold to be in the garage without gloves, and me not really being able to decide what the next step is… I haven’t done much.  But I think I’ve done enough for an udpate.

Buying the Batteries

So I did some research into batteries for the car, and here is an overview of what I found.  If anyone knows more about this, and wants to correct me in the comments, I welcome the info… because I only know what I read on various message boards and blogs.

There are basically 3 types of lead-acid batteries:  Maintenance-free batteries intended for gas-engine cars, Flooded deep-cycle batteries intended for golf-carts/forklifts/industrial equipment, and deep-cycle marine batteries which seem to be some kind of hybrid.

In the realm of flooded deep-cycle batteries there are three main manufacturers:  Trojan, US Battery, and Exide.  Trojans are top of the line, US Batteries are a cheaper alternative to trojans… and the price/value makes them an attractive alternative, and Exide is the cheapest lowest performing.  Basically… if you see another brand on the market, Exide is making it for them.

So I made up my mind, and looked at getting 15 of the 8V US Batteries (8VGCXC).  By going with 15 x 8V to get 120 volts, I will have more weight, but a longer range because I’ll have more lead… so more amps.  I could have gone with 10 x 12V, but the range would be more limited.

I called the local US Battery dealer and they had 11 in stock.  I decided to go down an pick them all up so I could get started fitting them.  Dave and I headed down there in his truck and picked them up.  The total cost was a little over $1000.   ‘Spensive.

The BIG 8V batteries

The BIG 8V batteries

The Plan for Mounting the Batteries

Ok, now that I have them next to the car, I see that these batteries are very large.  Very tall. I thought that I was going to be able to get like 8 in the back, 5 in the front, and 2 in the trunk.  That was ambitious.  Realistically, I can get 6 where I thought I could get 8, 3 where I thought I could get 5, and none where I thought I could get 2.  That’s a problem.

After thinking about this very hard and trying a bunch of different configurations with cardboard dummy batteries and measuring tape, I finally resigned myself to removing the back seat entirely.  It’s not like I could get baby seats back there, and this really is going to be a commuter car, so I guess this isn’t a big deal.  Now that I’ve actually decided to do it… I don’t know why I was so against it to begin with.

Under the bonnet

Under the bonnet

So, three batteries can fit in where the old gas tank was.  If I try to put any in the front outside of that recessed area, the hood wouldn’t close.  The batteries are simply too tall.  I did not expect that.

There used to be a seat here...

There used to be a seat here...

So here’s the back with the seat removed.  I know that I can get 6 batteries up on the red part which used to be behind the seat.  Then I measured, and I can get 7 more in down where the seat used to be.   But, I only need 12 total back there, so I suppose I should make a new place for the 12V accessory battery… or maybe I should just put all the batteries back here and make the wiring much more simple.  Either way, I have options.

The Project in a New Economy

I get a lot of people who ask me questions because I started this project when gas was $4/gallon, and now gas is like $1.20/gallon.  Is it still worth it?  Do I regret it?  Do I feel like an ass for not having faith in our gas economy?

Yes, it’s still worth it.  There is still going to be a fuel and maintenance benefit of electric over $1.20/gallon gas.  I’m not concerned at all.

Plus, I have a very firm belief that gas prices will go up again.  We’ll see $3-$4 gas again in the next 5 years because demand is still increasing and supply is still limited.  I think that the rocket up to the price it was at was fueled by fear and speculation, and that this is a violent overreaction in the other direction because OPEC flooded the market and sales of gas-guzzlers tanked.  It’ll swing back for sure.

Mounting the Electric Motor!

I really lucked out last weekend.  I got Dave over again to help, and I also reconnected with a buddy of mine from college, Matt, who is a professional in the world of motors (motorcycles to be exact).  And, as it turned out, this was really a three man job.  I was crazy to even think I might be able to just hold it up and slide the bolts in.

So the first thing we did was take apart what I did by myself.  I didn’t attach the shaft coupler correctly, because I left out the little “key” which keeps the coupler from slipping on the electric motor shaft.  It didn’t look important, so I just left it to the side.  Did I mention I’m glad I’m not doing this project by myself?

Getting the motor into place

The motor seems to be longer than the ones in the pictures in the documentation, so it has to come up from the bottom rather than go in the boot through thetop.  So, question 1 from the pro, Matt:  “Do you have a floor jack?”.  No.  Of course not.  “How about that skateboard?”  Alright… Matt is going to fit in on this project just fine… lol.  I love improvised tools (it’s a good thing, too, if you keep reading).

Independent trucks and Slimeball wheels... the only way to work on a car.

Independent trucks and Slimeball wheels... the only way to work on a car.

So we roll it under the car and lift it into place.   Oh crap.  This isn’t going to work.  The damn motor is so long that the back end of it is hitting the back of the car frame.  We can just barely get the motor onto the drive shaft, but it’s at an angle that won’t allow it to slide forward onto the grooves of the shaft.

Sigh.  Why is every step of this project considerably more difficult than what I thought it would be?  “C’mon down Matt, I’ll show you the project and we’ll just mount this motor real quick, then have some beers.”  Fail.

The back of the motor hitting the back of the car, so it won't line up straight on the shaft.  heh heh... shaft.

Misaligned on the shaft because it won't clear the back

So, in order for the motor to go forward, it has to lift up in the back to get aligned… but in order to lift up in the back, it has to move forward a little bit to clear the back of the car.  Classic catch 22.  So, we expiriment with a few things.

Two leather belts holding up the motor

Two leather belts holding up the motor

Hmm…

The Texican Outback cinch loop rig

The Texican Outback cinch loop rig

This is a step up from the skateboard thing, I think.

Eventually we decide to do a bunch of things:

  1. Jack up the back of the car with the jack from my Honda
  2. Jack up the motor with the jack from of Dave’s Acura
  3. Wedge a piece of wood in to push the transaxle down from the frame of the car
  4. Whack the hell out of the adapter plate with a piece of wood and a 5lb sledge

Pushing up the frame and motor, and pushing down the transaxle ought to help it get lined up.  Then… for every 1/8th of an inch we can whack it forward, we ought to be able to get the back of the motor up an 1/8th of an inch too… giving it room to go forward.

There are no pictures of this, because it really required all three of us.  One on the wedge, one on the sledge, and one on the edge (of the motor, pushing and lifting… also it rhymed).

Success!  The motor eventually cleared the back of the frame!

But, now I’m worried that all that misaligned sledging may have completely hosed the threads on the drive shaft or has pushed the shaft coupler out of the way so it won’t mesh at all.  How the hell would we get this thing off?  Did I just ratfuck the car and the motor?

We put the car in gear and spin the rear tires… and THE ELECTRIC MOTOR TURNS! Yes.  Phew.

Here’s Dave putting some final taps on the motor

Professional automotive engineering.  Sledge. Wood. Beer.

Professional automotive engineering. Sledge. Wood. Beer.

So we are really tempted to hook up a 12V battery at this point and see if the wheels turn… but I’m hesitant to just apply voltage to this thing.  It might work… but let me get the fuses and controller in place.

So here it is:

A very tight fit

A very tight fit

This seems odd that it’s resting right against the back of the car.  We actually cut away part of the rubber seal around the trunk to make it fit.  How is the trunk going to latch?  I’m not sure… we may have to rig something up.  Hopefully it won’t involve leather belts or skateboards.

I sent a picture of this fit to e-volks (Wilderness EV) to see if this is typical, or if there are anything I need to do differently… but I haven’t gotten a response yet.

Oh, by the way… the bolts I got at Home Depot were too short by about 10mm each.  I went to Ace Hardware and their selection of metric bolts is FAR superior to Home Depot.  So, now it’s all bolted into place.

Next steps:

  • Mount the other electric hardware
  • Wire up the other electric hardware
  • Build battery racks and housings (yikes)
  • Purchase batteries

Almost there!

Because I have two young kids who I love to play with… this project is really only something I can do during naptime on Saturday or Sunday, which is also the only time I can do anything kid-free.  So, I’ve had a few weeks of nothing getting done.  I was determined to accomplish something this weekend.

So as soon as I finished reading Buster the Bulldozer and both kids were down, I hit the garage.  The next steps were to:

  • Measure and Attach the shaft coupler to the electric motor
  • Attach the adapter plate to the electric motor
  • Mount the motor to the transmission

The shaft coupler attaches to the shaft of the electric motor (the part that actually spins), and then meshes into the grooves at the end of the shaft of the transmission.  The custom made coupler bridges the two together.  You have to make measurements and make sure that the position of the coupler is going to hit the grooved shaft on the transmission when it gets mounted.

I made a ton of measurements and figured everything down to a 16th of an inch, attached the coupler, checked my math and then was off by a half inch.  I don’t know why I bother to pre-measure anything when I always end up just doing trial and error anyway.

Electric motor with shaft coupler

Electric motor with shaft coupler

So I needed some bolts for attaching the adapter plate to the mounts on the transmission.  I sawed one off, and one was missing in the last step (see “taking out the big gas engine”).  These need to be 10mm bolts in long lengths.  Plus I needed some 3/8 inch bolts to attach the adapter plate to the electric motor.  So I headed to Lowes.

For anyone looking, Lowes does not believe in the metric system.  They do not carry metric bolts at all.  Good for them for being patriotic and eschewing that stupid European crap, but this does not help me.  I had better luck at Home Depot, and I was able to find the goofy German bolts in approximately the right lengths… and I was also able to pick up the non-stupid bolts measured in 8ths of a kings thumb, the way God intended it to be.

Electric motor with adaptor plate

Electric motor with adapter plate

The next step here is to mount this onto the transmission where the original gas engine was attached.  But screw that.  This little blue motor may not look like much, but it weighs like 100 pounds without the adapter plate on it.  The odds of me being able to hold it in place with one hand while putting the bolts into place with the other is around zero.  I’ll have to put this off until Dave or Jordan can come by and help me out.

So I decided to take out the gas tank.  I undo the bolts and give it a shake to see if it is empty.  It is, thank God.  I don’t want to have to siphon gas out of here.

The gas tank, detached and removed

The gas tank, detached and removed

I did not realize that this would leave such a large hole in the bottom of the front section here.  I may need to fabricate something that sits in that gap to hold the batteries snugly, because this is an ideal location for the front series of batteries.

I’m going to need 15 8V batteries to achieve 120V.  I think 6 go behind the back seat, maybe a few in the back, and the remainder are going to have to go up front.  Maybe 8 of them?  I’ll have to make a template sometime and check out how they might fit.

So lastly in the post, I want to share with you my real point of fear in this project that I have yet to have to deal with.  The cars electrical is a mess.  Look at this:

Wires to everywhere

Wires to everywhere

Where are all these wires coming from, going to and what do they do?  How am I going to figure this out?  If you think looking at this is confusing, try looking at the wiring diagram for the 68 Beetle… it’s even worse.

Somewhere in there are the ignition, the windshield washer jet motor, interior lights and indicators, and who knows what.  Some of it I won’t need, but I don’t know how I’m going to know which is which.

Taking out the big gas engine

(Originally posted 10/5 on Facebook)

So, if there is one main benefit to replacing a gas engine with an electric engine… it’s that you no longer need to have all of your moving parts lubricated. It’s a much simpler mechanism, so hopefully… this engine removal will be the last time I have to deal with every single part being caked in a quarter inch of black grease when I work on it. Good lord.

Preparation
The plan was to have the engine hoist and Dave coming by to help on Sunday before noon, and I don’t want to spend all day on this… so on Saturday I started disconnecting wires and cables from the engine. I’ve got my Chilton’s manual, and I’m following the steps for “removing the engine”.

“Step one: Disconnect the carburetor pre-heating air control cable.”

10 minutes after reading that, I managed to find the carburetor section of the manual. 30 minutes in, I had located the carburetor itself. 45 minutes in, I decided in a not-so-sure way that my carburetor did not have one of these cables. Hmmm. 18 steps to go.

“Step 2: Remove the air cleaner hoses from the-” oh screw it, I’ll just unbolt the engine and if something looks like it’s gonna break off, I’ll disconnect it.

The Easy Part
Ok, so engine hoists are for cars that the engines come out of the top of. On a VW, the engine can only come out through the bottom. So, we get a floor jack instead of a hoist.

Look at the picture, this should be easy. They use a floor jack too!

Hans and Klaus look sporting as they efficiently lower the engine from the Beetle in their stylish trench coats. Wie Geht’s!

So seriously… there are 4 bolts that hold this engine onto the transmission. That’s it. This should be a breeze. We’re going to be Hans and Klaus in no time at all. As Matt tells me… these are the easiest cars in the world to work on because they are so simple. I like simple.

So we go to the top right bolt. It’s missing. That was easy! One down!

Then we remember the old rule of working under cars. Don’t try to loosen tight bolts while under a one ton vehicle because if you shake it off your jack stands… you die. Right. Good tip.

We lower the car and I manage to loosen up both bottom bolts. Actually… it’s scarily easy. It’s like the bolts weren’t tight to begin with. Maybe that explains the missing one. Oh well, that isn’t really my problem now.

The Hard Part
We go to the top left bolt, and it isn’t just stripped… it’s round. Like, I dont think that this was ever a hexagonal bolt. It’s a perfect circle. Crap. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to reach behind the motor between the oil filter housing and the firewall.

Dave: “I can feel the alleged former bolt right back here.”

Can’t turn it with a wrench. Can’t reach it with a drill, grinder, or dremel. But… if we reach in from the right hand side… we can just barely get a hacksaw on it. Awww… nuts.

Taking shifts for as long as we can possibly stand it, we take turns with our hands between the engine and the firewall, scraping the crap out of our knuckles and arms, sliding the hacksaw back and forth across the bolt until it finally falls off. That alone took 2 hours, and I’m bloody, greasy, and sore as hell… but it worked.

I assume that someone a few owners back tried to take the engine out, got three bolts off and then totally stripped the 4th one… only to say “screw it”, and sell the car after just barely managing to get the other three bolts back in place and finger tightening them. “Someone else’s problem now!”

Look at me! I’m just like Klaus! Except there was nothing about a hacksaw in the manual… and he was wearing a trench coat instead of a greasy ruined shirt.

We slid it off past the transmission and drive shaft and managed to lower it to the ground after only another hour of wrestling with it. Joy!
We can DO IT!!!

So, as disheartened and frustrated by how long it took us to remove 4 bolts from a car (granted… they were metric, so there’s that)… I am psyched to have this major piece of work done. The electric parts are new and clean and simple in comparison to a 40 year old car.

And Dave told me… “In all my experience working on cars… this IS how it is done. There’s the manual that tells you what to do and then there is the crazy half-assed monkey way you manage to actually get it done.” Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong partner. Probably not though.

Anybody want an engine?

Oh, and my neighbor somehow found a used replacement hood for like $60… so that might work to repair the one we destroyed.

Next steps:
– Remove Gas tank and any other remnants of the gas engine
– Clean off as much oil and grease as possible
– Find and try to identify as much of the existing electrical system as possible
– Start mounting electric parts!

(originally posed 9/20 on Facebook)

Why the heck are you building an electric car?
So…
– I’m not very good with cars.
– I also know nothing about electric motors.
– I also have a tendency to electrocute myself more than the average person.

Nothing really screams that this is a good idea.

But I didn’t know how to build a deck until I built one. And I didn’t know how to build an Apache web server on a redundant array in Ubuntu linux before I built one.  And I didn’t know how to replace outlets and wire my house for ethernet before I did those things. So, I figure I’m 4-0 when it comes to technical projects.

And electric cars just seem to make a lot of sense right now. Most of the people I know are 2 car families, and one of the cars is driven less than 30 miles a day. Electric engines are far more efficient (and powerful) than gas engines, and they don’t pollute.

There are tax incentives to build and own an electric car, and gas is really expensive. More than ever, it makes sense to own an electric car… yet nobody is selling them! You cannot buy a production electric vehicle that is legal to drive on most roads. That seems like a pretty large market opportunity. Surely someone can make money making electric cars in Colorado… but I figured I’d better test it out first.

THE GOAL
– A reliable daily commuter electric car
– 21 miles round-trip range even in the winter when batteries don’t hold a charge as well
– Ability to drive at freeway speeds
– Reasonable budget

THE PLAN
I decided to buy a 120V electric car conversion kit from Wilderness EV (http://www.e-volks.com). I could only find a few companies selling these kits. Wilderness sells kits that specifically fit old Volkswagen Beetles.

Another company called Electro Auto sells kits in California that specifically fit VW Rabbits or Geo Metros. I opted for the Beetle kit because there is a huge market for Beetle parts and accessories, and they are really customizable.

THE CAR
I ended up buying a 1968 Beetle that used to belong to my boss at Macrosystem, Bruce. He had lovingly restored this car with a new interior, new seats, new dashboard, new steering wheel, new bumpers, and some other custom elements sticking to the traditional Beetle style.

The car was in great shape, but he sold it off to a guy who needed a car, and it had fallen on hard times. The engine died. While parked in an alley in Longmont, the window was shattered by rowdy teens, so the car got wet inside and weeds started growing in it. The car was hit by a neighbor, damaging the bumper and the bonnet. Bees had made a nest in the engine.

The bug in Longmont, bees and all

Anyway, it was a good deal, and I could clean up most of it. The engine, I didn’t need. So, some bug spray and a tow later, it was in my garage.

STARTING THE PROJECT

I ordered a replacement window, and the parts for the electric conversion from Wilderness EV. Then I started cleaning out the car. Once I cleaned it out, I’m realizing it’s not so bad.

She cleans up real good

Okay… problem #1. I can’t open the bonnet (hood). It’s stuck. I try everything I can think of, but it is not releasing. I call over Dave and we look at it. We rip off the black leather bra (too bad, it looked nice), and see that there is definitely a huge dent in the hood right by the latch.

Rats. You cannot access the latch from under the car, because this is the storage area, like the trunk of a normal car. It’s all sealed up underneath.

So we do the only thing we can think to do, we use a drill and tin snips to cut our way into the hood.

Dave attacks the hood. So much for a nice looking car… for now

Destroyed

From there we got a socket wrench in the hole and we were able to disengage the truck latch by removing it.

We’ve made no progress, and we’ve already destroyed the car. Great.

CONFIDENCE BOOST NEEDED BADLY

So, this past week, I finally got the replacement window and many of the parts from Wilderness EV. I unpacked everything so I could take a look at it, and I was intimidated.

Lotsa parts

So I’ve got the big blue motor, the big metal adapter that will hook to the transmission. I’ve got the shaft coupler, the charger for 12 and 120 volts, a bunch of heavy duty battery cable, the battery terminals, fuses, and an array of wiffle bats which may or may not be useful to have.

I’m still missing the Curtis controller, which is a valuable electric part that I think is drop shipped from the manufacturer.

Wow. That’s a lot of parts. It came with instructions, but the directions for my computer mouse were longer and easier to read and the thing only has 2 buttons. I’m scared. The next step is to take out the old engine. Yeah right.

Lets work on the window replacement so I can accomplish something without feeling like an idiot.

FAIL.

Replacing a side window is hard. I took off the door panel, and stared at the mechanism for a half hour before I gave up and went back inside.

No no no… I can’t give up that easy. This is a long project and I’d better do something, even if it’s wrong. You can’t be paralyzed by failure… you should embrace failure! No wait… that’s not right.

Anyway, after trial and error for another 45 minutes, I found out that I could unbolt some components from the bottom of the door, bend them back, and slide the window up into place. I don’t know if it’s the approved method of getting the window installed (it certainly didn’t seem like it), but by gum, it worked.

Hooray for small victories!

So, that’s where I am now. I have a car with no broken windows or bees nests, but it does have a huge hole in the hood. I have a bunch of electric engine parts, but I still have a big gas engine in the car that I have no idea how to remove.

Wish me luck!

How the hell do I get this thing out of here?

New Blog Address

So, up until now I had just been posting about this project on Facebook as “notes”, which is a kind of crippled blog.  But, a lot of people expressed interest in reading about it who were not on Facebook… so I’ve decided to move the blog out to the internets at https://evguys.wordpress.com.

Because of the “import blog” feature, these posts should still show up on Facebook as well.

Who are the “EV Guys”?  I have no idea.  I had to come up with a URL in a hurry, so I entered that.  Hopefully in time, this blog will chronicle the next EV project… which will be Dave’s EV.  … bound to be cooler than mine, but frought with peril as we move away from a kit and into a more custom job.  Hopefully, he’ll be the other “EV Guy” and contribute… then the plural will be justified.

Odds of Success or Failure

I post regularly on a message board (for fantasy football, but there is a social board as well), and I posted a topic about my project back when I first started getting serious about starting it.  I posted a poll asking the people there to rate my odds of success in this project, and here were the results:

Results of the poll

Results of the poll

So, almost as many people think that this is going to work and the people who think this will be a catastrophic failure.  I think that as long as I continue to run my mouth on the internet about completing this… I’ll be motivated not to look like a complete failure though.

Colorado Alternative Fuel Tax Credit

I did talk to the CO Dept of Revenue on Friday just to try to confirm what I thought I knew about the tax credit I’m hoping to get… and the conversation went well.  I really should be eligible for a credit (not a deduction) of 85% of the cost of converting the car to electric.  And… I should be able to double it to 100% of the cost if the old engine is sent to a salvage yard instead of getting sold on Craigslist or something.

I hate to destroy the engine, because I’m sure there are a lot of VW enthusiasts out there who would love the original parts… but it’s hard to pass up the money.  Maybe I’ll hang on to the engine for a while and see how much money it’s actually going to be.  My wife loves having the engine in the garage.

No progress this weekend

So, I really meant to do some work on the car this weekend, but it got really cold and wet… and I have tickets to the Broncos tomorrow.  So… oh well.  Maybe next weekend.