Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Living with an Electric Car

I recently made another post on the Autopia blog at, and mentioned the car the electrified '94 Golf Kyle Dansie loaned me for a little more than a month.  I give a summary of my experience with the car in the Wired post, but didn't have room to include an interesting experience trying to push the range of the car one night:

On a very cold early December night I tried to make it back from the Electric Car Company of Utah's shop.  I drove about 15 miles from work to, to a parts store, and then to the shop, and charged the batteries while there. But I wasn't able to get a full charge before leaving.

Friday, December 11, 2009

DIY EV Battery Charger

The last major item I need to find for my conversion is a battery charger.  Amazingly, I'm staying within my budget so far (detailed in my wired post), but I'll probably go over if I pay for a new charger.

Russco and Quick Charge make some decent chargers that are relatively affordable compared to nice but more expensive Zivans and Manzanitas.  But if I buy new, I'm still looking at at least $500.  I have heard of people making their own chargers and got curious about how difficult and expensive it might be.  All a charger really does is apply a dc current to a battery right?  How hard can it be?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Regenerative Braking with an Alternator

When I first started serious research into EV conversions I was surprised to learn that most converters don't bother with regenerative braking.  I think the simple reason is just economics.  There are other ways, but to do it well it requires an AC motor and controller, both of which are much more expensive than the DC conversions.

I'm currently not planning to implement regenerative braking in my conversion, but imagining ways to do it is irresistible.  I got thinking about  hooking up an alternator to the back side shaft of my motor, and it occurred to me that the idea is so obvious that surely someone has done it before.

Sure enough, I found a Chevy S-10 conversion, using an alternator and an air conditioning clutch for regenerative braking. Can't find the name of the converter on the site, or I'd make mention.  It looks like a well done conversion, but ambitious.  He had to re-wire the alternator to generate the 120 Volts for charging....lots of work.

Motor Mounting Problems

Just before Thanksgiving week I went down to the shop of the Electric Car Company of Utah. Spencer and I were hoping to get the motor mounted up in a few hours.

I picked up the adapter plate and shaft coupler from Brian Berrett (Wilderness EV) at the same time that we picked up the batteries.  I also bought (traded batteries for) a flywheel and pressure plate from Brian as well.

Spencer and I spent some time loosely assembling everything to see how things would go.  Spencer was very impressed with the shaft coupler, some high quality machine work there.

Motor Shaft goes in the coupler here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Found Some Cheap Batteries: 33 Universal Battery UB121100

I've been putting out feelers lately for battery options, and I've gotten a few decent leads. But here comes a great one has developed this week.

The building where my brother works is rotating some batteries in their data center's uninterruptible power source (UPS). The batteries are a few years old, but are getting rotated out simply because of their age. They have been treated well, mostly just sitting around with a managed charge waiting for a power outage. I'm told that they still hold a charge, and could potentially still perform pretty well. They almost certainly won't last as long or perform as well as new, but with my budget...

There are 33 available, $5 each. I'm planning to take them all so that I can sift through and choose the best. Whatever is left over I can use for spares, or recycle and earn a few bucks back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Drive to Work in EV VW Golf

My first drive to work in an EV was uneventful -- in a good way. The only thing that takes a little getting used was shifting later than you would in a gas powered car. I had no problems keeping up with traffic on a 55 mph highway.

The drive was a bit cold because I avoided using the heater to conserve power, but it turns out I had plenty of charge left when I got to work. I could definitely feel the 1300 pounds of battery mass that has been added to the car. The ride was a bit rough when going over bumps, and the lack of power steering meant using some muscle at low speeds. In talking with Kyle I've never asked if he modified the suspension at all...something to ask him in the future.

I've been inquiring at work to get permission to plug the car in at a seldom used stall in the back of the garage, but they haven't been able to get back to me yet. So I just plugged it in anyway. Crossing my fingers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I have a Loaner EV !

I mentioned in my last post that I am going without a car until I can finish my EV Beetle conversion.  Kyle Dansie of Zero Emission Vehicles of Utah noticed the post, and thought he could help out.

Turns out his nicely converted 1994 Volkswagon Golf is not being driven much lately by either him and his conversion partner Michael Mielke. Dansie offered me the car to drive for a month with the only requirement that I write about it and show it around to promote electric vehicles. Needless to say, there was no hesitation on that deal.

It will be great to experience a converted car while I am doing my own.  I'll be able to incorporate things that I like, or avoid things that I don't.  It will be invaluable to examine the details of Kyle's work while working through my own issues.

Use the link above to see photos and stats for the car. Stay tuned for more about the experience, charging, costs, and photos.

Thanks Kyle and Michael for your generosity!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Motor Resolution

There have been a few interesting developments this week.  A big one that I've neglected to write about is that I sold my car.  The deal I made when embarking on this project is that my only budget would be whatever money I could get out of my '97 Mazda 626.  Soon after committing to the project, the timing belt broke on the car leading to $900 in repairs.  It has a junk-yard door on the passenger side, among other issues, so I wasn't expecting much. I sold it for $2000 last Friday to net $1100.

My shoestring got much shorter after paying for the repairs, and begging for rides is already cramping my style.  I have a few very nice friends at work who are helping me out, and my wife is being very patient, but mooching makes me feel a bit awkward.

You'll be able to read some details in the Wired post Friday morning (Autopia blog), but at press time the following information wasn't available:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Motor Problems

Plan A for my motor has fallen through.  The good guys at Electric Car Company of Utah have some TransWarp 9 motors that they want to sell at good prices.  I was planning to use one for my conversion but it looks unworkable.

The Warp 9, made by NetGain, is a very popular motor for ev conversions, with a great reputation.  the TransWarp is identical to the Warp except that it has a splined drive shaft with a u-joint adapter for connection directly in a drivetrain.  Usually TransWarp motors are used in hybrid conversions.

My plan was to use the back side of the TransWarp, which has a normal sized shaft for turning the wheels. Normally this shaft is used for accessories or in the case of a hybrid for direct connection to the drive shaft. This presented numerous problems, among them: reversing the direction of the motor, total length of the motor, and mostly a set of mounting holes that are smaller and closer together on the back side.  We didn't feel these holes would provide enough support for the motor--on Beetles, the entire weight of the motor is supported by its connection to the transmission.

More details to come, in the meantime, here are some pictures of the TransWarp 9:

TransWarp 9:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let's get Rolling

I'm building an electric car out of a '67 VW Beetle, and blogging about it roughly once a week on the Autopia blog at There is so much more that goes in to the conversion that I decided to start my own personal blog to track developments in more detail and in a less formal, more timely way.

To get up to speed, check out my first two posts for Wired's Autopia blog:

I know the blog isn't much right now, but I don't have much time. So I went with something that I knew would be quick and easy (blogger) and I haven't even customized a template yet. There will be more to come...

Please comment or contact me if you have any suggestions.