Planning to make some changes and modifications

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Okay so those of you who know me, know its highly unlikely that I will be able to resist tinkering with this car. Here are a few of the things I am looking at doing, not all of these are car modifications:

  • Having a home charger called an EVSE, installed, which is free at the moment as there is a grant going about for improving electric vehicle infrastructure. Going to opt for a socketed 32amp type 2 charger. This means it has no cable (you buy a cable to go between it and the car offering more flexibility), it runs the higher 32A current which my car cannot fully use (mine has a 16A built in charge circuit) but future cars will be able to (or I might upgrade my charger or car). And opting for type 2 as previously mentioned which is the new standard plug for regular charging.
  • Changing my garage door for a roller door so that I can do away with the door frame, widening the door by 6 inches. My car only just squeezes past the garage door as it is now, and I’ve scraped it once already.
  • Changing the bulbs on the front running lights to LED, oddly a lot of the bulbs on the car are regular incandescent bulbs which draw much more power and look quite old-fashioned on such a technologically advanced car. In reality they use so little power compared to the traction motor that drives the car it will make no difference but its a style thing and they are cheap.
  • Changing the lead acid battery. The what??? I hear you ask – yes the ultra-modern leaf has a good old, lead-acid, clunky car battery under the bonnet. This battery basically powers the on board computers/stereo/windows etc… just like a regular car, but it charges from the traction battery instead of an alternator. Nissan did this so that you can safely, physically-disconnect the main (traction) battery pack and leave it disconnected. To connect it you need an auxiliary battery to operate the electrical interlocks. What’s odd is that they chose a heavy clunky old-school battery rather than another lithium ion. Perhaps it was to save a few $$$ or perhaps it was another feature to make the leaf feel and look more like a regular car so as not to unnerve potential buyers too much. (In the same way the traction motor and inverter look like a regular engine). Anyway I intend to replace this battery which is prone to failing anyway, with a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery of half the capacity (since they can be almost completely discharged safely unlike lead acid which only tolerate 50% discharge) which should be about 10kg’s lighter and last 5 times longer. Albeit its not cheap but then I’m saving a lot of money on fuel driving this car.
  • Changing the wheels for the lightest, practically affordable wheels. Wheels are heavy and take a lot of energy to spin up. The lighter they are, the more range will be on offer, especially coupled with other mods to lighten the car. Costs have to be borne in mind though, racing magnesium wheels could be 2-4kgs instead of 10kgs, so saving 24-32kgs overall but cost £1000 each! I’m aiming a little lower in cost than this. A diet could also be a good idea.
  • I am currently discussing with and helping an independent engineer who works on EV projects to design an adapter to connect type 2 to the Leaf more easily, this should solve some of the charging lead issues we have already discussed. It will look like a box with 2xtype 2 sockets on it, enabling type 2 to type 1 cables which most leaf owners already have to be connected to tethered type 2 chargers.

More later – possibly with photos – when I have done some of these things.

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My view of my other car….

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Okay so just before I bought the leaf we decided to buy a big capable car we could use as a family car for transporting the three of us and all the baby clobber. A car we could get a decent amount of shopping into, and a car we could take on long journeys or use as a camper van. We settled on a second hand Mitsubishi Delica. I’ve always liked the look of them and the idea of a people mover/4×4 appealed to me.

However my attitude to this car is already changing since I bought the Leaf one week ago and here’s why. I decided this morning to take the Delica to work as I don’t want it to get seized up through lack of use. It was only half way to work that I realised that it was going to cost me £9.72 today to put diesel in the Delica for the 40 mile round trip to work and back (well it was just now actually as I can’t do that sort of maths in my head). It was also going to produce 16kg of CO2. The leaf has so far cost me  £3.60 this week and I have driven around 280 miles. I have produced at the exhaust (no exhaust in reality) zero CO2. (Though I accept that working out the actual CO2 per mile of an EV is difficult since the power grid is made up of all the generating methods, some high CO2 some low/nil CO2.)

And I think this is what EV’s in their current guise are really all about – changing the way to we think about cars. I am no Clarkson in that it’s not all about power and spinning wheels, but I’m also not in Greenpeace and for me it’s not all about hugging trees and saving the planet. I did not buy an EV to save the planet, I bought one because I wanted to try the cool new thing, and love technology one thing this car really is alive with (unlike that ridiculous Citroen C4). However it seems I might end up being a lot greener as a result of having one than I was intending to be.

I have started a poll on Leaf Talk forums asking how many people with an EV use another vehicle you can see that here http://www.leaftalk.co.uk/showthread.php/17309-Who-relies-on-their-EV-alone-to-get-them-about?s=56c4bf1f5bee0258064e98f5572adedc&p=72529#post72529 

The issue with chargers and cables.

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Okay so its a little messy but I’ll try to make sense of it as best I can. The leaf has two charging ports, one low power and one high power. The high power port is called CHadEMO and is a very impressive large plug with a locking lever. It contains data cables and two giant contacts for direct current. This is quite straightforward, plug it into a professional rapid charger and press go and get charged in 30 minutes, albeit you are not supposed to use these all the time as it shortens your battery life.

The other socket is low(er) power uses alternating current and the Japanese and French i.e. NissanRenault decided to use a plug/socket on the leaf called a Type 1 (or J1772). However everyone else, more or less has gone for a newer design called a Type 2 or Mennekes socket.

So supplied with my car is a cable with a type 1 on one end and a domestic 3-pin plug on the other end. You can charge from a regular plug, it takes 8-10 hours if you’re empty. But often you’re not so it’s faster – it is also meant to be the least harmful to the battery.

Some public chargers have rapid CHadEMO plugs, some have type 2 and some both. The issue is when confronted by a type 2 charger which has the cable and plug attached, like a regular petrol pump has the cable and nozzle attached you cannot plug in to the Leaf as there is no type 2 socket. You cannot use an adapter as the specifications for this technology include resistors in the cables so the computers at either end know you’re linking more than one cable together which is, in theory dangerous. If the charger has a type 2 socket, you can connect it via a type 2 to type 1 cable priced from approximately £165 upwards.

Which leads me to think there are two possible solutions. 1) make an adapter which has a type 2 one-end and a type one plug the other end without resistors so the charging equipment cannot tell it is in the circuit. Or replace the type 1 socket on the car with a type 2 socket. This cannot be that difficult since its only five wires for type 1, and seven for type 2. However no-one on the forum seems to have done either of these things yet, or if they have they’re keeping quiet about it.

However it would be good if the maximum compatibility were available for the lowest price. The charging cables are well made and not commonly available but they are very expensive.

More later depending on what happens, I am more inclined to make an adapter as it is not going to bugger up my car like changing the socket might do.

Week 1 Update 2

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Electric car week one update 2 – had the range meter on the dash down to 9 miles remaining but this isn’t really that worrying when you know you have only 4 miles to go. Traffic is not a problem when stopped you are using no power. Rudely cut in front of at a set of lights, by a black mercedes c220 diesel, who presumed I was a slow-electric-thing only to click it into D-mode (not eco) and shoot past him after the junction, much to his surprise and chagrin. Definitely one of the best features of an EV is that you can feed as little power into the motor or as much as you want. So you can be both economical and fast when required, very few fossil fuel engines manage that degree of versatility. Used a rapid (30mins) charger at Ikea Bristol – no problem – had a chat to another Leaf driver who turned up in a 2014 car – who said she gets no more range out of hers than I do from my 2011. But the charger at Cribbs Causeway wouldn’t work at all. There is also the issue that not all chargers and EV’s have the same plugs and leads. More on this later as I have got a few ideas how to solve this problem.

Electric car week 1 update

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So I sold my 1999 mint condition Hayabusa motorcycle and my 2004 slightly-less-than-mint-condition Nissan cube and decided to buy a Nissan Leaf 2011 in fetching fiery red/orange colour, unseen from a chap in Bodmin, Cornwall. With 20k on the clock, two years old and having basically no parts likely to wear out it seemed like less of a silly thing to do than it would be for a fossil fuel car.

Getting it delivered from Bodmin to Bristol was a little fraught. I used Shiply to find a courier. For those not familiar with it, Shiply allows you to place a job on their site and people capable of undertaking the job bid for it. You select a provider pay a deposit and then organise with them to collect the item and deliver it to you. First issue – communication – the guy who wanted the job bid fairly competitively, leading me to believe that he A) wanted the job and B) probably had a return job to do also. So I selected him and got a few words by text in response. Three days later when prompted by text he let me know he’s “collecting tomorrow”, those were his exact words. So I contacted the guy who was selling the Leaf, really nice bloke and very straightforward to tell him to expect the courier to call him to arrange collection. By midday the next day, no calls or texts had been forthcoming from the courier, my poor seller had waited in all day and we were both fairly annoyed. Eventually by 4pm I’d called and left countless messages and texts eventually threatening to cancel this courier. At this point he said “running late, you can cancel if you want”. Which I did. Only realising later that Shiply works like ebay by leaving feedback to encourage good practice by the providers. However if you cancel the feedback page just says “job cancelled by customer/provider” so is effectively a null entry. As such shoddy providers like this guy (name available on request) cannot be left negative feedback if you cancel because of tardiness or lack of communication. A problem I pointed out to Shiply and has my say on Trustpilot also. https://www.trustpilot.co.uk/review/www.shiply.com/541dd2850000640002a7069b

So another courier was employed and turned out to be excellent, they are called S Claro and were professional, punctual and reasonable.

Received the car Saturday morning, but no time to play as we had to leave for the south coast to see my nephew for his birthday. Did not get chance to try the new car out until Sunday night.

Initial impressions were that it was very well made, the 2011 Leaf was the first really mainstream electric car, but Nissan have gone to town on making it feel like a luxury car. Its solidly built, futuristic in appearance and beautifully finished inside. It is also quite a bit larger than it appears, being both quite wide and also longer than expected (certainly when compared with a small car such as a micra).

Plugged it in to a 240v wall socket in my garage via the supplied cable which has a type 1 plug at one end which plugs into the charging socket on the front of the car, and a 240v 3-pin regular plug on the other end, with a box of tricks that Leaf owners call “the brick” in between. This takes around 8 hours to charge the battery using around 10amps of 240v power. The battery is charged normally to 80% which preserves its longevity. It is 24kWh so 80% is 19.2 kWh which on economy 7 electricity works out at roughly £1.24.

I drove to work, without incident, the range meter on the dash predicts how far you can travel before and during a journey. Around 70 or so miles is predicted with 80% battery charge. As you drive though, this number fluctuates depending on how heavy-footed you are, how many electrical gadgets are turned on such as radio, heater, lights etc… and the conditions such as gradients. Also there is a D mode, which is equivalent to drive in an automatic car and ECO mode. D gives you quite sharp throttle response and full power and acceleration, whereas ECO feeds the power in more gently and regenerates power when braking or going downhill.

Around lunchtime I decided to use the carwash in the town where I work, Midsomer Norton. I was horrified to hear a crunch as the brush roller slid up the back window and upon finishing my wash found that the rear spoiler’s fixing brackets had been snapped off. The carwash said they were insured and provided details. To cut a long story short the damage is £850 if Nissan fix it for me. I am awaiting more info on this.

I also scraped it on my garage door, due to the aforementioned wideness (and it was dark, and I drive like an impatient muppet).

From facebook

“Despite two incidents involving damage to the bodywork (one my fault – garage door related and one car wash related) it has been not only easy, but decidedly enjoyable. The car is easy to charge and on economy-7 very cheap. I am very lucky to be able to charge at work using a regular 240v socket but hopefully soon we will install a proper EV charger for faster charging (4 hours) and offering charging to members of the public. When I looked at the range meter on the dash and saw 40 miles remaining I was initially a bit scared as this was just a little bit more than the point at which the fuel-light comes on in a petrol car, but I quickly realised that 40 miles is 23 miles more than I needed to get home, where I could refuel the car for just £1.40. I do not need to go to a garage I just plug it into a plug! Every time I pass a petrol station it looks a little bit quaint and old fashioned. There are so many more places where I can plug in than there are places where I can fill up with petrol/diesel.”

Electric Journey – A beginning…

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After many years being a petrol head, amateur mechanic and general techno-geek I decided to take the plunge and buy an electric car. I began to write about it on Facebook but it was quickly pointed out to me that of my Facebook friends only a proportion would be interested to hear about my electric car journey, the rest might get bored of it so I might as well blog about it instead.

The first two posts are slightly elaborated posts copied from Facebook the rest will be a log of the ups and downs of electric car ownership.