Broken spoilers, batteries and Leafspy!

Standard

Okay this week has been pretty mundane but there are a few things going on.

The saga of the spoiler:

So a quick recap, I had the car 3 days and the carwash at Esso Midsomer NortoIMG_20141030_182922n, the town in which I work, hit the rear tailgate lip spoiler and snapped the clips holding it on. Gutted, does not cover it. The garage gave me the details for their insurers but after going to get two quotes from bodyshops (£700-£850 IMG_20141030_182914was the price for a new spoiler painted and fitted), they have basically sent me a letter saying they will not compensate me as they do not feel they have done anything wrong! Apart from break my car!

So I have written a substanIMG_20141030_182906tial letter with photos to the Managing Director Exxonmobil Fuels UK. This might seem like a long shot but I have form for this approach working. Watch this space.

In the meantime I have stuck the broken spoiler clips back down with epoxy resin, not ideal but holding for now.

The lithium replacement battery for the lead acid unit:

This has been performing extremely well, hasn’t missed a beat. I took the battery off and put it on my lithium battery charger which showed it holding at 13.7v so the leaf is not overcharging it (which would be 14.6v for a 4 cell LiFePO4 battery), but seems to be maintaining it at a sensible voltage. I topped it up to 14.4v and reinstalled it. So far so good. Also sorted out the positive terminal which was a bit loose.

New gadget Leafspy Pro:

Okay so you might have seen these gadgets m0MTK453SUgPvtXUKDIg5Ww mRxtGN-V6X9LwtW_VA4b3Iw

Basically these are diagnostic code readers, just as a workshop would use to check your car if it had a fault, the garage would be using a version worth several thousand pounds. These transmit diagnostic info to your phone via bluetooth and are available on ebay for £10!

Coupled with one of these is the app Leafspy Pro, which I am running on Android.screenshot

This gives you a huge range of information including the actual battery percentage charged, which is not usually available on the dash, Nissan preferring to give the driver the GOM or Guess-O-Meter which tells you how far the car thinks you can drive given the current energy consumption and battery charge level. Apparently you can also get fault codes if you have a problem and program door locks etc… I haven’t tried any of this yet.

In any case it works really well I will see what useful information I can get from it.

Coming soon (excited?):

  • Lightweight wheels and tyres
  • New garage door (not strictly EV related but it will make the EV driver’s life easier not having to open/close the garage twice per day and scrape the car on the too-narrow door frame.
  • Home charger to be installed in two weeks by Chargemaster under government OLEV grant.

 

 

 

Babies and electric cars…

Standard

No this is not a post about what happens if they dismantle the traction battery… This is just a short note to say that it is quite a bit more difficult to get a baby to sleep in an electric car. At least if you have my 2011 Nissan Leaf and with my son Nicolas.

As most parents know babies usually sleep well in cars, I put this down to a number of factors; there are a lot of interesting things to distract them out of the window, the car bumps and rolls as it drives along generating movement including vibration which the engine contributes to, and then there is noise, both road noise and engine noise. Here the electric car proves to be slightly less-than-ideal. There is no engine noise or vibration and given that most electric cars are fairly new, and as far as the Leaf is concerned, they have well designed and relatively unworn suspension, the ride is very smooth.

The upshot of this is that compared to my other car a 2.8 diesel 4×4 (which rarely gets used now I have the Leaf), the baby wakes up after about 45 minutes. In the car’s defence he is not a great sleeper, but there is a marked difference. We have taken to playing a track on the stereo simulating a more noisy car journey or just playing white noise to calm him, but we cannot simulate the vibration of the engine. I also aim for the pot holes and bits of rough road repair to create more bumps.

Am I saying don’t buy an electric car if you have baby? Certainly not! The benefits to your wallet and your health (and everyone else’s) are clear. Just have some handy noises to play to make the environment in the car a little less comfortable.

First Longer Journey

Standard

So far I have found the day to day use of the Leaf to be really straightforward, enjoyable and without any real problems. This is due to three factors, that I have a place where I can easily and safely charge the car – my garage, that I am able to charge it at work meaning I am not limited to just work and back but can make a journey after work and that my journey to work is around 18 miles. These things mean that you do not get the dreaded “range anxiety” and you do not feel limited by the way the car operates.

However today I have moved into the realm of the longer journey. This throws up some new challenges.

My journey was from Bristol, where I live, to Newbury 60 miles down the M4. I charged last night to 100% (usually 80% is used for battery longevity) and set off this morning headed east. The temperature was 9 deg C. On the dash is a readout which estimates the range remaining with the current battery charge and power consumption, it is affectionately called the GOM or Guess-o-meter. The reason for the humour is similar to the “microsoft minutes” that are estimated when copying files in windows – it just isn’t possible to be totally accurate. My GOM read 60 miles, as I left Bristol for my 60 mile trip to Newbury, with my partner and our 4 month old baby on board!

Deciding that it is much less energy intensive to travel at 55-60mph rather than 70-80mph I set my cruise control and the journey began. It was all going smoothly until we passed Swindon and the GOM was reading 20 miles range with 18 actual miles left to travel. Feeling nervous about this I decided to stop at Membury services where an Ecotricity charging station is located. These are the rapid chargers which charge to 80% in 30 minutes from 0%. However I did not know where such chargers are normally located, having never attempted to charge an EV at a motorway services before. I presumed they would be near the petrol station and having decided not to pull into the car parking area realised that at Membury services there is no facility to go back from the petrol station area to the car park, all roads being one-way. So I had to head back out onto the motorway believing I had insufficient range to reach my destination. This is where the range anxiety begins coupled irritatingly with knowing you’ve ended up in this situation by being ignorant.

However armed with this knowledge that the chargers are, predictably, in the car park near the entrance where they usually are (I originally thought this was for eco-prestige reasons but now realise that as with most things it’s actually for the entirely unglamorous reason of keeping the cable run to the charger short – to save money and reduce voltage-drop) I was confident that at the next services, Chievely, there would be no such repeat. And indeed there was not, we located the charger which was unoccupied and plugged in and got a 15% boost (enough to get us into and out of nearby Newbury) within just 10 minutes.

IMG_20141022_113248

After that we went to Newbury came back to the same charger, filled it up to 86% (can’t quite let go of the old terminology like filling up!) which gave us time to go into the services, use the loo, buy some snacks and change the baby. Which took almost exactly the 26 minutes it took to charge. This is reassuring, it really does not take long to charge. Also these chargers are free! On the second charge I parked next to an identical red Nissan Leaf, curiously despite EV’s being a few years old now people still come over and have a look including practically a coach-load of older persons who fancied a gander. I actually quite like this, having driven some odd cars before it is not unfamiliar and it’s nice that people take an interest.

We headed back onto the motorway and again ran into the issue of having fewer miles remaining on the GOM than we needed to travel so another quick 5 minutes boost charge at Leigh Delamere services and we got home with 20 miles left on the GOM.

So all in all there are quite a few stops involved at least with my car and in colder weather with lights/wipers/heaters on, and it is clear that the Leaf seems to go further for a given charge level in an urban or country-lane situation than on the motorway. In this regard EV’s are definitely rather different to internal combustion engined cars, which always seem much more efficient and suited to motorway-type driving. This due to the electric motor being equally efficient at any rpm, whilst the ICE has a narrow range of revs which are efficient, the rest of the rev-range being far less efficient. Most ICE cars are geared so that motorway driving sits nicely in the efficient rev range, provided your speed is 55-70mph.

So what’s really going on here and I accept that my viewing angle of this issue has evolved today, is that electric cars just use more power the faster you go in a quite linear fashion, whereas ICE cars are inefficient at slow, varying speeds and only become more efficient with steady, constant speed driving such as motorways.

I think this will encourage me to take the more interesting route rather than the motorway, or use my other car for longer journeys. This seems like a defeat, but at present I’d say the Leaf needs more range to make longer journeys easy rather than slightly stressful. However massive respect goes to Ecotricity for installing this excellent network of chargers and for encouraging EV’s by not charging for using them (you do need a card which is readily available). I accept that this is a learning curve and familiarity with planning and undertaking longer journeys will mean they become more pleasurable.

In other (non)-news:

  • Lithium (lead acid replacement) battery – working perfectly!
  • Wheels – nothing to add.
  • Insurance for broken spoiler – no change.

Lithium Lead Acid Battery Replacement

Standard

Okay so a little while ago I showed you some photos of a lithium battery I had purchased to replace the lead-acid a relatively heavy 12kg monster!

The issue I had was that the battery I had bought was not waterproofed. I got it for a fairly sensible amount from a German company I-Tecc.

So I bought an enclosure for it an IP-55 electrical junction box – a little larger than the new battery but more similar in size to the old battery. I’d probably aim for a slightly smaller one if I made this again.

IMG_20141016_151320Lithium battery, enclosure and electrical terminals/bolts.

So it was just a case of making up some leads to connect the battery to the terminals which were to be placed on the outside of the enclosure. In order to ensure waterproofing the terminals and the bolts holding them in, have silicone sealer between them.

IMG_20141016_154546

IMG_20141016_154533

I have used two leads on each pole as the cables are rated at 27A each so they can handle 54A with two connected and it allows redundancy should any one lead come loose from its crimped on-terminal. I am presuming 54A will be sufficient for the auxiliary systems in the Leaf, but I would NOT consider this adequate for replacing a starter battery in a regular car (the starter can draw several hundred amps albeit only for a few seconds), the battery can handle it but heavy gauge wire and connectors would be needed. I might add fuses to the positive leads at some point, though all the connections to the postive side of this battery in the car are fused.

IMG_20141016_155521 IMG_20141016_163039

Then it was just a case of adding a little foam insulation so stop the battery rattling around and some labels to make it look all professional and such-like. I will add another label (reading “not to be used to start an internal combustion engine” later).

IMG_20141016_170839 IMG_20141016_170722

And here it is installed in the car. The hold down rod needed to be extended on the front of the battery as this enclosure is slightly too tall. The wiring to the positive connector was a little tight fitting but it is substantial and this should also ensure it is very unlikely to come undone. The positive terminal itself on the regular battery is slightly larger, presumably to discourage reverse polarity (big-badda-boom!). So I will for the sake of neatness and professionalism need to get a terminal sheath to widen the terminal, if you are thinking of doing this yourself, buy the terminals which are two different sizes in the first place! Whilst I was removing the old battery I connected a starter pack to the car’s leads to keep my settings from being erased from the car’s computer, although only a few trivial settings are stored in non-permanent memory.

I switched the car on and it seems to be working just fine. I might keep the starter pack in the boot for the first few journeys though, it might be very embarrassing to have to ask someone for a jump-start for my electric car!

Will it all be worthwhile? Well there are four things I hope to have achieved by doing this:

  1. Lighten the vehicle by 8kg. The now-waterproof Lithium battery assembly weighs 4.29kg, the original batttery weighs 12.0kg.
  2. Improve the car’s environmental credentials by removing the 18th century full-of-lead battery.
  3. Improve reliability as the lead-acid battery is a known weakness on the leaf (and every other vehicle into which one is fitted).
  4. Eliminate hydrogen gas, which can be given off when a lead-acid battery is charging and is the cause of the heavy corrosion often seen around battery trays (the reason they are now plastic, and why vehicles with batteries within the cabin have vent tubes to vent the hydrogen away from the car).

The only thing left to do is monitor the battery from the point of view of charging. Lithium batteries are not tolerant to overcharge and they are not suitable for float charging. I have not been able to find out the lead-acid battery management algorithm the Leaf uses, but a contributor to the US Leaf forum has been using one which cost him $800 for over a year and has not had any issues. The only information I have is that the car uses the lead acid battery as a starter battery to initialise its systems, connect the main traction-battery-pack and then it ceases to use the lead acid battery the auxiliary systems are run off the DC/DC converter. It then probably charges it in some way. If the car is left unused the car charges the lead-acid battery every five days using the traction battery.

In this sense it is a far more robust system than a regular ICE car which does nothing to prevent its lead acid battery discharging whilst in the airport car park for example, giving the AA an easy gig to attend when you return from your holidays. To monitor the new lithium battery I have ordered a battery monitor which plugs into the cigarette lighter (suppose we ought to be calling this the “accessory-port” now). It also has a thermometer for the cabin temperature, useful as few cars, the Leaf included, have an internal thermometer fitted so you can see how effective your climate control is, and a 2A USB phone charger built in.

$_1

This part if available here. No idea how well/if it works as I haven’t got it yet. I would have preferred a gadget more like this which is a very clever bluetooth battery monitor which reads out on your phone, and was designed for drones/quadrotors, so its very light.

One other thing – the lithium battery I am using has a built in battery management system (BMS) which is important unless you intend to remove the battery frequently and manually undertake maintenance like charging (with a proper Lithium battery charger) and cell-balancing. Lithium batteries are made up of a number of cells, in the case of a battery designed to replace a 12v unit, it is 4 cells (3.2-3.6v each) but which are invariably not all manufactured precisely to the same capacity. A balancer equalises the voltage across the cells so that no one cell takes too much of the load and heats up too much. The BMS handles this for you (and should provide some cut off facility to prevent over-charge or over-discharge). Cheaper Lithium batteries are available without this feature. More expensive batteries like the $800 battery mentioned earlier are available which have BMS and are waterproofed.

Total cost? £110 for the battery, £10 for the enclosure, £8 for the terminals, £10 misc bolts/screws. So lithium replacement battery £138, expected lifetime is 5 years minimum possibly 10 years. A typical lead acid battery subjected to British winters might last 3 years if you’re lucky albeit with some noticeable drop in performance and will cost £70.

As for the lightweight wheels my Supra mk3 alloys arrived after the usual delivery company shenanigans. Unfortunately despite being a generally easy guy to deal with the seller was not so good at using scales and they weigh 8.3 kg not the 6 kg he said they were. So I will resell them, it’s not worth the trouble to swap them out for a total saving of 10kg. Might have to be new shiny alloys which can come out of the insurance payout for the broken spoiler – of course there is no progress on this as yet.

The latest….

Standard

Well its week 3 with the Nissan Leaf and all seems to be going well. Its a lot colder this week, and wetter, and darker. Bad grammar aside these things put a lot more strain on the battery since all the little niceties we completely take for granted with a fossil fuel car, such as lights, heaters and wipers use electrical power. Lights and wipers not that much, the first generation Leaf that I have, has LED headlights which use barely 40w, the wipers similarly use very little power. The heater on the other hand is a bit of a volt-guzzler.

The thing about cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) is that they are at best about 30-35% efficient, so even with a modern small diesel engine, around 2/3 of the fuel is not converted into movement, mostly it is converted into heat. On a cold day a small fraction of that heat is more than enough to keep the car warm, albeit after a short wait for the engine to warm up. In an electric vehicle (EV) this is not the case and my heater when first switched on uses 4kW of electrical energy, which noticeably reduces the range. From an 80% charge (which is the charge level recommended to maintain the best battery longevity) the range is around 77 miles, which drops to 63 miles with the heater on. This does improve as the car warms up, the heater reduces its energy usage to around 0.5-1kW. One small bonus is that the heat is practically instant.

However Nissan have thought of (almost) everything and one really fantastic feature is that the heater can be triggered to switch on using the web/phone app which communicates with the car, and since the car is at this point plugged in to the charger in my garage this does not use up useful range. You do have to run it for about 20-30 minutes though as initially the heater uses more power than the charger can supply and therefore nibbles away at a bit of battery before it settles and the battery tops-back up.

As for charging stations I am still using the portable charger or EVSE which nissan supply. This charges at 10A from a normal plug and is the slowest charging method. However I should soon have a 32A charger installed in my garage (free under a government grant) and I will be able to use 16A from this charger to charge in approximately 4 hours. I have gone with 32A as later EV’s have higher powered built in charge circuits and can utilise higher currents for faster charging. At work I was running a cable out of the back door and into the car, however since the only way I could do that was by parking in my boss’ space I started parking out the front and running the cable through a window. Now that its cold this doesn’t go down too well, so I have installed a socket in a little shed we have out the back which I can connect to, and it has the advantage that I can lock the lid with my EVSE charger inside so it doesn’t get stolen (they are about £450!). I have an RSD on the inside where it is plugged in, in case of water ingress or vandalism.

IMG_20141009_135754

I have also hunted high and low for a replacement battery for the lead-acid auxiliary battery, which seems the most unusual feature of such a modern car. This battery exists to power up the car and safely connect/disconnect the main traction battery. Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries around 20Ah capacity range from £120 to £850. I obviously opted for the £120 option and received it today from Germany, with a plug in mains charger to condition the battery (since regular lead-acid chargers are only partially suitable for charging LiFePo batteries, the issue is that they switch to trickle charging when the battery is full, which for a lead-acid is fine since they gradually discharge, but a lithium battery does not and is not able to absorb excess charge without serious problems, so lithium chargers cut off completely when the battery is full and only click on if it discharges, which takes a long time).

IMG_20141009_164839IMG_20141009_164848IMG_20141009_165750IMG_20141009_165927The first image shows the Lithium replacement battery which is about 1/3 the size of the car battery it replaces (stanley knife thrown in for scale). The other thing that is striking is the weight of the replacement battery which is just 3.2kg instead of 12kg for the lead acid. In order to install it I will need to get some adaptors which make the terminals fit and make a waterproof enclosure for it, since it is going to live in the engine bay where the lead acid battery was originally. The lead acid battery will become the leisure battery in my camper van from now on.

I have also managed to find some lightweight wheels. This has again involved many hours trawling through the internet (its a chore that someone has to do). The reason this was not simple is that lightweight wheels are very expensive. I have managed to find 4 Toyota Supra Mk1 wheels which apparently weigh in at 6kg a piece (saving 4-5kgs on the standard wheels) and the best bit they are only £60 (£100 delivered). This should save me 20kg of rotating unsprung mass, which is the equivalent to 80kg saved from anywhere else on the car, the weight of a moderate-sized adult passenger. They are in need of a refurbishment but even once this is done they should still be a very good value set of wheels. Photos of them before refurb, afterwards and on the car will follow once its all sorted out.

Now all I need is to get the spoiler fixed (still waiting on the insurance from the car-wash, and I have a funny feeling I am going to be repeating that statement for a long time to come), and to move on to replacing the non-LED bulbs with LED’s where practicable.