Monday, September 24, 2007

YEAH! (And Whew!)

Received a succinct and satisfying email from Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America today:

Jenny -
ADC has stated that the motor will be covered by warranty. They will repair and return.
Thank you for your patience.
Bob @ EVA

And there was much rejoicing by Bill and Matt -- but most especially by me, since I was the one at the wheel when the motor died. I'm glad my driving wasn't implicated!

We had a wonderful time at the Energy Fest this past weekend, despite not having the e-van to display. I'll be posting a complete update tomorrow so be sure to check in again. It was great to see Lynn and Peter there -- thanks for coming out!

As soon as the e-van is up and running again we'll be available to visit schools, festivals and environmental events, preferably within 25 miles of our home base in Ottsville, PA. Please do contact me at if you would like to have an electric car visit your school or event!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Box Story

Well, the flurry of emails referred to in the previous post threatened to turn into a blizzard as we continued to negotiate with Advanced DC Motors over who exactly would pay for our nonspinning EV motor to be returned for diagnostic testing, but the heavy weather abated when Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America generously offered to pay for shipping.

Sample exchange:

Bob (of Electric Vehicles of America, our supplier): I have had a number of emails and phone call with Brian Sullivan at Advanced DC Motors. He reviewed the pictures and concluded that the motor will be fine if the brush springs are placed back on the brushes. The armature looks fine. So let's do it. Let's put the 8 springs back where they should be and run on a 12V battery to see how it is.

Bill: That armature has what it looks like mica seeping from between the commutator and above the segments. Plus, the commutator is black. In my humble opinion the motor should be replaced. I will do what you and Advanced suggest, I don't like it but let's see if it will spin with the brushes in place.

Brian (of Advanced DC Motors): As I stated previously, we would pay for the freight to return this motor only if there is a defect found in materials or workmanship. This brush spring fiasco is not a defect that I will accept. If the brushes were returned to their correct position and the motor still will not run, there may very well be a defect within the motor. The only way that I can tell that is to evaluate it and I can't do that if your customer is unwilling to take a chance.

Happily, this discussion has been resolved -- but unhappily, the time-frame required to ship the motor back for diagnostic testing will prohibit us from displaying the van at the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Festival in Kempton, PA next weekend. Instead, we will bring our other EV, the 1991 Dodge Colt conversion. I will still present on the process of converting the van. I'm sorry we won't be able to show it off, but we are all reminding ourselves that every problem is a learning opportunity!

Interior of motor showing springs on the right touching the sides of the brushes (they are supposed to rest on top of the flat metal things in the middle), and the blackened commutator underneath.

All right, onto the topic at hand: learning how to prepare a large, heavy object for shipping via motor freight.

We had the motor, the pallet, and a choice between bolting the motor onto the pallet and covering it with a box, or wrapping and boxing it and then strapping the box to the pallet. We had a nice leisurely discussion of the pros and cons of each method, during which I demonstrated my superpower of starting out on one side of a debate and then ending up on the other, while Bill demonstrated his superpowers of infinite patience and good humor! In the end we went with bubble wrap, newspaper and fiberglass strapping tape.

Packing a large, heavy, cylindrical object in bubble wrap turns out to be a rather amusing process. Every time we rolled the motor, all the bubbles went pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, making us fear that we were effectively packing the thing in saran wrap, but eventually some kind of critical mass was achieved and we agreed it was well-padded.

In the grand tradition of Jenny getting other people to do work on van-related projects while she takes the picures, I even had my 5-year-old daughter on the job.

Finally we had the thing boxed up ...

and strapped firmly to the pallet. (If I had the technical capability I'd insert some songs from the terrific mix we were listening to here: Bill K's Music to Strap Boxes By).

The motor will be shipped out on Monday. Of course, I'll keep you posted on the van's return to functionality!

In the meantime, a recent comment posted by a reader inquired whether the alignment jig we used to match motor and transaxle would be available for loan or rental. It certainly is! Here's a slightly blurry picture of it -- perhaps we'll develop a side business of renting out such items for EV converters, since for some reason they don't come with the Electric Vehicles of America kit.

I'll be back next week with a report on the Alternative Energy Festival. Thanks for following along, everybody.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Big Trouble

Well, we never got around to diagnosing that battery/charger quirk, because a larger issue intervened: I had the van out on Sunday for a conditioning drive, had some difficulty shifting it from 2nd into 3rd, brought it to a halt in someone's driveway to get it into gear at a standstill, and then found that it would not start again.
Hurray for AAA -- the Vanagon (and EV) owner's friend.

Here's the van being hauled onto the tow truck with Matt in the foreground. I had assumed that the problem was the transmission -- which we have already arranged to replace -- but it seems it is not so simple. Matt did some basic troubleshooting on the spot with the voltmeter, and was able to find that there was power all the way to the motor (that is, the problem didn't lie between the batteries and the controller).

Back went the van to Bill's for more diagnostic testing. Everything indicated that the motor seemed to be the issue. Here he is prepared to disassemble the motor from the transaxle for a final test.

This motor is dead. But why?

Bill took a peek inside. He found that the 6 springs that push down on the brushes may have been installed incorrectly. They are pushing the side instead of directly on the brush.

We checked EVA's manual for our EV and nowhere does it specify that we should check inside the motor before installing it! Of course all motors are tested before they're sold, and this one has about 100 miles on it ... but though quite unusual, it's not unheard of for electric motors to be defective.

Next, we'll have to find a way to get this motor back to the manufacturer for further testing. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Trouble in River(fest) City

Actually RiverFest was great -- the trouble came on the way home. We had a wonderful time all three days of the festival. The weather was splendid. Lots of people came by to check out the Colt and the E-Van, and we were fortunate to have both Bill (above, with his wife Margaret) and Dan (with his wife and their little dog, too) present on Saturday to share their knowledge with our visitors! Thanks, guys.

So the van is now running with a different DC-DC converter and the problem of the draining 12v battery has been resolved. Time to start conditioning up those traction batteries, we thought. So on the way home from RiverFest we took the vehicle on a 27.8 mile run.

At the end of the trip the Curtis fuel indicator showed just above 1/4. However, performance was very poor during the last 2 - 3 miles; the van was losing power, and barely made it up our steep driveway. Under normal circumstances it zooms right up the hill. So it was not acting like a van with 1/4 charge still left on the batteries, but more like one that was nearly drained.

Mysteriously, the next morning we also found that the batteries had taken much longer than the normal 6 hours to recharge. Normally the charger shuts off automatically, but as Matt reported, "I was dribbling in a few amps and getting a fair amount of bubbling in the batteries even at 12 hours. I was worried that I was overcharging them and turned it off at that point."

We scratched our heads and began sending out email inquiries. Bill advised us to check the voltage readout (130 v after charging -- which is good), and Bob Batson of Electric Vehicles of America responded, You may have a bad battery. If the voltmeter is dropping and the fuel gauge is still in the yellow. You can check with an infrared thermal detector. The bad battery will be much higher in temperature when you do a scan.

We've seen the long charging time event happen again -- this time after a 15-mile run I did the day before yesterday -- so we've also written to RUSSCO, the manufacturer of our charger, asking if this might indicate a battery problem and, if so, how we can isolate it further. We can borrow an infrared camera from a friend who's a volunteer firefighter this weekend, so we'll do some diagnostic testing then.

Our goal, recall, is a 50 mile range which will guarantee us a comfortable 30-mile daily round trip without recharging. Right now the 120-volt van's range is just about exactly equivalent to our 98-volt Colt -- just under 30 miles! I had to laugh!

Stay tuned for the troubleshooting report next week ...