Saturday, July 13, 2013

ALL THAT GLITTERS AIN'T GOLD

The goal of this project is to build a quality EV for under $10,000. To accomplish this, I started with a running lead acid converted 1985 Fiero that needed new batteries. 

The Fiero was in the garage ready to start the conversion and I decided to pull it out to do a little project before starting the disassemble.  When I pushed the accelerator to back out, nothing happened and realized I had not turned on the switch so I reached down and turned the ignition switch not realizing my foot was still pushing the accelerator. The car left a patch of rubber all the way out into the driveway, then stopped. I had blown the controller five minutes before I was about to start the conversion.

An add appeared on the DIY Forum for some NEW HiPower 100ah cells that had been purchased for a project and had been in storage for 2 years. After the EVComponents  group buy fiasco a few years back that left some buyers out thousands of dollars, I cautiously inquired. The seller had 36 batteries left and after talking to him on the phone, decided to purchase 12 as a test. He would not take PayPal and insisted I pay with a credit card. (a good move for me in the end) After I paid him, he said the batteries would be delivered in 3 days. After a week I started getting concerned and called him. He said the Post Office had made him provide an MSDS and repack the batteries so indeed, they did show up the next day. The batteries all looked new and had voltages of between 3.2 and 3.3 volts, so I ordered another 12. Same as before, delivery took longer that the seller had promised and although the voltages were about the same as the first shipment, some of the batteries looked a little dirty. I thought maybe they were just packed by someone with greasy hands and stacked them up with the first batch. Then I ordered 16 more cells that would bring my total up to 40 cells. After a month, 4 cells arrived. These cells looked used and one was badly swollen. After another month, the last 12 cells had not arrived so I filed a dispute with the bank that issued me the credit card and contacted the Post Office. Within 2 days, the money was credited back in my account until the dispute was resolved. Three months from the original order of the last 16 cells, the 12 cells finally arrived. They were all swollen, had burnt terminals and were obviously used and abused cells. I called my bank and changed the dispute from "merchandise not delivered" to "merchandise not as described" and within a couple days received a letter from the bank that the dispute had been settled and I could keep the $1100 that had been credited back to my account. The seller had emailed to inform me that he no longer accepted credit cards and wanted me to send him the payment via PayPal. I informed him the dispute would be handled through the dispute I place with the bank and so far no payment has been made for the last 12 cells, but they are available for the Seller to pick up for return if he so desires.

So far, the batteries have been the only components that were ordered that gave me any problems. All of the other tools and components that have been mail ordered have arrived quickly and been in as described condition. 

When upgrading a previous build figure on other items such as clutches, brakes, suspension parts, rust, body work, and such that you may want to redo. These items can add up not only in dollars but also in time spent on the build. The original builder converted the Fiero in 3 months and I am already 4 months into the rebuild with quite a bit of work left to do. The car had no instrumentation and I have not even started on that part yet. The engine compartment is almost done and the motor cradle about to be installed but routing wires, mounting chargers, dc-dc converters, 220 v and J1772 plugs, placing contactors and such, takes quite a bit of time if you want the build to look good when your are done.

Lessons Learned
  1. Do a complete check out of all the components when starting with a previous build. The seller     warned me of the controller issue and I thought I would wait until the rebuild to correct it. There is a micro switch on the accelerator that is supposed to operate a contactor that would have prevented this from happening. The contactor had burnt up and was bypassed, allowing full battery power to be dumped to the controller if the accelerator was depressed while the key was switched on. That was a $1700 mistake.
  2. Even if the components in the car add up to quite a bit more than the price the seller is asking for the whole EV, make sure they are what you want to use in your build. The Fiero had a Curtis 1231-C controller, Warp 9 DC motor, IOTA DC-DC converter, Zivan NG-3 charger, a very loud vacuum pump for the power brakes, and 20 Crown 225 lead acid batteries. There was a loud bump in the cradle when going from a stand still that required the cradle to be removed and reworked.  In reality, the motor was a component I wanted to reuse but the controller, dc-dc converter, and vacuum pump are components that are not the most current and better products are available now. I am going to use them to keep the price down but they are not what I would have chosen if I had been building the car from scratch. 
  3. When ordering used parts off of the forums be very cautious and try to have a trusted friend or relative check out the merchandise in person, if it is not close enough for you to inspect yourself. My nephew lives in LA and offered to go to the seller's house to check out the cells but I did not take him up on his offer. Had I done so, I am sure the seller would have either shipped me the new cells or would have told me there were no more new cells and let me know that all that was left were used cells, so I could have declined purchasing any more of them. Make sure and use a credit card, as that provides you with a dispute process. If you use PayPal, be aware that there is a time limit on your dispute process, so make sure and get your dispute in on time. The last option is to not purchase any items from the forums but that takes the "Las Vegas" fun out of the build.
  4. If you sell any components from the original build, do your homework. I sold 20 batteries for $475 that I thought were almost shot but could have sold 20 more at the price I listed them for on Craigslist. I had a golf cart owner look at them and tell me they were still in good shape. I had checked voltages and  done hydrometer readings, so to me, they were all junk but when a new set goes for over $100 each, maybe the $30/cell starting price I was asking, was a bit low. When I offered the Zivan Charger on DIY for $600, I had an potential buyer within hours. I ended up not selling it but from the response, deducted I should have asked more for it.
The build is over $7500 now, counting what I paid for the Fiero and the only major purchases I have left are the battery connectors/fasteners/washers and the battery boxes. I have found SS m8 bolts and Nordlock washers for a pretty good price but still have not come up with connectors. While testing the batteries, I found out how important it is to clean the terminals and make sure you have a good connection as if there is any corrosion at all, the terminals will heat up even at 25 amps. With a 750 amp controller I can see a big problem if the connectors are not properly connected!

If you have any past experiences in purchasing parts for your build I would love to see your comments

Regards,

Randy
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