iMiEV Trailer Wiring Installation

by Ben N on September 12, 2016

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Not long ago, I got the Torklift Central hitch installed on my car. As is, the car is ready for a hitch-mounted bike carrier or cargo tray, but to properly tow a trailer, I need a wire harness to connect to the trailer lights. So, I got out my wire strippers and set to work…

To start with, the Mitsubishi iMiEV is NOT a particularly common car, so there wasn’t any stock wiring that I could simply plug in. When I went to add a trailer connection to my S-10 truck, I simply bought a harness that plugged right in to the tail-light quick connect. No such luck being able to purchase something similar for this car. Instead, I mail ordered a Curt brand powered taillight converter. That device takes a signal from the tail-light, turn-signals, and brake light (3-wire system) and converts is down to the two-wire system a typical trailer uses.

IMG_1153I ordered a Curt 56146, which was a little more than twenty dollars on Amazon.com. It also required a separate wiring kit, which is simply another piece of wire and a fuse. I already had those materials around, so I didn’t even bother to order the Curt 55151 kit that would match.

In the rear-right corner of the car, there’s a removable panel, which gives access to the right tail-light connection. It’s also a great spot to place the Curt adapter and to roll up and store the trailer flat-four wiring. While I could access the tail-light connection from there, it was a tight fit, and I quickly realized that I should simply remove the plastic interior body panel.

With that out of the way, I had an easy view of the connection to the tail-light.

I also needed to know which wires performed the turn-signal, brake, and tail-light functions. One way would be to consult a repair manual wire diagram. However, I found a forum post at the MyiMiEV group where a user there had already identified which color wires were required.

I unplugged the tail-light connection and used a multi-meter to test the pins. That way, I could confirm that I had the wires correct. For example, I could put the positive connection of the multimeter onto the blue wire, connect the negative of the multi-meter to ground, and then activate the car’s right turn signal. On the multi-meter, I could see the voltage jump back and forth between 0V and 12V, indicating the car was flashing the right blinker.

IMG_1211With confidence that I had the colors right, I pinched the wires from the converter into the existing wires with the included “vampire clips”. Although this style connection is notorious for corrosion, all connections are on the INTERIOR of the car, where they will be out of the weather, and should hold up fine. The color codes of the car’s wires are as follows:
2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV (American Market)
Light Green = Right Tail Light
Violet = Brake Light
Blue = Right Turn Signal
(Dark) Green = Left Turn Signal

IMG_1201The Left Turn Signal is a Green Wire, but it’s located over on the left (Driver’s) side. I pulled back the interior body panel on that side, found the green wire, and tapped into it with a length of separate wire that I used as an extension to get the signal back over to the passenger side. There, I used a butt-splice connector to attach the wire to the Curt adapter.

With that, all of the cars wires were connected to the adapter. The adapter itself still needed 12V positive power and a ground connection. The ground was simple, I just pulled out one bolt that was already going into the sheet-metal body, slid it into the ring terminal on the ground connection, and then reinstalled the bolt. 12V positive power was more complicated.

IMG_1204The Curt powered converter requires 12V+ power of up to 10 amps. That means I needed to run a wire all the way to the front of the vehicle, through a fuse, and straight to the battery. I unrolled some 14 ga stranded wire, with a white jacket (which is also what I used to get the left turn signal to the right side.) I ran the wire from the back of the vehicle to the front, making sure I would have plenty of length. I removed the various lower interior plastic body panels, and ran this wire along side the existing wire harness in the car. I found that on the passenger side “B-Pillar” that I would have had to uninstall the seat belt to remove the panel. Instead, I simply removed the panels on either side, and fished the wire through.

I continued to bring the wire up under the passenger side of the dashboard. I have previously installed a “parking heater” on this car, and I needed to pass some wiring through the fire-wall. I did that at a penetration that’s on the floor right behind the center console, just below the HVAC controls. I reused this location by passing my wire though it.

IMG_1208Under the car, I pulled through the extra wire.
Next, from outside the front of the car, I ran a heavy piece of wire from near the battery, down through the maze of pipes and wires under the hood to my white wire, so that I could fish it back up. It’s much easier to try to pull a wire up and out than to try to push it!

Next, I crimped on a solderless wire connector butt-splice from the wire to a dedicated automotive fuse holder. On the other end of the fuse holder, I crimped on a ring terminal of an appropriate size to go to my battery.

With NO FUSE in the holder, I connected the ring terminal to the battery. Then, I headed back to the rear of the car, gently tugged out any slack, cut my 14 ga wire, and connected it to the Curt converter. Once all that was done, and I knew I wouldn’t accidentally have the wire grounded, I put the fuse back in the fuse holder at the front of the car.

Light_testerAt that point, all the electrical connections were made. I attached a trailer light tester to my new trailer wiring and tried it out by turning on the car, pressing the brake, using the turn signal, turning on the lights, and even remembering to test the hazard lights. The appropriate lights always came on the tester, so I knew I was ready to go.

After that, it was simply a matter of reinstalling all the plastic interior body panels.

All in all, the actual installation was very straight-forward. By far, the most complicated and time-consuming aspect was to run the 12V wire to the front of the vehicle for power. On a vehicle which has the battery in the rear (like a Prius or a Volt,) the installation would actually be VERY easy.

I also really like how the trailer wires can just be rolled up and set inside the small panel in the back corner. It’s a great way to keep everything out of the way when I’m NOT trailering!

I look forward to doing some towing with this car. I already tested pulling my Teardrop Camping Trailer, and was really pleased with how well it all worked (although that was with a jerry-rigged trailer light connection!) I think I’m going to get plenty of use out of my old utility trailer with this car. I’m working on rebuilding my garage, and need to transport quite a few items from my garage to a temporary storage facility while I work on the project.

Lots of short trips?! Sounds like a perfect job for an electric car! This time, with a trailer!

‘Til Next Time, Stay Charged Up!
-Ben

 

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LEAF Mower

by Ben N on September 4, 2016

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Yesterday, I was doing some yard work, including mowing my lawn. However, the batteries in my old electric push mower were really running down. Time for an upgrade. I looked around and realized that I had nearly all the parts needed to not just replace the batteries, but to upgrade them to Lithium…

I got this mower a few years back from my friend, Rob, when he was moving. At the time, it worked pretty well, running on two 12V, 17AH sealed lead-acid batteries. The batteries have slowly been losing capacity, and the mower noticeably bogs down when pushing too fast or going through extra long grass. I checked the batteries. At the point where I could really feel the mower slowing, I stopped and checked the voltage. It was at 12.5V per battery, which should be fine, but seeing as how the voltage drops under load, it was time to replace them.

I already had four Nissan Leaf cell modules around. I bought them because I was able to get a good deal – they were the last four modules from a group buy that a friend of a friend did. I had really gotten them for use in an electric mini-bike, but I really needed to mow my lawn right now a lot more than I needed to zip around the yard on a cycle.

IMG_1047The first step was to remove the old batteries. Those were surrounded by a hunk of foam, which I pulled out, and then by a strap, which held the batteries in place. I removed the screws holding down the strap. Next, I removed the two screws holding the power wires to the battery terminals. After that, I could simply push the wires out of the way, and take out the batteries.

Next, I set a Leaf cell module in the mower. Holy Cow! I couldn’t believe how good the fit was! The mower’s battery bay is nearly a foot wide – just enough for the Leaf batteries to run crosswise with enough room for the terminals on the end.

IMG_1053The whole bottom of the mower is plastic. While there’s plenty of structure there to hold the batteries, it’s not exactly flat or even. I cut a piece of corrugated plastic to fit the bottom of the mower. That also covered up a hole worn through the bottom of the mower, which could let cut grass in to the battery compartment. I also notched the two corners of the coroplast so that I would be able to get threaded rod down into the corners of the mower to mount down the batteries.

Nissan Leaf cell modules are rectangular aluminum cans with four lithium pouch cell inside, two in series, two in parallel. The cans stack on top of each other, just like tuna cans in a cupboard. In each corner is a hole and the cans are held together with rods through the corners, then tightened down to compress the modules to each other. I looked through my pile of project materials and found four pieces of scrap 1/4-20 threaded rod and some matching nuts and washers.

IMG_1058One thing that I DIDN’T have was a full set of spacers. The Leaf modules are not completely flat. In the Leaf electric car there is a pair of 1/8th” thick steel spacers between each pair of modules. It helps line them up, and there are holes in the spacers for the threaded rod as well. I DID have some spare 1/8″ angle aluminum. After cutting and grinding one of those to make a pair of flat spacers, I ended up going to the hardware store to grab some actual flat stock, which ended up being much easier to work with. To mark the holes in the spacers, I just set them on a cell module and stuck a marker right through the hole. After that, I drilled a hole in the aluminum with a 1/4″ drill bit.

With all four modules stacked up, with spacers between them, I ran the 1/4-20 threaded rod through, and put nuts and washers on both ends.

IMG_1063Since the cells were now physically bolted together, I could add the bus bars. I had a few kicking around, but they were too long. (I believe these were from the salvaged Mitsubishi iMiEV battery pack.) I put a bus bar into my vise, cut off the extra length with the angle-grinder, and drilled a new 1/4″ hole. After testing to make sure the new bus bar was right, I made two more of them the same way, then put them on the battery pack and hand-tightened them down. Tightening screws into battery terminals is one place where you don’t want to use an impact wrench!

IMG_1065Next, I lifted the battery pack into the mower, and marked where the two threaded rods on the rear side of the mower would line up. I drilled holes in those locations, so that the threaded rod would poke through the bottom of the mower to be bolted into place. I also weighed the battery pack, as I had my new battery pack, the original battery pack, and my bathroom garage scale handy. The original battery (2x17AH 12V) weighed in at about 33 lbs. The new battery weighed 38 lbs. 5 pounds heavier! Yipes! I thought lithium was supposed to be lighter! Well, it is for the same capacity. The Nissan Leaf cell modules are rated at 60A, and I needed at least 3 of them to get to the appropriate 24V range of the mower. I had four, so I figured that would give me around 30V and higher capacity. The trade off is that the mower gained a few pounds.

I had to make the electrical connection BEFORE fully inserting the battery, as I wouldn’t have easy access to the bottom negative terminal once the battery was fully in. Also, the existing wires were a little short, so it was a bit of wrestling to get all the wires to reach, but I was able to do with with no other modification other than drilling out the ring terminals slightly to fit the larger screws used on the new cells. Once connected, I lowered the battery the rest of the way in, making sure the threaded rods ran through the bottom.

IMG_1097At that point, I flipped the mower up on the side and put on washers, lock washers, and nuts. I realized that the extra threaded rod was longer than my deep sockets, and had to trim down the rod by a few inches. The cut off disc on my angle grinder made quick work of it. I tightened down the nuts on the threaded rod and could feel the battery pack pull down into the mower.

With the mower on its side, I also used a “flapper disc” to touch up the blade. A sharp mower doesn’t just cut better, it’s also more efficient and draws less current than the battery.

IMG_1078With the mower together, I took it was a test run. Wow! When I fired it up, I could instantly tell that the mower spun faster. The new battery pack was about 6 volts higher. On DC motors, speed is generally proportional to voltage. Higher Voltage means Higher Speed.

The mower cut great! A faster spinning blade cut better. It did weigh a LITTLE bit more, which wasn’t so bad, as I figure it’s just good exercise.

I checked the battery voltage before and after cutting my entire side yard. it was just below 31V when I started and a little below 30V when I finished. That’s a lot of mowing for only a 1 volt drop!

IMG_1067Looking at the cover I have for the mower, I realized that I might actually be able to fit the cover back on, pretty much unmodified! I set the cover in place, but it couldn’t go down all the way because of the extra threaded rod sticking up. With the cover in placed, I smacked the cover with a rubber mallet so that the threaded rod would indent on the plastic. I then pulled the cover off and drilled two 1/4″ holes through it.
IMG_1113I placed the cover back on, slid it all the way down, and fastened it in place with a pair of fender washers and wing nuts. The cover was originally held in place with a number of odd screws. I never liked those. They were hard to line up and had a non-standard head. Two wing nuts makes replacing the cover much easier.

Now with the cover in place, I mowed my entire front yard. Overall, the mower works great! I will likely make a few more modifications still. I don’t have a dedicated charging system yet. The original charger is based on a 26V AC adapter. I need higher voltage than that for a full charge on the new battery pack. I have both a bench power supply and a “Cell Pro 6″ charger which I could charge with, but I’ll want some sort of a quick-release adapter.

I’d also like to have a digital volt meter right on the mower. Perhaps I can order a small, inexpensive panel meter, cut a hole right in the cover, and mount it there.

There’s also some potential for DIRECT solar charging of this mower.

That’s it for now. I gotta get back to mowing the rest of the lawn.

‘Til next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

PS: What’s the battery capacity? The original was 2 x 12V x 17AH or 408 watt-hours. The new modules are rated at 500 watt-hours each, or 2,000 wh total. The new battery is nearly 5 times the capacity of the original. Come to think of it, if this mower were instead a motorcycle, it would have about a 20 mile range.

PPS: Out of pocket cost for this project was about ten bucks for some aluminum from the hardware store. While I wouldn’t necessarily encourage people to spend several hundred dollars on lithium batteries to upgrade mowers, this was built almost entirely with materials I already had on hand! Use what ya got!

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EV as Truck

by Ben N on August 27, 2016

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One of the reasons I bought our Mitsubishi iMiEV was to replace a Chevy S10 Pickup truck, which has almost 300,000 miles on it and a number of small mechanical problems. We hadn’t intended to use the iMiEV AS A TRUCK, but it turns out that for some people an electric car makes a pretty good truck after all.

To start with, lets take a look at why I had a truck in the first place, and see how an EV actually might be a pretty good replacement.

Hmmm. Things I like about a truck. Well, good view of the road, lots of headroom, I can throw bikes in the back, I can tow our camping trailer or a utility trailer, it’s manly to drive a truck, I can carry engines or big electric motors in it, The bed can get beat on (I don’t have to worry about it looking nice), and well, I guess that’s about it, but IT’S A TRUCK!

So, how does the tiny adorkable electric car compare?

  • View/Headroom
    I actually have a pretty good view of the road. The car sits “above” its battery pack, so it’s a little taller vehicle than you expect it to be. In fact, whenever I park next to a CRV, I’m shocked at how similar they are in a few ways, including height. I’m a 6-foot-tall 200 lb guy, and I fit in the car just fine, with plenty of headroom. Our family car is a 2004 Prius, which is a great car overall, but I do NOT like the seating height or view of the road.
  • Can I throw Bikes in Back?
    Well, kinda. I did pick up a mini-bike frame earlier this summer, and I literally DID just toss it in the back of the car. Full size adult bicycles don’t fit back there too well. However, they DO go well on a bike rack, which can be mounted at the back bumper. An aftermarket roof rack would work too. I also found that an entire PowerWheels electric car fits right in the back of my car!
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  • Towing Ability
    This one is actually so good that I’ve already blogged about it. YES! Electric cars tow great! For starters, there’s NO SHIFTING! In my truck, I have to go through all five gears to pull away from every traffic light to then get back up to full speed. With the electric, all I do is press the accelerator! That’s it! No clutch, to engine rev, not even the slushy shift of an automatic transmission! Also, electric motors are known for torque! Even though my car has one of the least powerful motors on the market, LOW END TORQUE is what you want for pulling away from the traffic light with a heavy load. On the opposite end, the REGENERATIVE BRAKES not only recapture otherwise lost energy, but really work GREAT with trailers. It almost feels like the more weight behind you, the better regen works!
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  • Front Wheel/Rear Wheel
    Like my pickup truck, the Mitsubishi iMiEV is rear-wheel drive. Normally, that would be considered a deal-breaker in my area, due to winter driving conditions. However, the iMiEV has a FANTASTIC traction control system on it. It’s FAR BETTER on snow than my truck ever was. In fact, one winter a few years back, I was towing my Electric Geo Metro behind my pickup to take a friends to work on it. After pulling out onto the main road, my truck got stuck on an icy patch. No problem. I hopped into the towed Metro, turned it on, and used the electric car to push the gas truck back onto a clearer part of the road!
  • Masculinity
    I do have to say that I don’t feel particularly macho driving a Hello Kitty Car. However, I do feel like a man knowing that I’m taking care of my family by driving something that costs us less, and am helping the environment to boot. When you see somebody driving a truck suddenly “Roll some Coal”, those aren’t men, those are boys. My vehicle doesn’t determine who I am, but my actions do. The first time I ever met my friend, Rich, he was hopping out of a 1973 Citicar – a tiny plastic triangle of an EV. Rich is the biggest, manliest guy I know. Sure, he’s  not that much taller than 5 feet, but the beard, the boots, and his AMAZING skills at welding, car repair, and more, make him the Most Masculine of Men, no matter what he drives. And frankly, aren’t the guys with the sports cars or “truck balls” just overcompensating?
  • Carrying Engines and other Big, Heavy, Greasy Machines
    To be fair, I have NOT yet carried an engine in the Mitsubishi. The size of the hatch opening does limit what can be fit inside, especially if it is hanging down from an engine hoist. I do still have my pickup truck, but I’ve really only used it for special “Truck Stuff”, and that list just seems to keep getting shorter. Pretty much the only times I’ve used it this summer WAS for moving some heavy equipment. However, I also have a utility trailer. That can handle anything I would want to put on it, and it’s open-topped, so easy to load on and off with an engine hoist or other overhead equipment.
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  • Beating on the Bed
    One thing nice about a truck is how you don’t have to worry about the bed. It’s metal, it’s outdoors, and if it gets dinged-up, so what! On the other hand, the EV is the newest car I’ve ever owned, and the interior is carpet and plastic. Right after I got the car, I DID put in an interior cover. It’s actually something sold to SUV owners to protect the rear interior of their vehicles from the large dogs they perpetually carry with them. That cover helped keep the car interior clean, but it didn’t protect against extra heavy or pointy objects. So, the other day, I cut two pieces of scrap plywood to size so that they fit the cargo area and the back of the rear seats when they are folded down. One piece is covered with carpet, and the other with the original rear rug, so they look pretty good too! This lets me carry things like old dead lead-acid batteries without worrying that they will dig right through the back of the seats. The wood is in two pieces so that the one can flip up when I need the back seats, or be completely removed.
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  • But IT’S A TRUCK!
    Yeah, well, I guess I can’t argue with that. The Mitsubishi only is quadruple as efficient as the truck, super-low maintenance as compared to the truck, easier to park than the truck, but still does a SIGNIFICANT amount of the work that I demand of the truck.

So, is it a truck? No.
However, I’m really having a great time with this car. I LOVE the fact that it JUST PLAIN WORKS. Reliability was getting to be an issue with the truck. I was always a little stressed that something else would go wrong with it right before I had to get to an important job. No concerns at all like that with the EV. I also love the single-speed gear reduction and regenerative brakes for towing!

Am I now a truck hater? Nope! We have a long tradition of loving trucks in the U. S. of A., and if you really WORK for a living (building things, laying block, hauling stuff) there’s nothing wrong with having a truck. In fact, I still have delusions of creating a Plug-In Hybrid Pickup. I’m sure that if the car manufacturers got off their butts and built the Ford F-150 Energi or the Chevy Volterado, they would sell them like hot-cakes!

How about you? Are you making great use of your electric vehicle in a way that the naysayers won’t believe? Let me know! Post a link to your EV towing your trailer,hauling gear, or doing other “Truck Stuff”!

‘Til Next Time, Stay Charged Up!
-Ben

PS: A few weeks ago, I took my Little Girl out canoeing with my Dad, in the wooden canoe he built from scratch. Did we take the iMiEV? Nope. We took his truck. If I have to borrow the canoe, I may as well borrow the truck to go with it! A week later, the little girl and I tubed down the same river. We took the iMiEV and used the car’s 12V spare tire air pump to inflate the giant inner tube, then let the air out to pack it back in the car when we were done!

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The JOY of Towing! Camping and EVs

by Ben N on August 18, 2016

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The last few days, I’ve been out camping using my Teardrop Trailer. How did we get to the campground? By towing it with an EV, of course! While I had never done this before, I was AMAZED at how well-suited electric vehicles can be for Towing!

IMG_9930Earlier this summer, I installed a Torklift Central eco-hitch on my car. It was a little on the pricey side as far as hitches go. Unfortunately, as a “Weird Car” (there just simply have NOT been a lot of iMiEVs sold in the United States) demand just means there’s not a lot of mass-produced inexpensive accessories for this vehicle. On the other hand, the eco-hitch is very well made and extremely solid! I got the 2″ version. Among other reasons, it works well as a receiver for a bike rack, rear support for lumber, or all sorts of other utility-adding devices which could be inserted.

Our camping trailer is something that I built back in about 2005. It’s really my first true DIY project, and is part of what later lead me to building electric motorcycles, electric cars, and renewable energy projects. The trailer is small enough to be pulled by a car, yet still features a full kitchen and an insulated sleeping compartment.

I hitched up the trailer, took it for a ride around the block for a shake-down test, and then headed out to the campground. The campground was less than 20 miles away, and I had NO IDEA what I would get for range from my tiny battery pack. However, I assumed that even if I got HALF the range of normal, we would still be able to make it to the campground just fine.

I played around with the gear selections in my car and found that both the “E” (Eco) and “B” (Brake) modes worked well. Both modes provide firm regenerative braking when I let completely off the accelerator. The car is rear-wheel drive, so the tongue of the trailer puts weight right over the drive wheels – perfect for towing! Normally, I would have towed this trailer with an S10 pickup truck. Unfortunately, the truck has over a quarter million miles on it,  just doesn’t run great, and the exhaust is loud. Combine that with a manual transmission, and it’s actually a little bit of a pain to tow with, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

On the other hand, the Mitsubishi’s single speed gearing means that there’s NO SHIFTING AT ALL! Even when I had my old Dodge Shadow for towing the trailer, the automatic transmission was terrible about down-shifting to second gear when going up big hills! The iMiEV’s instant torque also meant it kept up with traffic just fine pulling away from stop signs and lights. The EV was a JOY to TOW with!

IMG_0822The trailer is built on a 4′x8′ utility trailer frame. The proportions look a little off. The trailer appears just a little too tall for how wide it is….  Exactly like the Mitsubishi. In fact, another great thing about towing was that my exterior rear-view mirrors had a clear view straight back on both sides of the car and trailer. No need for “Mirror Extenders” like you sometimes see on large pickup trucks!

IMG_0791When we got to the campground, I was at exactly half the battery pack, and had traveled 22.2 miles. The campground is actually closer than that, but I had to run an errand and stop for ice on the way there. The Range Remaining meter let me know I had about another 20 miles worth of travel available in the battery pack. So, it looked like my range with the trailer was about 42 miles! Since the official EPA range on the car is 62 miles, I figure I lost about a third of my range when pulling the trailer. Not bad! If it was only half, I still would have been happy. There’s plenty of GREAT state parks and campgrounds within 40 miles of my house!

IMG_0794Our friend ended up not being able to make it out the first night, so we checked in using her reservation, and set up camp. However, we never originally intended to make an electric car trip out of this, and we weren’t in charge of the reservation, so it was a NON-Electric site – no place to charge. But there were lots of available camp sites with electricity. I hiked over to the Camp Host site to say hello and ask about the best place to charge the car. Unfortunately, nobody was in at the Host site.

Two sites from ours was an un-occupied electric site, so I parked the car there and started charging using the available 120V. (Overall, my experience with charging at State Park Campgrounds have been overwhelmingly positive. On my Loop the Lake Trip, camp hosts and park rangers were amazingly helpful for me to charge, even when I wasn’t staying over night.)

The next morning, I intended to unplug and move the car BACK to our site. Of course, I’m not much of a morning person, and tend to be in a thick mental fog until drinking about a quart of coffee. So, when I was walking back from the bathroom building the next morning I COMPLETELY forgot about moving the car.

That is, until the Camp Host came over and reminded me…
I got a brief stern talking to including the line “If you wanted an electric site, you should have PAID for an electric site!”
That was even after how I mentioned that I would have if I was in charge of the reservation, I had specifically come looking for him the night before to ASK about charging, and mentioning how I usually make a donation to the park for more than my fair share of electrical use.

In the end, we sort of decided that he was just grumpy. Of course, the guy was also just doing his job, making sure that people didn’t park more than 2 cars per site, or bring in firewood from outside the firewood ban area (carrying bad insects with them…)

Our friend showed up later. She’s a professional Nanny and caretaker for a special-needs individual, who was with, along with a couple of step-children. While they were around the corner at the playground, we got a visit from a Park Ranger. We now had three cars at our site, as I had backed in to unload some firewood. (It’s OK, it was local!) Of course, he asked that we move one of the cars, and then also asked “Were you charging an electric car over there?”

I sheepishly explained that I had, then why I had, what the expected cost was, and my typical voluntary park donation. After that, the Ranger had some questions about my car. (“You towed with that! Nice!”) Pretty soon, he was asking about winter heating, range, 120 vs 240 volt charging, and what I know about Teslas.

The Ranger had pretty much laughed-off me charging at the other site, and spent a good 15 minutes talking about electric cars. When he finally left, I stepped back to our picnic table, where my wife and her girl-friend were chuckling. She said “It’s amazing how you go from being in trouble, to getting out of it, and then making a believer out of someone.”

Yep, I suppose it’s true. I end up doing a lot of talking about electric cars in parking lots and out on trips. There still just aren’t too many of them out there. People usually have a lot of questions and misconceptions about electric cars.

IMG_0795A day later, I was walking through the campground when I saw a Tesla Model S. I quickly ran over to it, hollered Hello to flag them down and said something like
“HiI’mBen-Ihaveanelectriccarhere-atthecampgroundtoo-I’mrightoverthere-Pleasebemyfriend!”

I guess I was just pretty excited to see another electric car at the campground, and maybe I should have tried catching my breath before speaking with them. It was a couple in the Tesla, and clearly they were camping, as the back seat was packed with tents and sleeping bags. I actually didn’t know if they were coming or going and I wasn’t able to find them again later at the camp ground. I also didn’t catch the license plate, but it was from out of state, either Illinois, or possibly Michigan. My area is considered “Up North” to folks from Chicago, and there’s a long tradition of Chicagoans coming up here ever since the Gangsters of the Prohibition era.

For the rest of the time on the trip, we had camp-fires, went swimming, and  hiked out to an area that included a fish farm and spring house from about 100 years ago. We even found a Neil Young album at the park’s Free Little Library, which we loaded into the car’s media player, and then returned.

IMG_0798One evening, the numerous kids were at camp, all being especially noisy and quarrelsome. It was sunset, and I dragged my wife away for a minute onto the walking path behind our camp site, which faces the lake. Hiking only 50 feet or so away, it was suddenly very quiet, just the sounds of the breeze and the insects, and a great view of the sunset reflecting on the water. It also let us reflect on the fact of how good it was to have each other and only ONE very well-behaved young daughter!

IMG_0820The last day of camping, we packed everything up and hitched up the trailer. My iMiEV is the “Deluxe” model, which includes a backup camera that displays on the radio’s video touch-screen. It’s a breeze to hitch a trailer when you can back right up to it, seeing exactly where the tow ball and the trailer are. It’s also a great safety feature with all the children running around. (That’s mine in the photo.)

The trailer was again a joy to tow home.

There’s all sorts of advantages to owning an electric vehicle. For me it was both for financial savings and the ecological advantages. But to find out how great it also was for towing, was just icing on the cake.

‘Til next time, Stay Charged Up!
-Ben

PS: Tesla camping is becoming a thing. People will just fold down the back seat and sleep inside. It’s completely possible to run air-conditioning all night, although that sounds an awful lot like “Glamping” to me. I’m sure people do the same with the Volt as well. The iMiEV may be just a tad small for that, although how the back seats fold completely flat is one of my favorite features of the car.

PPS: Of course, the main disadvantage to towing with an EV is that it shortens an already short range. If this is a big issue, plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt are a great solution. I also have a friend who just towed a Teardrop most of the way across the country with his Tesla Model S. The larger battery pack and available SuperChargers make a trip to a place like the Grand Canyon completely possible. In the mean time, I’ll just check out some GREAT parks close to where I live!

PPPS: RV Parks are also the hidden majority of existing electric car charging infrastructure! Besides PlugShare, you might want to try RVParky as a great app for finding places to charge your electric car!

 

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On a Bike!

by Ben N on August 9, 2016

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Recently, we’ve had some nice weather AND I’ve had a little time available.

This Saturday, my wife said she was going to have brunch with friends, and wanted to confirm that I could watch our 5-year-old girl that morning. I double-checked the calendar and said that I could.

Well, I’ve also been doing some reading lately, including the excellent blog, Mr. Money Mustache. It’s a financial independence blog, but also features great advice about punching yourself in the face for being lazy and flabby! Why take an expensive car when you can have the fun and free exercise of a bike?! The point isn’t just to save money, but also to MAXIMIZE LIFE through experience and good works.

And I have to agree. While I LOVE electric cars, the weather was nice and there was certainly NO reason to take a car. My plan was to take the Little Girl to our local Farmer’s Market and to the park. That’s only about 2 miles away.

So, I pulled out my bike, a beat-up old Murray 6-Speed that I’ve barely ridden this summer, and started pumping air into the tires…. by hand. (My air compressor is at my brother-in-laws, still sitting there from working on the Star Trek Doors…) I did find however that the tiny hand pump I have actually works pretty well. That and it doesn’t need any electricity, it’s extremely portable, and MUCH quieter than the air compressor. (On the other hand, it won’t run air-powered tools. Well, the right tool for the right job!)

The next challenge to overcome was the fact that I do NOT have a two person bicycle, nor a bike trailer, nor a bolt-on child’s seat. A while back, we had a bike cargo trailer I modified, but that has since been dismantled and the parts used for other things.

One thing I LOVE about my bicycle is the wire rear panniers. The pair of wire cargo baskets spans the back of the bike, so that there’s also sort of a “cargo fender” on which to strap things down. I had a hunter’s bean-bag seat and set that right on top of the rear fender. Everything looked about right for the Little Girl to sit comfortably on the bean bag and have her feet sit right down in the baskets.

We gave it a try. With the bike up on its center kick-stand, I lifted her onto the back of the bike and confirmed that she fit, felt safe, and comfortable. She confirmed that she did.

With that, I kicked up the stand, hopped on the bike, and we were off. The Little Girl hugged me from behind, just like the passenger on a motorcycle would.

Riding to the Farmer’s Market made me feel out of shape. I do tend to go for walks for exercise, but a bike uses different muscles, and runs at a different pace. Oh well, riding the bike is good exercise, and the only way to GET IN SHAPE is simply to do it!

IMG_0620Once we were at the Farmer’s Market, we parked the bike, and started looking around to see what was in season and what we could get a good price on. (Typically those two things are the same!)

We ended up getting a giant cauliflower, a big bunch of beats, and a pile of eggplant, spreading our wealth around by buying from three different stands. There was plenty of room in my cargo baskets for the goods, and the doubled-up center stand holds the bike straight up and down. A regular kick stand would let a bike tip right over with this much produce loaded in it.

IMG_0291We loaded ourselves onto the bike and headed off the the local park, which has some AMAZING playground equipment – not just slides, but all sorts of monkey-bars, climbing gear, and much more. Enough to keep any kid busy for hours. I monkeyed around on the bars a bit too while the Little Girl ran around and had fun.

Once she was finally ready to go, we headed back home. To do so, we had taken a slightly different route, which also made me realize there was one more thing we could do on the bike we could never do in the car – RIDE THROUGH THE TUNNEL! There’s a small pedestrian tunnel that runs UNDER a set of railroad tracks we would otherwise have to cross. It’s only open to pedestrians (and bikes) and it’s easy to forget that the tunnel is even there. In a car, you drive right past without even noticing it! I had a good line of sight, and saw no oncoming pedestrians, so we shot right through the tunnel at high speed!

Back home, we unloaded, put away the groceries, and stashed the bike in the garage. For dinner that night, I made Eggplant Parmesan from scratch for dinner. It was a lot of work, but turned out really good.

IMG_0644The Next Day, Sunday, the Little Girl and I went out canoeing with my Dad. We went for just a short trip in a local river, but we took the cedar strip canoe that my Dad built from scratch. Not a single other boater went past without shouting “Nice Boat!”, “BEAUTIFUL CANOE!!!”, or something of the same sentiment.

My Dad jus smiled a little and said. “Thank you.”

I wasn’t on a bike, but it was nice to think to myself that it was day two of “Don’t be lazy” DIY Human-Powered transportation.

Today, I was back to having a little time to myself. I still needed to get plenty done today, but much of it was errands, going to the bank and post-office, etc. So, I once again dusted off the bike and headed out.

IMG_0665I found that a plastic recycling bin happened to fit nicely INSIDE my wire pannier. It kept my hat, water bottle, library books, keys, and everything else from rattling around. Also, I could pull the whole bin out and carry everything into the house easily and at once.

I headed in to town, taking essentially the same route as for the Farmer’s Market a few days earlier. Right away, I noticed it was a little easier to pedal. Of course, this time I didn’t have the added body weight of another small human riding right behind me, but it sure felt like it was easier to pedal JUST BECAUSE OF MY RIDE A FEW DAYS BEFORE! Does it take only ONE RIDE to get in shape? Heck no! But it really did seem easier. It’s encouraging to know that even a little practice starts to make a difference fast!

The other thing that I noticed was how I was a more aggressive rider! (In a good way!) I think there’s several reasons for that. For one, I didn’t have the girl on back. Standing on the pedals to pump hard tends to swing the bike back and forth – not great with someone hanging on back – and this time, I didn’t have that to deal with.

Also, I think all the motorcycling that I’ve done in the last year or so has made me a better bicyclist. On a motorcycle, you go the same speeds as a car, and you tend to “Get Out There!” and really be right in with the traffic. Having done more of that, I think I was just a lot more confident on a bicycle than I used to be. And in 25 MPH zones in the city, there’s no reason why a bike can’t just be right in there with the car traffic. Of course, I want to be visible and signal turns, but that’s what bright colored shirts and hand signals are for.

I also noticed what good road visibility I had on the bicycle, as compared to a car. I flew past a parked classic sports car. The top of the door was level with my knee! The head position of the driver would have been at about the height of my hip! I literally have a head-and-shoulders view better than the average car driver.
In fact, now that I think about it, my view was never blocked by any car traffic, even once, and at a stop, I’m basically standing at 6 feet tall.

Besides the actual view, the bike also has advantages over the car of no distracting radio, air conditioning controls, or lack of auditory information from having the windows rolled up.

So, I’m planning on doing some more biking – kicking my own ass to stop being lazy and actually DO something. I know we are called Human Beings, but I don’t think we are here to BE. We are here to DO.

‘Til Next Time, Stay Charged-Up!
-Ben

PS: Later, one of the Little Girl’s friends told her that they saw her on the bike. The Little Girl admitted to me that she was “embarrassed to be seen in a basket…”. I asked if she still had fun, felt safe on it, etc. and she did – she just didn’t like being SEEN in a BASKET!
My next transportation project may just be a European-style cargo bike or some sort of bicycle that can carry another passenger, just NOT in a basket!

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