Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Tax

by Ben N on October 7, 2018

While I knew it was coming, I still wasn’t happy to see it arrive… A $100 additional tax I’d have to pay for driving an electric car.
But where did this new tax come from, and does it really help the State of Wisconsin Budget?

This last year, the State of Wisconsin was in trouble.The Legislature still had not passed the biennial budget. More than two months overdue, it eventually passed and went on to the Senate for approval of the $76 Billion budget. The delay was largely due to disagreements among Republicans over road funding.

BORROWING is a huge part of the funding mechanism for the transportation budget. Level-headed Republicans did not want to take on any additional debt without some other new source of revenue.

Tax vs User Fee

Over the previous year, there had been much discussion on the possibility of raising the state’s gas tax. Unfortunately, for the Republican-lead state government, TAX is a dirty word. Even adding tolls was considered, as that would be a “user-fee”, rather than a “tax”. Eventually, as part of this discussion, electric vehicles were highlighted as being part of the problem. Legislators proposed that electric vehicles do not pay gas tax and therefore should be subject to some other fee to “pay their fair share.”

(Republican Governor Scott Walker has been so for “user fees” that he has completely eliminated revenue used to fund the state park system, essentially transforming state parks into private parks. (https://doorcountypulse.com/can-self-sustaining-funding-model-work-for-wisconsin-state-parks/)

Originally, the proposal included a surcharge of $100 for Electric Vehicles and  $75 for Hybrid Vehicles. This was intended to bring in $8 Million in revenue. While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total transportation budget, it was a “NEW” source of revenue and thus allowed Republican Legislators to come to a political agreement and then borrow $402 Million for transportation. (Placing tax-payers further in debt.)

The final legislation did NOT include the fee for Hybrids, only Electrics. According to the State Department of Transportation, only 1,982 of Wisconsin’s over 6 Million registered vehicles are electric. Electric vehicles represent a fraction of a percent of registered vehicles in Wisconsin. At an additional $100 fee per year, that raises a total of only $198,200!
For comparison, “the expansion of Interstate 39/90 south of Madison to the Illinois border is projected to cost roughly $1.6 billion.”
(https://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/dmv/shared/rpt-25-fiscal-18.pdf)
(https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-assembly-passes-76b-state-budget)

The new Electric Vehicle Tax will raise less than $200,000 for state government per year. This fee wasn’t about adding money to the state coffers, it was about saving political face.

Other Funding Mechanisms

Were there other ways that the State could have raised more than $200,000 other than by targeting Wisconsin drivers of specific vehicle technology? There certainly was, not limited to the re-examining the gas tax, allowing new electric vehicle sales, or even by enforcing current state statutes.

Gas Tax Indexing

Wisconsin originally set a 16 cent per gallon tax in 1985. However, it was INDEXED to follow inflation. That way, even as everything else went up (and as workers pay went up,) the gas tax would simply rise with the economy. However, a “bipartisan coalition repealed the law in 2005, and… raised the gas tax to 30.9 cents per gallon, which is where it sits today.”
(https://www.wpr.org/gas-tax-indexing-how-bipartisan-idea-ended-bipartisan-unraveling)

Because of that, the gas tax hasn’t been raised in 12 years.
According to the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the loss of gas tax indexing means the state has lost out on $1.2 Billion in revenue.

Electric Vehicle Sales

Wisconsin also does NOT allow Tesla to sell their electric vehicles in the state. Buyers need to travel to Illinois or Minnesota and purchase their cars there. Clean Technica finds the average price of a new Tesla Model 3 to be $59,300.
(https://cleantechnica.com/2018/08/23/tesla-model-3-average-selling-price-asp-59300-surveys-find/)

Republicans and Democrats agreed that sales of Teslas in Wisconsin was good for the state and proposed a bill to allow in. Unfortunately, the bill was never passed.
(https://www.jsonline.com/story/money/business/2017/11/01/legislation-would-allow-direct-sales-tesla-wisconsin/822821001/)

Tesla has over 450,000 reservations for the Model 3. If those were all at the current average sale price and divided evenly between each of the 50 States, it would mean over 500 Million in sales per state.
Imagine if Wisconsin keep that $500 Million IN STATE, instead of forcing it to leave! When GM was going through bankruptcy and government support, politicians constantly mentioned the “Ripple Effect”. Large companies produce commerce not only through their own products, but also through the companies, products, and employees supported by that entire industry. $500 Million in sales IN STATE could have an amazing positive effect on the economy.
Having local sales of Teslas also increases the likelihood of a purchase with approximately $3,000 in sales tax going to the state for each vehicle sold.
(https://electrek.co/2018/06/04/tesla-model-3-reservations-refunded-report/)

Enforce Existing Alternative Fuel Taxation

Lastly, Wisconsin already had mechanisms in place for taxing alternative fuels. In some cases, such as vegetable oil use, alternative fuels even had a tax exemption. While electricity wasn’t specifically listed as an alternative fuel in existing statutes, new legislation {Section 1895M.341.25(1)(L) Paragraph A,} specifically listed electricity as NOT an alternative fuel.
If electricity was considered an alternative fuel and taxed accordingly, it would be taxed at a rate of $.0088 per Kilowatt-Hour. Many electric cars can average four miles on one kilowatt-hour of electricity, so the tax would be about$0.0022 per mile. An electric car traveling 15,000 miles per year, taxed on parity with other alternative fueled vehicles would be taxed $32.86.
That cost would certainly save EV drivers, while still having them pay their fair share. Should a driver drive less efficiently, or drive further than average, the number could easily be HIGHER than the EV Tax, earning the state additional revenue.
(https://www.ttrus.com/article.php?id=160)
(https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/acts/59/1895m/_3)
(https://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/fuel_comparison_chart.pdf)
https://www.revenue.wi.gov/Pages/FAQS/ise-altfuel.aspx#altf3

Vehicles could also be taxed based on mileage, regardless of fuel type.

Electric Vehicles as Minority

Unfortunately, Electric Vehicles have poor representation. With fewer than 2,000 in the State of Wisconsin, it’s easy to view them as an “other”. Beyond that, Teslas are some of the most conspicuous electric vehicles on the road. Since they have traditionally been in the luxury car class (and price!) it’s easy for the average voter to think of electric car drivers as being RICH. “How dare those rich guys drive their fancy cars and NOT pay the gas tax!”
Hopefully, as electric vehicles become both more common and less expensive, this impression will change.

Unfortunately, the situation does mean that a person who responsibly purchased a cost-effective used electric car to be both environmentally and economically sensible is stuck paying an extra $100 tax.

In the many conversations we have with electric vehicle drivers, we have NEVER MET EVEN ONE opposed to paying for road use. They ARE generally opposed to be singled-out, paying too much, or paying a flat fee which has no correlation to either the gas tax or number of miles traveled.
Until electric vehicle drivers get more representation (most likely by there being a GREATLY increased number of EVs on the road,) EV drivers will have to put up with unnecessary additional taxes due to politicians using the matter as a political football and  scape-goat.

So, due to bad politics, the state of Wisconsin will collect less than $200,000 per year from a very small targeted group, instead of:

  • $1.2 Billion over 12 years from gas tax indexing
  • The Ripple Effect of $500 Million in Tesla sales (based on averaged current sales reservations)
  • An unknown amount based simply on using standards we already had in place for Alternative Fuels

Additional fees on electric vehicles discourage their use.
EVs are far cleaner than gas cars, can run on renewable energy (energy Made in America!) and support the US economy, especially with innovative US companies like Tesla.

If you live in a state or area proposing additional fees on electric vehicles, PLEASE contact your representatives. Show them your car. Take them for a ride. Explain how wonderful they are, and are GOOD for not just for the ecology, but for our ECONOMY!

We need our representatives to support us to create a clean transportation future.

Until then, stay charged up!

-Ben

PS: The fee for Plug-In Hybrids is still not clear. The state DOT tracks registrations of both electric vehicles AND hybrid vehicles, but does NOT differentiate between Plug-in and typical Hybrids. The current Wisconsin Title Application form (MV1) has a “Miscellaneous Fee” for “Electric Vehicle Surcharge”, but no mention of Hybrids or Plug-in Hybrids. In casual conversation with acquaintances who drive Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids, none have had to pay an additional fee.
The actual legislation calls for a $75 fee for hybrids which have no less than a 4kWH battery pack and can charge from an external electrical source. However, the implementation of the fee does not appear to have made it onto DOT paperwork. Rumor has it that the DOT requires a large software update of millions of dollars to be able to properly track and tax plug-in hybrids.

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Fixing Prius Mouse Damage

by Ben N on October 1, 2018

Well, it was a lot of work, but it’s done. I’ve repaired all the mouse damage in our 2004 Prius, and it’s working perfectly again!

After our last post, I looked around for a replacement wire harness, and found one on eBay, but with a number of other components in a Prius pack and at a cost of $101. I couldn’t find it anywhere else, so I bit the bullet and ordered. A few hours later, a friend, Ned,  posted on social media “Is THIS what you need?” – Showing exactly the cable I needed. Ned boxed it up and mailed it to me.

Although I tried cancelling my eBay order, the seller never responded, and both packages showed up at the same time. I used the free wire harness and started the return process on the eBay order.

Package in the mail

 

Getting back to actually working in the car, I was able to get in and unplug the existing harness. I plugged the new one in to the battery computer and the current sensor. The temperature wires just hung there, which would be fine for testing. I covered the power connections, reinstalled the orange battery safety plug, and started the car.

I was able to clear all the error codes on the dashboard through a combination of powering on and off, clearing codes with the ScanGauge, (https://amzn.to/2NTPCfd) and entering a diagnostic mode in the car. What was nice is that this DID prove that the only problem was indeed the chewed-through mice wires!

When I originally posted the wire damage on social media, I got plenty of unwarranted advice, including “why don’t you just splice the wires?”, “you should just use liquid electric tape”, and “you should pop open the connector and just replace the bad wires.”

In this case, all three sets of wires terminate in a single plastic plug that goes into the battery computer. Besides the three wires to the current sensor, there were other wires chewed on as well, although not to the same extreme. I had no idea if those would be an issue or not. And because the wires were all so short, there would be very little to try to crimp or solder to, let alone trying to do that down INSIDE the battery case. There was barely room for one hand, let alone both plus a wire cutter, stripper, and soldering iron.

I’ve also been trying to do things more and more “The Right Way” in my life lately. That means doing anything well, properly, and correct so that I won’t have to do it again.

BATTERY REMOVAL
In this case, it meant removing the battery from the car and completely replacing the wire harness from the battery computer.

I set to work removing all the bolts that held in the battery and pulling away pieces of interior trim and the air vents that cool the battery. Once I finally got the battery out, I set it up on saw horses so that it would be at a nice ergonomic working height.

The end of the battery pack houses the main power contactors, the battery ECU, and the current sensor. I had to remove the current sensor to disconnect the pack negative, and disconnect the two high-voltage cables running from the pack to the safety plug. After that, I could remove the entire sheet metal piece holding all those components onto the pack.

Temperature sensing on the top of the pack is a single sensor, and easily accessible. However, the rest of the temperature probes are UNDER the battery. I had to flip the battery over to get to those.
Once I flipped the pack, I could see that the bottom wasn’t just a simple sheet metal cover. Each cell module of the battery was bolted individually to it! I had to remove all the little bolts to get the bottom cover off. Fortunately, that wasn’t the only thing holding the batteries together, so I didn’t have to worry about compressing them, holding them in place some other way, etc.

With all the cell bolts removed, I could take off the bottom cover.

Cell module temperature sensors

 

The temperature sensors themselves are very simple and are just connected to the bottom of the cells with plastic clips. I just laid out the new wire harness next to to the old one, unclipped the sensors, and clipped the new ones in the same place. After that, I bolted the bottom cover back on with all those small bolts going into the cells. At this point, I made sure to correctly torque them down. I don’t want the bolts coming loose, but neither do I want them to snap off or damage the cells! I bought myself a torque-wrench just especially for this job (https://amzn.to/2xT8CjJ) and tightened all the bolts to 48 inch-lbs.

PUTTING IT ALL BACK TOGETHER
After that, all the work was just a matter of reversing what I had previously done.
I reinstalled the contactors, current sensor, battery computer, and hooked them all up with the new harness. I got the battery back in the car. Then it was just a jig-saw puzzle of remembering which piece of sheet metal went over which. I reinstalled the air vents to the battery. I reconnected the battery to the main power wires.

After the battery was completely back in, I reinserted the orange safety plug and reinstalled the interior trim and the seats. By this time, it was getting late and it was after sunset. My wrist was hurting pretty bad by then, as I’m still not fully recovered from getting hit by the lumber truck this spring.

Interior reinstalled.

 

Finally, the car was all back together.
I took it for a test ride by driving to the gas station. The red triangle came on again, but I figured that was just leftover memory. After rebooting, it cleared out again. I also took the car for a long test drive the next day, including going out to the farm store to buy some mouse repellant and traps. Everything was working well.

Two days later, we drove the car hundreds of miles each way to go to a friend’s wedding. No problems whatsoever. (Congrats, Ryland and Kelli!)

Fixing the car was quite a bit of work, but I’m still glad about it for several reasons. For one, I was able to fix it myself. I do take pride in learning new things and am always glad to have a new skill and a little bit of experience from it. Secondly, doing it myself saved me a LOT of money, especially good as my income has taken such a hit in this last 6 months.

Lastly, it was nice making it to the wedding in the car we already own. Our family has two cars, but the other one is a short-range electric car. It’s great for 90% of all our trips, but one of the reasons I chose that car was that we always had the Prius available for road-trips!

Well, we’re back to being a two car family, and as much as I’d love a shiny new Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt, the expense just wouldn’t warrant the upgrade over a Prius and an iMiEV. Times are a changin’, and I look forward to when we eventually replace the “gas-guzzling” 2004 Prius with some form of long-range, quick-charging’, Battery-Electric Vehicle.

Until then, stay charged and mouse-free!

-Ben Nelson

PS: When I asked Ned why he had a spare Prius battery wire harness kicking around, it turned out that he had an entire battery he was experimenting with. The battery was removed from the car, because it was donated to getting punched by giant robots. That’s right, my car now has a part donated from a robot punching bag.

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There’s a WHAT in the Prius?!?

by Ben N on September 21, 2018

The other day, our 2004 Prius quit working. When I opened up the battery pack to find the problem, I couldn’t believe what I found inside. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting!

My wife had left the driveway and then pulled back in less than a minute later, traded cars, and left again. She said there was a big red light. I was very busy with my work right then, and we have a spare car, so I figured I’d get to it as soon as I could.

Today, I looked at the car. Sure enough – there was a giant red triangle with exclamation point. I keep a ScanGauge in the Prius. It’s a great tool for showing your instant fuel economy. It also lets you check error codes and even turn OFF the check engine light! (https://amzn.to/2xGKgcb)

I used the Scan Gauge to pull up the error code on the car. It was P3056, which indicates a Current Sensor Malfunction. Unfortunately, that current sensor is INSIDE the battery pack! Well, that meant getting out the socket set and going to work on removing the back seat, a bunch of trim, and the cover to get to the battery itself.

Once I got down to the pack, I pulled out the orange safety plug and set it to the side. Finally, I removed the sheet-metal cover that goes over the power contactors and houses the current sensor.

When I did, I saw a MOUSE NEST! MICE HAD GOTTEN IN THE BATTERY! That can’t be good! Nothing makes corrosion quite like mouse urine!

I started picking away at the nasty mouse nest when it got even worse. The mice had chewed away the wires! I could clearly see bare wires in the mass! I used my shop vac to get the rest of the nest out. At that point, it was easy to see how three wires were completely chewed away. And those were the exact three wires that went to the Current Sensor.

At least I clearly found the problem!

The other issue with the wiring is that the current sensor wires go to a single plug combined with two OTHER sets of wires. One bundle of wires goes into the upper part of the battery pack, but the last bundle of wires goes UNDER it! If I can find the right wire harness to order, I’ll still have to pull the battery pack to replace it!

I started looking through eBay and mail-order auto parts, trying to find the right name for these wires. After watching a YouTube video, I found out that the wires OTHER than those for the current sensor are for measuring battery pack temperature. I did locate a used wiring harness – at a cost of about $100. I placed the order, and it should be here some time next week.

In the mean time, we are down to just the one car. Which is fine, but next Saturday, we are planning a road-trip to a friend’s wedding in “Far, Far Away”!

Can I fix the Prius in time? Will we remember to bring the wedding gift? Tune in next week in this unfolding drama!

Also, did I mention I hate mice?

Until next time, stay charged up. Even if rodents chew your wires.

-Ben

PS: It should go without saying, but please observe all safety around high-voltage systems. The DC voltage of this battery pack can kill. Only those with appropriate skills and training should be working on HV systems, and always using correct safety equipment.

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Influence, Wallets, and Beer.

by Ben N on September 17, 2018

A few years back, I traveled out to Washington State for a Mother Earth News Fair. I gave several presentations about how I built my own electric car and motorcycle, as well as other various DIY Projects.

While I was there, I was approached by a young man named Mark King.

While still in High School, Mark built a three-wheeled electric vehicle, because it got around the rules at his school about overpriced parking permits. He sheepishly presented himself to me, saying that he was an inventor, and asked for input on something he designed – a metal wallet.
It really was a great design.
I’ve always been a fan of Swiss Army Knives and Multi-tools. The more something can do, the better.
I said, “It’s great, add a bottle-opener”. Mark wasn’t even 21 yet, and probably wasn’t thinking about opening beers.
 
A few months later, his product came out on Kickstarter, where it raised over $40,000… and had a bottle-opener.
 
Mark sent me a couple of these utility wallets as a thank you, and I’ve been using one ever since. I shot a video review on it which included opening a beer and proving the durability of it by running it over with my truck. (Here’s that video from 2013.)

 
The only way to stop a Trayvax utility wallet is by losing it, which happened recently after I got hit by a lumber truck. Somewhere in the drug-hazed trips to all the doctors, clinics, and hospitals, my health insurance card and wallet disappeared. Fortunately, I still had two more of the wallets stashed away. (Besides what Mark sent me, I was also a supporter on the Kickstarter.) After cancelling and reissuing my debit card, library card, and renewing my driver’s license, I was back in business.
 
That brings us to today. Because I’m approaching 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, I thought I’d try thanking my audience with some sort of a giveaway. I still have one more brand-new Trayvax, and because I DO love mine and use it every day, I thought it would make a good give-away for the 50,000th subscriber.
 
I took a look at Mark’s web page to check the specs and retail price on the wallet, but was blown away by the new products. Mark is now running a small company of over 25 employees, designing and making heirloom quality wallets and accessories here in the U.S.A.
 
I also double-checked Kickstarter and saw a new campaign is underway and already FULLY-FUNDED.
 
I never know how much influence I have in the world. I’d go to places like the Mother Earth News Fairs, get up on a stage and talk about electric vehicles, DIY, and just plain learning how to do things. I’d earn just enough from selling instructional DVDs to cover my travel expenses, and then return home, never knowing how much I’d touch peoples lives… or not.
 
I’d like to think that me being on that stage at least in some small way encouraged a young entrepreneur to follow his dreams, but Mark was already an amazingly bright person who could probably do anything he set his mind to.
 
We all have influences. From famous designers and inventors, down to our 6th-Grade Science teacher. When we stand up and speak our mind, write a letter, or post a video, we become influencers too.
 Let’s make sure that’s a positive thing.
 
If nothing else, at least I now live in a world where I can open my beer with my wallet!

Until next time, stay charged-up!

-Ben Nelson

PS: Please do support small/local/artisan businesses and independent artists and designers. If you are in the market for a wallet take a look at: https://www.trayvax.com

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Towing with Tesla

by Ben N on September 15, 2018

Today, I finally got to see Bruce’s Tesla Model X all set up in towing mode with his custom camping trailer, “Campy McCampface”.

The Tesla Model X is the only current BEV ready for towing straight out of the box. Other vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S certainly COULD tow, but without an already installed wiring harness, even connecting  the wiring for the trailer lights brings up potential warranty issues.

At today’s National Drive Electric Week event in Madison, Wisconsin (right at the State Capitol) we caught up with Bruce and he gave us a quick showing of his car and custom camping trailer.

Bruce’s trailer is a custom aluminum frame, torsion axle, and canvas and foam construction. This style trailer is sometimes called a “Foamie” and is prized for being light-weight and simple construction. There’s plenty of information about them at the Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailer Forum.

Our camping trailer is a teardrop and is towed with a 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV. With easily accessible lighting wiring in the back, and just being a cheap car to boot, there’s no worries about modifying the car. It’s mounted up with a Torklift Central 2″ hitch. Read more about electric car camping at The Joy of Towing!

Even without actually towing, a 2″ receiver on the back of a car can be super-handy for accessories such as a bike rack. One of the Tesla Model 3’s at the event was set up for doing exactly that.

Electric cars are already a blast, but towing a camping trailer is just one more great thing they can do!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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Elec-Trak Rat Rod?

August 16, 2018

So, this 1970’s lawn tractor is going to get a WAY TOO BIG electric motor and go for a ride in The World’s Greatest Junk Parade!

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Bugatti Kit Car for EV Conversion

August 13, 2018

Yesterday, I got to meet up with “Austin” who recently acquired a VW kit car in the style of a 1930s Bugatti roadster. We were throwing around ideas of how to best convert it to electric, what components it would take, and had a long discussion about design, electric vehicles, invention, and the entire process […]

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EV Parts Photos

August 12, 2018

These are some of the various parts I have available. This is simply to post a bunch of photos to show a few people for informational purposes and getting some ideas for EV conversions. Enjoy looking!   Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook Buzz it up Share on Linkedin Share via MySpace […]

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Interview with Ben Rich Electric Biker

August 8, 2018

We interview long-distance Electric Biker, Ben Rich about his epic summer road trip, fast charging, the best and worst trips he’s ever been on, and the future of electric motorcycling.

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Solar Savings – Am I getting jaded?

August 4, 2018

I gotta say, I was a little disappointed in my electric bill this month. The electric utility ONLY owed me a small amount. Which is why this is so crazy! Any normal person would be ecstatic to GET money from the power company instead of owing it! I think I finally hit the point that […]

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