Ford Ranger EV

by admin on December 10, 2018

In December, 2018, I had an opportunity to get a FACTORY-BUILT electric pickup truck!

This was a 1998 Ford Ranger EV. Back at that time, GM had built the EV-1 and there were other factory-built electric vehicles on the road. Those included electric versions of the Chevy S10 and the Ford Ranger.

An owner in the Chicagoland area had one of these Ford Ranger EVs. He had ordered a Tesla Model 3, which his wife said he could, as long as he made room in the garage for it! Well, the Model 3 was supposed to arrive a day or two after I got the pickup truck out of his garage, so he was motivated to get rid of it!

The truck originally ran on Lead-Acid batteries. When I received the truck, it was in working condition, but with non-original batteries, and they were in the BED instead of properly mounted in the box under the truck.

The plan will be to upgrade the batteries. Hopefully, I can locate some appropriate lithium batteries from a salvaged electric vehicle to upgrade the truck. Depending on which BMS we install, it MIGHT also be possible to add a CHAdeMO DC Fast Charging upgrade!

The truck was designed with a Avcon charging port – an outdated interface. I’m hoping we can build an adapter to keep the truck’s original charge port, but make it compatible with the modern J1772 standard.

For more information about how this truck was originally built by Ford, please take a look at the Wikipedia entry:

Make sure to subscribe to the blog, YouTube Channel, and Patreon to stay updated on this project!

Stay Charged-Up!
-Ben Nelson

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Tire Rack

by Ben N on December 1, 2018

Recently, some friends were posting on social media about best practices for storing tires, and mentioning various racks to hold them. While I would normally try something like this as a DIY project, the price was right, so I simply ordered a the rack. (Besides, one more project may have meant I wouldn’t have a rack for my tires until spring!)

About a week ago, I ordered a the HyLoft folding storage Tire Loft in silver.
It’s this unit:
It showed up a couple days ago, and I installed it this afternoon.

When opening the box, I right away noticed that the cross-members felt solid. I was a little concerned about the thickness and strength of those components, but they really did feel nice. The side uprights felt lighter, as they were just steel square tube, but those components (which also allow for folding the unit) were otherwise fully assembled.

Assembly of the total product was pretty straight-forward. Directions were simple and easy to follow. Mounting was pretty quick. It just required some typical tools – tape measure, pencil, level, drill, and socket wrench.

I marked on the wall where I wanted to mount the one end of the tire rack. It’s important that the rack is bolted directly into the wall studs. My garage is plywood over wood studs, so it’s easy to know where those studs are. (The edge of the plywood and the wood screws are dead giveaways!) I decided how far down from the ceiling I would want the rack to be so that I could still easily lift the tires onto it. I also decided I wanted the rack more or less in the corner of the garage, as that’s hard to use space otherwise. (Note that it would be difficult to install ALL the way into a corner, based on how it’s assembled!)

I marked the location and drilled a hole with a 3/16″ drill bit. Next, I drilled a matching hole 32″ away (two stud spacing width.) I then ran one of the included lag bolts through the folding upright into the wall. I did the same on the other upright.

After that, I installed both the cross-pieces. They are tubular, with the one sliding inside the other. This allows for the variable spacing, although unless you have either solid walls or a very weird space is likely to be either 32 or 48 inches. I chose 32 inches as all four tires would fit that space and I thought the unit would be more sturdy closer together.

Each pair of tubes spans between the two uprights and is held in place by a bolt from either end. There are also four different available holes in the uprights to mount the cross-tubes to hold different diameter tires.

Once I decided which holes to use, theaded it all together, and checked it with a tire, I drilled and installed the rest of the lag bolts holding the unit to the wall. While doing this, I used a level in the vertical orientation to make sure the entire unit would be plumb. With all the hardware in place and tightened up, the entire unite felt good and solid.

I loaded up all four tires. They fit well, and were now out of the way, no longer wasting space on my floor. The unit DOES fold and takes up little space while folded. Since I’m using this to store a second set of tires (to swap between summer tires and winter snow tires,) I don’t see this unit ever being empty.

Overall build quality feels solid, although the cross pieces more so than the uprights. Once it was all together, though, nothing felt sub-par.

Could I have built something similar? Yes, absolutely. I originally thought I could perhaps build something with angle-iron and my welder. Although it probably wouldn’t have looked as good. Alternatively, I could have built something from 2×4 wood and heavy screws. Either one would have taken a certain amount of time and work. When I saw this rack available online for a reasonable price, I thought I’d just order it and try it out.

It was quick to put up, easy to install and feels solid, without being over-priced.

The snow tires are on the Prius, and the summer tires are out of the way, so I’m pretty happy.

What’s your solution for storage extra tires? Hows’ it working for you? Let us know!

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Heat Hacks! Electric Blanket!

by Ben N on November 30, 2018

You might not believe it, but possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve the heat in my car is to add an ELECTRIC BLANKET!

I’ve had my Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car for a few years now. Overall, I love it. But one thing I do find lacking is the heat in it. Not long after buying the car, I was at a local home improvement store and saw a 12V electric heated blanket. The $15 was money well spent!

An electric blanket heats up almost instantly! (Unlike gasoline engines, which can take quite some time to get to temperature.)
The blanket also puts the heat where you want it, ON YOU, rather than trying to heat up the entire passenger compartment.
An electric blanket is pretty efficient too. Mine is 40 watts – less energy than a single old-fashioned light bulb!

The electric blanket is also portable. The long cord means it easily reaches the back seat. In our family, we have two cars. Ironically, BOTH cars have a heated seat FOR THE DRIVER ONLY! The electric blanket is a great way to warm up the passenger or anyone in the back. While many newer cars often have heated seats, the back seats aren’t always included!

Likewise, the electric blanket can be moved easily from one car to another. While I originally got the blanket for the Mitsubishi iMiEV, I found that it worked great in the Prius. Now, I’m pretty spoiled and love the pure luxury of instant heat.

Automotive electric blankets aren’t just useful in the winter. A great year-round use is for take-out food! If I get some Chinese Take-Out or a nice piping-hot Pizza to go, I can just throw the electric blanket over the top and know it will still be hot by the time I get home!

Heated Electric Jackets are also great, but often expensive. Being in Wisconsin, I’m partial to the Milwaukee Tool Jacket! ( Unfortunately, it’s rather pricey! So, I built my own instead!

You can read how to build your own heated jacket on Instructables.

Other ways to help improve your car’s temperature in the winter:

If you have a garage, use it!
Garages are often used as workshops and storage. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fill it up to the point that you can’t fit a car in! Keeping your car in the garage keeps it warmer. At a bare minimum, it’s out of the wind. Garages attached to houses are always a bit warmer, and HEATED garages are pure luxury. Check out the Solar Garage for how we’ve designed a building to heat and power a car!

Pre-Heat with your electric car!
If you own an Electric Car, try out  the “pre-heat” mode! Almost every plug-in car has a feature allowing you to automatically heat the car while it’s connected to wall power. You leave with not only a full battery, but also nice and warm!

Block heaters and grill blocks are also great winter heating hacks!

A block heater warms up your engine ahead of time, improving fuel economy and reducing time until you can run the heat! Our Toyota Prius has an OEM 400 watt heater. Grill blocks keep the wind out of the radiator, preventing the cold wind from robbing what little heat there is.
A friend and I took a little time to build grill-blocks for both our Toyotas, and install the block heater in mine.

Once a block heater is in place, it’s pretty neat to check out how it works with a Thermal Camera (

There are plenty of neat little tricks to stay toasty warm in your car this winter, but the electric blanket is my favorite. It’s affordable, works well, and is versatile.

Until next time, stay warm and charged-up!
-Ben Nelson

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NEST Smart Thermostat

by Ben N on November 22, 2018

A few months ago, I got a NEST smart thermostat. Since then, I’ve had enough time to try out all the features and decide that YES, I DO LIKE IT!

For starters, I got it for free. A friend tipped me off that a utility rebate program we have was making them available, so I signed up. A few weeks later, I had the thermostat in the mail at no cost to me.

The only caveat is that this is the “E” version. It’s slightly more basic than the full-blown Nest Learning Thermostat. The features are nearly identical, but the E has a frosted display screen (instead of clear) and is plain white, whereas the other comes in several metallic color trims. You can find the Nest Learning Thermostat at a number of retailers, including Amazon.

Installation was extremely easy. Basically, just remove the old thermostat, connect the furnace wires to the same connections on the new thermostat, screw it the base to the wall, and snap the thermostat in place. After that, the color display screen walked me through all the steps of setting it up, which only took a few minutes. I had to enter what type of heating and cooling equipment I had and my wi-fi name and password. After a quick check of turning on and off the furnace, AC, and fan, it was all set.

To start with, I love the interface of the thermostat. The entire thing is one big round color display to show and adjust the temperature as well as change settings or set the schedule. Rotating the outer ring adjusts the temperature (or selects settings) and pressing right in the middle is the equivalent of hitting ENTER.

One of the key features of the thermostat is that it LEARNS. You don’t have to program a schedule into it all all (although you can if you really want. The Nest automatically creates an energy-efficient heating and cooling schedule for you. One way it does that is with a motion sensor. It detects when you walk past and logs that information as activity. By tracking that motion activity over time, it knows if you are at or away from home or active or sleeping. It also logs your manual fiddling with the dial. Lastly, there’s also an app for your smart phone. You can manually set HOME or AWAY on your phone, but you can also use the location feature of the app so that it automatically tells the Nest your home/away status. This can be done on multiple phones, so the heat or AC doesn’t turn off when one person leaves, but the other doesn’t!

I was also pleasantly surprised at how easy the Nest thermostat integrated into a home automation system. A while back, I bought an Amazon Echo ( to start experimenting with home automation. I have a few lights that turn on and off automatically, and even set my electric car to automatically charge only at certain times!

Connecting Alexa to Nest was easy. I just downloaded an Alexa “Skill”, entered my username and password, and they were hooked up! Now I can turn the heat on and off, turn the temperature up or down, or directly set the temperature, all by hollering at my talking computer!

I haven’t found much need for the Nest app yet, but it lets you control pretty much anything the thermostat does, but from anywhere on the inter webs from your phone! If you use this from your couch, I will call you out on your laziness, but it seems like it does have a few great applications. For one, it would be fantastic for anyone who owns more than one building, or has a building which needs to be heated or cooled when someone isn’t there. Vacation homes, cabins, and rental properties could all benefit from being able to monitor and control the temperature remotely. Even if you are just coming home from a long trip, it’s pretty neat to be able to turn on heating and cooling so that your home is at the right temperature when you get there.

The Nest thermostat has a long list of little features that all add up to energy savings. Without going into too much detail here, it has some little tricks like turning off the air-conditioning compressor just a bit before the blower fan, to still get that last minute of cool air, but saving on electricity in the compressor. Another feature I like is the “Leaf”. When you turn down the heat a few clicks, a leaf appears to show that you are being eco-friendly. It sounds simple, but just that little bit positive reinforcement can really drive change!

The other big feature I like is Eco-Mode. In that mode, you set a high and a low temperature point. The Nest does nothing UNLESS the temperature gets outside of this range, only then does it actively heat or cool. Basically, you just allow your home the vary the temperature more. I’ve found that this was great for fall days where it might be a little cool first thing in the morning, but would warm up later in the day. Using Eco-Mode kept the furnace from turning on at all.

Since I’ve now had a chance to use the Nest, I like it and love many of the features. The auto-programming all by itself works fantastic. Probably the only downside is cost. Smart, connected devices like this aren’t cheap. The E version is about $150 and the full-blown version retails for as high as $250. The good news is that it’s not hard to find discounts. Nest even has a section of their web page where you can find utility discounts in your area.
At the time of this writing, there was a $75 rebate available in my area. Combine that with a good Black Friday price, and you might even be able to get one of these thermostats for free!

I’ve always had a bit of a Love-Hate relationship with technology. I like tech and gadgets, but it also has to be something which works, saves me money, and makes my life easier instead of more stressful! So far, the Nest has integrated perfectly with my home wi-fi and home automation and works exactly as it should!

Keep in mind that Nest isn’t the only one out there. Ecobee and a few other manufacturers also make smart thermostats, so do your research before buying to see what is right for you!

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Cost to Power an Electric Car?

by Ben N on November 18, 2018

How much DOES it cost to charge an Electric Vehicle?
The short answer is that EVs are very cheap to operate, only a few cents per mile.
For the longer answer, we’ll have to make a few assumptions, and do some math.

The common unit of energy for electricity is the “kilo-Watt-hour” or kWh. It’s what you pay for on your electric bill and it’s also how the capacity of electric vehicle battery packs are rated. (Just imagine – this is like buying gallons of gasoline, and knowing that your vehicle has a fuel tank which can hold a certain number of gallons.)

In general, a typical electric car can travel 4 miles using one kilowatt-hour of electricity. (Your mileage may vary.)
An electric car will have a battery pack with a capacity of between 16 – 100 kWh. (Some plug-in hybrids have even smaller battery pack capacities.)
30 and 40kWh battery packs are now common.

Electricity costs vary from place to place, but the U.S. national average is about 13 cents per kWh. Dividing that by typical efficiency of an electric vehicle and we get 3 or 4 cents per mile. Electric motorcycles can be as fuel efficient as a penny per mile.

It’s difficult to compare gas engines and electric motors because there is such a LARGE difference in efficiency!* Perhaps a better way to compare the two is how far a car can travel using units most drivers are familiar with – Money and Distance.

The average fuel economy of a U.S. car is only 25 miles per gallon. For the sake of argument, let’s say it was 30 MPG. For a typical electric car, it would use 7.5 kWh of electricity to travel that same distance. (30Mi/4kwh/Mi=7.5kWh)
That much electricity at $.13/kWh would cost $.975. Essentially, very close to One Dollar. As a rule of thumb, electricity generally costs about the equivalent of $1.00 per Gallon. It’s so cheap!

So, when you charge your car at home, (Assuming your battery is empty and you charge to 100%) you will need 16 – 100 kWh at $.13. So, that’s anywhere from $2.08 on up to $13.00. Keep in mind that that $13 is likely a weeks’ worth of driving in a luxury electric SUV.

Another advantage of electricity is that the price tends to be very STABLE. The price does NOT jump up and down (but mostly up…) based on the news cycle or if a refinery somewhere has a fire. (Check out GASBUDDY for how prices change in your area.)
In many places, a Public Service Commission oversees utilities, and Electric Utilities must go through a lengthy process to be to change prices.

Better than that, an electric car driver can pay even LESS than typical for electricity!
Most utilities offer a “Time Of Use” plan. Those plans charge different rates depending on the time of day, or “On-Peak” versus “Off-Peak” hours. Typical plans charge more during the day, but less at night. Off-Peak hours can be HALF the cost of regular-price electricity. The most common time to charge an electric car is overnight anyways, so it’s a natural fit! That means that an E.V. can be charged for the equivalent of paying 50 cents per gallon!

Beyond the cost of just fueling a vehicle, maintenance costs are exceptionally low. There are no oil-changes, air filters, or spark plugs to replace. In the long run, there’s no exhaust system to rust off or head gaskets to blow. An EV is just a very inexpensive vehicle to maintain. In fact, our official car – the 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV was the MOST FUEL EFFICIENT CAR in the United States. Over in Europe, the first and second place winners for lowest total cost of ownership were BOTH just European versions of the Mitsubishi iMiEV!

As far as newer, less dorky cars go, the Tesla Model 3 has been showcasing some impressive efficiency, and nearly all electric cars get the equivalent of over 100 MPG!

Another neat thing about electric vehicles is that you can make the fuel yourself! Residential Solar is a great way to make your own fuel for your vehicle! Solar panels are a natural match for EVs. Some of the places that have HIGH electricity prices (Hawaii, California, etc.) also have EXCELLENT solar resources! Once the capital expense of the equipment is paid for, all the electricity made is FREE FUEL!
The Solar Garage is on track for a 6.5 year simple economic return on investment for the equipment costs. All energy made after that is free fuel. We’ve also done a number of different calculations with solar and electric cars. Using solar electricity to displace the cost of fossil fuels can actually bring a solar project’s ROI down to as little as 3.5 years!

Of course, national averages are just averages, they don’t necessarily mean what YOU will pay. So, run the numbers yourself and compare gas to electric. You might be as pleasantly surprised as one Chevy Volt owner was when he calculated his cost down to 2 cents per mile.

We love that electric vehicles are efficient, quiet, and FUN TO DRIVE, but we sure don’t mind that they are CHEAP either!

Until Next Time, Stay Charged Up!

-Ben Nelson


PS: One of the assumptions we are making here is that you are charging at home. Using a Public DC Fast Charger is a different situation. There is NO standardization in pricing at this point, and the subject itself merits it’s own future article.

*Although one gallon of gasoline contains the energy of about 33.7 kWh of electricity, only a small fraction of it is converted to the power that pushes a car down the road. The rest is converted to heat, noise, vibration, and otherwise wasted.


How Stan Lee Made Me Who I Am

November 12, 2018

When I heard that Stan Lee passed away, I immediately decided to shoot a video about what it meant to me. Surprisingly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long time. Why was that? It’s probably because Stan Lee helped make me the man I am. I’m normally talking about clean […]

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Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Tax

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 […]

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Fixing Prius Mouse Damage

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 […]

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There’s a WHAT in the Prius?!?

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 […]

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Influence, Wallets, and Beer.

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 […]

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