Electric Truck Road Trip

by Ben N on April 13, 2019

The other day, I got a call from my friend, Seth. He said he was considering driving from Wisconsin to North Carolina to buy an electric box truck. I asked when he was thinking of doing it. He replied “Later today….” So, that’s why I’m near Charlotte, North Carolina, RIGHT NOW.

The crazy plan was to drive overnight, haul a huge trailer there, buy the truck, load it up, and drive home.

We left as soon as we could, heading south-east towards Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY, to not far from Charlotte, NC. It was a LONG drive. I ended up taking a shift driving in the wee hours of the morning. At 6:30AM, we parked in a Kroger parking lot and got about an hour sleep in the cab of the truck.

Driving into the Smokey Mountains on the way down.

After that, it was just keep on driving.
When we stopped at a gas station, I got a little worried, Seth was on the phone way too long with the bank. He had sent a Wire Transfer to purchase the truck the day before, but it looked like the there was an issue with it. I drove the truck so that Seth could just make arrangements. Seemed like the entire day that he was on the phone with the bank, had multiple issues, but eventually figured it out.

Once we finally got close to our destination, it started raining, hard. What should have been the last hour of our trip, took nearly two and a half. Eventually, we arrived at Copart, the auto auction salvage yard.

When Seth got to go to the counter, the wire transfer STILL had not gone through. He spent some more time on the phone, furrowing his brow. We did get to go out into the yard to see the truck, even though the payment hadn’t come through yet. Fortunately, it finally stopped raining. Plenty of gravel in the lot meant it wasn’t a complete mud-hole.

There were multiple trucks. All Smith Electrics used by Staples for local deliveries. Overall, the trucks looked good! The cabs on some were worn more than others, but the parts were all there. Some of the trucks even had paperwork inside – the truck manual and other information from Smith. The cabs were open, so we could turn the keys. None of the trucks had working batteries, so they couldn’t be turned on to check the digital odometer readings. I brought a multimeter and checked the house batteries on several trucks, they were all dead.
On the box, there’s a roll-up rear door AND side door. Neither had outside locks. In the cab, I found a pair of switches that worked the doors. They were electric roll-up! But with dead batteries, we couldn’t operate them!
The trucks looked like all the EV components were there in place. Knocking on the big battery boxes, one could hear that they were solid. No dodgy scrap-yard guy had pulled the cells out from the box.
The cargo boxes on the trucks are almost 18 feet long. Based on the outside measurement, inside ceiling height must be at least 7 feet. So plenty of headroom for even a taller guy to stand. The box would be amazing for an RV conversion, mobile classroom, or Maker-Mobile!

Back in the office, the bank wire transfer FINALLY went through….to the broker Seth used for the transaction. When he called the broker, their accountant was out of the office, but was assured she would be back in before 5 PM. Of course, Copart closes at 5 PM and has NO weekend hours. On top of that we were told that Copart would NOT use their giant forklifts to load the vehicle (even though we saw lots of other vehicles being loaded up exactly that way!)

It was time to come up with a contingency plan. No matter what, we would have to hire a tow truck driver. Whether to help us get the truck on the trailer, haul it somewhere else, or otherwise, we’d have to pay for some professional help. So Seth again hit the phone, this time calling local towing companies and small repair shops. He hit gold when he found a owner/driver willing to not only haul the truck, but let us park it at his shop.

The clock was ticking! Would the broker pay in time!? Would the truck fit on the trailer?!
The tow truck driver was already in back, moving one truck out of the way to get at the one we purchased. He then got it hitched up and pulled it out front to the main loading area.

I could see Seth getting more disappointed as the clock kept ticking. Everything was done and ready accept for the payment from the broker coming through. The electric truck was hitched to the tow truck.
5 o’ clock PM came….. and went.

The office was closed, the yard was closing down. Seth had a talk with the driver. The truck pulled back and disappeared into the fenced-in area. We pulled out, empty-handed, and a yardman closed the gate behind us.

At 5:45, Seth got a text saying the payment had gone through and everything is complete and ready.
Copart has NO weekend hours. The truck is inaccessible until Monday.

So now what’s the plan?
It turned out the truck is a little bigger than we thought. It probably WON’T be able to go on the trailer, but that’s still not out of the picture yet. Seth wrangled a deal the the truck driver that we could park the truck at his shop, use his tools, strip all the EV related parts, and then trade the rest of the truck salvage rights to him in exchange for his work.

We won’t be able to do that until Monday. A couple more days I hadn’t planned for. Good thing my wife told me to pack an extra pair of socks. My clothes were soaked from the rain. We are at the hotel now. I asked if they had a laundy room. “Sure, just only the dryer doesn’t work right now!”

I still feel damp.
In terms of making lemonade from lemons, I have some relatives in the area that I’m hoping to meet up with. Charlotte also has a MakerSpace which would be fun to visit and get a tour.

We are also still running the numbers trying to figure out what makes the most sense in terms of buying salvaged electric trucks and putting them back onto the road, reselling them, making motors and batteries available to other DIY’ers, or how economically we can save trucks or at least make a little money working with them. It might be possible to buy more than one truck, sell parts from it, and then use the profits to fund resurrecting the best of the trucks.

For now, I’m just damp in a hotel room in Charlotte, a little disappointed that we aren’t driving home right now with an all-electric box truck, but the big picture is still interesting.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: The hotel lobby computer didn’t work with my phone, which I used to take many of the photos. I’ll add more photos to this post later.


LED Headlight Fail!

by Ben N on April 10, 2019

One of the upgrades I made after purchasing my Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car was to install LED headlights. Well, today, the second of the two LED headlamps failed!

I had to take a look at my blog to remember when I actually DID install the headlights. Turns out it was just over three years ago. (See the original LED HEADLIGHT BLOG HERE.) At that time, I was really pleased with the overall look of the lights. The improved efficiency was a better fit for an electric car, and the more blue tone of the LED lights had a more modern look.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to simply replace a headlamp on the iMiEV. There’s almost no space under the tiny hood! The entire headlight assembly has to be removed to access and replace a lamp. If you came here to learn how to do that, don’t worry, somebody ELSE has already shot a video on how to do that.

How to remove the headlight on a Mitsubishi iMiEV

Seeing as how I’ve removed the headlights before, it wasn’t too bad. (The first time you ever do this, it can be a PAIN figuring it out!) Once it was out, I pulled the LED lamp. I put in a halogen bulb, tested that it worked, and then reinstalled the headlight assembly.
(The updated version of the LED lamps I bought is: https://amzn.to/2WWyoO0 )

Next, I tried out the the LED lamp I had just pulled with my bench power supply. I connected up 12V with alligator clips and turned on the power. Surprisingly, the LED lit up! It hadn’t in the car!
The big thing to notice right away was NOISE. There was a strong rattle, clearly the bearings for the cooling fan. I recall the other headlamp working intermittently before it failed. Likely, this lamp failed in the same mode as the first one.

Video of LED headlamp with failing fan

LEDs themselves are actually amazingly robust devices. When there is a failure, it’s almost ALWAYS due to a faulty cooling system. In a fan-cooled system, if the fan dies, the entire unit tends to go with it!

So, right now, I’m back to the stock halogen lights. They work fine (although they use a little more power than LED…) More than anything, I guess I’m just disappointed that the LEDs failed! LED is supposed to be a long-lasting, energy-efficient technology!

There is another style of LED headlight out there which uses cooling ribbons instead of fans. (For example https://amzn.to/2KnXwvH ) That is a PASSIVE cooling technology – no worries about a fan breaking! If I do replace my lights again with LED, I might give that style a shot. My only concern is if there is enough SPACE for the ribbon heat-sinks to be properly spread out inside the headlight assembly.

Have you upgraded a car with the Fanless Style LED headlights? How have they worked for you? Let us know!

And until next time, stay charged up!
(And keep your lights on!)
-Ben Nelson


Manthini e-bike

by Ben N on April 6, 2019

The Manthini All-Wheel Drive E-Bike

This past Saturday, I got to meet up with a couple of local guys who have been working on a neat e-bike design. We met up at the VeloCity bike shop in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Cal, John, Avi, and two other friends, neighbors, and co-workers have designed a 2-wheel drive electric bike. It’s their prototype bike, and they are currently building a second one, improving on what they learned building this bike.

I sat down with them and asked what it’s like to design an e-bike, how team dynamics come into play, and what their big-picture plans are for the project.

Watch the interview here

After the interview, I got to take the bike out for a test ride. Overall, I really liked it. The motocross inspired frame looks great and feels beefy and solid. The two-wheel drive is interesting because it also uses TWO throttles! That’s right, the rider has full independent control over each of the two wheels. It only took a moment to get used to, and it was rather fun feeling the slight variation in drive using one motor, the other, or both.

Two-wheel drive doesn’t mean much on smooth pavement, so I also tried it out on sand, grass, and some extremely rough gravel. I hit the beach and plowed right through the sand. (Steering wasn’t fantastic, but the sand was rather deep!) The bike was great off-road. Riding on grass and dirt felt very natural. Next, I rode along some rail-road tracks on large loose hunks of granite. That’s possibly some of the worst riding conditions! Still, the bike did well, although the lack of front shocks was definitely noticeable at that point! This bike uses a mono-shock for the rear swing arm, but the front fork is plain steel. The next version of the bike includes front shocks.

In terms of speed, the bike goes plenty fast. Just twist the throttle (either one) and the bike gets up and goes without needing any pedaling. Officially, top speed is 25 KPH, but in reality the speed is 16-20 MPH. In many places (including where we were filming) the top LEGAL speed on an electric bike is 20 MPH. That’s one of the things that differentiates a bicycle from a motorcycle, and eliminates need for insurance, plates, registration, motorcycle license, etc.

I wasn’t able to get all the details on the battery pack, as there is some proprietary technology going on in there, but it is based on 18650 cells using a 33V nominal system and about 18AH capacity. That’s enough for about 20 miles of all-electric riding.

The twin hub motors are 500 watts each and the controllers and other electronics are built right into the frame. The charger is off-board with the charger quick connect hidden behind a flap in the frame at the base of the seat.

The only dislikes/oddities that I noticed were the lack of shifting and seat height. When I rode the bike, the gearing for the pedals for pretty low. I then noticed there was no shifter! There’s really no need to pedal at all, but my legs wouldn’t be able to keep up at full speed. Two throttles on the handlebars meant there was little space for a shifter. I also felt that the seat was a little high. I’m a six-foot tall guy and I wouldn’t have minded it just a little lower. When I asked the guys about these two issues, they acknowledged them and said both are already addressed in the next version of the bike.

I’m editing a “Test Ride” video right now, but in the mean time, you can watch this quick video I threw together mostly from my GoPro.

The master plan for these guys is to complete the second bike with improvements from what they learned from working on this one. After that, they may be working on selling them ( Do I smell a Kickstarter in the future?)

I always love getting to check out other folks clean transportation projects, and I hope that you do to. I’ll check back in on Cal and the Manthini team as work progresses on that second bike. If you want to see what they are up to, peep their social media links:

Make sure you subscribe (both here at the blog and on YouTube) so that you stay up to date on this project!

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

PS: I still have a real test-ride video and an overview of the bike coming!


February Electric Bill

by Ben N on March 8, 2019

I just got my February Electric Bill!
But how much will I save with my solar? February not only has short days, but it’s been terribly cloudy all month as well! At least the days are slowly starting to get longer!

I got my electric bill and opened it up. Drumroll please….. $72.71! Yipes!
I’m charged for the use of 633 kWh of electrical energy. That’s the NET energy, INCLUDING what I get credited for from my solar production. If I look on the back of my electric bill and do the subtraction, I can see how much power I exported to the power company.

In this case, the power I was CREDITED with the electric company was 194kWh. But that’s not even the entire picture. Remember, if I’m using any power at all at home while the sun is shining, I simply USE that electric power and it is NOT tracked through my meter!

I went to the Enphase Enlighten software and ran a custom production report for the dates of my electric bill. Total energy produced at the inverters came to 288kWh! (You can see my live solar production HERE.)
Multiplying that by my unit cost of electricity means it would have been worth $33.66. In other words, if I DIDN’T have solar, my electric bill would have been $106.37!

Although my $72.71 is the highest electric bill I’ve seen in a year, I’d still rather save over 30% and NOT pay a $100+ electric bill! Even though I’m not making too much solar in February, it’s still saving me money.

If you want to learn more about solar, do a search through this blog. I’ve posted information about my garage and one of my favorite videos on my DIY approach to solar can be seen HERE.

Adding up all the savings so far, the garage has produced almost 12 mega-watt-hours of solar energy and is on track for a 6.5 year return on investment.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: So far, the solar has produced almost 12 Mega-Watt-Hours of energy at a value of over $1,500!


The other day, a Tesla Model 3 driver stopped by to top off his charge while visiting some nearby relatives. It was VERY cold out (-20℉ when I woke up…) The car charged at 40 amps, and I thought I’d film some THERMAL VIDEO of the car charging out in the cold!

I’m on Plugshare, which is a way of sharing and finding electric vehicle charging stations, whether commercial or private. I got a text message from Marc, who was hoping to stop by to charge his Model 3. I normally charge with a 16A Amazing-E EVSE, but would want to be able to charge the 3 faster than that! I also have a 32A GE EVSE on the other side of the garage. That with the snap-on Tesla adapter would work fine. But best of all was that I also happen to own an older Tesla universal mobile connector. That’s a very compact, portable, EVSE for Tesla which can plug into a 240V 50A electric outlet. I simply unplugged my daily charging cable, and plugged in the Tesla connector in its place.

Marc pulled up with his car, and we plugged him in. After a brief tour of my solar array and EV projects in my garage, he headed out with relatives in a different vehicle to spend the afternoon at a local lake cottage. Before leaving, he offered to pay for my electricity. When I refused it, he asked if I drink beer, and I said that indeed, I do.

The car was charging at 40A. Modern electric cars have all sorts of information on the display or on a phone app. My Mitsubishi iMiEV is more basic, so I had added a multimeter to the 50A electric outlet in my garage. I was able to track how much power and energy the Tesla used, even without looking at the dashboard or an app. It drew a fairly steady 40A for the entirety of the 3 hours the car was plugged in.

When we first plugged in, the solar array was producing 10A – a solid 25% of the power being used to charge the car! Unfortunately, the sky clouded up not too much later, so the solar energy to the car ended up being relatively low.

After charging for a good hour or so, I pulled out the thermal camera to take a look at what heat was being created and where. I’m shooting thermal images with my FLIR ONE smartphone attachment (https://amzn.to/2S90ZRv)
I started at the 50A electric outlet. That was a nice clean connection with minimal heat. Next, I looked at my “Remote Box” – a switch, contactor, power/energy display, and NEMA 14-50 electric outlet. I was surprised at how much heat was being produced right in the middle of it. That’s where the contactor is, and the full 40A would be running continuously through it. I later looked up my original order and the specs of that component. It is rated at 40/50A, so it’s the right part, but it might not hurt to have purchased one with the next higher rating.

The plug of the Tesla universal mobile connector was also rather warm. I expected that, as the end is detachable to swap between a standard electric plug and a NEMA 14-50. Being detachable means another set of contacts in close proximity to the blades that plug in to the wall.

The cord itself was slightly warm.
When viewed in thermal video, the cord stood out in stark relief against the colder concrete. In fact, I could even move the cord and see the heat after-image on the concrete of where the cord had laid.

I headed outside to take a look at the car.
The cold outside air easily dissipated any excess heat from the cord. The Tesla end of the cable looked warm, but really didn’t feel that way. The thermal camera essentially uses an auto-iris, so the warmest areas in an image are red, even if they are only a few degrees above zero. That means that the sunlight – even making something a degree or two warmer than other areas, can very much change the look of the thermal video. That’s one reason why I use the on-screen thermometer to be able to spot check the temperature in the middle of the screen.

Viewing the rest of the car with the thermal camera, I was hoping to find particular hot or cold areas. Unfortunately, I did not. I know that there is an active fan and radiator on the front of the car, but didn’t notice anything in particular. The front of the car looked slightly less cold, but that end was also facing the sun, so it’s hard to be sure.

One friend on Facebook said “Wait, you are PAYING for somebody else to use your electricity!?”
I sure was! Sharing an electric outlet is a great way to build good will and meet new and interesting people. But how much was this costing me?

I took a photo of the kilowatt-hour meter before the start of charge, and after the car was unplugged. Going from 189kWh to 218kWh means that the car used at least 29 and no more than 30 kWH. That’s the financial cost equivalent (at $0.13/kWh) of $3.77 to $3.90. I also checked later in the day and found that the solar only produced 3 kWh in that same time, subtracting a mere 39 cents from my bill! Charging somebody else’s Tesla still cost me $3-$4!

A while later, the owner returned. I heard a *clink, clink* on my front porch as a package was dropped off. I headed to the front door, grabbed my coat, and went outside to put away the charge cord and say good-bye. Just as Marc left, it started to snow.

Back inside, I had my fireplace cranking away. Nothing beats the super-cold temperatures like roaring wood heat and 75 degrees in the living room. The mysterious package turned out to be a paper bag six-pack of bottled Milwaukee Brewing Company beers. I’m not sure of the exact economic cost of the six-pack, but it’s certainly more than the addition to my electric bill.

So, I get to make new friends, learn more about charging at higher currents with electric cars, AND drink a beer.

Life is good.

Until next time, stay charged up!


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Clearing Snow from Solar Panels – Is it worth it?

January 20, 2019

We finally got our first really good snow-storm of winter! Five inches of thick, fluffy snow blanketed our driveway AND our photovoltaic solar panels. Should I clear the snow off the solar panels? How much more power will the panels produce? Is it worth it? Waking up on a Saturday morning, the whole driveway was […]

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*Not a Flamethrower

January 13, 2019

Last night, I got to play around with a Flamethrower! OK. The device itself is actually named NOT a Flamethrower… This was actually an odd promotional item by the Boring Company. I guess Elon Musk didn’t want the company to be boring, and issued these flamethrowers as a fun promotion. A friend of mine had […]

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Solar vs Snow!

January 12, 2019

I love my solar panels, but how much power do they produce when covered with SNOW!? Since we’re now going into our SECOND winter with solar, let’s find out! First off, YES! Solar panels DO make more power when they are cleared of snow! As you can see in the first video, clearing the snow […]

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December Electric Bill

January 10, 2019

I just got my December electric bill! What will it be this month? December is notoriously cloudy in my area, and has the fewest hours of daylight of the year. Is this the electric bill I’ve been dreading? Let’s open it up! Unfortunately, I have to actually PAY an electric bill this month! I haven’t […]

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Electric Truck Camping

January 8, 2019

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of “For Sale” items popping up on Facebook, including one that intrigued me – an old-fashioned Truck Camper. This particular one was a 1971 model year, in overall good condition, and going for only $500. What would it take to build an ELECTRIC RV? As far as I’m concerned, […]

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