Electric ATV Repair and Upgrade

by Ben N on August 11, 2019

Not long ago, a neighbor was cleaning out his garage. Among the things he was getting rid of was an old kids electric ATV. It was in poor condition, but looked like a fun “fixer-upper”! My daughter is also now eight-years old and has outgrown her Solar-Powered PowerWheels.

ATV, as we got it. Pretty junky.

So, a Razor brand ATV looked like a great back yard toy. It’s similar to this one: https://amzn.to/31pImtI
The ATV has a solid steel frame, real suspension, and knobby rubber tires. Unfortunately, the handlebars were unmounted (and missing the clamps), the steering and brakes were rusted solid, and the batteries were shot.

We brought home the ATV and set to work on it. I first gave the brake cable and steering column generous squirts of PB Blaster, hoping to loosen the rust. Then, I set to work removing the body, including the fake plastic engine that covers the batteries.

This is a 24V vehicle, so I found two 7AH sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries mounted inside. They were completely dead. The wire leads were soldered in place and covered with hot glue to boot. I simply cut the wires and pulled out the batteries.

Next, I jumped two good batteries to the ATV with it up on a stand. I turned on the power and twisted the throttle. The wheels spun up! Sure enough, the only thing wrong electrically with the cycle was dead batteries. I placed an order for a new pair, but I ordered 15AH batteries instead of 7. That would give double the runtime, and they are the same batteries I have used on some other recent projects, such as the Solar Ammo Can.
https://amzn.to/2H2op4j

Once my order arrived, I put in the new batteries. One fit in place of the original two 7AH batteries, but the second was simply placed on the central frame bar and then secured in place with a number of zip ties. Not ideal, but solid enough in the moment.

I still didn’t have a good way to STEER the ATV, but I had managed to break loose the rust and get the wheels to turn. I realized that I had a pair of Vise-Grips, so I clamped those on as temporary handlebars. With that, the ATV was ridable…. sorta…

I thought I had a 24V charger around somewhere, but couldn’t find one. So, I ordered a new charger. At least that way, I could get one with the correct connector on the end to match the ATV. I also ordered some handlebar clamps.
Charger: https://amzn.to/2GXi7Ty
Clamps: https://amzn.to/2GXib5K

The handlebars were pretty easy to bolt on once I had the right clamps. Finally, the girl could really take the cycle for a ride.

She used it for a about a week like this, but the one battery was still really only temporarily mounted. Seeing how kids like to beat on their toys, I knew I’d need to mount the battery better. Yesterday, I had the time, so I took the ATV back apart to design and build battery mounts.

I cut two pieces of flat steel with a little extra room beyond the size of the batteries. That gave me space to drill holes for a bracket to go over the battery and bolt to the steel plate. I drilled holes in both plates, welded nuts to them, and then welded the plates to the cycle frame.

A coat of gray primer made the welds look great. I put the batteries in place and mounted them down. One bracket was original, just re-bent to fit the larger battery. I made the other strap from scratch by simply bending a piece of aluminum strap with a pliers, hammer, and anvil. With the batteries in place, I turned the cycle sideways and shoot it violently. The batteries stayed nice and secure. They weren’t going anywhere no matter what the kids might do to it!

The body of the ATV was also in poor condition. The color was faded and stickers were peeling off. We decided to repaint it. That meant scuffing the plastic with sandpaper (so that the paint would stick), priming it, and then giving it two coats of the girl’s choice. In this case, a “Grape” purple.

After the paint dried, reassembly was pretty straight-forward. We also want the girl to be safe. To get her to wear a helmet, we bribed her with a brand new UNICORN helmet!
https://amzn.to/2KJVS4H
I’m still working on getting her to wear shoes…..

This has been a great project. I had a lot of fun working on it, and had the girl assist me as much as she could so that she gets some experience and ownership in it as well. I was actually really happy with how the metalwork and welding turned out. I’m slowly getting away from “Duct Tape and Zip-ties” and working my way to “Fabrication”!

Anyways, the girl is having a blast with it, and so am I.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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Electric Truck Lithium Battery Upgrade

by Ben N on August 10, 2019

Click to watch the video.

I upgraded the Electric Ford Ranger to Lithium Batteries!
The truck had Group 24 Lead-Acid batteries in the bed. The batteries pulled from the Smith electric truck are Valence brand Group 27 batteries designed as 12V replacements. So, the logical thing to do was simply pull out the lead and put in the lithium in it’s place!

Overall, it was a pretty easy upgrade. Just remove the cables, remove the old batteries, put in the new ones, and cable it back up.

(DISCLAIMER! WORKING WITH HIGH VOLTAGE DC IS DANGEROUS AND POSSESSES SIGNIFICANT SHOCK HAZARD INCLUDING DEATH. DON’T DO IT UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!)

Lithium batteries in the back of the truck.

Replacing the batteries was pretty straight-forward. The toughest part was keeping polarity straight and making sure I didn’t have to move the batteries more than once. Going from the Group 24 size to Group 27 size meant a slightly different configuration. Not a big deal, but any change meant I really had to pay attention to polarity and make sure I had enough of the right length cables. I re-used the cables from the Smith electric truck battery pack, and had just enough of the right types without having to replace any terminals.

STILL IN THE BED
The batteries are still in the bed. The main reason for that is that I’m still experimenting and want to have full access to the batteries. This truck has a battery box, roughly the size and shape of a coffin, that runs UNDER the length of the vehicle. It’s a slightly irregular shape and would have contained the original 8V lead-acid batteries this truck was designed for. The height of the box is higher than the road clearance, so just to get it off, a person needs to lower the box while simultaneously lifting the truck!

Because of the irregular shape of the box, it’s unlikely that the Valence batteries will fit inside. Some other DIY’ers have used Nissan Leaf batteries in Ford Ranger EV upgrades, and those cell modules are only about 1.25 inches thick each. They are easy to repackage into a more custom shape, including one that would fit in the original battery box.

Valence BMS unit.

BMS
After connecting the power cables, I also daisy-chained the BMS cables from each battery to the next. They end at the BMS which I repurposed from the Smith truck battery box. But there’s a few shortcomings to this. I do NOT have any kind of an interface to the BMS to pull data from it. (No dongle, no software!) Also, the Smith battery was 24 batteries in series, and the Ranger uses 26. So, I connected the BMS to the truck, but excluding those two extra batteries.

Lastly, the BMS would have been integrated to the charger, and on the Ford, it isn’t. I’ll do bulk charging only and stay away from the top end of the battery pack.

It DOES look like the BMS WILL automatically BALANCE the batteries simply by being connected without any other changes.

WEIGHT SAVINGS
The truck did shave off a few pounds with the lithium upgrade. Each of the original Group 24 Lead-Acid batteries weighed 60 pounds. The Group 27 Valence lithium batteries weigh 43 pounds each. When swapping out the batteries, I saved about 442 pounds.

Inside the Valence batteries are cylindrical cells. Think something along the lines of 18650s. Because of this, they don’t give AS GOOD of a weight savings as some other types of lithium batteries. (On the other hand, they don’t start on fire, either!)

These batteries weigh about 2/3rds of the lead-acid equivalent while having significantly more capacity.

CAPACITY AND RANGE
The batteries are rated at 138AH capacity, and there are 26 of them. At 12.8V nominal, that’s almost 46kWh of energy! Of course, that’s if using the entire battery, and brand new. These batteries ARE used. In testing some samples, it looks like they are at about 85% capacity of new, bringing pack capacity to less than 40kWH. That’s still far more than a gen 1 Nissan Leaf!

However, I don’t guess that the truck is very efficient. It’s relatively heavy and trucks aren’t know for their aerodynamics. As a best guess, I would say it uses 400 wh/mi. But if the pack really is 40kWh, that means I might have a 100 mile range!

The truck, ready to do some long-distance joy-riding.

TEST DRIVING
After a fresh charge, I took the truck out, first taking it to a local car show. That was a blast, there was ton’s of interest in the Ranger EV, and nobody knew how Ford has ALREADY built electric trucks! (Too bad I didn’t remember to grab a photo until after the car show was over. I had quite a mob for a while!)
The rest of the day, I did errands and some other driving bringing my distance driven to 40 miles.

The next day, I went out for some joy-riding to see how far I could keep going. I tried staying not too far from home, in case my range was shorter than I thought!
I started snapping photos of the trip odometer. 65 miles was sort of a milestone. My 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car is only designed for about 60 miles per charge. I now had a 1996 electric vehicle with better range than a 2012!

I kept driving, and the truck just kept going. The “Range Remaining” gauge only goes up to 60. I believe that it works off a combination of battery voltage AND an AH counter. Unfortunately, it’s not very accurate for lithium. I used the New Generation Star Tester to track the pack voltage vs the voltage discharge chart of the Valence batteries. That seemed to give me a fairly accurate representation of available charge.
I kept driving and got 70, 80, 90, yes, even 100 miles!
After that, the voltage was dropping fast, indicating I was getting down into the last 10% of the battery.

J1772 ADAPTER
Next, I’d want to be able to do some charging in public. That would further extend my range. To do so, I built a J1772 adapter so that I could keep the truck stock, but still use modern public stations. I’ll post more about this adapter soon. (I could SWEAR I already shot a video on this!)

WHATS NEXT?
I definitely want to do some towing with the truck. Having the batteries in the bed is less than ideal, but does make it great for experimenting. Just having a battery pack this big could be useful for things like running an inverter for emergency power backups.

I still need to finish up the BMS system. It’s not integrated with the charging system yet.

It’s been fun to play around with a 20 year old factory built electric. Other than the original LACK of lithium batteries, it’s pretty modern, with regenerative brakes, electric heat and air-conditioning. The instrumentation is a bit lacking. If a person didn’t know better, they’d look at the steering wheel and dashboard and think it’s just any truck!

I’m looking forward to Ford coming out with a new all electric F-150. But who knows exactly when that will happen. Meanwhile, I’ll keep driving MY electric Ford!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben


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July 2019 Electric Bill

by Ben N on August 8, 2019

I just got my July electric bill. Time to open it on camera so that you and I get to see what it is at the same time!

In July, we finally started getting some nice summer days! (June was surprisingly rainy and cloudy!) But along with the sun was HEAT. We used our central air-conditioning quite a bit and that DOES increase our electric use.

Besides our household electric use, we also have an electric car. So, when I’m talking about my electric bills and how solar saves money, keep in mind that I’m also NOT BUYING GASOLINE! Combining PV & EV is a GREAT way to keep expenses LOW!

This month, my solar production covered all of our electric use (including that car) and enough extra production to cover the general fees charged by the power company with A DOLLAR left over! We still have a credit of over $30 with the power company. It would be nice to build up as much of a credit as we can, as that can help reduce our costs going into the fall and winter when days are shorter and the weather is cloudier.

In the mean time, I’m pretty happy to have another month of NOT paying an electric bill!

Calendar Month Report from Enphase Enlighten Software.

Before we go, one note on dates and billing. My billing cycle with the power company is typically from the 21st of one month to the 22nd of the next. It is NOT the standard calendar month. That still generally lines up well with monthly production stats I can pull up from the Enphase Enlighten software. I can also pull up custom reports for those exact dates, but it’s one more step.

At my power meter, I CAN figure out exactly how much I have pulled from and returned to the grid, but it requires me marking down 4 different numbers on one particular day of the month and doing some subtraction. Easier and more fun just to wait for the power bill!

I have a simple digital meter in my garage that tracks my solar production, and another that tracks only electric car energy use. On the last day of the month, I record both meters and then reset them. This lets me compare how much power I made, and how much of it went straight into the car.

That’s it for now!
Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

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Battery Pack Disassembly

by Ben N on April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes.

Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no easy task. They don’t have any lifting eyes, nor are there even spacers under the boxes to make it easy to slide a strap under. We eventually got them off the trailer. The driveway was too rough for the furniture dollies, or even the wheels of the engine hoist. What ended up working the best was to place the battery boxes on steel pipes and then push and pull them with my electric lawn tractor.

The next day, I could start the process of opening up the boxes, seeing what’s inside, and removing the cells.
I opened the first box, the driver side battery, to figure out how it all worked. Then I filmed taking apart the passenger side battery box.

In each of the two boxes are two layers of 12 Valence lithium batteries, for a total of 48. Those batteries are rated at 12.8V, 138AH, 1766WH. Altogether, that’s a faceplate capacity of over 80kWh!

The Smith truck uses 48 of these Valence U27-12XP batteries.

I set to work disassembling the battery pack. First, I had to remove all the stainless steel bolts around the edge of the box. Once that was done, I slid a pry-bar inside to break the seal. I needed to disconnect a few wires in the end from the inside before I could remove the lid of the box.

With the lid removed, I could finally see the Battery Management System (BMS), contactors, and the other balance of system components.

Of course, I used my multimeter to check the various connections before touching or disconnecting any components. Once I made sure I was working safely, I unbolted any cables holding this top layer over the batteries. Then the top layer was removed.

Now at the battery layer, I could see all the BMS and inter-cell connections. I snipped the zip ties holding some of the cables to each other, unplugged the BMS cables, and set to work removing the cables between the batteries.

I really like the style of terminal used on these batteries. A plastic-headed bolt threads down into the battery. As it does, it completely covers the terminal and battery cable. Only a tiny hole in the middle is still conductive. Perfect as a test point for a volt-meter. This is a great safety feature as there are essentially no places to accidentally cause a short. (Of course, always follow best practices, no matter what when it comes to high voltage DC!)

Video of Disassembling the Battery Pack

With all the battery cables disconnected, I could simply lift out the batteries one at a time.

For the bottom layer of batteries, it was essentially the same – just disconnect all the cables, and lift the batteries out.

We now have 80kWh of lithium batteries to use for solar backups and off-grid power, DIY electric vehicles, and anything else!

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


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Well, it’s been an adventure so far…
I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a road trip to buy a commercial electric truck.

The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the trip, we were able to get it to run and drive. After that, we transported it over to a local business where we could work on it.

The first thing we did was take a LOT of measurements – total height, width, wheel-base, etc. We also didn’t know the exact weight of the truck. (It appears that commercial trucks just list their GROSS weight, not the weight of the vehicle itself!)
Based on the size of the truck, the size of the trailer we had with, and the advice of the professional auto transporter whose place we were working at, we decided that we could NOT tow the truck home.

Of course, this was a major disappointment.

We threw around a lot of ideas, none of which were ideal. Every option we could come up with was less than perfect in one way or another. We also still had to get home soon. We were on a tight budget and schedule.

In the end, we decided the best course of action was simply to REMOVE the batteries. The truck could be stored at that location temporarily until we could return and transport it properly, or at a minimum, dismantle all the EV components.

Out comes one of the two 1,000 pound batteries.

The batteries themselves are inside two large black cases, one on either side, in the approximate location where a diesel fuel tank would otherwise be. Each one weighs about 1,000 pounds for a total of a literal TON of batteries.

To remove them, we had to undo the stainless steel straps that wrapped around the cases. We applied penetrating oil to the screws that tensioned the straps. On a few of them, we were able to loosen the screws pretty easily. Others were rusted in place and even the head was filled in with rust, so that we needed to use vice grips to get them to budge at all.

Once the straps were unhooked, we disconnected the electrical. On the side of each box is a mechanical manual disconnect. This opens the circuit inside the battery box, and makes sure all power at the cables is dead. Some of the wires were easy to remove. The BMS cable simply unscrewed. On the other hand, some of the high-voltage power cables just went right through the side of the box. There’s a weatherproof strain relief there, but NOT a quick disconnect. That meant we would have to simply cut the cables.
As terrible as that sounds, it’s just cable, and new parts are available in the welding supply aisle of my local farm and truck store.
*Snip* *Snip*

A view of the High Voltage cables at the master battery box.

Next, we had to physically remove the battery boxes.
One of the reasons we moved the truck to a local business to work on it was that they had a forklift there. (OK. Technically a tractor with a forklift attachment…)
Using the forklift, we could gently lift the box and then slide it OUT from the sides of the truck. We put the batteries on the trailer and strapped them down.

After that, there was nothing left to do except make the long return trip home. Our plans had certainly changed from the start to the end of the trip, but at least we didn’t leave empty-handed. We had 80 kWh of working lithium batteries.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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June 2019 Electric Bill

July 8, 2019

I actually got my electric bill in the mail a few days ago, but wanted to save opening it on camera. Today, I broke out the camera and opened the electric bill. Here’s what I found… In June, we produced 243 kWh of energy MORE than we used! This was pretty comparable to the same […]

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Future of Transportation in Wisconsin

April 27, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a conference about the future of transportation in Wisconsin. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership hosted the event at “The Garage” space at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the trip from my house, to the event and BACK, is just a little further than the available range per charge […]

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Briggs & Stratton 6-Wheel Hybrid

April 25, 2019

I was doing some work at Briggs & Stratton – an engine producer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when I stumbled on an amazing car! It’s a vintage 6-wheel hybrid! Briggs & Stratton has a great museum at their main building. It tells the history of the company and showcases its roots in automobiles all the way […]

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Electric Truck Charging Adapter

April 22, 2019

While it’s pretty cool to have a classic factory built electric truck, one thing I don’t like is it’s NON-standard charge port. So, I set out to build an adapter so that I could charge in public and more conveniently at home. The Ford Ranger EV uses an AVCON “claw” charge connection. When I first […]

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Electric Truck Road Trip

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 […]

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