CRASH! DIY Vehicle Safety

by Ben N on November 17, 2012

When I got an e-mail titled “RIP Prius”, I knew it couldn’t be good, but when I opened it and saw THIS photo, I was more than a bit concerned about my buddy, Tim.

Tim told me in the message that he had been in an accident two days earlier. He was just driving along, minding his own business, when another driver pulled right out in front of him, causing a major collision. (Thank goodness Tim’s fine. He was wearing his seat-belt, and the airbag deployed.)

Other than my friend being involved in it, what’s so interesting about this accident? Well, mostly, that it was a SIGNIFICANTLY MODIFIED VEHICLE.

The Prius had several mods, including block heater, grill block, and a laundry list of other small changes to help improve fuel economy. The most significant change was an aftermarket “Enginer” brand additional lithium battery pack, charger, and other circuitry to integrate it with the car. Four KWh of energy and several hundred pounds of batteries and electronics installed in the cargo compartment.

This spring, I did something stupid. I managed to break my ankle on my homebuilt electric motorcycle by means of improperly mounting a camera to it. Besides the actual pain and recovery of the physical injury, I was also rather humiliated, knowing that it was my own dang fault. Nobody to blame but myself on that one. In fact, I was getting rather down on myself when somebody on my blog pointed out that what was remarkable about crashing my electric motorcycle was that (other than the ankle break) absolutely nothing bad happened. There was no gasoline spilled and set aflame, there wasn’t a hot exhaust pipe pinned down on my leg, no batteries short-circuited. In short, it was as absolutely safe of a crash as a person could ever hope to have.

So what’s remarkable is absolutely nothing. Nothing went wrong. But that’s not really newsworthy, is it?

Nope, but if a Chevy Volt starts on fire two weeks after it’s crashed, there’s suddenly a giant hoopla in the blog-o-sphere over how horribly dangerous they must be. One negative display of new technology, and it’s the shot heard around the world. But if somebody crashes a home-built or modified vehicle, and everything works exactly as it’s designed, and everyone is just fine, you’ll never hear about it. (Unless you just happen to be reading this blog!)

Right after I got Tim’s e-mail, I replied back with my concern, and left him a “Glad your’re OK, and get well soon!” phone message. I spoke with him again today on the phone, while he was already half-way through dismantling his Enginer plug-in kit to remove from the car, before the insurance company tows it off on Monday. I inquired as to if any of the lithium cells had moved or if there was any damage to the bolts holding the case in to the car, or any other indication of damage, short circuiting, or other trouble.

Nope, absolutely none.

My wife’s car is a Prius. It’s the same make, model, year, and trim level as Tim’s, except that it has a Hymotion brand plug-in kit. Basically, the more expensive “professional” version of what’s in Tim’s car. The main difference was that the Hymotion kit is professionally installed, whereas the Enginer is more of a hands-on DIY sort of a kit. The other thing about the Hymotion setup is that it actually was CRASH-TESTED, and approved by the insurance industry. Since this is my wife’s car, and we have a two-year old daughter, the last thing I would want would be to potentially add any bit of danger to her vehicle through modifications. The insurance company stamp of approval on the Hymotion kit was just a bit of reassurance.

The Enginer kit never went through the process to get that seal of approval, but as Tim just recently proved in his Prius everything turned out just fine. (In fact, the Tesla Roadster was never crash-tested either. It was expensive enough of a car that Tesla simply took a government fine, rather than waste a million dollars by crashing cars into a wall.)

I guess the only reason why I want to comment on any of this at all is because of the “Neigh-Sayers”. Few things ruffle my feathers more than those naybobs of negativity who haunt the blogs and web videos, commenting on how anything NOT designed and built by a large car company MUST by default be poorly-designed and de-facto DANGEROUS! The truth is that when something is designed right, you never hear anything of it. It just works. Only when POOR designs cause problems do they suddenly jump to the front of the 24-hour news cycle. (And YES, poor designs come from major manufacturers, just look at how many recalls there have been recently!)

Is safety important? HELL YES!

I’d say that the average home-builder puts THAT MUCH MORE thought into their design. Afterall, it’s MY WIFE and DAUGHTER in a vehicle, not somebody else’s. When I was building my electric Geo Metro, I put a vacuum tank for the power brake system on the car that had TRIPLE the capacity of a gasoline car’s power brakes. I also double-checked the daytime running lights and integrity of the airbag system.

The world is changing in how hobbyists, tinkers, and inventors are influencing modern manufacturing. Thanks to groups like Cal-Cars, and autos like Tim’s and mine, Toyota now makes it’s own Plug-In Prius, instead of guys like us having to build our own. (Although we could still argue their pricing!)

Through good design, housing, transportation, food systems, and many other parts of our modern world are being changed for the better due to DIYerselfers.

So don’t be afraid to tinker, mod, design, and create. But of course DO IT SAFELY.

And just remember to watch out for the other driver! 🙂

{ 2 trackbacks }

Daox's 2004 Toyota Prius Build Thread - Page 22 - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum -
November 20, 2012 at 8:30 am
Grill-Blocks, Block-Heaters, and the EV Switch
November 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm

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