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.

Video of our trip to North Carolina to buy the truck.

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.

We got to go into the yard to check out the trucks.

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 5:48, 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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zach April 17, 2019 at 7:09 am

What an adventure! What parts do you think you’ll end up getting off this truck?

2 admin April 17, 2019 at 8:57 am

We’re hoping for the batteries and entire electric motor drive system.

3 Roger May 14, 2019 at 11:24 pm

Hi Ben, great content…I’m looking into buying one of this Smith Newton Box eTruck but my concern is to find parts and a shop/mechanic to fix in case of repairs. Do you know if anyone is servicing these and if by any chance any in Texas. Thank you!

4 admin May 17, 2019 at 11:12 am

Hi Roger,
There are very few of these trucks out there, and they are specialty. I don’t know of anyone off-hand that’s servicing these in Texas, but it looks like I’m quickly becoming part of the small “group of experts” on these things. If I find somebody, I’ll let you know!

5 Trinity Computers May 19, 2019 at 4:04 pm

Where are the truck and who much are the truck???

6 admin May 19, 2019 at 5:12 pm

These trucks were located at the Copart in China Grove, North Carolina.
They were up for auction. Minimum bids began at $2700.
I wasn’t actually the one who bought it, so I can’t tell you what the actual price paid was. I do know that when you add up buyer’s fee, brokers fee, and taxes, it can nearly double what the bid is.

7 wyatt lloyd June 3, 2019 at 9:55 am

mate love watching your adventures from australia!

did you ever end up finding out why all these trucks were in the salvage yard? were they working or were they all toast? so strange to sell a whole bunch of working trucks.

8 admin June 28, 2019 at 9:49 am

It looks like the truck we showed in the video was the best of them. Seth ended up buying a number of other trucks, and they all had a number of odd little problems.
My best guess is just that the large corporations that used these trucks simply didn’t want to deal with them. They have lots of diesel trucks and know how to fix them. Electrics are just something different, and they didn’t want to bother to have any special training for their mechanics. The company that built the trucks has gone out of business, so I’m sure it would have been hard to get any support for the trucks either.

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